Disclaimer: While reading this keep in mind that I represent only myself, a Ross spouse who had lots of time on his hands and wasn’t afraid to set out alone into the hills of Dominica, and found it very rewarding. While I consider Dominica to be one of the safest places to live, there are risks, so use some common sense if you want to be a crazy biker like I was. Also, biking in Dominica is not for the faint hearted, but rather for adrenaline junkies such as myself as my wife liked to put it.
WHY BIKE IN DOMINICA?
It’s amazing exercise, and the views are unlike anything else as you ride through the extreme mountains of this beautiful nature island. It gave me a sense of freedom I had never felt before. I had been used to spending so much of my time confined to a cubicle in a corporate office, and now I was enjoying nice mountain breezes while looking out at mountain tops and the ocean in the background, and I was meeting some of the friendliest people along the way. Also, seeing Dominica from a vehicle is nowhere near as cool as experiencing it on a bicycle. And to be honest, as a Ross spouse I needed to find ways to occupy my time since my wife was always studying, and biking was a great way to do that.
We had been living in Dominica for a couple of months when I finally just had to have a bicycle. Hiking in the immediate area at places like Cabrits National Park was cool, but I wanted to experience more of the island, and although going on trips with others from time to time was cool, it wasn’t enough. I felt like I wasn’t truly experiencing the island life. I finally went to Courts in Portsmouth and dished out the $800EC (about $300US) on a bmx because the mountain bikes were so much more expensive, and I had grown up on bmx’s. Once I had that bike, my world opened to new awesome life experiences. I was able to explore and seek out new places to take my wife to, which made me an awesome house husband. One of my bike rides even led to our wedding location.
If you decide to bike in Dominica, I have some recommendations, and don’t let them discourage you because they’re well worth the rewards you can experience while riding in Dominica:
Where to get a bike
I don’t recommend buying a bike from Astaphans in Roseau if you’re considering using it for anything other than riding from your apartment to the campus. At one point I bought a “mountain bike” from there ($400EC or about $150US), and had issues such as a pedal breaking off while riding through the hills, and rims bending while riding offroad. They’re just cheap quality, so it’s better to spend the extra money at a place like Courts in Portsmouth where you’ll get good quality. Better yet, ship your own bike to Dominica.
Securing your bike
Secure your bicycle at all times since there’s a lot of petty theft in Dominica. Never leave a bike outside at night. I had a bike stolen, and another spouse had major parts stolen even though he had his chained down outside of his apartment. And get a chain so you can lock that bike down anytime you’re out and about and have to leave it unattended.
Inner tubes and tools
Get slime filled inner tubes (we had the slime filled tubes sent to us because I’m not sure you can get them in Dominica), a pump, and tools to carry with you on your rides. You don’t want to be stuck out miles across the island with a flat tire and no way to deal with it. Not that you’d be in danger, Dominica is rather safe, but considering most students and spouses don’t drive there and don’t have personal vehicles, it could cost some money to go and get you. And speaking of that, have a cell phone on you in case you do run into trouble.
Food and water
When you go out, take plenty of food and water. I can’t stress that enough because there may be days when you can’t find shops open to get food/snacks, or you might find yourself in the middle of nowhere and realize you’re dehydrated with no water. I recommend buying fruit drinks such as Tampico and mixing them heavily with water to have a nice energy drink, at least that was my cheap way of doing that.
Be friendly and respectful as you travel, and take the time to stop and talk to people. You never know when you might make a new friend, especially if biking in Dominica becomes a regular thing for you. There’s so much you can learn by talking to random people you run into, not only about a certain village and its history, but you might also learn about awesome spots to visit. And that one random person you stopped to be friendly to, you never when you’ll run into them again somewhere else on the island. It’s a very small country!
Don’t be one. Be confident and try not to look like an easy target in case someone feels the need to mess with you. Personally, I always had the handle of my machete hanging out of my backpack, and I never had any issues. Better to look tough than to have to prove it.
They wind up and down the mountains and are rather thin at times, so always pay attention to what’s going on around you. This is why so many people thought I was crazy as I took my rides, thinking for sure I’d get run over. I actually felt safer on a bike than in a vehicle, but I always watched over my shoulder. Dominican drivers often got very close to me as they passed by, and it was scary at first, but after a while I could tell how close a vehicle was just by the engine sound.
