Dominica’s reefs are emerging as one of the best kept secrets in the Caribbean, now that many diving-related publications have rated Dominica as having among the world’s best and healthiest marine ecologies. For diving enthusiasts as well as beginners, a great time to visit the island would be in time for the longest running Dive Festival in the Caribbean: the Dive Fest, usually held in July. One of the aims is to encourage locals who have not yet taken the plunge, to discover the wonderful world under the sea by arranging scuba and swimming lessons. Among the events arranged by the Dominica Watersports Association are diving, kayaking, swimming, canoe races, whale watching, food events and treasure hunts. Here, you can enjoy an outing aboard glass-bottom boats, deep-sea fishing excursions and dinner cruises. The emphasis is on fun for all the family, with a series of free dive training sessions to make sure everyone can have a go, and lots of après-dive parties and beach bashes.
The biggest festival of the year is Carnival, during which period the partying begins a full two weeks before the official holidays which fall on Shrove Monday and Tuesday. Tradition erupts in full costume, and the island is hopping with musical entertainment, dance shows and carnival monarch elections. Here, the Carnival may be less commercialized than on other islands, but in spirit it is more than a match for the rest. The programme contains a unique blend of Anglo/French Catholic traditions along with African rituals and indigenous Carib customs, making this Carnival stand out as the Caribbean’s most ‘original’.
The event begins in grand style, with thousands of onlookers gathering to witness the bands, cheerleaders and flamboyant floats of the opening parade. The customary island dress has its roots in Africa: these are the colourful and very scary ‘Sensay’ costumes, made of frayed rope, a mask and usually horns. Platform shoes elevate the characters to super-human heights. Other events include the grand finale of the calypso competition which attracts a large crowd of music fans, and the Carnival Queen show, where the island’s most beautiful women parade around the streets in their bikinis.
The third of November is celebrated as the date of Columbus’ first sighting of the island in 1493 as well as the day which marks Dominica becoming an independent republic in 1978. Independence Day outfits are donned, parades march, and villages vie against each other for the flamboyance of their costumes and the energy with which the event is celebrated. Créole Day also falls within this period of celebration, and is a wonderful opportunity to witness the island immersed in one of its formative cultures, featuring delicious spicy foods, national costumes and radio broadcasts in Créole. Crab-backs, callaloo and titiwi accras are just some of the specialities on offer everywhere, and the sound of Jing-Ping fills the air. Residents of the beautiful Caribbean island dance the Quadrille and Belle – an amalgamation of the elegant and reserved dances inherited from colonial times – but spiced up with a distinct Caribbean flavour.
The first World Créole Music Festival took place on the island in 1997 and was so successful that it became an annual cultural event, bringing together in Rouseau musicians, singers and bands from all over the Caribbean and featuring the unique rhythms of zouk, zydeco, cadence, compas and soukous traditions, among others! It is the island’s geographical location, situated between Martinique and Guadeloupe, that gives us the clue to the strong French creole influences which have reached it via its neighbours, and are reflected in its music. Performers from as far afield as Cuba, Haiti and Africa are all featured during the event, also held around the time of the Independence celebrations, and providing not only great music but also the opportunity to sample local cuisine and appreciate the diversity of the rich Dominican culture.