DOMINICA ISN'T YOUR typical Caribbean paradise: There are few beaches to speak of, and the snorkeling's only so-so. But if you're the kind to go stir crazy after a couple of languorous hours surfside, you'll agree—this place is heaven. The largest but least populated isle in the eastern Caribbean's Windward chain, Dominica has 289 square miles of rugged, 4,000-foot mountains, active volcanoes, old-growth tropical rainforest, and more than 300 miles of hikable trails. On my last visit, hoping to spot an exotic bird (Dominica boasts 172 avian species) or a ten-inch crapaud (locals call these big, tasty frogs "mountain chickens"), I followed Glen, my dreadlocked local guide, up the Syndicate Nature Trail, a rocky ten-mile path through stands of gnarled, hundred-foot chataignier trees, to the summit of 4,747-foot Morne Diablotin, the highest point on the island. Not two hours in, a blue-green Sisserou, the largest, rarest Amazon parrot, glided across the clearing on three-foot wings to land just a few feet ahead of us.
The surreal landscape on the eight-mile, eight-hour out-and-back hike to Boiling Lake, a 200-foot cauldron of bubbling, gray-blue water that simmers at upwards of 200 degrees Fahrenheit and recalls Milton's Paradise Lost, was equally spectacular. The trail winds through Morne Trois Piton National Park, a 17,000-acre preserve just west of Roseau, climbing the 45-degree slopes of 2,700-foot Morne Nichols before dropping into the Valley of Desolation, a half-mile-wide moonscape of sharp volcanic rocks, hissing steam vents, and hot springs, some of the cooler ones ideal for soaking.
World-class hiking in the Caribbean? Jah, mon.
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GETTING THERE: Dominica is a two-hour flight from San Juan, Puerto Rico ($290, American Eagle, 800-433-7300), or 30 minutes from Guadeloupe ($150, LIAT, 268-480-5601).
OUTFITTERS: You will need a guide—the island's 300-plus inches of annual rainfall means trails are often washed out and difficult to follow. Hire one ($40 a day) through your hotel. Ken's Hinterland Adventure Tours (767-448-4850; www.kenshinterlandtours.com) can arrange group hikes or kayaking trips.
WHERE TO STAY: Papillote Wilderness Retreat (767-448-2287;www.papillote.dm), a cozy inn five miles from Roseau, offers double rooms for $90 a night. Simple, fan-cooled doubles at the colonial-style Springfield Plantation Guest House (767-449-1401), 15 miles northwest of Roseau, also go for $90.