Lonely Planet ‘Best in Travel,' 2023. Voted Travel + Leisure‘s World's Best Awards 2022 and 2023. Time Magazine's #1 of 50 World's Greatest Places of 2023. Some significant accolades for an unexpected destination in 2023: the relatively little-visited, mostly-beachless Caribbean island of Dominica. A new travel hotspot.
So what about this tiny island, often confused for the Dominican Republic, transformed it into one to travel's most popular destinations overnight? It totally redefines Caribbean travel, inviting travelers to leave cookie-cutter resort vacations far behind. Destinations seeking to ride the bigger-than-ever summer travel wave can learn a thing from its success.
A New Travel Hotspot
Known as the Nature Island of the Caribbean for its lush mountains, stunning rivers and waterfalls, and reefs considered among the best in the world, the tiny island nation of Dominica has long been a well-guarded secret among adventure-seeking travelers. That started to change in 2022 when the island gained the coveted top spot on Travel + Leisure's World's Best list of Caribbean islands.
By 2023, the travel awards began rolling in at a dizzying pace, putting Dominica firmly on the map. The island was named on Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2023 list among just thirty destinations worldwide, on a Forbes list of the top five travel destinations to keep on your radar in 2023, and at the top of Time's World's Greatest Places in 2023.
A buzzy October 2022 opening of the newest among Dominica's resorts, the ultra-sustainable Colibri Ridge, seemed well-timed for the island's growing popularity. This boutique luxury resort is nothing less than extraordinary; its second-to-none sustainability measures instantly catapulted it to international attention as one of the most eco-friendly luxury resorts in the world.
Dominica's nationwide focus on sustainability measures fell into focus along with it, earning it even more acclaim at a time when travelers increasingly clamor for Earth-positive getaways. “In 2023, Dominica remains focused on its sustainability efforts, which is becoming an increasingly popular selling point of the island,” says Discover DominicaCEO Colin Piper.
The Nature Island of the Caribbean
Sustainability on The Nature Island may be a big draw for travelers, but it's just the start of how Dominica has leaned into its strengths and attractions to draw travelers looking for something new to its shores. Without the classically Caribbean long, white-sand beaches and mega-resorts that draw many travelers to the island neighbors, it's a new and winning strategy for the island.
Playing into its rich jungles, soaring volcanoes, and stunning, dramatic shores, Dominica positions itself as an adventure travel paradise. With adventure travel more popular than ever, expected to grow almost 30% by the end of the next decade, it's a winning strategy.
Hike the Waitukubuli National Trail, a fourteen-section trail cutting over 100 miles across the island. It is the longest and most complete hiking trail in the Caribbean, offering incredible landscapes you'd never expect to find in the Caribbean. Camp along the route or stay at tiny guesthouses and hotels along the way over the more than two weeks it takes to hike the complete trail.
Alternatively, hit the seas to complete the Waitukubuli Sea Trail, a kayaking trail on the island's Caribbean coast that runs the entire length of the island. If you're looking for just a taste of adventure rather than an adventure-centric trip, scramble over boulders to swim below the twin Trafalgar Falls, kayak on Freshwater Lake, or cut through the rainforest to visit the Emerald Pool with its jungle oasis swimming hole below.
Leaning Into the Unexpected
The ultimate in adventure travel and adrenaline rushes are different from what many travelers would expect to find in the Caribbean. While neighboring islands highlight their beautiful-if-boring resorts, competing for the biggest infinity pools or most well-known chefs, Dominica offers something unique. After seeing a 308% increase in visitors last year, it looks like a strategy that seems to be working.
It's a lesson other destinations can take to heart. “When a destination fully leans into what makes them exceptional and goes ‘all in' in terms of being true to its brand, it ends up being a stellar and singular experience for the guests that they would have a hard time finding elsewhere,” says Mikkel Woodruff, travel expert at Sometimes Sailing. “Often, guests don't know what they're looking for until a destination presents it, whether it's an excursion, culture, or culinary experience.”
Despite the well-deserved buzz around the island of Dominica, for the time being, the island still seems so untouched. Even on a day with a cruise ship in port at the island's capital city of Roseau, Dominica's most beautiful and famous attractions remain easily accessible rather than overrun.
American Airlines has plans to expand its direct flights from the United States to Dominica to daily frequency this summer after its inaugural direct flight to the island from Miami launched in 2021. The route has already been transformative for the island's tourism among North American travelers.
While an increased flight lift to the island promises to skyrocket visitors even more, it looks like a better time than ever to access the island if you're still looking to explore this tropical paradise before it becomes too mainstream. With all the buzz around this island paradise transforming Caribbean travel, it's unlikely to remain so unspoiled for much longer.