Recover from the long winter with a wellness-focused getaway in the "Nature Island" of the Caribbean—and help the island recover from Hurricane Maria at the same time.

By By Kate Robertson
Updated: April 10, 2018

After the long winter, chances are a tropical vacation has never sounded better. If a magical wellness and eco-tourism destination sounds appealing, then the answer is Dominica. Located just above Martinique, Dominica has managed to remain off the beaten path due to its mountainous makeup. It's so off the beaten path, in fact, that there are no direct flights from the United States. Still, for tourists willing to deal with a connection (it's a quick 45-minute flight from Barbados), you'll be greeted by lush rainforest, hiking trails, and some of the best scuba diving in the world.

And the country just so happens to be in need of a helping hand after Hurricane Maria. In September of 2017, disaster hit paradise when Dominica was devastated by the Category 5 storm. Buildings were destroyed and tropical forests were ravaged. With tourism as the island's number-one source of income, livelihoods have been seriously affected. (Related: Why You Should Consider Booking a Fitness-Meets-Volunteering Trip)

Dominica is working to get up and running for tourism again pronto. And luckily, you can help the island recover while still having a fun, active, and adventure-filled vacation.

Get Involved

Credit: Discover Dominica Authority

Dominica has maintained a significant portion of the island as a national forest reserve, making it easy to see why they call it the Nature Island. In fact, it's the only Caribbean island with a long-distance hiking trail, the Waitukubuli National Trail, which spans 185 kilometers from one tip of the island to the other. Maria toppled trees and debris across the trail, making it inaccessible in places. but you can help with the ongoing efforts to clean up the trail.

Bring your work clothes and be prepared to wield a chainsaw, shovel, rake, and wheelbarrow, or to stuff bags with wood chips. (Remember before you engage in any volunteer activity, check that you have the necessary skills to help. Otherwise, your "help" might be more hindrance and your dollars might be best donated to the cause.)

Luckily, this opportunity also lets you spend your days in the rainforest with the hummingbirds and parrots, amongst landscape which is green for miles. (Related: Why You Should Consider Booking a Fitness-Meets-Volunteering Trip)

Credit: Discover Dominica Authority / Christophe Migeon

If water is more your thing, you can help clean up the Caribbean marine reserve just off the coast. Daily dives are being organized to pull up the tin roofing and debris and put it on local fishing boats to transfer to shore for recycling.

Luckily, you can also take advantage of some of the best scuba diving. Dominica is one of the top 10 dive destinations in the world because of the reef, shipwrecks, and the jagged, mountainous shoreline which makes for easy wall dives.

You'll also find volcanic thermal springs in Dominica, like the Champagne Reef, which keep the water bubbly and warm. Many species of whales frequent the waters and sperm whales stay close to the island from November to March. So be sure to book a whale watching tour when you're not volunteering.

Credit: Discover Dominica Authority

Cobra Tours could also use some help clearing the debris from the Indian River (no fishing here, this is a totally eco-river). After Maria, the debris was so thick that you could walk across the river without touching water, says Andrew "Cobra" O'Brien. He and his crews worked for two and a half months straight after Maria to get the river accessible again, but there's still a lot to be cleared.

After work, be sure to drop by the Bush Bar, a jungle bar on the shores of the river where you can sip killer rum punch while swaying in time to island reggae. Locals swear the rum punch will cure whatever ails you.

Explore the Island

Credit: Discover Dominica Authority

You don't want to be all work and no play though, right? No worries, there's plenty to do on your days off. The whole island is essentially a wellness retreat. A lot of the attractions are outdoor activities, like hiking the Waitukubuli (before you hike, check with Discover Dominica to see which trails might still be closed from the hurricane) or visiting pretty waterfalls like those at the aptly-named Emerald Pool. This short hike takes you to waterfalls emptying into an emerald-colored pool, a setting so achingly beautiful that you will feel like you're in a movie scene (several scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, *were* filmed on the island). A dip here is refreshingly cool. (Related: Learn How to Plan the Most Epic Adventure Vacation of Your Life)

To learn about the indigenous people, stop at the Kalinago Territory. The Kalinago own a small territory of land here where they mostly farm and make crafts. At the cultural center, they are happy to share their proud heritage and traditions like canoe-building, carving and basket-making, and music and dance.

Accommodation is included with many of the voluntourism opportunities in Portsmouth, or you can opt to stay at the romantic Picard Beach Cottages or the personable Hotel The Champs. (Over the next couple of years, the first "chain" hotels will be opening close to Portsmouth-the Kempinski and the Marriott).

Wellness, Island Style

Healthy eating is easy on the island. After tourism, agriculture is the second most important economic source for Dominica. A significant portion of food on the island is still grown organically, as farmers have stuck to traditional planting methods. (Feeling the wanderlust vibes? Check out our latest healthy travel award winners.)

A "don't miss" for some traditional Creole island cooking is the Islet View Restaurant on the Castle Bruce Highway between Portsmouth and Roseau (the capital of the island with 20,000 people, one-third of the island's population). Inside you'll find a cute shabby-chic décor and a back patio with a stunning view overlooking the ocean. You'll be mesmerized while you're eating your smoked jerk-style chicken and "provisions"-root veggies and salads. Roseau is also where you will find pubs and clubs to shake up the quiet of island life.

Credit: Fort Young Hotel

For activities like spa-ing or yoga, Roseau, again, is the best choice. Fort Young Hotel, a historical hotel constructed around the original fort walls has regular yoga classes on their sunset terrace. Although the terrace was damaged by Maria, classes are scheduled to resume shortly. Spa treatments are also available at Fort Young Hotel. And for the ultimate relaxation touch, indulge in a Dominican-style massage with Dafrica Thomas at Nature's Caress, where they use Caribbean herbs as the base of their products.

It's hard to believe a nation of people who live in the Hurricane Belt can keep up their hopes, especially after a fierce disaster like Maria. But most Dominicans continue to express optimism, accepting the natural disaster as a fact of life and using the opportunity to build back stronger.

Perhaps Thomas says it best: "Maria washed the island clean; now it is time to rebuild." Seems like the perfect place to flex the ethical tourism muscles and indulge in an incredible wellness vacation.

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