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Dominica - Travel and visas
All visitors require a valid passport. You may also be asked to show either a return or an onward ticket. Arriving passengers must complete an immigration form which, if you have not been given one prior to landing in Dominica, you can pick up in the arrivals area. You must be able to provide details of your hotel or the address of family, friends etc so be sure to have this written down somewhere. Complete your form before standing in line or you may be sent to the back. There is no hurry; relax, you are on island time now. When you leave Dominica you have to pay departure tax of EC$59 (US$22) after check-in. Children under 12 are exempt.
Dominica’s main airport is Douglas Charles Airport (DOM) (formerly known as Melville Hall Airport) in the northeast. Seaborne Airlines, Winair and Liat have scheduled flights to and from this airport. Liat and Winair also fly to and from Canefield Airport, in the southwest, just a few kilometres north of the capital Roseau.
From the US and Canada
Most of the major North American airlines have flights to Antigua (ANU), Barbados (BGI), Puerto Rico (SJU) or St Martin (SXM) where there are regular connecting Liat, Seaborne & Winair services to Dominica. Caribbean island governments heavily tax air travel (around 50% of ticket prices is tax), making them pricey. High demand at peak times (carnival, public holidays etc) also makes inter-island flying an expensive business.
From the UK
Flights from the UK to Dominica are usually via Antigua or Barbados. Prices are usually very similar. Same-day connections may not always be possible.
Flights are daily from Paris Orly (ORY) to Guadeloupe (PTP) & Martinique (FDF) where inter-island flights or high-speed ferry services connect to Dominica.
It is definitely worth considering getting to Dominica via Martinique or Guadeloupe. Low-cost airline Norwegian is now flying from Boston, Baltimore and New York to Martinique. You can also get to Martinique from Miami. From Martinique or Guadeloupe you simply catch an inter-island ferry to Roseau. L’Express des Iles operates a high-speed ferry service between the islands of Guadeloupe (including Les Saintes), Dominica, Martinique and St Lucia. The ferry arrives at and departs from the terminal on Roseau’s Bay Front regularly throughout the week, although the schedule does change at certain times of the year.
By private yacht
Visitors to Dominica arriving by private or charter vessel should contact the Dominica Port Authority on VHF channel 16. Customs clearance is mandatory before anchoring. Two copies of the crew and passenger list are required and you must pay an environmental levy. Ports of entry are in Portsmouth on the northwest coast, Roseau on the west coast, and Anse Du Mai on the east coast. While there is no properly established marina on Dominica, popular anchorages are Prince Rupert Bay on the northwest coast, Mero and Batali Bay on the mid-west coast, and Castle Comfort and Loubiere in the southwest. The Soufriere Scotts Head Marine Reserve on the southern tip of Dominica is out of bounds as an anchorage. Dominica’s marina and provisioning services are fledgling but they are also very personal.
Roseau is the main hub for bus transport, but there is no central terminus. Local people have become accustomed to knowing where all the different bus stops are in the capital, but as a visitor you may find it very confusing. Buses to different parts of the island depart from bus stops located on different streets and at no fixed times. They tend to leave when the driver is happy he has enough passengers, or when he has finished eating his lunch, chatting with his friends, done his shopping and so on. During rush-hour times in the early mornings and late afternoons, and also when children leave school, buses are at their busiest and run more frequently. They are usually crammed full and their drivers apply a very heavy foot to the accelerator in order to return and collect more fares as soon as possible.
Dominica’s buses are small minivans and can be identified by the letters ‘H’, ‘HA’ or ‘HB’ on the licence plate. Many bus drivers also decorate the windscreen of their vehicles with a name or a slogan so that they become recognisable along the routes they drive. In addition to designated bus stops, simply flagging down a bus along the roadside is the most common method of reaching your destination.
If travelling to remote areas or across the island, expect to use a number of different buses to get from one place to another; and be prepared to wait. Some bus drivers may simply not go beyond a certain point (it’s always worth offering them a bit extra just in case) and walking the final stretch may be your only option. Note that most buses stop running in the evening and there are reduced numbers on Sundays.
Dominica’s taxi drivers are licensed by the government and should display official credentials. There are no standard rates for private taxi hire and so it is down to the individual driver and a little negotiation on your part. Most taxi drivers offer island tours but they must have additional credentials as tour guides to show you around sites or take you hiking. Some taxi drivers have this dual licensing, and others work in partnership with tour guides.
New car rental companies seem to spring up every week – there are so many to choose from. The difference is usually price, quality of vehicle and selection, with the smaller companies being a little cheaper but with a limited choice of vehicle models. Privateers may not always keep their rental vehicles in the best shape, or have a large enough fleet to bring you a change of vehicle should yours break down. Check this first. The most common rental cars are small 4x4 vehicles. Prices vary but you should expect to pay about US$60 per day depending on the vehicle, with discounted rates usually offered for longer rental periods. Collision damage waiver is usually an additional cost; check in advance. Some rental companies offer free drop-off and pick-up at airports and hotels.
The government requires the purchase of a visitor’s temporary driving licence. This costs US$12 for a one-month licence (this is the minimum) and is usually obtained from the car hire company itself. Visitor licences can also be purchased at either Canefield or Douglas Charles airports (ask customs officers), or in Roseau from the Inland Revenue building. In order to rent a car and purchase a visitor licence, you must be able to present either your domestic or international driving licence, so make sure you bring it. If you are renting a car it is a good idea also to carry a mobile phone with you in case you break down, have an accident, lose your keys or lock them in the vehicle.
It is definitely worth contacting car hire companies for quotes and bookings prior to arrival, especially at busy periods such as Carnival and Creole. Also check to see if it is possible to collect the car and drop it off at the airport.
Check the car over very carefully prior to signing any documentation. Look for scratches and bumps, test lights and brakes, and examine tyre tread. Make sure any bodywork defects are properly recorded on the rental agreement. If the vehicle has poor tyre tread, request a replacement. If the car handles poorly when you first take it out, return it and request a replacement straight away. Do not settle. Dominica has some unforgiving, tricky and remote roads.
Hitching or riding is very common in Dominica. It is often possible to wave down a pick-up truck and jump on the back for a free ride. Conversely, when driving, expect to see people asking for a ride along the main highways or on the outskirts of villages. Hitching a ride is quite an effective way to get around, though it may involve long waits, sometimes in heavy downpours. It is also a nice way to meet Dominicans and experience a side to the island that is not possible in other circumstances.
Whatever you do, be careful. A scooter is a handy way to get around Roseau and environs but it is not without its fair share of hazards. Look out for vehicles pulling out or stopping in front of you without warning and take care in the rain.