It's all go in the rainforests of Dominica

This Caribbean island isn't about the beach, its lush interior is the main attraction. Nick Boulos reports
Click to follow
The Independent Travel

Would Tom Cruise choose to take a mud bath? His Hollywood hair and Rodeo Drive wardrobe couldn't cope with such squalor, right? Wrong. And Dave, a Dominican who divides his time between farming the land and taking visitors out into the private rainforest estate that surrounds his bright-yellow home, was eager to prove the point to me, leafing through a worn photo album to show me snaps of Cruise caked in thick mud.

"His people searched the whole Caribbean for an activity to help celebrate his birthday and they decided on quad biking here with us. Tom loved it," said Dave. Evidently so – Cruise's pearly white grin and thumbs up said it all.

Dominica, sitting between Guadeloupe and Martinique, is unlike most Caribbean islands. Sure, you can snorkel and sunbathe, sip cocktails and kick back, but visitors really come to explore its rugged landscape of towering peaks covered in virgin forest. A holiday here isn't about fly and flop.

Quad biking in a rainforest didn't hold the same appeal for me; instead Dave and I set off for a horse ride. On a steep narrow path beyond the house, we saddled up, as Gold, my auburn ride for the morning, snacked on the surrounding banana palms, craning his neck and tugging at the leaves.

Horses have always played a big role on the 76-acre New Florida estate, which continues to produce cinnamon and peppermint organically, giving the air a heady fragrance. It remains the only estate on the island to use horsepower.

At more than 2,000ft up, the air was cool and the scattered clouds above shielded us intermittently from the intense sun. We travelled slowly through the forest to a chorus of birdsong and raindrops, interrupted only by Gold's heavy breaths and the rustling of trees as he wrestled for yet another mouthful.

But Dave was determined to persuade me to give the quad bikes a go. "It's not a joyride through the jungle. It's a controlled, guided safari – and it's a lot of fun," he insisted with a smile.

So, later, I found myself negotiating embedded tracks beneath the rainforest canopy, sending a deluge of caramel-coloured mud spewing in my wake. Dave accompanied me on the drive, identifying vanilla vines and other plants as we went along, until we finally reached a clearing overlooking a deep gorge with tall, forested peaks opposite. We killed the rumbling engines and silence descended.

Heading back, the ground rose around me. Large rocks caused the steering wheel to seize as the engine struggled up another treacherous path before stopping completely. Perched at an awkward 45-degree angle, the bike was going nowhere. I pressed my thumb into the accelerator lever with gusto but remained stationary, clinging on desperately. Dave rushed back and swiftly pulled twigs out from beneath the wheels and I was off again, hardly daring to slow down.

Enough with the adrenalin. To counteract the busy morning I checked into Jungle Bay, the island's most exclusive eco-retreat, set in the secluded area of Pointe Mulatre and overlooking the Atlantic.

Pursuits here are not so high octane. Guests spend their days practising yoga, indulging at the spa and hiking along nearby trails before retiring to luxurious tree-house cottages elevated on sturdy wooden posts to blend in with the surrounding white cedars.

Made from Guyanian greenheart wood, the cottages are stylish, comfortable yet earthy – even the outdoor shower cubicle was made from thick bamboo shoots. Mine, located at the top of a long, steep path, required a surplus of energy to reach.

The property is the brainchild of Sam and Glenda Raphael, a Dominican couple who bought 55 acres of "infertile wasteland" in 1997. Eleven years later, they have a successful business where the emphasis is on well-being for the body and mind.

After a light lunch of a "jungle salad" (red meat is off the menu here, although Sam and Glenda, both veggies, allow poultry to be served), I spent an hour at the spa where Noreen, my masseuse, unknotted my back using locally made coconut oil.

The large wooden shutters of the treatment room are thrown open to embrace views of the looming cliffs that plunge into the ocean. The cottages have also been designed to make the most of the landscape, with views unhindered by curtains at the front, yet privacy and seclusion ensured by the neighbouring hideaway being obscured some distance below.

I looked out at the dense forest and the Atlantic beyond. In the haze, I could just make out the shape of Martinique. Its palm-fringed shores were no doubt lined with sun worshippers, but no beach could tempt me from this spot.

Compact facts

How to get there

Nick Boulos flew to Antigua with British Airways (0844 4930787; ba.com), which offers returns from £627, and onwards to Dominica with Liat ( liatairline.com), which offers fares from £26 each way. A night's B&B at Cottages at Jungle Bay (001 767 446 1789; junglebaydominica. com ) costs from $197 (£128).

Further information

Dominica tourist board ( discoverdominica.com).

Comments