Dominica doesn’t have a lot of street lights, and you don’t want to be on those winding roads through the mountains after dark, especially since at dusk people are rushing to get home. Take this from my personal experience, have fun and explore, but get home before dark. By the way, the roads in Dominica have lots of pot holes, so that’s just another reason you shouldn’t be riding in the dark.
They’re critical, so check them on a regular basis. It would be easy to go flying off the side of a mountain if they fail.
RIDES I RECOMMEND
This was one of my favorites and my earliest ride. Before having a bike I kept looking at this radio tower on top of a mountain just south of Ross, and I was determined it had to be an amazing view. Well just days after getting my bike we were having power outages, typical in the area, and I was very frustrated to say the least, so instead of continuing to share my frustration with Liz I decided to get out of the apartment and ride my bike to that radio tower. About 45 minutes later after riding my bike and walking up hills, I was sitting at the entrance to the small road leading to the radio tower. Wow, what a hike to get up there. It’s an incredibly steep road, and I had absolutely no idea how vehicles could possibly make it up there. Most of it is dirt and loose pebbles. I had a hard time trying not to wipe out while walking up, but finally I made it. Finally the kind of view I’d been wanting since we’d moved there, sweet!
I could see from the Scott’s Head, the southern tip of Dominica, to Morne Aux Diables, the northern side of the island, along with all of the mountains in between, such as Morne Diablotins. It is a view you absolutely must see. Just be careful while hiking up because there are lots of loose rocks and boulders that could potentially fall and hit you.
I ended up returning to Morne Espanol probably 30 to 50 times as a regular workout.
Portsmouth to East Coast
This was probably my favorite regular bike ride because it was relatively short, typically about 1 1/2 hour round trip depending on if I goofed off along the way. Coming from Ross, just past the Indian River, there is a main road to the right that heads east. There’s a lot of uphill battling as you head up into the mountains until you hit Borne or Dos D Ane, but then you’ll be rewarded by lots of downhill coasting until you hit the east coast, and what a view! It was always great to rest there and have a snack and drink while watching the Atlantic Ocean crash against the rocks below. Even along the way while riding the scenery is beautiful, and everyone along the way was always friendly. I had a friend in Dos D Ane that I would sometimes stop and talk to.
The only negative I can think of were a couple of dogs along the way that had a habit of jumping out while I was flying through. After a while I started carrying rocks to discourage them, and I think it worked.
I actually caused an accident on this road one day, though not my fault. I was walking my bike down the road while talking to a guy, and it had been raining so hard that the road was a little slippery. 2 buses suddenly came from both ways (keeping in mind the road is just wide enough to accommodate 2 vehicles), and there was nowhere for me to go except for tumbling down the mountain, so I just moved to the edge of the road. The bus behind me hit the brakes, no problem. The problem was the bus following too closely behind that one, and it rear ended the other. The 2 drivers got out yelling, and I thought I was in danger, but it turned out they were just yelling at each other and were totally unconcerned with me, so I just kept moving along when I could see everyone was fine. Point being, things can happen so always be aware of what’s going on.
This is another cool bike ride, not terribly long, probably a few hours round trip. You’ll spend time going uphill, then downhill, then uphill again. Capucin is the northern most village of Dominica. Along the way you can view 2 awesome bays: Douglas Bay and Toucari Bay, and both by the way offer amazing snorkeling. Along the road stretch between Cabrits National Park and Douglas Bay, pay close attention to the left side of the road because you’re likely to see crabs everywhere diving into holes as they see you coming, a sight I always found quite entertaining. Douglas Bay has a nice long stretch of sandy beach. Soon after you’ll reach a steep downhill into Toucari Bay, and I was always blown away from its beauty. As you hit Capucin you’ll be riding next to the ocean and see a fishermen’s dock and a small building. Uphill from there you’ll find yourself in the main village, and if you follow the road until it ends there should be a little park area to the left (had just been started when I was living there). In that area you can look over cliff edges to see amazing drop off views with waves crashing into the rocks, and in one spot an overlook view of the Jacko Point, an extreme rocky tip pointing up from below like a giant arrow head.
