Trekking Dominica’s Waitukubuli National Trail

The first thing that comes to mind about the Caribbean is not marathon treks but coral sand, palm trees, beach chairs and drinks with umbrellas in them. But the small island of Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic), nestled between Guadeloupe and Martinique in the eastern Caribbean, offers something different: the Caribbean’s only long-distance hiking trail.

Known as the Waitukubuli National Trail, it meanders 185km over mountains and through dense Dominican rainforest. Waitukubuli, the pre-Columbian name of the island, means “tall is her body” and refers to the volcanic fertility of the land and the mountains.  

The Waitukubuli Trail. Photo: OECS

 

Before modern roads, the island was interconnected by trails, which had been carved out by various groups over the centuries: hunter-gatherers, the indigenous Kalinago people and of course, the enslaved Africans. Such footpaths were also vital to maroons (escaped slaves), who hid from their captors and established their own communities in the remote mountains. For thousands of years, hiking has run deep in Dominican veins. 

The idea of a long-distance trail was first conceptualised by Dominican lawyer Bernard Wiltshire in the 1990s. In 2002, an avid hiker named Michael Eugene established a tour company that supported this idea and started leading hikers along the trails. With funding from the European Union, the Dominican government, Regional Council of Martinique, local farmers and landowners, the Waitukubuli National Trail officially became a reality in 2013. 

The trail starts at Scott’s Head, the island’s southern point, and ends at the northern tip, in Cabrits National Park. Each of the trail’s 14 segments has its own challenges, so hikers who don’t want to do the entire route can pick those sections that best suit them.

Entrance to the trail. Photo: LargeUp.com

 

The trail runs through coastal, rainforest and elfin forests. Some sections are rugged and volcanic, others feature deep gorges, natural hot springs and a Boiling Lake. It also mounts the island’s volcanic peaks, including 1,447m Morne Diablotins, Dominica’s highest peak and the second highest in the Lesser Antilles. 

While the Waitukubuli National Trail is not widely promoted, it attracts hundreds of hikers each year, from families to professional athletes. The whole route takes an average of about two weeks. The challenges of this tropical trail include insects and mosquitoes, extreme heat, humidity and the ever-present smell of sulphur from the island’s single active volcano. Thankfully, Dominica is free of venomous snakes.

 

Hikers approach Boiling Lake. Photo: wiredforadventure.com

 

Camping is not permitted to protect the local ecosystem, but eco-lodges and B&Bs offer lodging en route. Often, locals are happy to welcome travelers into their homes.

The one significant threat to this national treasure are the hurricanes. Dominica lies in the hurricane belt and has been battered repeatedly over the years by Category 1 to 5 storms. In 2017, Hurricane Maria caused immense devastation and instability. Major landslides and flooding resulted in the closure of trail segments 7 to 9, but they reopened last year 2019. 

Although a modest hike compared to some of the others we cover, the Dominica trail lets restless people to experience the Caribbean without relaxing.

Kristine De Abreu is the Writer of ExplorersWeb.

Kristine has been writing about Science, Mysteries and History for 4+ years. Prior to that, Kristine studied at the University of Leicester in the UK.

Based in Port-of-Spain, Kristine is also a literature teacher, avid reader, hiker, occasional photographer, an animal lover and shameless ramen addict.

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C. Conway
C. Conway
1 year ago

This story is very incorrect. The trail was the idea of Bernard Wiltshire and the project proposal was written by EDF Consultant Ruth Houliston. This trail was conceptualized in 1998. This is incorrect information. Michael Eugene did not come up with this idea. You should correct this information. Ms. Houliston continues to work at the CDB and you should interview her on this matter. There is a whole papertrail which proves these facts. Please do research before you publish such a consequential story.

A.Dominican
A.Dominican
1 year ago

C.Conway is correct and you are wholly wrong on this matter. Any Dominican especially the tourism bureau Discover Dominica or even the WNT office itself could have corrected you on this detail. Very unprofessional journalism. The idea for WNT was conceptualized by Dominican lawyer Bernard Wiltshire.