By Anastasia Mills Healy
Dominica (pronounced Dom-in-eek-a) has been called “the only island that Columbus would still recognize.” There is something primordial about the Nature Island’s densely forested mountains, volcanoes, boiling lake, thermal pools, black sand beaches, and crashing waterfalls. Some of the world’s oldest sea creatures—whales and sea turtles—pay visits and a community of native people, the Kalinago (formerly Carib), still live as they have for thousands of years.
Brightly colored flowers create pops of color in the deep green landscape, from intensely orange blooms at the upper reaches of African tulip trees to the scarlet heliconia in the underbrush. Even houses are painted cheery shades of yellow and blue.
Rebounding from 2017’s Hurricane Maria, Dominica has been racking up awards for sustainability and has landed on numerous “best of” lists including Travel + Leisure’s Best Places to Travel 2020. The island is working towards a 2030 goal of becoming the first climate-resistant country with an action plan that includes using its multiple renewable energy sources.
This is the backdrop for Rosalie Bay Eco-Resort, which first opened in 2011 and just reopened last month after major renovations necessitated by Hurricane Maria. On 22 acres there are only 28 rooms and suites in nine hand-built cottages, which have porches overlooking the manicured grounds, the tranquil Rosalie River, or the wild Atlantic Ocean. Richard Branson stayed with his family in a Riverview Suite a few years back.
A dip in the onyx-lined pool is welcome after a rainforest hike, river kayak trip, or walk on the private black sand beach where endangered sea turtles nest March through October. Guests can register their interest in sea turtle observation and if these amazing creatures are active on the beach, nesting at night, they will be awakened to watch a 1,000-pound leatherback lay a clutch of eggs. Simon George, a local turtle protector with a degree from Virginia Tech, and a handful of volunteers patrol the beach every single night in season to prevent poaching and to ensure the best possible outcome for hatchlings. For example, if a nest is too close to the water, Simon will dig it up and move the precious eggs to a safer location. Interested guests also get a late-night call if hatchlings begin to emerge. Simon oversees this initial walk to the water as well, since some of the tiny turtles need help getting out of the nest. He explained that he never picks them up and puts them in the water since the walk creates an imprint that enables these same turtles to find this same beach years from now when they’re ready to lay their own eggs.
At Rosalie Bay, a wind turbine and solar panels generate energy; local spring water is collected and filtered; and furniture is handmade from local, often recycled, materials.
Treatments at the Gló Spa, which was crafted from native wood and river stones, utilize local products. Guests can opt for an application of volcanic sulphur mud infused with seaweed, a local cold-pressed coconut oil massage with heated stones from the Rosalie River, or hydrotherapy in a bath infused with ginger, algae, or glory cedar. The spa’s riverfront location allows guests to relax into a treatment with the trickling of the river as a soundtrack and even shower outside in nature.
Rosalie Bay is “upscale but not fancy” in the words of its builder, Beverly Deikel. Rooms are air-conditioned and have rain showers, TV, and Wi-Fi. There’s a fitness room onsite and yoga, personal training, and nutrition counseling can be arranged for a wellness-focused stay.
An hour from the airport, Rosalie Bay is in the foothills of Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a biodiverse UNESCO World Heritage Site with 50 fumaroles and five volcanoes. North of Rosalie Bay is the Kalinago Territory where 3,000 descendants of the island’s original inhabitants welcome visitors to learn about their way of life through storytelling, song and dance, and demonstrations of weaving, carving, and cooking.
Dominica lies between Guadeloupe and Martinique and can be reached by plane from San Juan and other regional airports as well as by ferry.
Rosalie Bay is one of several properties that have newly opened or reopened on this lush, 290-square-mile island with 300 miles of hiking trails, 365 rivers, a dozen waterfalls, and diving amongst walls, pinnacles, and shipwrecks. Dominica is ready for its close up and for people to stop confusing it with the Dominican Republic.