Before I arrived, I had no idea where Dominica was. For many years, this small West Indies nation, with a population of just over 72,000, has flown under the radar. A Google search showed that it’s located between Martinique and Guadeloupe and calls itself a nature island, which is fair considering there are eight active volcanoes, 365 rivers, countless waterfalls, 300 miles of hiking trails, natural bubbling hot springs, and a 200-ft. – The vast “Boiling Lake” covers an area of 289 square miles.
I thought about all this during the two-hour drive from Douglas Charles Airport to my hotel, a Jurassic Park-esque thrill ride. I took my mind off the steep climbs and hairpin turns by focusing on the riot of plants we passed: forest vines hanging like tentacles, towering 10-storey goumer or ‘gum’ trees, ginger lilies, orchids, heliconias, and bright roses. The crimson flowers of the Poa quip, the national flower.
I was staying at Colibri Ridge, an off-the-grid luxury resort run by Montreal couple Danielle Langlois and Dominique Marchand. Built entirely of volcanic stone, it stands as a sturdy sentinel on one of Dominica’s many mountain peaks – pronounced “Dom-i-NEE-kah” – and is the most beautiful island I have ever seen.
On their first visit to Dominica in 1997, Langlois and Marchand realized that the island, roughly two-thirds of which is rainforest, had exactly what they needed to be able to harness enough sun and wind to support a “community” of 14 pavilions—a word they preferred to use. Resorting to “buildings that share solar energy and support each other.”
They have spent the past two decades researching, designing and building the resort and overcoming hurricane damage and pandemic delays.
If you think sustainability means sacrificing amenities, the 285-acre Colibri Ridge will prove you wrong. The suites here – studios, lofts and one-bedroom penthouses – are stylish and comfortable. The décor combines West Indies and Scandinavia, with bold colors and elegant furniture made from recycled teak.
I had a penthouse apartment, in one of five three-storey buildings, with a kitchen, two terraces, an outdoor shower, a living room and a dining room, and at the top a spacious bedroom and en-suite bathroom.
But the most amazing thing about Kolibri is what you can’t see. Langlois took us on a tour of his “utility room” — a long hall with three small grids, each containing 288 non-lithium recyclable batteries that capture sunlight and produce enough energy to power the resort with its two restaurants. Kitchens, spa, gym, yoga pavilion and conference rooms. (Two bird-friendly wind turbines also help.)
Underground is a maze of tunnels that direct rainwater — from specially designed roofs — into cisterns that hold up to 200,000 gallons of filtered, chemical-free drinking water.
A connection to nature is rooted in the Dominica lifestyle, which has a strong culture of agriculture and fishing. The meals served at Colibri (which means hummingbird in French) are exceptional and feature produce from the property’s orchards where cocoa, avocado, mango, passion fruit, breadfruit, coconut jelly, banana, soursop, plantain and guava trees flourish on the grounds. “Cut” by eight cows. There is also a hydroponic nursery in the works that will supply hard-to-obtain vegetables on the island, such as different types of lettuce and peppers.
To reduce food waste, Colibri guests are served the evening menu early in the day and are asked to select their own dinner options. Some of the most memorable dishes were curried coconut lobster in banana leaves, chicken roulade with sautéed cabbage, lentil dal (with the most amazing pumpkin fritters) and homemade guava sorbet with spicy pineapple compote.
Despite Kolibri’s luxurious atmosphere, this is not the island for people whose idea of a Caribbean getaway is the trek from their hotel room to the beach. In fact, there are very few beaches here.
Dominica is an island with an extreme nature, making it ideal for adventurers who can take advantage of challenging hiking trails, explore its giant waterfalls, and snorkel in the Champagne Reef (named after the champagne-like bubbles that float to its surface from underwater crevices). Or dive into underwater volcanoes or try a sea kayaking trail that explores along the island’s coastline.
Everywhere you visit on this island, you’ll find examples of geothermal activity bubbling beneath its surface, including the Boiling Lake, so named because a hole in the Earth’s surface forced volcanic steam and water out. It is the second largest hot lake in the world (temperature along its edges ranges from 82 to 91.5 degrees Celsius) after Lake Frying Pan, near Rotorua, New Zealand.
But you’ll also find rocky valleys dotted with erupting mini geysers, geothermal rock pools spewing sulfur fumes in the heart of the rainforest and natural hot springs. One afternoon, we visited Te Kuen Glu Chu Hot Baths, where we soaked in two large stone pools of thermal water, surrounded by rainforest.
After that trip, we were all grateful to return to the resort, wash off the rust-coloured film on our skin from the thermal waters of our outdoor baths, and get a spa treatment. I opted for a facial, then relaxed in a small pool on the spa terrace overlooking the mountains and the lush Soufrière Valley below.
So far, Dominica has avoided the rampant development that has blighted much of the Caribbean, but with the steady stream of support starting to trickle in, those days are likely numbered. Travel & Leisure, Lonely Planet, and Time magazine recently named Dominica one of the best places to visit in 2023.
The owners of Colibri Ridge have one wish. They built their retreat to showcase the possibilities of self-sufficient communities in Dominica and around the world. “We really hope our guests are aware of how to incorporate sustainable practices into their daily lives,” says Langlois.
I think it’s a rub. The first thing I did when I got home was research the cost of the motion-activated lights and faucets I had discovered in my suite.
- Room rates at Coulibri Ridge Hotel start at US$700 per night. American Airlines offers nonstop service to Dominica from Miami, depending on the season. coulibriridge.com
The writer traveled as a guest on the Kolibri Ridge. The story was not reviewed or approved before publication.