Known as the 'Nature Island' of the Caribbean, Dominica will not disappoint the adventurous spirit. Forget the Caribbean cliche of lying on golden sand, and think about venturing forth on spectacular mountain hikes through untamed virgin rainforests filled with rivers, waterfalls, rare birds, exotic plants and surreal boiling volcanic pools. Take to the crystal clear ocean and you'll find pristine coral reefs and resident whales. As the only island where Carib Indians have survived, there's even some unique local culture to discover.
Extremely friendly, largely unspoilt and lacking in tourists, Dominica specialises in mountain hideaways and small family run hotels, not beach resorts. Bananas, not tourism are still their main source of income.
On the southern tip of the island you'll find the sun-kissed fishing villages of Soufriere and Scott's head, both with stunning coastal settings. Soufriere's local church built from volcanic stone is one of the prettiest on the island and worth a visit.
Diving: The Scott's Head/Soufriere Bay Marine Reserve has some really excellent dive sites. Within 1/2 a mile of the coast, there are dramatic drop-offs, vertical walls of 800-1,500ft, pinnacles, pristine reefs and extraordinary underwater hot springs. Access is by boat. You won't see loads of large fish, but marine life is abundant (moray eels, 190 species of colourful fish, giant sponges, coral, seahorses) and visibility is excellent (up to 30m). Diving can be arranged through your hotel with a local operator. Excellent snorkelling trips can also be arranged as can sea kayaking.
Whale-watching can also be arranged by the local dive centres. Resident sperm whales are frequently seen (mostly in winter) as well as numerous types of dolphin.
Check out the Sundowner Cafe in Scott's Head and the Seabird Cafe on the way to Soufriere for great views.
The highlight of our recent trip to Dominica was this breathtaking volcanic pool, bubbling and steaming away like a vat of boiling milk in the midst of dense, virgin rainforest in the heart of the island. At 70m wide and of unknown depth, it's the world's second largest, with water temperatures in the 90s celsius. It's a stiff 2-3 hour hike each way through dense rainforest and the Valley of Desolation (where sulphuric fumes have destroyed most of the vegetation) - so you need to be fit. You'll need to set off early, and be prepared for occasional downpours, slippery paths, high winds on the summits and a profusion of insects (bring repellent). But there are exotic birds and reptiles to look out for (none are poisonous), and you can treat yourself to a hot water-massage in one of the river pools in the Valley of Desolation on the way back.
The best beaches on the island are on the north east coast - they are small and beautiful with golden sand, but face the Atlantic and strong undertows make swimming dangerous. Head for Pointe Baptiste, Turtle Beach, Hampstead and Woodford Hill.