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I stayed up all night to see where the sun went…. and then it dawned on me.Anon.
Whether you arrive in Dominica by sea or by air, your likely first impression will be one of awe at the sheer dramatic majesty of the place, one with which few islands in the Caribbean can compete. Nicknamed ‘the nature island,’ Dominica (locals stress the third syllable) lures independent travellers and eco-adventurers with its boiling lake, rainforest-shrouded volcanoes, sulfurous hot springs, superb diving and the Caribbean’s first long-distance hiking trail.Lonely Planet
An English-speaking island wedged between francophone Guadeloupe and Martinique, Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic) is on a different path to its neighbors in development terms, with no big cruise terminal nor an airport that can take even medium-haul flights. This means the island’s traditional character has been far better preserved than elsewhere in the Lesser Antilles. Hurricane Maria wreaked absolute havoc on Dominica in 2017, from which the island is still painfully – but determinedly – recovering.
I stayed on the edge of Roseau (the capital) in a fantastic establishment called St James Guesthouse. It proved to be a great spot to meet fellow travellers over a beer. It also had a great restaurant serving excellent evening meals.
History: Dominica was the last of the Caribbean islands to be colonised by Europeans due chiefly to the fierce resistance of its indigenous people. France laid claim to the island in 1635 and wrestled with the British over it throughout the 18th Century. In 1805 the French burned much of Roseau to the ground and from then on the island remained firmly in the possession of the British. In 1967 Dominica gained autonomy in international affairs as a West Indies Associated State and became an independent republic within the Commonwealth on November 3, 1978 (the 45th anniversary of Columbus’ sighting of the island.
Places of interest – in and around Roseau:
The old market hall: This cobblestone plaza has been the center of action in Roseau for more than 300 years. It’s been the site of political meetings, farmers markets and, more ominously, public executions and a slave market. Nowadays it’s got craft and souvenir stalls that get plenty of attention from cruise-ship passengers when the big ships are in port.
Trafalgar Falls: On the edge of the small village of Trafalgar, just beyond the visitor centre, you’ll find a viewing platform with full-on views of the two side-by-side falls: the 125ft ‘Father’ fall and 75ft ‘Mother’ fall. Try to avoid arriving there at the same time as one of the cruise tours!
On Dominica’s southernmost tip, the fishing village of Scotts Head has a gem of a setting along the gently curving shoreline of Soufriere Bay. While it got very badly damaged by Hurricane Maria, colourful characters still hang out on the porches of pastel-painted houses, and locals seem surprised to see outsiders visiting this remote corner of the island. It was here that I started section one of the Island’s famous hiking trail.
The Waitukubuli National Trail (WNT): Climbing up the side of a dormant volcano for stunning views. Traipsing through an aptly named ‘Valley of Desolation’ filled with bubbling mud, hot springs, and sulfur. Visiting the spectacular Boiling Lake and exploring the Morne Trois Pitons National Park which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. These are just some of the things hikers can expect when they venture onto the WNT
The trail was constructed between 2007 and 2012 by the Government of Dominica, in partnership with the Regional Council of Martinique and funded by the European Union. Officially opened on May 10th, 2013, the trail was given the original Kalinago indigenous name of the island, Waitukubuli, meaning “tall is her body.”
Spanning the full length of Dominica, the whole trail is 115 miles long and is made up of fourteen hiking sections. It is the longest hiking trail in the Caribbean.
Awarded best in travel 2023 by Lonely Planet, Dominica proved to be one of my favourite countries on this trip. It has everything to offer an inquisitive and adventurous backpacker.
Dive Dominica are an excellent company to help you explore the undersea world of Dominica. I dived six times with them and enjoyed every single dive.
Dominica backpacking possibility rating: very possible. Finding cheap accommodation is relatively easy – with prior preparation. Eating out is inexpensive Beer cheap, wine expensive. Supermarket food on par with UK prices. Self catering facilities help keep the costs down. Local transportation and museums are very cheap. Country score: 8 out of 10. Less touristy than Barbados and a great country to visit. Hassle factor, very low – most people are very friendly.
Next stage: Guadeloupe.
St Lucia to Martinique was the start of my ‘island hopping’ using the excellent ferry service operated by L’Express des isles. A much cheaper option than flying, and probably quicker as well – all things considered.
Arriving in Martinique was a reverse culture shock – it’s an extremely developed country when compared to St Lucia, and very French.
