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Eden and Satan Meet at Dominica’s Botantical Gardens

“Don’t touch the fruit of the Cannon Ball Tree! It smells like ‘Satan’s feces.’ ” This statement is the most vivid memory I have of our visit to Dominica’s Botanical Gardens. The warning was delivered in the lilting sing-song voice of our tour guide, and it was met with a resounding round of laughter from our group. But we all steered clear of the Cannon Ball Tree fruit. I did wonder what Satan’s feces smelled like, and how anyone would know, but I wasn’t quite curious enough to find out.

The Cannon Ball Tree

Don’t go near the fruit of the Cannon Ball Tree

The Botanical Gardens lie just outside Roseau, at the base of Morne Bruce, which is the mountain overlooking the town. On our cruise ship tour we had only a fleeting glimpse of the gardens. On another trip, we would spend many hours there exploring. The plantings are extensive, and a captive breeding program provides close up views of the endangered Sisserou and Jacko Parrots. It makes for a perfect picnic spot, as well as a convenient and relaxing stop for birdwatchers visiting Dominica. The plantings encourage a diverse array of birds to visit, so bring your binoculars and listen closely to their songs.

Ficus at Dominica Botanical Gardens

Aerial ficus roots, Dominica Botanical Gardens

The Spiny Bamboo House was an interesting topiary. We were told it was sometimes used for weddings, anniversaries, and other celebrations. We wondered if “other celebrations” included island “religious” ceremonies. Various forms of voodoo (for lack of a better word) are reportedly still practiced in certain areas of this portion of the Caribbean. The bamboo house’s spooky quality was not lost on us.

Bamboo House

The bamboo house is used for celebrations and events

The national tree/flower of Dominica is called the Bwa Kwaib. It sports prolific crimson blooms in the spring, but only after shedding all of its leaves. It was chosen to represent this country because it thrives under the harshest conditions, just like Dominica.

Dominica's National Tree

The Bwa Kwaib tree blooms after all its leaves are lost

According to Frommer’s, the Gardens were established initially to provide Dominica’s farmers with crop diversification. London’s Kew Gardens provided exotic plant seedlings from every tropical outpost to determine what would grow well in Dominica’s climate and soil. The result: everything grew well here.

On your next cruise stop at Dominica, consider a walk to the Botanical Gardens, or take a quick taxi ride there. Pick up a few beers and sandwiches in town and enjoy a nice picnic lunch. The lack of beaches on this island is quite overcome by its incredible natural beauty. I would first encourage a trip to the many waterfalls, rivers, lakes, or the rainforest. If, however, you decide to stay close to Roseau, these Gardens can transport you to a beautiful, tranquil, relaxing Garden of Eden. Just don’t be tempted by the fruit of the Cannon Ball Tree.

Contact me at susan@susanmcdanieltravel.com or 561-841-2224 to plan your trip to Dominica. Or visit my website at

www.susanmcdanieltravel.com  and use the tools there to explore any destination you choose. Travel begins with a dream, and I make dreams reality.

The Lazy Traveler’s Guide to Waterfalls in Dominica

Dominica is known as The Nature Isle with good reason.  Boasting a multitude of rivers and waterfalls, rainforests, and virtually untouched terrain, Dominica oozes flora and fauna. Adventurous and energetic travelers hike mountains, canyoneer, river raft, and do all manner of active tours. But what’s a lazy person to do? Or someone with physical limitations? We aimed to find out by taking a tour off of the Holland America Noordam called Accessible Dominica.

A comfortable van took twelve of us from the port to three stops: Morne Bruce for a hilltop view of the port of Roseau; the Dominica Botanical Gardens; and finally, way up the winding road to the rainforest and our ultimate destination of Jacko Falls.

Our tour guide dropped us off at a rustic outcropping of Rastafarians in the midst of the rain forest. And I mean rustic. And remote. A hand painted sign announced the location of Jacko Falls.  “Refrshing” and “One Humn Famly” it proclaimed. A very happy dreadlocked man greeted us and offered us rum shots, fruit juice, or fresh pieces of papaya and coconut “for a small donation.”

Modern bathrooms were easily accessible and made changing into and out of swimsuits easy work. Locals sold beautiful handmade jewelry, bird feeders, and other items from bamboo huts located adjacent to a cement sidewalk and metal guard rail. Thunderous sounds of water drowned out conversations as we peered over the railing into the rainforest jungle, trying to sneak a peek of Jacko Falls.

A sturdy set of rather steep cement steps descended some seventy feet to the base of the falls. Steps were slippery in spots due to the moisture, but they made the falls accessible to the lazy traveler, as well as those with physical limitations.

Once at the base of the steps, a beautiful stream materialized out of the greenery. It caught the water overflow from the falls and meandered on down the mountain through the rainforest. It’s quite a picturesque scene, but does not prepare you for the beauty of the falls itself. Suddenly the air became mistier, heavy with moisture. It smelled clean and fresh. The sound of the waterfall was deafening.

As you turned towards the sound, the Garden of Eden emerged. It  was exquisite and surreal in its beauty. Crystal clear torrents of water crashed into a shallow pool lined with smooth river rocks. To the side is a cave where, no doubt, the Rastafarians hold “religious ceremonies” once the tourists leave. Remnants of a fire were visible. Imagine what this scene would look like at night, by firelight!

A short walk over a gravel path and then some smooth stones led to the pool below the falls. The water was warmer than you might think, and a light blue hue. The entire scene is surrounded by encroaching greenery of all types. The rainforest fauna thrives here and threatens to swallow up the falls and the river it created.