From that point the road goes right and turns into a famous old trail that runs to Penville, the north eastern most village, but do not try it on bike. I did that with a young Dominican guy one day, and the trail just isn’t made for bikes. We went a long ways before not knowing where to go because the trail somewhat disappears and splits, and if you don’t know exactly where to go you can get lost. Long story short, we turned around and in the meantime ran out of water and got rather dehydrated, and I destroyed the rims on one of my bikes because of running into so many rocks.
Speaking of Capucin, as you approach the area where there’s a small dock and building, you could chain your bike up and climb along the rocky shore to observe the Jacko Point. I did this one day and met a friendly Dominican guy fishing along the way, but he recommended against doing this. The area is considered dangerous, meaning you’re standing along an unstable cliff side, and rocks/boulders could tumble down at any moment. Didn’t stop me, I had a great time, but just saying, be cautious.
Drive through Volcano (Northern Link Road)
This was my first true test of will and strength on a bike. If you look at the map, I first did this loop around northern Dominica counter-clockwise, which was the more difficult way of doing it, taking 7 hours including taking wrong turns and getting distracted by side roads. Take my advice and do this loop clockwise.
Take the Northern Link Road up the steep hills into the northern crater of Dominica. On my bmx it typically took about an hour to get up there because I spent so much time just pushing my bike uphill. Amazing views of the caribbean sea along the way as you climb higher into the hills. At the entrance to the old crater expect very high winds and be careful not to get blown off the side of the mountain. Once inside the northern crater you may or may not find yourself in thick fog. Sometimes it was very clear for me, and sometimes it was incredibly foggy and eerie, but either way it was awesome. Toward the middle of the crater you’ll see a sign for some cold sulfur springs. It’s a short walk, so feel free to check that out if you haven’t already. It’s rather smelly but really cool to see the bubbly sulfur springs. Other than that the northern crater is filled with farm land. Upon exiting the crater on the other side, be prepared for the ride of your life, and check your brakes because you’re about to have some fun. The road becomes extremely steep and twists and turns downhill for the most part until you hit Penville in the north east region. Head south from there, and you’ll hit Vielle Case, a village with a famous Pirates of the Caribbean location (old building with sword fight scene and windmill), and there’s a sign for it. Keep heading south and you’ll hit Thibaud. It has 2 major beach spots: to the left, a rocky beach, and to the right (separated by a natural wall) a sandy beach. I would sometimes ride there just to enjoy my lunch and the views. By the way, in Thibaud lies a bat cave that sits along the Atlantic Ocean with waves crashing in, and at a certain time of year it is safe to go into that cave and observe the millions of bats that live there. You should stop in at one of the local shops and ask about getting a guide if you’d like to see this natural wonder, but absolutely do not attempt to get to this place alone. It is only safe with the local experts who won’t charge you much.
After Thibaud continue on the main road heading south, and be sure to take a right when it ends so that you’re headed back toward Portsmouth. From there you’ll spend time heading up into the hills with beautiful country in the background until you hit a peak around Dos D Ane or Borne, and then you’ll mostly coast your way back into Portsmouth. My quickest time for that ride was about 4 1/2 hours.
City in the Sky
Same ride as above into the northern crater. The difference is do it at around 3AM. The point is to get up into the northern crater long before the sun rises. As you exit the other end of the crater you will see what I describe as a city in the sky, but what you’ll be seeing is the island of Marie Galante in the background, a flat island that looks like a city in the sky because you can’t see the ocean or the island or anything else, just its lights. No one told me about this beforehand, so it was exciting.
If you do that ride, it’s easy to just turn around and coast back to Portsmouth in the direction you came from, taking probably 15 minutes.
East Coast Beaches
If you haven’t seen all of the east coast beaches of Dominica then you are missing out. Early on while we were living in Dominica back in 2007, there was a tv reality series called “Pirate Master” being filmed, and it was basically Survivor in Dominica. On one episode I saw this crazy red rock beach area with the Atlantic crashing against the cliffs, and I had to find this place. After consulting a Dominican friend, I was off on my bike, and it turned out to be Pointe Baptiste in the Calibishe area. Later on I took Liz there to see it. As we stood there admiring she mentioned it would make a perfect wedding spot, and so it did several months later.
There are lots of other cool beach areas along the east coast, some of them sandy and some of them extremely rocky, but all are something to see. Don’t be afraid to ride out and search these places out. I was warned more than once not to go to Woodford Hill alone because supposedly there are some bad guys in that area, but I went there more than once with Liz and only ran into friendly people, so who knows.
