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Dominica was once one of the British Windward Islands, situated between Guadeloupe and Martinique in the Caribbean. Tourism has exploded on the island, which has become a popular stop for cruise ships, particularly since it became the setting for the hit movie franchise Pirates of the Caribbean. Tourists shouldn't visit for the typical Caribbean sandy beaches, though, as the coastline is rugged and dramatic, with steep cliffs plunging into the sea. Nature has indeed traded white-sandy beaches for other treasures on this volcanic island, such as thick forests, gushing rivers and magnificent waterfalls. Offshore there is a wondrous world for scuba divers, with diverse sloping reefs, pinnacles, walls and underwater hot springs to explore.
Many of those who come ashore from cruise liners have only a day to take in the delights of Dominica, which is certainly not enough for all the activities and excursions on offer. The capital, Roseau, provides a wonderful introduction to the destination. Located in a small area on Dominica's west coast, where rugged green hills meet a deep blue sea, it's a mix of French and British colonial structures that run along narrow streets, punctuating the modern concrete buildings and recalling the destination's history.
From there, travellers can head to the fascinating 'Boiling Lake' in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, tube down the Layou River, or snorkel among the tropical fish at 'Champagne' (where volcanic fissures make the water bubble). They can also hike through the forest, plunge into the green depths of the Emerald Pool, ride an aerial tram through the rain forest canopy, or watch a live folklore show.
This unspoilt tropical paradise does not offer luxury resorts and high-rise hotels, but is rather designed for those who want to take a break and relax in cliff-top villas, small mountain spas, guesthouses and apartments. At the same time, the island is equipped with all the modern conveniences, including good communications infrastructure, banks and numerous restaurants, usually run by local families, in which to sample the delicious local West Indian cuisine. Those brave enough might like to tuck into traditional favourites such as stewed opossum, or 'mountain chicken' (which is actually a large frog), which can be washed down with some hearty coconut rum punch.
Dominica's tropical climate has plenty of sunshine, humidity and heat all year round; the island has an average year-round temperature of 81F (27C) and the seasons are not very distinct, with little temperature variation. Hot days are interspersed with frequent rain showers, which dampen the intense heat and nourish the island's extensive rainforest. The island is very susceptible to tropical storms and hurricanes, usually between June and November.
Some say the best months in which to visit are February and May, as they're safely out of the hurricane season and experience less rain. They can be very hot and humid, though. Others insist that despite the dangers of hurricanes, the best time to holiday in Dominica is between October and December, when the days are slightly cooler and less humid.
The official currency of Dominica is the East Caribbean dollar (XCD), which is fixed to the US dollar. US dollars, the euro and the British pound are also commonly accepted on the island, but change is usually given in EC dollars. Money can be exchanged at major hotels and banks. Banks open from 8am to 2pm Monday to Thursday, and 8am to 4pm on Friday. Major credit cards are accepted by most businesses, except small vendors. There are several ATMs attached to banks in the capital, Roseau, which dispense EC dollars.
English is the official language, but the local people speak a Creole patois.
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. The United Kingdom style plug with three flat pins is used. Round three-pin plugs are also used.
US nationals: US citizens require a passport valid upon arrival in Dominica. No visa is required for a USA tourists for up to six months.
UK nationals: British citizens require a passport valid upon arrival in Dominica. No visa is required for a stay of up to six months for British passport holders.
CA nationals: Canadian citizens require a passport valid upon arrival in Dominica. No visa is required for up to six months.
AU nationals: Australian citizens require a passport valid upon arrival in Dominica. No visa is required for up to six months.
ZA nationals: South African citizens require a passport valid upon arrival in Dominica. No visa is required for stays of up to six months.
IR nationals: Irish citizens require a passport valid upon arrival in Dominica. No visa is required for a stay of up to six months.
NZ nationals: New Zealand citizens require a passport valid upon arrival in Dominica. No visa is required for a stay of up to six months.
All visitors require a return or onward ticket, entry documents for their next destination, and sufficient funds to cover their stay in Dominica. A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required if visitors over the age of one are arriving from a country with a risk of yellow fever, or have transited for longer than 12 hours in an airport located in a country with a risk of transmission. It is highly recommended that travellers' passport have at least six months' validity remaining after the intended date of departure from their travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccinations are recommended for visitors to Dominica, and a yellow fever vaccination is compulsory for entry if visitors are coming from an infected area. For those travellers who will be eating and drinking outside of hotels and restaurants, a typhoid vaccination should be considered. Dengue fever is on the increase and visitors should take precautions against mosquito bites. Medical facilities on the island are limited, so health insurance with evacuation cover is recommended. It is advisable that visitors bring any personal medications they may need with them, and ensure they have all the necessary documents from their doctor to get the medication through customs. Food and drinks are safe to consume in hotels and restaurants, but it is preferable to drink bottled water.
A 10 percent service charge is usually added by hotels and restaurants but, if it has not been added, a discretionary tip of between 10 to 15 percent is acceptable for good service. Taxi drivers do not expect tips.
Visits to Dominica are usually trouble-free, but visitors should be wary of petty theft and take sensible precautions with money and valuables.
Islanders tend to be friendly and appreciate having their smiles and greetings returned. It's also best that visitors only wear revealing outfits at the beach or poolside. Nudity on beaches is not acceptable, nor is haggling at the markets. Local attitudes towards the LGBT community are mostly conservative throughout the Caribbean.
Business dress is smart, and meetings are formal. Office hours are Monday to Friday 8am to 4pm with a lunch break between 1pm and 2pm.
The international access code for Dominica is +1, in common with the US, Canada and most of the Caribbean, followed by 767. Telephone services are excellent and WiFi is available at some hotels. Travellers can purchase local SIM cards for unlocked phones.
Items that may be brought into Dominica without incurring customs duty are 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars, and 1 litre of alcohol. Any other goods or appliances for personal use are allowed.
Discover Dominica: +1 767 448-2045 or www.discoverdominica.com/en/home
Embassy of Dominica, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 364 6781.
High Commission of Dominica, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7370 5194.
High Commission of Dominica, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 236 8952.
United States Embassy, Bridgetown, Barbados (also responsible for Dominica): +1 246 227 4000.
British Consulate, Roseau, Dominica: +1 767 275 7800.
Canadian Embassy, Bridgetown, Barbados (also responsible for Dominica): +1 246 629 3550.
Australian Embassy, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago (also responsible for Dominica): +1 868 822 5450.
South African High Commission, Kingston, Jamaica (also responsible for Dominica): +1 876 620 4840.
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