Those on the group flights will arrive late afternoon in Dominica.
The Caribbean island of Dominica is 750 square kilometres of paradise and nicknamed the 'Nature Island' for its jungle-clad mountainous interior and its curvaceous coastline. Its soaring mountains, rivers, rainforests, and black volcanic beaches, defy the stereotypical Caribbean island. First sighted by Christopher Columbus on a Sunday in 1493 (Dominica being the Latin word for Sunday), Dominica's history became closely tied to European colonial expansion. First controlled by the French and later the British, today the island's people, culture and cuisine are a fascinating mélange of African, European, Indian and Creole influences. The island is a reminder of what much of the Caribbean looked like before colonisation and deforestation and it is said that Dominica is the only Caribbean island that Columbus would recognise today.
This morning we visit the Carib Territory, the only indigenous peoples' reserve in the Caribbean, which offers a unique perspective to the island and its heritage. Located on the east coast of the island, which the Kalinago people called Wai-tukubuli (tall is her body), the Carib Territory is home to about 3,000 people living in eight villages.
Kalinago Barana Aute, the Carib Culture village by the sea, honours the diversity, history and heritage of the Kalinago people by presenting their customs and cultural traditions. It provides an opportunity for us to experience, learn about and appreciate their way of life. Here we can sample local food, witness craft and dance demonstrations, learn about the traditions of agriculture and fishing and purchase authentic handicrafts for which the territory is renowned.
From here we drive to the Emerald Pool located in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park. We follow a short trail past overhanging trees and lush vegetation to a small waterfall and shimmering pool, in a grotto in the forest, for a quick dip in the Emerald Pool which is so called because it reflects the greenery of the surrounding vegetation. Those who wish to will be able to swim in the pool at the base of the fall.
Today we leave the hotel very early to travel into some of Dominica's finest Oceanic rainforest at Syndicate. Located in the foothills of Morne Diablotin we look for the island's national bird: the Sisserou (the Imperial Parrott) and the Jacquot (the Red Necked Parrott) both endemics to Dominica and endangered species. We may also see up to nine regional endemics as well as Stolid Flycatcher, Rufous-throated Solitaire, Pearly-eyed Thrasher, Scaly-breasted Thrasher, Brown Trembler, Lesser Antillean Pewee, Mangrove Cuckoo, Blue-headed Hummingbird, Zenida Dove, Ruddy Quail-Dove, Red-necked Pigeon (also known as the Scaly-naped Pigeon), Plumbeous Warbler, House Wren and the Lesser Antillean Swift.
The Syndicate rainforest has well maintained trails which pass through some of Dominica's best, easily accessible rainforest and is abundant with trees like the giant Gommier (Dacryodes Excelsa) the incredibly buttressed chataignier (Sloanea Carabea) numerous epiphytes and stranglers.
We continue to the Indian River, so called because the Carib Indians that used to live up river. It has also recently featured as a location for Pirates of the Caribbean 2. The verdant vegetation along the banks of the river is dominated by intricately buttressed Mango trees (Pterocarpus Officinalis) and we are likely to see herons, kingfishers and, possibly, iguanas. The rowboats go to an area where the river narrows and visitors can get out and take a walk or go to the bush bar for a drink.
We then head back to Portsmouth, Dominica's second largest town, to visit Fort Shirley in Cabrits National Park. There are well-marked wildlife trails around the grounds and ruins of this 18th century garrison which is gradually being restored and beautiful views south-east across Prince Rupert's Bay towards Morne Diablotins, Dominica's highest peak.
This evening we stay in the capital, Roseau.
