The Lesser Antilles - part III:
Part III covers our travels acorss Dominica, Martinique and Guadeloupe's Basse Terre, demonstrating an cocktail of natural beaches, volcanoes, mountains, waterfalls and friendly locals.
Martinique, Dominica and Guadeloupe’s Basse Terre form together the southern part of the Volcanic Arc in the Antilles.
Obviously, since we had visited the northern islands in the Volcanic Arc - see the Lesser Antilles part II - we needed someday to progress south to complete the exploration of this volcanic island chain. The opportunity for doing so followed shortly after during August and into September in the hurricane season, which made the landscape even more dramatic as weather changed between sun and heavy rain.
During the trip to the northern part of the Volcanic Arc we had to fly between islands, but here good, old-fashioned ferryboats still operate the seas. So, while planning the trip, we concluded that all of the islands should be approached by boat which was not only convenient and cheap, but also offered enormous flexibility in terms planning the entire trip along the way. We ended up spending a full month crossing these three islands. Our experience: an explosion of mountains, rainforest and waterfalls, magical beaches and turquoise waters, great music and happy people, and an encounter with a Category III hurricane hitting Dominica.
Location: The Caribbean islands of Dominica, Martinique and Guadeloupe´s Basse Terre, during 1 month
We started our trip in Dominica. And what a start! If we only had to pick one island across the entire Caribbean it would be Dominica! It is often nicknamed “nature island of the Caribbean”, and it was easy to see why. With several high volcanic peaks, deep valleys, thick rainforest, emerald freshwater pools, coastal woodlands and dramatic black-sand beaches it is a dark-green world full of rushing torrents, cascades and more than twenty-five stepped waterfalls. Everywhere are pretty valleys, catching the colors of orchids, bougainvillea and hibiscus. Very Jurassic Park-like. We spend two weeks in a small bungalow in Calibishie – a very remote village - on the north coast, rented a 4WD jeep and spent all the time doing trips across the island to reach remote villages, waterfalls and beaches. We also did several hikes into the mountains to explore sulfur deposits, hot water springs and steaming gas vents, cloaked in a dense blanket of primary and secondary rainforest, that run down the center of the island as part of the series of volcanic peaks. When we got tired of exploring the higher elevations we drove to the west coast where the Caribbean sea laps gently along the shore. The entire island is very unspoilt by tourism, and truly off the beaten track.
We then moved on to Martinique, which Christopher Columbus sailed past in 1493, making a note that it was “the most beautiful island in the world”. Well, this a daring postulate, but the island’s Creole chic is indeed very charming and somewhat a Caribbean wonder. To us, Fort-de-France is not only the main city on the island but also the epicenter of French-ness in the Caribbean offering a constant assault on the taste buds by the smell of coffee and freshly baked croissants and baguettes from the many bakeries and quay-side cafés. But the real charm is venturing outside Fort-de-France into the nature. We stayed for 10 days in an AirBnB-rented house and spent most of the time exploring all corners of the islands on day trips. The north is green, mountainous and wild, home to the still-active volcano Mt. Pelée, which wiped out St-Pierre and twenty-five thousand inhabitants in 1902. The hiking and black sand beaches here are very good. To the east, on the Atlantic coast, are steep coves and remote villages. The south boasts many small off-the-grid villages and hundreds of coves, where the fishermen fleet bring home the day’s catch as well as picture-perfect white-sand beaches. This is also an island that we strongly recommend coming back for.
Our tour was completed on the island of Basse Terre in the Guadeloupe archipelago. Yes, Guadeloupe is actually a pretty big collection of islands (we have traveled around several of these), but on this tour, we wanted to concentrate on Guadeloupe’s trump card: Basse-Terre. This is also the only island in Guadeloupe that is part of the Volcanic Arc and we had to stay true to the itinerary. The biggest of the islands in the archipelago this island is home to an enormous national park with steep mountains laced with waterfalls, the spectacular La Soufrière volcano, and excellent beaches. Off the west coast of Basse Terre we got to do several dives in a marine reserve that has been named after the famous French diver, Jacques Cousteau.