Volcanic in origin, Martinique is a mountainous stunner crowned by the still-smoldering Mont Pelée, the volcano that famously wiped out the former capital of St-Pierre in 1902. Offering a striking diversity of landscapes and atmospheres, Martinique is a cosmopolitan and sophisticated island that boasts world-class beaches, top-notch hiking, great culinary experiences, an enormous array of activities and some colourful cultural life.Lonely Planet’s Caribbean Islands.
Fort St-Louis: The hulking fortress, that gave the city its name, dates from 1640, although most of what stands today is the result of subsequent additions. It’s easily the top sight in town, and my guided tour, thankfully in English, was extremely informative and great fun. Tickets need to be purchased, in advance, from the tourist information centre.
Jardín de Balata: Just 10km north of Fort-de-France, easily accessible by local bus, the beautiful botanical garden, in a rainforest setting, is one of Martinique’s top attractions and will please anyone with even a passing interest in the island’s plant life. The hour-long walk around the garden is clearly marked, and a tree walk and fish ponds will keep kids interested. Otherwise (unless you encounter a cruise tour), this is a tranquil place of rattling bamboo, humming birds, dramatic views down to the sea and rustling tropical leaves.
St-Pierre: The most impressive ruins are those of the town’s 18th-century theatre. While most of it was destroyed in the 1902 eruption of Mont Pelée, enough remains to give a sense of the building’s former grandeur. It once seated 800 and hosted theatre troupes from mainland France. On the ruins’ northeastern side you can peer down into the tiny, thick-walled jail cell that housed Louis-Auguste Cyparis, one of the town’s three survivors. There is also a very interesting museum nearby that gives a glimpse of the devastating 1902 eruption of Mont Pelée.
I’m glad I visited Martinique, especially after the rather underwhelming experience that was St Lucia. However, staying in the capital, Forte de France, was a lonely experience – made worse by the language barrier. Reminder to self: always try and stay in accommodation where you will have the potential to meet fellow travellers.
Martinique backpacking possibility rating: challenging. Finding cheap accommodation is difficult. Beer and wine expensive. Supermarket food higher than UK prices. Local transportation and museums are expensive. Country score: 7 out of 10. Hassle factor – not an issue.
Next stage: Dominica.
Unfortunately, my next flight (St Vincent to St Lucia) involved a 4-hour layover in Barbados – making the total journey time nearly 8-hours. Then the flight from Barbados to St Lucia was delayed by an hour. Realising the impending lateness of my arrival in St Lucia, I decided to book an airport transfer. It was money well spent.
Harbour Vista Inn has amazing views across the harbour. It’s closeness to the harbour also makes it a great choice for an early morning ferry The worn out accommodation has very little else to offer.
The local (mini) bus took an hour to get to Soufriére, a small town on the south west coast of the Island. It was an fascinating journey with some amazing views along the way.
Frenz, was an excellent self catering apartment, just on the edge of town, conveniently close to a big supermarket. I was warmly welcomed by Glenda, who very kindly facilitated an early check in and told me all she could about what to do, and what to see, during my stay.
Soufrière’s attractions include a slew of colonial-era edifices scattered amid brightly painted wooden storefronts, and a bustling seafront. Sadly, there are no public beaches. The main beach was commandeered by one of the nearby resorts. You can gain access by paying 50 USD.
The only decent restaurants in Soufríere are closed in the evening. I made use of the self catering facilities in my apartment. I didn’t much fancy being in the town centre after dark. The only down side to this was the lack of social contact in an evening.
The Diamond Botanical Gardens, Mineral Baths and Waterfall are located in a small portion of the 2,000 acres of land granted to three Devaux brothers by King Louis XIV of France 1713, in recognition of their services to “Crown & Country” It is claimed that as a child Empress Josephine wife of Naplolean Bonaparte bathed in the original baths while spending holidays at her fathers plantation in Soufriere called “Mal Maison”.
In 1928, Andre du Boulay, owner of Soufríere Estate and Diamond Baths, excavated the site and restored 2 baths out of the original 12, that had been destroyed by the “Brigands” during the French revolution. The baths are fed by the original spring water, similar to the waters of “Aix les Bains” in France. The original holding tank built in 1784 is still in use. In 1983 on the death of Mr Andre du Boulay, his daughter Joan Devaux took over the estate.