Morning free to relax or take an optional trip and travel south by boat to snorkel or dive in famous Scotts Head / Soufriere Marine Reserve, one of the best marine dive locations in the Caribbean with a wide range of coral reef, deep-water fish and invertebrates, and a spectacular undersea crater, with a unique underwater hot spring at Champagne. Snorkel or dive amongst the bubbles formed from volcanic gases just offshore. The captain and guides will be on the lookout for sea birds, turtles and dolphins that frequent the bay. This afternoon we hike for approximately one hour and fifteen minutes through the rainforest of the Morne Piton National Park to get to the waterfall. The trail is fairly well defined but can be rugged in certain areas as it undulates its way through the jungle. The Middleham Falls is approximately 85 metres high with its waters thundering down into the pool at its base where we can enjoy a refreshing dip. We then board the vehicle and transfer to Laudat and the Ti Tou Gorge which is considered one of the most exotic places on the island. The Ti Tou Gorge is somewhat like a small canyon with a waterfall inside. It was formed by pyroclastic flows from volcanic eruptions thousands of years ago and is fed by a lake located at 900 metres up in the mountains. Inside the Ti Tou Gorge we will discover an exotic world all of its own making.
Morning free to relax and enjoy the hotel.
This afternoon we take a boat trip to look for whales and dolphins. Dominica is blessed with an abundance of both resident and visiting cetaceans, pods of Spinner and Spotted Dolphins, Pilot Whales, Sperm Wales, False Orcas, and at least a dozen other species. Whales and Dolphins are sighted so frequently in these waters that Dominica is widely considered to be one of the best areas in the Caribbean for encounters with these fascinating creatures and has been dubbed as the 'Whale Watching Capital' of The Eastern Caribbean. We watch as they break the surface of the water and listen to the rhythmic sounds of their clicking communication from the hydrophone-equipped catamaran. These trips have an impressive 80% success rate of sightings.
After breakfast drive to Freshwater Lake, Dominica's largest lake and the source of the Roseau River. Though it is only 16 metres deep, the lake is widely-believed to be bottomless and legend tells of a one-eyed monster of the deep that resides in the lake. Here you can kayak (optional extra) or take an hour-long trail around the shore and admire the views and the eerie scenery.
From Freshwater Lake there is a more difficult trail to the mist-shrouded Boeri Lake which is approximately one hour away and sits at an elevation of 850m.
We then drive to Papillote Wilderness Retreat in the Roseau Valley where we have a local lunch followed by some time at leisure to enjoy the wonderful rainforest gardens landscaped by the owner, Anne Jean Baptiste, where frogs and other creatures live alongside 30 kinds of birds and 19 species of butterfly amongst hot and cold waterfalls and soothing hot mineral pools. Massage and spa treatments are available at an additional cost.
This evening we transfer to the airport for our flight to St. Lucia.
This morning there is the option to do another whale and dolphin watching trip. To date, in excess of 25 varieties of these magnificent mammals have been spotted in St. Lucian waters. The most frequently sighted of the whales are Sperm whales, Pilot whales and Humpback whales whilst Orcas (Killer whale) have, occasionally, been seen here too. We are also almost guaranteed sightings of dolphins, sometimes as many as 150 at a time. They dazzle and hypnotize us with their spectacular and lively antics. The most frequently sighted are the Spotted, the Common, the Fraser and Striped and Spinners. We later transfer to Pigeon Island where we have the opportunity to buy lunch at cosy local restaurant Jambe de Bois.
Pigeon Island is a 40-acre (160,000 m2) islet located in Gros Islet in the northern region of Saint Lucia. Composed of two peaks the island is a historic site with numerous forts such as an 18th century British fort and Fort Rodney both used by the British to spy on French ships from neighbouring Martinique. In 1979 it was named a national park and again in 1992 it became a national landmark under the control of the Saint Lucia National Trust.
Pigeon Island is home to many different species of native bird including the Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Bridled Tern, Brown Noddy and Caribbean Martin. And we can take a walk around the island looking for some of these birds.
This morning we depart at dawn for the 45-minute drive to Grande Anse. Grande Anse is a mile-long stretch of deserted beach on the Atlantic east coast of St. Lucia. We'll spend a couple of hours here trekking along the beach and nearby hillsides before transferring 45 minutes by road to Marquis, also on the stunning, little populated east coast.
