On most Caribbean islands, the focus of your travels remains on the exterior. You visit the port cities and the beaches to sunbathe, swim, snorkel, and laze. This is not so on Dominica. The truly unique beauty of Dominica lies not on its coasts, but in its dense, tropical interior—or so we learn in this travel piece about Wottom Waven, Dominica. As it is, indeed, a lovely spot on a seldom visited island, here is the piece.
There is no better spot to capitalize on Dominica’s thick rainforests, cool rivers, and abundant geothermal activity than Wotton Waven. Lying in the Roseau Valley, a short 4 mile, 20 min drive or bus ride from the capital, Wotton Waven is a nature lover’s leafy paradise.
The town was named in the island’s British Colonial days after Wootton Wawen in England, although the 2 towns are hardly alike. While Wootton Wawan is a flat meadowland, Wotton Waven is situated on top of the Wotton Waven Caldera, one of Dominica’s many active volcanoes. Grenada is the only other island in the Caribbean with more than 1 volcano. Dominica boasts 9.
It’s rumored that when Christopher Columbus returned from his second voyage to the New World, he was lost for words when the Queen asked him to describe Dominica. Instead, he crumpled up a piece of paper, tossed it on the table and said, “That is Dominica.” Some 500 years later, not much has changed.
The geothermal activity of Wotton Waven is apparent the moment you turn off the main road from Roseau. The faint smell of sulfur is a hint that you’re getting close and the steam rising in the distance is not a fire. Along the way you pass several rushing rivers that the Dominicans utilize for everything. Some are bathing, some relaxing, others pull their car up to give it a wash. Walking away from the river, women balance laundry on their heads as they toddle home. With a high annual rainfall and over 365 rivers (one for every day of the year) there is plenty of water flowing throughout the island for everyone.
At 700 feet above sea level, you have reached Wotton Waven, the “Health and Wellness Village.” For a small town of just over 200 residents, Wotton Waven has a plethora of facilities. A good first stop is the newly opened Tourism Reception Center, duly funded by the government of Dominica and the European Union under the 2006 Tourism Sector Development Program, an effort to boost tourism on this widely overlooked Eastern Caribbean Island. Situated in the center of town near the Wotton Waven Catholic Church and the village playing field, the center includes an interpretation room, Internet café and restrooms.
Up the hill from the reception center is Ti Kwen Glo Cho (“little corner of hot water” in Creole), a playground of natural wonders. The first stop is the bar where a nominal fee grants you unlimited access to the facilities. If you’re feeling adventurous (and have a steel stomach), take a cup of homemade bush rum with you through the gardens and down to the pools. Bush rum is typically made from local overproof alcohol and flavored with fruits, herbs or spices that ferment in the bottle. A cup of lemongrass or basil rum is supposedly quite “soothing,” albeit extremely strong.
Downhill from the bar are two areas, both with changing huts. To your right are Ti Kwen’s famous tubs. A series of bamboo pipes usher warm sulfur water directly into 3 welcoming bathtubs perched alongside a freshwater river. Just above the tubs is a larger pool filled with a steady stream of sulfur water that overflows on the far end down to the river below.
If a mud bath with a view is more your style, follow the path over the river to the murky pools of milky-brown water sitting in view of an alluring waterfall. Both sides of the river harness not only sulfuric water but also the fresh river water for rinsing off.
Heading back down the hill and in sight of the Reception Center is Tia’s Bamboo Cottages and Sulphur Spa, part of Le Petit Paradis, an eco-resort in the heart of town that offers affordable accommodation, a restaurant and bar, and access to three riverside hot pools. Sitting in the warm, stone lined pools and peering up at the hibiscus flowers above is a great way to finish off a day of hiking nearby. Additionally, you can rent out one of the two enclosed hot pools on the premises for total privacy. If you’re looking for some quality nutmeg ask Joan behind the bar, and while you’re at it, try her local rum punch “the bullet.”
On the road connecting Wotton Waven and Trafalger is Screw’s Sulfur Spa, arguably the most visited of all attractions in this small town. Popular with the cruise ship set, it’s a good idea to avoid Screws when the floating cities are docked in Roseau. Otherwise, your stay may not be as peaceful as planned.
Screws is the largest of the sulfur spas in Wotton Waven with a wooden bridge leading down from the changing rooms into four large hot pools that vary in temperature. Additionally, there is a cold pool higher up the fern covered hill and small waterfalls on site to cool off. A volcanic mud wrap or a soothing massage can be arranged and there is often complimentary seasonal fruit and juice. Open 12 hours, 6 days a week, you’ll have plenty of time to chat with Screw, sit at his bar, eat some ital food, and explore the grounds.
Rainforest Shangri-La is around a scenic bend and across the river from Screws. It has the feel of a natural, DIY adventure land. Check in at the front desk of this small eco-resort with Janet and a reasonable fee allows you access to their grounds. A short path leads through the lodging and past the serene yoga studio to the riverbed, where three very hot and sunny pools await. Up river, plumes of smoke billow out of brilliantly colored rocks, making it the perfect spot for a steam bath. Rainforest Shangri-La Resort also offers a wide array of services from guided tours to tai chi & yoga or even the assistance of a chiropractor.
Continuing down the road there are several attractions nearby to keep you busy for days. A short walk finds you at Trafalgar Falls, the iconic twin waterfalls (one is hot and the other cold). A winding road continues on through Trafalgar and up to Laudat, the starting point for many of the island’s famous hikes and home of the Rainforest Ariel Tram and Ti Tou Gorge (made famous in the Pirates of the Caribbean films).
The resorts and natural spas of Wotton Waven offer a unique and inexpensive alternative to the typical island accommodation. There is so much to do in this small town and so many places to not do anything. The duel opportunities for adventure and relaxation are endless.
Dominica is the forgotten Caribbean island that you need to remember when you book your next getaway. A trip to the Caribbean’s “nature island” is truly a step off the map into an unspoiled paradise.