This is another amazing view similar to Morne Espanol. Coming from Ross, take the main road to the right just after the Indian River heading east. Before hitting the east coast there will be 2 main roads to the left. Take the first one and head uphill. As you come up into the village you’ll see a turn to the right with a tiny shop sitting there. Don’t turn, go straight into the village and continue uphill to the radio tower. At that radio tower you’ll be looking south at Dominica, and of course Morne Diablotins is the giant mountain in the middle. I had never heard of this view, but I noticed the radio tower and had to go up there.
RIDES I DON’T RECOMMEND
From what lots of dominicans told me, I was the first person to ever do this, at least on a bmx because it turned out to be a suicide mission. I headed east out of Portsmouth with the intention of riding to Melville Hall Airport, just to see how long it would take. Well, when I got there I felt my timing was so awesome that I would continue to the Carib Territory, and once I got there I felt that my timing was so awesome that I would just complete the loop around central Dominica and back to Portsmouth. All was fine until I found myself traveling uphill for endless miles between Concord and Pond Casse, almost collapsing at times from the long ride and the brutal heat. Sometimes it was fairly flat, but I was so tired that any slight incline was too much for me to handle, so I would slowly push my bike along, and then go up incredibly steep hills as I made it into the mountains. At one point there was an intersection, so I asked a couple of guys where I should go to get back to Portsmouth. They were very insistent that I needed to turn around, and after I spent a couple of minutes explaining that wasn’t going to happen, they pointed me in the right direction with disgusted looks. I finally found myself at a familiar intersection in Pond Casse and took a long rest to eat and drink. One of the guys from earlier got out of a vehicle and gave me a huge smile because he couldn’t believe I had made it so far, and he was now confident I would make it home and before dark. So it seemed as I flew down the hills with excitement toward the Layou River. Then I hit the west coast, and from there it was absolute brutality heading north. Total sun exposure and mostly walking my bike uphill. Again, there were times when I was about to collapse, and I had to stop and beg for water at someone’s house, and they were very friendly. Getting close to Morne Espanol, that hill is completely unforgiving, and I found myself in complete darkness. No street lights and no moon, and vehicles were flying by me because of people rushing to get home, and everyone ignored the guy leaning against his bike just to stand and waving his arms to try to get a ride. Just when I was at the point where I was about to just curl up on the side of the road, and having left Liz a voice message to find someone to pick me up, I reached the little road leading up Morne Espanol, and I was saved because it was almost completely downhill action until Portsmouth. Unfortunately it was too dark to see the numerous pot holes, and all I had for light was a tiny Ross keychain light. One huge pot hole almost sent me straight over my handle bars, but I made it, barely. Later I would occasionally run into Dominicans who had either heard the story or had seen me that day on my bike. Regardless, everyone agreed that I went in the wrong direction! If you’re brave enough to take on central Dominica on a bike, at least go in a counter clockwise direction. I had intended on doing that later but couldn’t find anyone to do it with me, so I kinda wimped out until it was too late.
Portsmouth to Roseau
Or Roseau to Portsmouth, either way it’s bad news. One day I set out to do the central Dominica ride again, except in a counter clockwise direction, and by the time I got to the Layou River my timing seemed horrible, so I turned it into a ride to Roseau. So I went to the market there and checked things out, then headed back home. 8 1/2 hours after leaving home I was staggering into James Store (across the street from Ross) to get some Guiness and telling my friend who worked there about the ride I had just taken, and he was blown away. That ride is continuous quick uphills and downhills, and it’s almost complete sun exposure the entire time. On top of that there aren’t any real rewards as far as views or anything, and the road gets dangerous with high traffic at times, especially when approaching Roseau. Just don’t do it man!
Southern Dominica loop
I attempted this while living in Roseau shortly before we moved back to the US, and I did it on a mountain bike converted into a 1 speed because the gears were messed up. It was a really bad time to do this ride, in August when the heat was the worst for the year, but I was out of time, and I chose a day when my buddy Victor would be out tour guiding and I knew I would be running into him in case I couldn’t make it. That turned out to be a wise plan.
