I Traveled to Dominica During COVID-19 — Here’s What It Was Like
“The Nature Island” is taking safety seriously.
Editor's Note: Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure.
I've had my eye on Dominica for years. After living on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and Belize, and traveling extensively through the islands, I've always wanted to visit. It's one of those destinations that rarely comes up in social circles or pops up on lists, which heightened its appeal. I find joy in uncovering beautiful places that few are flocking to. It tends to make the experience much more authentic and pushes you to journey deeper.
The unsung archipelago of Dominica is discreet by design, which I quickly learned when I visited the island back in February via its Safe in Nature program. The program requires travelers from "high risk countries," including the U.S., to stay at certified properties with extra health and safety protocols in place.
Those who know, know, and prefer to keep this Caribbean gem all to themselves. Those who've yet to encounter the country, beware. From the moment your jet begins to descend from the sky, endless green jungles ringed by tall, lush mountains linger in the distance, confirming you've arrived to "The Nature Island." Naturally, you exhale and long for what's to come — and what's to come is divine.
Getting there isn't easy but it's worth the trek
Dominica is situated in the Eastern Caribbean between Martinique and Guadeloupe, and under normal circumstances, island hopping via L'Express des Îles ferry services is encouraged across the island-chain (ferries are temporarily suspended due to COVID-19).
Unfortunately, there are no direct flights from the U.S. to Dominica, which is a minor setback for some but beneficial for those comfortable traveling right now as crowds are nonexistent. I departed from JFK on a 9 a.m. JetBlue flight, connected through San Juan, Puerto Rico, and as the sun was slowly fading west, I landed in Douglas-Charles Airport (DOM).
Double-masked and already in awe, I disembarked from my relatively empty flight and located my luggage on the tarmac. As the other passengers lined up to be escorted inside, I hung back and filled my lungs with fresh air. After nine hours of travel and years of postponement, I had to. I earned this moment.
COVID-19 protocols are next-level
From the United States, the island requires a negative PCR test 72 hours prior to travel plus the completion of a travel authorization form the day before departure (similar to other Caribbean territories who are letting Americans in). But what I appreciated particularly about Dominica's thorough process was the mandatory rapid testing that happens on site.
Before you're cleared to leave the airport, your finger is pricked and a blood sample is taken. The country tests for both the virus and antibodies and if either returns positive, you're transported to a certified government property to undergo mandatory quarantine. Admittedly, waiting feels impossible in the moment, but a sense of comfort is present in the process.
I felt safer in Dominica than I have in Brooklyn. Since the start of the pandemic, the island has had less than 200 confirmed COVID-19 cases and zero deaths. Obviously they're doing something right.
Eco-luxury accommodations are the way go
The drive from the airport to Soufrière, a fishing village on the island's southwest coast and my home base for seven days, is roughly an hour. Reserve a driver in advance through your hotel, after a full day of travel, you deserve to be chauffeured around.
After much deliberation about accommodations before my trip, I settled on Jungle Bay. The award-winning Eco-luxury resort is the national model for tourism in Dominica. Sam Rapahel, the property's developer and owner, purposefully built the 89-room resort — which features two infinity pools, multiple yoga studios, walking trails, and a banana farm — around preservation of the environment. But you don't have to be a wellness or nature aficionado to appreciate an immersive and rejuvenating experience there.
The spacious villas feature bamboo furnishings and hand-painted bedding by local artisans. Organic vegetables, seasonal fruit, and fresh fish are sourced daily and implemented into the restaurant's menu selections. The spa offers a variety of wellness treatments that blend ancient traditions with natural ingredients that, Dafrica, the spa's director, uses to customize products specifically for you. According to Rapahel, "tourism should be a tool to empower people and not simply a commodity for others to enjoy. It should benefit the natives and the environment, so there's a complete circle of life."
Safe In Nature activities
Dominica's Safe in Nature program offers a lengthy list of managed activities to explore during your time on the island. From the Galion Loop Hike, which ends with a dip in a natural hot spring, an afternoon snorkeling at Champagne Beach, or a scenic drive up north to Portsmouth to experience the Indian River Boat Tour, discover Dominica while it's still low-key.