There are ample opportunities to explore the area around Soufríere on foot, including a hike up Gros Piton. They mostly require a guide with a hefty price tag. Even during the day, Soufrière is not a pleasant place to explore. It’s obviously struggling financially, and I found the constant harassment, mainly from people asking for money, quite intimidating.
After 3-nights in Soufríere, I was ready to get back to Castries in readiness for the ferry to Martinique. I waited over 2-hours for a bus back to Castries. In the end I gave up and thumbed a lift. This proved to be a much more comfortable ride than the cramped bus.
Castries, the main city of St Lucia, is worth a quick visit. It’s best feature being the soaring Morne Fortune (853ft), which serves as Castries’ scenic backdrop. Most of the city’s historic buildings were destroyed by major fires between 1785 and 1948, but it still makes for an interesting afternoon stroll.
St Lucia is undoubtably a stunningly beautiful country. But for me it proved to be my least favourite Island to date. Had I chosen an all inclusive package holiday perhaps my opinion of the country would be somewhat different.
St Lucia backpacking possibility rating: quite possible. Finding cheap accommodation is relatively easy – with prior preparation. Beer cheap, wine expensive. Supermarket food on par with UK prices. Local transportation and museums are relatively cheap. Country score: 6 out of 10. Hassle factor, high – constant pressure from people asking for money.
Next stage: Martinique.
“Love the life you live. Live the life you love.”Bob Marley.
Arriving at Argyl International Airport was a smooth, easy process and the first passport control, thus far, to kindly place a visa stamp in my passport.
My accommodation, Buttercup Cottage Apartments, was situated in Arnos Vale, a small town located near the old airport. Set in a beautiful rural backdrop, it’s a 15-minute bus journey from Kingstown.
The narrow streets, arched stone doorways and covered walkways of Kingstown conjure up a Caribbean of banana boats and colonial rule. It heaves and swells with a pulsing local community that bustles through its thoroughfares and alleyways. The frantic pace and it’s unpolished edges inspires many to take the first boat down to the calm of Bequia. However, there are a few locations worth taking the time to visit in the town.
Fort Charlotte can be reached on foot, but it’s a long hard slog up a very steep hill. The best way to get there is by taking a mini bus (5 ECD) and then walking (down hill) back into town. The views from the fort are spectacular. St Vincent Botanic Gardens are the oldest gardens in the western hemisphere. A beautiful oasis in an otherwise chaotic town. St Mary’s is the most eye-catching of Kingstown’s churches.
History lesson: In 1783, after a century of competing claims between the British and French, the Treaty of Paris placed St Vincent under British control. In 1969, in association with the British, St Vincent became a self-governing state. On October 27, 1979, it was cobbled together with the Grenadines as an independent member of the British Commonwealth.
A short ferry trip (1-hour) from Kingstown is the beautiful island of Bequia (beck-way). It is said to be the most perfect island in the whole of the Grenadines. Stunning beaches, and some beautiful hikes, make this island a must visit.
Peggy’s Rock is a gorgeous hike! There are several ways to access this beautiful viewpoint – the long loop, starting at the main dinghy dock in the town of Port Elizabeth, walking the boardwalk and then the road about 2.7 miles to the trail head, then up-up-up to the summit and 360° views. You complete the loop by climbing down the opposite side to Lower Bay where you can stop for lunch or drinks or a dip in the ocean. Then back along the beach and over the headland to town and back to where you started. It takes approximately 3 hours.
Backpacking possibility rating: quite possible. Finding cheap accommodation is relatively easy – with prior preparation. Eating out is cheap. Beer cheap, wine expensive. Supermarket food on par with UK prices. Self catering facilities help keep the costs down. Local transportation and museums are very cheap. Country score: 8 out of 10. A great country to visit. Hassle factor, moderate level in the capital Kingstown. Outside of the capital most people are very friendly. Annoyances, the speed that the local buses travel, and the volume of the music inside.
Next stage: St Lucia.
One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.Bob Marley.
The ground crew at Maurice Bishop International Airport underestimated my resolve when it came to saving money on airport transfers. It’s the first international airport I have ever arrived at where there is no ATM and no Bureau de change. I desperately needed to change my Barbados dollars (BBD) into Eastern Caribbean dollars (ECD), or get some cash. It proved challenging.
