Morne Trois Pitons National Park is without question the absolute highlight of the Nature Island of Dominica—a tiny little Caribbean island squeezed in between its more famous sisters Guadeloupe and Martinique. Covering nearly 7,000 ha/17,000 a, this park has verdant steep slopes, deeply carved valley, fumaroles, hot springs, a boiling lake, and the richest biodiversity you’ll find in the Lesser Antilles. This rare combination of natural features has made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1975.
Morne Trois Pitons National Park is only 13 km/8 mi from the capital Roseau. It covers a good part of the southern half of Dominica and is the source of almost all the rivers and streams in the southern half of the island.
Flora and fauna
Morne Trois Pitons National Park boasts five natural vegetation zones. Starting at the bottom, you’ll first traverse a mature rainforest with its abundant growth and lush green vegetation. If you want to see all the possible colors of green nature can make, you’ll find it here. A little higher up you’ll enter montane rainforest, which is quite often covered in clouds or fog. This means you have similar trees as a mature rainforest, but they’re smaller and covered with epiphytes, such as colorful orchids and bromeliads. Next you enter the montane thicket, which is dominated by spindly and conifer trees. At the highest altitudes (1,300 m/4,300 ft) you’ll step into an elfin/cloud forest, which is almost constantly covered by mist and exposed to high winds, rain, and cold temperatures. Because of the wetness of this zone you’ll find a lot of mosses and ferns here. This microclimate sounds worse than it actually is, we had not one drop of rain and were hiking in shorts and T-shirts all day long. Trust me, it doesn’t take much to get me to throw on pants and a sweater. Of course, it’s best to check the weather forecast and get some local advice before heading out, to make sure you bring the appropriate clothing.
Morne Trois Pitons National Park is home to a wide variety of animals. Although we didn’t see many (aside from a few birds) as animals like to hide. If you’re lucky, however, these forests contain the rare imperial Amazon and red-necked Amazon parrots, so keep your eyes peeled. The mammals you might encounter are mainly introduced species like opossums, agoutis, feral cats, and pigs. There are also plenty of reptiles and amphibians, and it’s not difficult to spot lizards and even snakes, but don’t worry, the snakes on this island are all non-poisonous. So, if you see a boa basking in the sun, enjoy the sight and take a few pictures to impress your friends back home. I have to admit, I’m more scared of crustaceans (which you might also see) than snakes. Once when I was in Costa Rica, I swam across a natural rock pool in the jungle, sat down on a rock to enjoy a magnificent waterfall, and a tiny, but very territorial crayfish bit my butt!
Highlights of the Morne Trois Pitons National Park
Close to the small village of Laudat is an incredible natural feature called Titou Gorge that we almost missed the first time we were there. It’s barely visible from the outside, as the entrance is small and covered by vegetation. From there to the base of a waterfall it’s a short swim through a series of natural semi-enclosed caves and ponds. Tall, sculptured, rock walls rise on either side of this narrow passage and are canopied by interlaced trees through which the sun’s rays create a magical light show. The water is quite chilly, and there’s always the danger of a flash flood if it’s raining in the mountains that feed the gorge. So if you want to be safe, rent a life vest from one of the local vendors who hang out at the mouth of the gorge selling food and beer. To get your body temperature up again, check out the hot spring that spills over the wall just outside the entrance of the gorge.
Valley of Desolation and Boiling Lake
The 3-hour, one-way hike to Boiling Lake is one of the most strenuous tours you can do in the Caribbean, so be warned. Thirteen km/8 mi one-way might not sound like a lot, and, in fact it starts off kind of easy, but as you go along get ready for some serious steeps and a lot of up and down. The trail can also be muddy and slippery, and be really careful on the wooden steps, as they are super slick. Plan a full day, and get an early start. In our opinion you don’t need a guide unless you want one. We’ve had good and bad experiences with guides. It’s nice to hear about the local flora and history of the region, but it’s also nice to enjoy the wilderness alone. The trail is not marked, but it’s well trampled and easy to follow, and there’s always people around, so don’t worry.
The trailhead of this hike is at Titou Gorge. After a strenuous 2.5-hour hike through beautiful rainforests, across small rivers, and along magnificent ridges, you come to your first amazing site: The Valley of Desolation—the name says it all. A rift in the earth’s crust, this collapsed volcano is a Dante’s Inferno: hissing fumaroles, bubbling mud pots, differently colored steaming-hot pools (based on the minerals they carry), and acrid sulfur vents. It’s breathtaking, in more ways than one, as some of these features are releasing some toxic gases, so don’t inhale to deeply. I found myself running around in this devil’s amphitheater like a lunatic with my camera, because there were so many beautiful and interesting things to see. Of course, I was brought back to reality when steaming hot vent almost cooked my ankle! Take your time and explore this area, but be careful where you step. If you like science experiments, bring a few eggs, put them in a plastic bag fixed to a stick, and boil them in one of the many boiling ponds.
Just after the exit of the Valley of Desolation, you’ll pass a series of cascading natural hot springs. You can take a dip in them, though I suggest saving this for when you return from Boiling Lake. And make sure you take all your jewelry off—my silver rings and necklaces were shimmering in all different colors of the rainbow after I got out, and it took me a long time to polish them clean again.
Boiling Lake is only about half an hour from the Valley of Desolation and the second largest “boiling lake” in the world. You can see this giant flooded fumarole from a cliff high above, but due to the incredible heat, you’ll have a hard time actually seeing the lake through the steam. Luckily, every now and then the wind blows through and provides a fleeting glimpse of the lake’s bubbling surface.
On on the way back, don’t forget to take a dip in the hot springs and explore Titou Gorge at the trail head. And most important, plan to spend the next day relaxing at the beach, as your muscles will be crying for a rest.
Boeri Lake and Fresh Water Lake
These two lakes are Dominica’s largest and can be reached either by hiking from Laudat (longer) or driving to Fresh Water Lake and then hiking to Boeri Lake. The lakes are swimmable and vary in depth with the season (highest between October and December). Boeri Lake is located in the crater of an extinct volcano. The 2 km/1.25 mi-long trail between the two lakes crosses a mountain where you’ll get spectacular panoramic views of the Atlantic coast and Freshwater Lake
Middleham Falls and Tou Santi
It’s a 30-45 min hike to reach Middleham Falls (in the heart of Morne Trois Piton National Park) from either Laudat or Cochrane. Surrounded by lush rainforest, these breathtaking, narrow falls drop about 80 m/270 ft. You can swim at the bottom of the falls, but it’s chilly and pretty rough. That being said, you don’t need to swim to get wet, as the spray of water and mist will drench you and your camera too.
If you visit the falls in the afternoon, you can check out the nearby Tou Santi or “Stinking Hole” at dusk. This is a lava tube in the middle of the forest that gets its name from the overpowering smell of guano produced by bats. You can’t enter the stinking hole (you probably also don’t want to), but at dusk, you can see the bats leaving their cave en masse, in search of food and adventure. Make sure to bring a flashlight for the way back.
An easy 30-minute hike takes you through beautiful lush rainforest to this wonderful waterfall grotto. Engulfed in rich vegetation, the pool shimmers in green thanks to the tree-filtered sunlight, hence the name. On your way back on this loop trail are two vantage points where you get nice views of the Atlantic Coast and Dominica’s rugged geography.
There’s so much to do and see in Dominica’s Morne Trois Pitons National Park, you can easily spend a few days there. If you’re as crazy as I am about rainforests and waterfalls, put this park on your bucket list!
For a detailed map, more photos, and additional information on Dominica, go to our Dominica page. We’ll upload more info on all our favorite spots in this country here, so keep checking back for updates.