Selected pics from our island hopping adventure in this region:
The islands of the Lesser Antilles form an arc along the eastern margin of the Caribbean sea. North of Dominica the arc is a double arc with the eastern Limestone Islands and the western Volcanic islands, respectively. South of Dominica the two arcs converge and the islands are made up of volcanic islands. On this trip we visited the southern part of the Lesser Antilles Volcanic Arc.
View from our room in Roseau where we spent one night. Domininca was an excellent starting point. The island looms above the horizon of the Eastern Caribbean like no other island in this chain. Its interior is solidly mountainous and the entire island is strikingly rural and unspoiled. Even the capital of Roseau has the appearance of a forgotten frontier town. Its streets are lined with old stone-and-wood buildings and quiet backstreets where it feels like stepping back a hundred years.
During most of our stay on Domininca we based ourselves in Calibishie, a small fishing village on the north-west coast. We had an Airbnb-apparment for one week, rented a 4WD-jeep and did day trips every day. Calibishie was the typical fishing village: lots of small grocery stores, three very active churches, and more drinking holes that we could count. We quickly ran into the rasta farmer in the picture. From his garden he supplied fresh tomatoes, garlic, coconut, etc. to us every day.
There are many remote and unspoilt beaches in Domininca, especially in north. The picture shows Batibou beach. We did a very nice hike from Calibishi along Hampstead Bay, Batibou Bay, Anse du Mai, Anse Soldat, and Thibaud. The beaches here a so remote and authentic that several scenes from the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies was filmed here. All coves are tranquil, sheltered and ofte have clear shallow waters, perfect for picnicking and swimming during the hikes.
Most of northern Dominica is part of the vast Northern Forest Reserve, a remote and hostile rainforest reserve. Inside the reserve the Morne Diabloting National Park offers several interesting hikes, and we could not resist the temptation to ascent the 1.447m Morne Diablotin. The duration up and down was 6-7 hours. It was very difficult - a relentless hike uphill involving scrambeling up steep rocks in wet and muddy conditions. We had a complete whiteout on the top, but good views throughout.
One of our favourite activities was strolling around the fishing village and watch local fishing boats leaving and returning. The fishermen would often sell there catch to us, typically lobster or different kinds of white fish which we could prepare in the kitchen in our Airbnb appartment. The guy in the picture, age 55, had built his own raft and went hunting for lobsters during the catch season. He lived in a small ramshakle wooden house right on the beach.
Most of the beaches on domininca are black-sand beaches, but there are a few white sand too. The best beaches on Domininca are - in our opinion - Anse du Mai, Batibou, Sandy beach, Pointe Baptiste, and Prince Rupert Bay. It was also worth the time exploring the cliffs and hidden beaches of the dramatic east coast.
We did a very good hike into the majestic UNESCO-listed Morne Trois Pitons National Park. The picture is from the hike. In the park are several dramatic waterfalls, freshwater lakes, boiling lakes, geysers, steaming vents, hot water rivers and volcanoes. We walked though predominantly rainforest but also montane forest and elfin woodlands at higher elevations. It was a strenuous hike, although the trail was clear and very easy to follow. During several periods it was wet and very slippery.
The hike to Dominica's boiling lake was spectaular. The trail climbed upwards towards the top of Morne Nicholls with views over the entire national park and beyond (picture), and then we passaged through the Valley of Desolation, a valley with more than 50 smoking and bubbeling fumaroles.
During our hike into the majestic UNESCO-listed Morne Trois Pitons National Park we slept in tents in the outskirts of the park.
Middelham Falls is one of the most beautiful falls inside the Morne Trois Pitons NP. The trail to the falls winds steeply up and down across rocks and streams. There was a beautiful casacade of pools at the foot of the falls where we swam and had a picknick.
One of our favourite drinking holes in Calibishie where we had a cold beer in the evenings inbetween all the hikes. A good way to heal soaring muscles and restless legs.