Explaining my predicament, to whoever would listen, and a surprising number of people did, I was told, on countless occasions, that it would be best to take a taxi and that the driver would be “happy to accept my Barbados dollars”. I’m sure he would, I muttered under my breath. The taxi: £25.00, the bus: £3.00. I was not going to give in. Finally, I spoke to a cleaning lady who pointed to a shop and explained that “Joy usually exchanges BBD for ECD”. Twenty minutes later I was getting off the local bus, a two minute walk from my guest house. Result.
History lesson: In 1498 Christopher Columbus became the first European to sight the island of Grenada. It wasn’t until 1609, however, that English tobacco planters attempted to settle; within a year, most were killed by the Caribs. Some 40 years later, the French ‘purchased’ the island from the Caribs at a pittance. Grenada remained under French control until 1762, when Britain first captured the island. Over the next two decades, colonial control shifted back and forth between Britain and France. In 1877 Grenada became a Crown colony, and in 1967 it converted to an associated state within the British Commonwealth.
According to my guide book, “St George’s is one of the most picturesque towns in the Caribbean”. I really cannot disagree, it’s a fabulous place to explore, with lots of handsome old buildings, and of course the Carenage harbour. Interesting shops and cafes dot the narrow and busy streets. Sites of interest include: Fort Frederick, Fort George, St George’s Anglican Church, the market square, and the Carenage.
Located virtually in the centre of the country, Grand Etang National Park is a natural wonderland of misty landscapes centred around a lovely lake. There are many hiking trails within the park. In addition, a number of beautiful waterfalls can be accessed near by.
Gouyave, roughly halfway up the west coast from St George’s, is an attractive fishing village. It’s also home to the Nutmeg Processing Cooperative, which I visited. Also nearby, 10 minutes by bus, is the nutmeg museum.
Grenada summary; the things that stood out for me, when compared to Barbados, less developed and with slightly fewer international visitors. Slightly cheaper. In addition, Grenada has some of the best scuba diving that I have ever experienced – with pristine coral reefs and a plethora of fish.
Backpacking possibility rating: quite possible. Finding cheap accommodation is relatively easy – with prior preparation. Eating out is expensive. Beer cheap, wine expensive. Supermarket food on par with UK prices. Self catering facilities help keep the costs down. Local transportation and museums are very cheap. Country score: 8 out of 10. Less touristy than Barbados and a great country to visit. Hassle factor, very low – most people are very friendly.
Next stage: St Vincent & the Grenadines.
One love. One heart. Let’s join together and I’ll feel all right.Bob Marley and the Wailers 1965
Perhaps better known as a destination for the rich and famous, ‘Backpacking in the Caribbean’ might seem like an unlikely possibility; the availability of cheap accommodation has already proved to be the main stumbling block.
On arriving at Grantley Adams International Airport I jumped on a local bus that took 30 minutes to get to Rockley Beach, close to my accommodation – Merton Studio #1. This was to be my first taste of AirBnB. It got off to a great start. I was warmly welcomed by my host, Eleanor, who presented me with a big smile and a cold beer as soon as I set foot through the door! This warm welcome continued, throughout my stay, with nightly chats around the kitchen table.
Rockley Beach is a charming location to base yourself, and close to all the amenities you could possibly wish for. As the name suggests, it is near to a (gorgeous) beach and a lovely beach side ‘board walk’ – a regular haunt for early morning/late afternoon walkers and joggers.
Captain John Powell claimed Barbados for England in 1625. Two years later, a group of settlers established the island’s first European settlement, Jamestown, at present-day Holetown. It was not long before the sugar cane industry started to take off and with it the mass influx of African slave labour – the descents of which now make up the majority of the islands modern day population. In 1966 Barbados was granted independence from England. It is still part of the British commonwealth.
Wandering around bustling Bridgetown, with its many sights and old colonial buildings, can easily occupy half a day. Pedestrian only Swan street buzzes with the rhythm of local culture. The entire downtown area, and south to the Garrison, was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2012. Parliament building complete with a clock tower looking and sounding like a smaller version of Big Ben was very nostalgic for a Brit. Unfortunately, the statue of Lord Nelson, in Trafalgar Square (now called heroes square), has been removed and ‘banished’ to the National Museum! Wokism has even reached Barbados.
Easily the most evocative small town on Barbados, Speightstown combines old colonial charms with a vibe that has more rough edges than the endlessly upscale (read extremely expensive) precincts to the south. The settlement was once dubbed ‘Little Bristol’ as, thanks to its maritime connection to that English town, many of the first settlers originated from there.
