Roseau, the busiest city on the island of Dominica, isn’t that busy. There is a bustling Saturday morning outdoor market where farmers sell their produce and the colorful shops juxtaposed with ramshackle buildings, which feels like New Orleans in the Caribbean, is worth exploring. But the city shuts down at night and the only dining options on a Sunday, for example, is the average cuisine of hotels. But Roseau serves as the perfect base for seeing the attractions in the southwest corner of Dominica. And besides hiking the Boiling Lake Trail (which is a must for trekkers seeking a challenge) you can hit all of the highlights around Roseau in twenty-four hours. So if you’re visiting Dominica’s capital, I give to you the best things to do in Roseau in one day.
The Six Best Things to Do in Roseau in 24 Hours
When plunging into the sea at Champagne Reef, it’s not immediately evident why the coral landscape has been dubbed after such a luxurious wine. One might deduce that the name derives from the yellow tube and giant barrel sponges that point toward the surface like champagne flutes and wine casks, respectively. Or maybe it has something to do with analogy, like the beautiful, sparkly blue, juvenile yellowtail damsel fish that flutter beside the coral before it matures horribly–they become a faded yellow with age–in the way a bad champagne with limited shelf life ages.
I gave up trying to find connections between the reef and the libation, and instead followed spotted trunkfish–no, not drunk fish, in case you’re still looking for the metaphor–as they passed above a collection of coral-crusted cannons from Spanish shipwrecks. The reef was home to purple vase sponges, elkhorn Coral, and spaghetti worms, all creatures with names that more or less provide an apt description of the organism. (The spaghetti worms only visible attribute are the linguiniesque tendrils that it sends out from its hiding place to feed on plankton. The rest of its body is more rigatoni-shaped.)
Scattered about the reef were minefields of urchins. To get back to metaphor, the urchins are the canary of the reef. When the reef is in trouble, the urchins are the first to perish. But then I discovered the augurs for the island, which happens to also be the very element that gives the reef its name. From underwater fumaroles that give off sulphur oxide, bubbles rise from the coral, you guessed it, like the effervescence of newly popped champagne. The bubbles is gas being released from the volcano. For if Champagne Reef goes flat, the residents of Dominica might have a major problem on their hands.
Note: If you brings your own gear, you only need to pay $2.00 (US) admission to snorkel the park. For $12.00 you can rent gear, while $19.00 gives snorkelers access, equipment, and a guide. Come early to avoid the droves from the cruise ships.
The best place in town to sample Saturday soup is The Orchard, a small establishment on Great George Street between Cork Street and King George V. With its Rastafarian colors and continuous traffic, there’s no mistaking The Orchard for the overpriced and less palatable spots that cater to cruise ship passengers. The creamy callaloo soup, green with dasheen leaves, and stocked with smoked chicken, pig snout, ground provisions, and flour dumplings is the highlight of the city. (Remember, all the other attractions are outside.)
If soup isn’t your thing (though on a Saturday it should be), order other island favorites like curry goat or creole fish. For the more adventurous eater, ask for a few ladles of the pig foot souse, which sits on the counter in a plastic tub and, as the name implies, souses in a broth of garlic, onion, thyme, celery, hot peppers, and salt. The tendon around the feet is succulent, while the skin is a little less enjoyable and not for the squeamish as you’ll be dealing with some overlooked pig hair.
Hiking to Middleham Falls
This 90-minute round-trip hike to the island’s tallest waterfall is yet another epitome of Dominica’s natural beauty. From the wide-buttressed chatannye trees to the endless fruits dangling overhead, the hike is scenic and challenging. When you reach the falls, which pummel into a circular pool that has been carved over time into the volcanic terrain, take a dip or admire the tree roots that hang from the precipice above and resemble Middleham Falls frozen in time.
Swimming in Titou Gorge
This is for strong swimmers only. At the start of the Boiling Lake hiking trail there is a dammed up pool that leads through a dark channel. For about 50 meters, you’ll have to swim against current and you’ll have nothing to clutch to as the walls have been smoothed by the endless flow of water. When you reach the end, and if you’re up for the challenge, climb the first small fall in order to reach the pool up back, where there is a second, much larger waterfall. (Don’t climb that one.) It’s beautiful and a cross between spooky and serene.
Fresh Water Lake
There isn’t much wide open space on the island; everything is overwhelmed with vegetation. But up the road from Middleham is about ten acres of freshwater lake, aptly named Fresh Water Lake. If your feet need a break from hiking, give your upper body a task and kayak around the grassy perimeter that leads up to towering bromeliads, wild hibiscus, and tree ferns. Though, if hiking suits you, a trail encircles the the lake in the trees where Rufus Throated Birds whistle and hummingbirds flutter.
Note: Kayak rentals are $10 US per person. It’s best to visit when the cruise ships are gone as you can have the entire lake to yourself. When the winds are nil, it makes for beautiful photography with reflections of the jungle in the water. Just as dramatic is when the rush of fog settles over the lake and alters the setting constantly.
The Best Things to do in Roseau are in the Next Village
Roseau is dead by dinnertime. I spent a few nights in search of a good restaurant and I often found shuttered lunch spots or overpriced (for Dominica) establishments with over-salted and over-fried offerings. For the best meal, head ten minutes south to Pointe Michel and visit Kimon’s, which has an orange sign that only mentions that it’s a fish place.
The quaint restaurant which pays tribute to the sea and MLK with crabs dangling from the ceiling and posters of the civil rights leader up on the walls, respectively. Ostensibly, it pays homage to disco, too, with its out-of-place mirrored ball. But whatever odd design choices are overhead, its the menu posted to the wall that is the rave. Dinner is dependent, of course, on Kimon’s catch. But the procedure is all the same: head to the bar to spear your fish from a bucket, bring said fish to the kitchen window, decide if you want it steamed or fried, sip back a few cold Kubulis, and wait for a wonderful meal served with fried ground provisions.
Afterward, head across the street to one of the outdoor bars and then fetch a combi-van back to the capital to rest from the best twenty-four hours spent in Roseau.