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Tourism booming on ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ island | Column

The Commonwealth of Dominica is one of the British Windward Islands, situated between Guadeloupe and Martinique in the Caribbean.

Tourism has dramatically increased on the island since it became the setting for the hit movie series “Pirates of the Caribbean” as well as the CBS reality series “Pirate Master.”

Don’t go to Dominica for the typical Caribbean sandy beaches though. The coastline is rugged with steep cliffs plunging into the sea. The volcanic island has traded white sandy beaches for other treasures such as thick forests, stunning waterfalls and gushing rivers. Offshore is a scuba diver’s paradise with diverse sloping reefs, pinnacles, walls and underwater hot springs to explore.

Dominica is one of the few places left in the world where it is genuinely possible to “get back to nature.”

The unspoiled tropical paradise does not offer luxury resorts and high-rise hotels, but is designed for those who want to take a break from the modern melee and relax in cliff-top villas, small mountain spas, guesthouses and apartments. At the same time, the island is equipped with all the modern conveniences, including good communications, banks and numerous restaurants, usually run by local families to experience local West Indian cuisine.

Those brave enough might like to sample traditional favorites like stewed opossum or “mountain chicken” (which is actually a large frog), which can be washed down with some hearty coconut rum punch.

Dominica boasts a variety of natural attractions including 365 rivers and streams, waterfalls, hot sulfur springs, a boiling lake (considered the world’s second largest) and four cold freshwater lakes, two of which are situated more than 2,500 feet above sea level.

The island’s relatively high range of altitude, coupled with its rainfall, has given rise to a variety of vegetation. Native flora includes more than 1,000 species of flowering plants including 74 species of orchids and 200 ferns. Twenty-two endemic species of plants have been identified, one being the bwa kwaib, officially designated as the island’s national flower.

Dominica is also home to a variety of tropical wildlife. To date, 172 species of birds have been recorded including two endemic and endangered species of parrots, the Sisserou (Dominica’s national bird) and the Red-necked Parrot. The opossum, agouti, iguana and other lizards and many other land creatures have made a home in Dominica.

Dominica’s Morne Trois Pitons National Park is the only UNESCO World Heritage site in the Eastern Caribbean. In addition to the natural attractions, Dominica is also rich in cultural heritage, with long and outstanding traditions in music, dance, theater, craft, art and the plain, simple life of its people.

Every place you go on the island serves as a reminder of that heritage. You will hear Creole language spoken by many, the mix of French and English village names, the infectious Jing Ping music that makes you tap your feet, the aromatic Creole cuisine, and much more.

The last of the indigenous Caribbean people still live in a 3,500 acre, semi-autonomous area of Dominica called the Carib Territory. They maintain a strong bond to their pre-Columbian past, which is evident in the baskets they weave from the l’arouma reed and the wooden fishing canoes still carved in traditional fashion from the trunks of Gommier trees.

Dominica’s tropical climate means there is plenty of sunshine, humidity and heat all year round, but this is interspersed with an abundance of frequent rain showers. The rain is not all bad, dampening the often intense heat and nourishing the island’s extensive rainforest. It is dryer on the coast.

Squashed tightly into a small area on the west coast of Dominica, bounded by the Caribbean Sea and rivers, the island’s capital, Roseau, is a hodge-podge of low-rise French and British colonial structures and modern concrete buildings along narrow streets. Most visitors congregate along the Bayfront, opposite the cruise ship jetty.

They browse through the Old Market, where slaves were once bought and sold, for souvenirs and local crafts. It is well worth spending some time to explore the compact museum in the Old Post Office, and take a trip to the Botanical Gardens.

The best view across Roseau is to be had from Morne Bruce above the gardens, reached by a track leading up from the east gate.

Roseau is a relaxed, friendly town without the bright lights, but there are some hot-spots after dark, mainly in the local hotel bars and clubs. The World Creole Music Festival is held in late October each year.

Basically, though, Roseau serves as the necessary commercial hub for those who come more to escape on excursions to the natural wonders of Dominica.

Dominica is the largest of the Windward Islands and covers 289 square miles. It has approximately 91 miles of coastline. The island is characterized by very rugged and steep terrain. Dominica, formerly a British colony, became independent in 1978 and remains a member of the British Commonwealth and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States.

Dominica has a population of approximately 70,000 people, including the 3,500 indigenous Caribs. Everyone speaks English. An English Creole dialect and French patois are also widely spoken.

Jerry Vaughn is president of World Voyager Vacations in Federal Way: jvaughn@worldvoyagervacations.com.

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