Barbados round up: The three things that stood out the most for me were the super friendly people, the laid back vibe, and the pristine, white sand beaches. It’s most definitely not a cheap country to visit but I am really pleased I did.
Backpacking possibility rating: challenging. Accommodation is expensive, as is eating out. Beer cheap, wine expensive. Supermarket food on par with UK prices. Local transportation and museums very cheap. Country score: 10 out of 10. It’s is one of the most amazing countries I have ever visited. Hassle from locals, non existent.
Next stage: Grenada.
The Spanish version of the above diphthong being: “La lluvia en Sevilla es una pura maravilla” (The rain in Sevilla is a true marvel) playing with the sound of the “ll”.
Having experienced excellent weather for the past week and a half, on arriving in Granada the weather took a turn for the worse. Cold and wet.
Revered for its lavish Alhambra palace, and enshrined in medieval history as the last stronghold of the Moors in Western Europe, Granada is the darker, more complicated cousin of Seville.Lonely Planet’s Best of Spain.
Despite very much enjoying the food here in southern Spain, there is only so much tapas a man can enjoy. It was time for a change. Last night I ate at an Indian restaurant. The food was nothing special. I wouldn’t race back!
Again, my to do list included two places of importance.
Basílica San Juan de Dios: Built between 1737 and 1759, this spectacular basilica unveils a blinding display of opulent baroque decor.
The Alhambra is part palace, part fort and a World Heritage Site that’s a lesson in medieval architecture. It is unlikely that, as a historical monument, it will ever be surpassed. Buy your (timed) tickets in advance to avoid the queues. Plan your visit in advance and allow plenty of time to take everything in.
Córdoba’s mesmerising multi-arched Mesquita is one of the world’s greatest Islamic buildings. The Mezquita is a symbol of the sophisticated Islamic culture that flourished here more than a millennium ago, when Córdoba was the capital of Islamic Spain, and Western Europe’s biggest and most cultured city.Lonely Planet’s Best of Spain.
Throughout Andalusia, the unifying theme is olives, they can be found just about everywhere.
Olives have permeated every Mediterranean culture from prehistory to the present day. Aristotle philosophised about them, and Leonardo invented a modern way to press them. Egyptian pharaohs were sealed into pyramids with golden carvings of olives.
Olives have been the emblem of Spain since the first dispatches from Caesar’s legions. Today they grow everywhere in Spain, covering 5 million acres, from the ancient port of Cadiz to the chilly slopes of Galicia. But the heart of olive country is Andalusia.
Mezquita: It is impossible to overemphasise the beauty of Córdoba’s great mosque. With all its lustrous decoration, it evokes the city’s golden age of sophistication and peaceful coexistence between faiths. From 08:30 to 09:30 (except on a Sunday) it is possible to gain free entry. The one hour slot is just about enough time to see everything. Otherwise the entry price is €10. The bell tower is extra.
Alcázar de los Cristianos: This formidable fort-palace dates to the 14th century when it was commissioned by King Alfonso XI and built over an earlier Moorish palace. Entry price €5.
Puente Romano: Spanning the Rio Guadalquivir, just below the Mezquita, this 16-arch bridge originally formed part of Via Augusta, the ancient Roman road that connected Girona in Catalonia with Cádiz.
Next stage: Granada.
Some cities have looks, other cities have personality. The Sevillanos get both, courtesy of their flamboyant, charismatic, ever-evolving Andalusian metropolis founded, according to myth, 3000 years ago by the Greek god Hercules.Lonely Planet’s Best of Spain.
Seville has to be one of my all time favourite cities; – compact, navigable (despite the many narrow, intertwining streets), and very relaxed. In addition it’s an excellent place to enjoy one of my all time favourite pastimes – people watching. It’s also a lovely city to just wander around and explore.
As with Madrid, there were two must see places on my list. It is worth buying tickets for both of these places, on line, in advance, to avoid the queues. Don’t try and visit both places in one day.
Catedral and Giralda: Seville’s immense cathedral, officially the biggest in the world by volume, is awe-inspiring in its scale and sheer majesty. In addition, it’s former minaret, the Giralda, is an architectural jewel.
Real Alcázar: If heaven really does exist, let’s hope it looks a little a like the inside of Seville’s Alcázar. Built primarily in the 1300’s, the castle marks one of history’s architectural high points.
Next stage: Cordoba.