It is all reminiscent of an old Tarzan movie. Huge vines dangled down, seemingly in midair. You wonder if there is another cave behind the waterfall filled with treasure, just like in the old movies.  Maybe you want to let out a Tarzan scream as you splash around in the waterfall pool. Do plan to take the plunge at Jacko Falls in Dominica. It is easy to walk in and out of the pool, and it may be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Luckily, the opportunity is available to even the less energetic, less phyically- able adventurers among us.

Allow me to arrange your cruise or land vacation to the Nature Island of Dominica. Call me at 561-841-2224 or e-mail at susan@susanmcdanieltravel.com.

Dominica has many other waterfalls you might also enjoy. Among them are Emerald Pool. This one requires more physical effort to reach than Jacko Falls but it is not a strenuous hike. Experienced tour guides are available through your cruise ship or I can make arrangements for you. You will find the beauty in Dominica stays with you long after your vacation is over.

Home Again!

Just home from a wonderful 9-day Southern Caribbean cruise aboard Holland America’s Noordam. It was our third time aboard the Noordam. She is a lovely ship. Our adventure began with an amazing Meet and Greet of Cruise Critic members. HAL pulled out all the stops for that get-together! Then we proceeded to St. Martin, St. Lucia, Dominica, St. Thomas, and Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas. I have several hundred photos and some incrdeible videos to share once I get all the material organized. I hope you will enjoy experiencing our adventure as I relive it, here on this blog and on Facebook.

Dominica by Cruise Ship

The tiny island of Dominica is a gem in the rough. Exploring its wonders by cruise ship was the highlight of our entire voyage. Surely a land vacation here would reveal many more delights, but a day- long visit was enough to intrigue and inspire.

Arrival early in the morning revealed a mountainous island shrouded in mist and surrounded by azure waters. A large white cross planted on the hillside above the port, barely visible through the mist, seemed otherworldly and mysterious. The cruise ship docked at a modern pier in deep water where passengers conveniently walked off the ship, no tender required. A small town of brightly painted buildings, none more than two or three stories high, beckoned to visitors.

We walked around the little town of Roseau, Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic). Dominica is a totally undeveloped island known for its rainforests, reefs, and natural beauty. There are no condos, malls, or other trappings of tourism so prevalent on the other islands. For us, we have all the shopping we need at home. We have more condos than we know what to do with. What we don’t have is real, natural, unspoiled beauty and interesting cultural differences.

We struck out into the town using a little map received from the Dominica tourist board before we left home. The streets are uneven cobblestone and probably very hard to maneuver for handicapped visitors. Watch your step! The shops are small and stark. But the attitudes are warm and welcoming. Everywhere we were met with “Good morning, madam,” and a smile. No conversation began without the requisite “Good morning,” or “Good day.”  It was all so civilized, and we loved it.

Heady aromas wafted from a spice shop called the Ruins Rock Café . I wanted vanilla beans and tellicherry peppercorns grown on-island and sure enough, they had them. They also had an abundance of medicinal teas, one called “Horny Mix.”

I asked, “What is ‘Horny Mix’ tea?”

“Oh, madam,” this beautiful young lady with tawny skin and a voice that caressed the senses replied, “That is an aphrodisiac. You should try some.”

I laughed and said, “No, no, I don’t think so,” as my husband blushed.

Suddenly the elderly (really, elderly!) English lady in front of me said, “Oh I just bought some for my husband and my lover! Oh dear, I just let the cat out of the bag now, didn’t I?”

It was a priceless vacation moment. That same lady led the way to the handicraft market behind the Dominican Museum (red tin roof building you can see from port). There stood a wealth of local handicrafts, as well as some probably made in China. Good-natured haggling over beautiful woven baskets and a carved calabash melon remains a fond memory.

Later in the day we gathered at the end of the pier for our 1:00PM snorkel trip to Champagne Beach. Here geothermal vents open underwater (the island is volcanic) and create bubble streams in the water which make it look like you are swimming in a glass of champagne.

Friends on a previous cruise had done this trip unescorted, but we opted for the ship’s tour. We enjoyed having our snorkel guide, Big Dave, available. He pointed out a 400-year-old shipwreck with cannon, anchor, and rode which we never would have noticed without his guidance. Dave also collected some of the water from the vents in his snorkel for us to feel. It was scorching hot. Our most interesting sighting was a spotted moray eel. There were lots of tropical fish we had not seen before because we were farther south than usual.

Dave also pointed out the twin mountain peaks above our location. That is where they filmed one segment of Pirates of the Caribbean where Johnny Depp is suspended between the mountains in the spiked ball. That scene was shot above Champagne Beach on Dominica. The tours from the ships are more expensive than going out on your own, but information like that, which you recall later, may be worth the extra expense.

The beach at Champagne Beach is reddish volcanic rock. You must have Teva’s or sand shoes because it is painful trying to walk on it barefoot. Luckily there is a long boardwalk for most of the way to the snorkel site.

With the tour we received complimentary rum punch (potent!), or excellent Kabuli beer. Make sure you enjoy the Kabuli beer if you like a pale ale. It is excellent and you cannot find it anywhere else. The beer is locally made with spring water from the rainforest. The bottled water is also locally bottled at Soufiere Spring on Dominica. Make sure you buy this water rather than drinking water from your cruise ship. Again, you can only get it on Dominica and it is memorable because it is so delicious.

As the cruise ship prepared to leave for the next stop, we were stunned to see a rainbow arching over the mountain peaks and rainforest of Dominica. The beauty of that rainbow was a fitting ending to a beautiful day. At a later date we hope to find the end of that rainbow on the other side of the island as we further explore Dominica.

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