Tag Archives: Eco-tourism

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Travel: Dominica

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Travel: Dominica

The Ultimate Island Retreat

By Kate Robertson

Dominica is a little-known Caribbean island, located above Martinique in the Lesser Antilles. Comprised mostly of mountainous rainforest, it has few beaches; however, with its hot springs, freshwater lakes and fabulous diving spots, it’s become an attractive eco-tourism destination. Here, the pace is so slow, the air and water so clean, and the food so fresh – every day feels like a a little piece of heaven.

LOCAL CUISINE AND LIBATIONS

After tourism, agriculture is the second most important economical source for Dominica. Much of the food on the island is still grown organically, as farmers have stuck to traditional planting methods. The island is self sufficient with fruit and vegetables, as long as severe weather doesn’t play havoc with the growing season.

A Kalinago Native, Traditional Basket Weaving;

Local cuisine has a creole influence. Stews, fish, and smoked, jerk-like meats are popular. Side dishes (root vegetables) are commonly called provisions. Protein is often served with starchy carbs like yams and potatoes, along with carrots, beans, rice and a green salad.

Portsmouth is the second largest city in Dominica, with approximately 3,000 residents. When visiting, check out the Strawberry Restaurant, with its brightly coloured pink and blue exterior. The daily specials are definitely worth trying, and pair it with an island-brewed beer called Kabuli. For a tropical taste explosion, the passion fruit and coco milk smoothie is a must.

Cabrits National Park

Roseau is the capital of the island, with more than 20,000 people – one-third of the island’s population. Located on the Castle Bruce Highway, between Roseau and Portsmouth, is the Islet View Restaurant. It’s not much to look at from the outside, and inside the decor could best be described as shabby-chic, but it’s the outside patio that’s worth the visit. With a stunning view of the ocean, locals claim that their local rums will treat whatever ails you. Here, they have a large selection of rums mixed with various herbs, as well as a killer rum punch.

Emerald Pool

JOURNEY THROUGH PARADISE

Commonly referred to as the Nature Island, Dominica has maintained a significant portion of land as a national forest reserve. It’s the only Caribbean island with a long-distance hiking trail, called the Waitukubuli – which means ‘tall is her body’, referring to the tall island mountains. You can walk the trail from one tip of the island to the other – 185 kilometres. The trail is divided into 14 segments. Ranging from easy to difficult, each segment takes four to five hours to complete. Through each stretch, you’ll pass through rainforests, coastal villages and old estates, and along beaches and coastal ridges. Hummingbirds and parrots are in abundance, as is the Jacko (or Sisserous), which is their national bird. The landscape is truly spectacular with lush greenery, vines, trees, ferns and orchids – some 85 different species on the island.

The forests on the north side of the island were hit hard by Hurricane Maria in September of 2017. Tall trees were topped, so without its full canopy, it’s somewhat surreal, but still beautiful. Regrowth is now evident, and several volun-tourism initiatives are now in operation.

Sunset at Picard Beach Cottages

After trekking through the forest, finish your day with a fresh-water swim at Emerald Pool. A short hike takes you to a waterfall, which empties into an emerald-coloured pool. The setting is so achingly beautiful that you will feel like you’re in a scene from a movie. In fact, several scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, were filmed on the island.

Dr. Birdy, a guide on the Waitukubuli Trail

TRAVEL TIPS:

  • Air Canada has daily flights from Toronto to Barbados. From there, Dominica is a one-hour flight on a small carrier.
  • Arrange for a rental car at the airport, or hire a guide who will help you with itineraries and take you anywhere on the island, for a very reasonable rate.
  • For the the Waitukubuli Trail, you will need to buy a pass. You can use a trail map or hire a guide for most sections of the trail.
  • Check with the Discover Dominica Authority for updates on activities and trails that may have been affected (or closed) due to Hurricane Maria.

FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH

If you’re looking for a less strenuous holiday, or want to mix the hiking with with some R&R, the Picard Beach Cottages in Portsmouth will quiet your soul and your mind, with crashing waves and polaroid sunsets. The salty, floral-sweet air and the sound of melodious birds, help to stimulate your other senses.

In Roseau, get lost in the Caribbean ambiance while floating in the infinity pool at the historical Fort Young Hotel. Indulge in a Dominican- style massage at Nature’s Caress for another level of relaxation.

This wild, largely untouched, island is being called the modern day fountain of youth, with more than their proportional share of centenarian residents.