Starting in Roseau, I went south and took a left at Loubiere, heading up into the hills toward Grand Bay. This turned out to be even worse of a ride than the central Dominica ride I took. The mountain hills are totally insane. To clarify just how insane, after Petit Savane on the southeastern corner of Dominica, the main road heading north was so steep as I went downhill that I had to apply brakes at all times, and I started hearing snapping noises. I took my earphones out after hearing it a few times, and I finally realized that the sound was of the spokes on my front rim snapping in half because of the intense pressure of applying brakes down the steep incline. By the time I hit a flat stretch of road, at least 50% of the spokes on my front rim had snapped, and it was wobbling out of control. It was also late morning by that time, and the heat made the road feel like an oven. As I entered the Victoria Falls area a local guy stopped me and said he could help with my problem. As we walked and talked I saw another guy with a water hose, asked if I could borrow it, and drenched myself with the nice cool water as he stood there puzzled. A couple of hours later I was paying a guy $50EC for fixing my rim, and I was off again. Somewhere between there and Rosalie (I don’t remember exactly where) I ran into Victor who was taking a couple of Ross friends of mine to some waterfalls, and they were entertained by my setup: Lots of 1.5 liter water bottles strapped to my bike by old shirt sleeves. Whatever works, right? In Rosalie a few guys tripped out as I got off my bike and jumped into the river to cool off. By that time I was suffering from the heat and would do anything to cool off. After that I turned inland to the west, and it was complete brutality as I steadily headed uphill. I would stop to eat, use my water bottles to pour over my head, anything to cool down and gain some energy, but the heat was just too intense, nothing worked. Shortly before getting to Pond Casse I found myself once again leaning on my bike to hold myself up, and along came my bro Victor, heading home from the waterfalls. I kept arguing that I was going to make it on my own but finally gave in and let him give me a ride to the Layou River, since from that point it’s flat road to Roseau. My friends riding with him were in disbelief at my attempt. Getting out at the Layou River, I jumped in and enjoyed the cool water for quite a while before heading home. The ride from there was flat and intense from the heat, but I made it home in one piece. I had expected an easier ride than the previous central Dominica ride, but man was I wrong.
WHILE LIVING IN ROSEAU
If you find yourself living in Roseau for 5th semester, enjoyable bike rides are limited or even nonexistent. There are main roads going to Trafalgar that you can follow and loop around back to Roseau. Not too bad, you can stop off at Trafalgar Falls for a dip in a warm pool if you want. I also took a couple of rides south to Soufriere Sulfur Springs and Scotts Head. Soufriere Sulfur Springs is a cool place to hike with great views, and you can see volcanic activity, a lot like the Valley of Desolation. Just be forewarned that the bike ride getting there is not pleasurable.
Titou Gorge/Boiling Lake
I should go down in the history books for this. While living in Roseau for 5th semester, I sometimes rode my bike (actually walking my bike a lot of the time) up the extreme hills to the village of Laudat where there’s Titou Gorge and the entrance to the boiling lake trail. From there I would hike to the boiling lake and back, then coast down the hills back home. This is not something for the faint hearted, and it’s not like I enjoyed it, I just couldn’t afford a private ride, and public transportation isn’t totally predictable or reliable. What’s funny is that tourists would ride by as I agonized my way up the hills, and they would honk their horn or yell and give a thumbs up, as if I was a guy on a mission to prove himself as a man. Forget that, I just wanted to see my favorite spot, the boiling lake. However, if this isn’t proving something then I don’t know what to tell you: One day I spent about 2 hours riding and pushing my bike to Titou Gorge, getting there about 1PM, and a little before 4PM I was back there, having hiked to the boiling lake and back. You know, that crazy hike that expects to take 8 hours and some people never make it, and I did it under 3 hours after traveling on bike for a couple of hours. My point is, Dominica has never ending challenges to offer, and as a spouse it’s a great way to use your time rather than sitting inside a hot apartment and being bored. Don’t be afraid to get out there and find out what you’re made of!
MY WISH LIST
A couple of times I rode my bike from Portsmouth to the Diablotins trail to size myself up to see if I could handle riding there, doing the hike to the summit, and then riding back home. I was very confident about doing it, but I couldn’t find anyone to do it with me. The one thing holding me back from doing it alone was the fact that hiking up Morne Diablotins alone is a very bad idea! One slip can cause injury.