The northeast of St. Lucia has been left relatively untouched as there is very little road infrastructure in the area. The vegetation is characteristic of a dry coastal forest and very different to that of the centre and west of the island.
Grande Anse and Marquis offer opportunities to see the St. Lucia Black Finch, the St. Lucia Aureole, the St. Lucia Peewee, Bridal Quail Doves, Ruddy Quail doves, a variety of reptiles including various species of lizards, iguanas, boas and many other types of wetland and coastal birds and a variety of crabs, butterflies and dragonflies while enjoying the magnificent scenery of this wild coast.
This afternoon is free to explore Castries, go to the beach or take an optional excursion to the Forestiere Nature Trail located in the rainforest-covered hills above Castries. If you chose this last option, a 30 minute transfer from the capital will bring you to the trail which is part of the Old French Road. It is about 10 km (6.21 mi) long and runs from the north to the south over the summit of Piton Flore and through the rain forest, ending on the main highway. The trail offers opportunities to see Ruddy Quail Dove, Lesser Antillean Swift, Purple-throated Carib, Antillean Crested Hummingbird, St Lucia Pewee, Lesser Antillean Flycatcher, Pearly-eyed Thrasher, Grey Trembler, St Lucia Warbler, the St Lucia Oriole and interesting flora including large fig trees, epiphytes and ferns. The trail takes about 2.5 hours to complete and you will then be transferred to our accommodation for the next 2 nights.
Early morning departure from our hotel for the half hour drive to the Des Cartiers Nature trail in the Edmund Forest Reserve. The forest reserve has been created to protect a critical watershed and to support the conservation of the biodiversity of the area.
The trek is an easy one with opportunities to see the St. Lucia Parrot, locally known as the Jacquot and the national bird of St. Lucia. This leisurely 4 hour stroll will include opportunities to see the Pearly-eyed Thrasher, Scaly-necked Pigeon, Black Swift, Lesser Antillean Swift, Purple-throated Carib, Antillean Crested Hummingbird, Caribbean Elaenia, St Lucia Pewee, Lesser Antillean Flycatcher, Rufous-throated Solitaire, Bare-eyed Thrush, Grey Trembler, Lesser Antillean Euphonia and St Lucia Black Finch.
We continue by road for 45 minutes to Soufriere, home of the world's only drive-in volcano, our visit includes a guided tour and opportunity to bathe in the springs, covering ourselves in mud believed to have excellent health promoting properties before going for a late lunch in Soufriere.
The town of Soufriere was once the capital, under the French, and has had a tumultuous history of slavery, revolution and struggle as well as hurricanes, a major fire and an earthquake.
The town is also renowned for its natural attractions including The Pitons - Gros Piton and Petit Piton, two giant volcanic plugs located south of town. Soufriere itself is located within the caldera of the dormant Qualibou volcano and the area is geothermally active.
After lunch there is a 30 minute transfer Cap Moule a Chique, a peninsula and the southernmost point on St Lucia. The area offers the opportunity to observe colonies of seabirds up close, including from above, and exquisite views of the south coast, the Atlantic and neighbouring St. Vincent.
Today, after a very early start, we will explore the nearby south-east coast of the island. The half hour transfer brings us to the Vieux Forte Wetlands, an area of pools close to the international airport.
Highlights of the day are the opportunity to see the world's rarest snake - the St. Lucia Racer, the world's smallest snake - the St. Lucia Worm Snake and the St. Lucia whip tail lizard. These are all endemics and the lizard is extremely endangered. We can also enjoy sightings of Ospreys, Kingfishers, Grebes, the Caribbean Coot, the Caribbean Martin and a wide variety of wetland and sea birdlife roosting, feeding and nesting in this spectacular pristine environment.
We head back to the hotel and have the remainder of day to relax by the pool or take an optional short stroll to visit the Mamiku Gardens, a wonderful collection of tropical gardens on a historic site dating back to the 18th century. Nature trails curl through the vegetation to reveal scenic vistas and peaceful rest zones.
Those on the group flight will be transferred to the airport later this afternoon for the flight back to London.