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Kate Robertson can be reached at kateflyingsolo@gmail.com

 

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Travel: Southwest Florida

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Travel: Southwest Florida

The allure of the islands

Photography, Kate Robertson

Lee County, on the southwest coast of Florida, offers up fabulous, island-time beach options. Seminole natives and marauding pirates inhabited this rugged area when Florida became a U.S. territory in 1821. Settlers moved in to the area to farm, log and cattle ranch. Wars with the Seminoles ensued and Fort Myers, currently the county centre, was built.

Although this area is now populated with several adjoining cities, it’s far more laid-back than Miami and south Florida. With an abundance of nature experiences, museums, golf courses and shopping opportunities, there’s no shortage of things to do, but make sure you take the time to enjoy the beaches.

Sanibel Island

Located across a long causeway just west of Fort Myers, Sanibel Island is ranked one of the top 10 best places to escape the snow by USA Today. It’s easy to see why with its white sand beaches, an annual average temperature of 24C and worldclass fishing. With just one main thorough-fare, traffic can get busy, but the 40 kilometres of bike paths, which run the length of the island, offer up a more-relaxed alternative in order to appreciate the scenery.

Eco-tourism is strong here due to the 6,354-acre J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which covers about 70 per cent of Sanibel. The refuge is home to 220 species of birds, more than 50 types of reptiles (including the Florida-famous ‘gator), and 32 different kinds of mammals – so bring your binoculars. Tram tours are available, or you can hike, bike or drive the trails on your own.

Just down the road from the refuge is Tarpon Bay Explorers, where a knowledgeable naturalist will take you on a guided kayak tour through the mangrove forest. On the Commodore Creek Trail, you’ll see an abundance of marine crabs and birds trying to catch them.

Captiva Island

Captiva is attached to Sanibel via a bridge, and is smaller in size. This island is so narrow in places that you can see water on both sides of the road. Similar to Sanibel, there are miles of beautiful beaches, but it’s also populated with houses (more like mansions), inns and vacation rentals. Captiva is very laid back, and as one islander said, “Nine p.m. is midnight on Sanibel and Captiva Islands.”

Visit YOLO (You Only Live Once) Watersports to rent stand-up paddle boards, arrange a parasail or waverunner excursion, or to rent a golf cart (you can drive them on the road) or bicycle.

Island Flavours

It’s easy to get a room with a kitchenette on the islands, so you can make yourself at home. However, if you’d rather not fend for yourself, there’s no need to worry about dining options. Many have a quirky bent, like the Bubble Room, with its emporium of antiques and bubble fun. Or try Doc Ford’s (named after the fictional character in co-owner Randy Wayne White’s crime novels), with an outdoor patio, live music and flights of rum tastings.

There’s elegant, high-end dining as well, including the award-winning Thistle Lodge Beachfront Restaurant. Fish and seafood options are always on the menu. Try the scallop and pork belly appie (voted best on the Island). Or for an island-style taste explosion, try the fluffy, moist black grouper.

Shelling

Here, the word shelling is a verb. Because of the location on a continental shelf, in addition to the unusual east-west orientation of many of the beaches, the current sweeps in from the Caribbean, carrying with it copious amounts of shells. In order to avoid crushing these beauties, one has to watch where they’re stepping. For collectors, it’s a shell-lover’s paradise with more than 400 varieties. Pick up a shelling brochure to identify your treasures, or you can learn more at the Bailey- Matthews National Shell Museum – the only one in the United States.

For ideal shelling conditions, it’s recommended to take a charter tour, like the one Captiva Cruises offers to the boat-access only state park beach, Cayo Costa Island. Before you board at the dock, check for manatees – the large, gentle, sea-cow creatures who like to hang out there. On the cruise, you’ll likely see dolphins, as well as a wide variety of birds.

Fort Myers Beach

If the islands get too quiet for you, head back over the causeway to Fort Myers Beach. Here there’s a busy, beach-town vibe with surf shops, bars, clubs and resorts. The soft, white sand is like walking on baby powder.

Whichever beach you find yourself on at the end of the day in Southwest Florida, take the time to enjoy the spectacular sunset – after all, you’re on island time.

TRAVEL TIPS:

  • Take a direct flight from Toronto to Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers and rent a car with a GPS.
  • Stay at one of the Inns (I stayed at the quaint Captiva Island Inn), a resort, or a vacation rental.
  • Travel during shoulder seasons (fall or spring) for quieter beaches and better rates. FortMyersSanibel.com

Kate Robertson can be contacted at kateflyingsolo@gmail.com, instagram.com/kateflysolo101, or twitter.com/kateflyingsolo.

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