We drove to and through Portsmouth several times as we had to drive to Roseau and the interiors from Calibishie. It was also a good town to shop in and to arrange SCUBA-diving from. The town is pretty, tired and worn. Portsmouth give access to Cabrits National Park due north of the city, where a collapsed volcano has created an interesting peninsula with wetlands, swamps, and a fort.
Domininca has the highest mountains and the best hiking in the eastern Caribbean, but it is also an extraordinary place for diving. Unfortunately we were not here during the sperm whale season, buy we had some good dives around the Cabrits Peninsula, especially at Shark's Mouth.
We went several times to and through the Carib Territory on eastern Dominica - the home to most of Dominica's 3000 indigineous Carib Indians. The area was very rural with banana, breadfruit and wild heliconia trees growing along the roadside. Most houses are build on stilts or a simple shanties made of tin and tarpaper. Picture taken in Salybia village.
In any ramshakle village around the coast of Dominica we found small hole-in-the-wall restaurants where we could buy chicken & beans, calalou soup, crab backs, curried goat, or roadside bakes filled with fish, tuna or cheese.
Most of Dominica's 148m coastline is dramatically rocky, often with dark or red seand, and in many places seep cliffs plunge dramatically into very deep seas. Since rainfall is often heavy and sustained many trails are muddy and tricky if visible at all. We often had to cross terrain like this when looking for hidden beaches and coves.
Along the entire west coast from Roseau to Portsmouth are several attractive black sand beaches.
It is the combination of seafood, fruits, beer and rum that form the basis for any diet on Dominica.
Emeral Pool is another beautiful waterfall and crystal clear pool inside the Morne Trois Pitons NP that we reached during a gentle walk across pretty wooden bridges across rivers and through the rainforest.
During our stay, a category II hurricane hit Dominica during the night and the early morning. Due to mudslides and rising rivers, many homes, roads and bridges were destroyed or washed away completely. We were stuck for several extra days in the north, and could not get away. The airport closed as the parts of the landing road had been washed away. In the end, we had to leave our 4WD in Calibishie and leave by boat. A helpful fisherman sailed us all around the island to Roseau for 200 USD.
Impossible to pass after the hurricane had destryed several bdriges.
All streets looked more than mud givers than actual streets. From Rosau was had access to the ferry boats sailing to Guadeloupe in north and Martinique in south.
View of the mountains, plateaus and hills of Martinique from the ferryboat, coming in from Domininca. The center of the island is dominated by Pitons du Carbet, a scenic mountain range reaching to 1200+ meters. During the ferryboat trip down the coast from the north to Fort-de-France we saw how the island's costline is cut by deep bays and coves, while several rivers flowed into the ocean from the interior rainforests and mountains.
During our stay we based ourselves in an Airbnb-rented house in the hills over Anse-d'Arlet, an off-the-tourist-track village in the south-west of the island. We used to take both morning and late evening dips in the azure waters off the beach in "our village", but spent most of the days on day trips around the island in a car that we had rented. Is was very easy to get around the entire island and the experience reminded us about our many trips to Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean.
Anse d'Arlet is perhaps the most charming fishing village in southern Martinique, retaining an undiscovered feel. In the mornings we often drove to similar villages nearby such as Pointe du Bout, Grande Anse and Petit Anse.
One of the best trips we did was a tour to Saint-Pierre at the foot of the still-active Mont Pelée volcano. It's a fascinating town to wander around with old stone walls, ruins and a beach of soft black sand. In 1902, the entire city was destroyed when Mount Pelée exploded, and it has since been rebuilt. The limsestone cliffs and beaches north of St. Pierre are very scenic, especially Anse Belleville and Anse Céron where we did some picknicking. Snorkling off-shore Anse Céron was good, too.
From St. Pierre we reached the Route de la Trace that travels from Morne Rouge to Fort de France. It's a dramatic drive through lush rainforest of tall tree ferns and thick clumps of bamboo. Along the road we passed the eastern flanks of the volcanic mountain peaks of the Pitons du Carbet, which is the backcone of Martinique