With tangling green jungles, volcanic mountains and hot springs, and tumbling waterfalls, the eastern Caribbean island of Dominica is rich in natural beauty. It's also, despite all that, one of the least touristed places on earth.
Now, as developers and travelers alike look for new corners of the Caribbean to discover, this small island finds itself at a crossroads. Whether it decides to stay well off-the-beaten-path (there are currently no direct flights here from the U.S.), or lean in to the idea of big resorts and big tourist crowds, this particular moment is an interesting one in which to visit. We traveled to one of the first major resorts to open on the island — Cabrits Resort and Spa by Kempinski Dominica — in late 2019. Here's what we saw.
Hotel Type: Medium-size beach resort
Number of Rooms: 151 rooms and suites
Bars and Restaurants:
- Cabrits Market: The hotel's main restaurant and central gathering point, where meals are served throughout the day
- Kweyol Beach Cafe: Beach grill serving seafood and cocktails in a casual poolside setting
- Rumfire: Incredible rum bar featuring dozens of kinds of house-made "bush rum"
- Swim-Up Pool Bar: Serves typical resort-style cocktails
Hotel Trivia: In 2017, Hurricane Maria took a major toll on the island of Dominica — destroying or tearing roofs from nearly every structure on the island. Sixty-five people were also killed as a result. This resort is the first major new hotel property to open since the hurricane and it signals an important phase in the island's recovery.
What It Looks Like
The Design: Clean-lined and grand, the sand-colored buildings, stone pathways, and gurgling fountains at the Cabrits Resort and Spa evoke a sense of easy resort-style cool.
The Rooms: Rooms and suites feature a palette of serene greens and blues, along with soft carpets and understated furniture. Each is equipped with a balcony that offers views of either the island, the pool, or the ocean.
The Public Spaces: The second-floor lobby features high ceilings and looks straight out over the sea, making for a dramatic first impression. From here, guests can wander out to a series of outdoor balcony spaces filled with comfortable wicker furniture, fire pits, and tables where cocktails can be delivered by the eager staff. The pool area is expansive and there are plenty of places — in the center of the action and away from it — to set up for the day with a magazine, a towel, and a cocktail.
Accessibility: Situated on multiple levels, and on multiple surfaces (tile, wood, grass, concrete), this property might be challenging for those with wheelchairs or other walking disabilities. However, there are elevators to help move guests between the rooms and public spaces.
What It Feels Like
The Mood: Situated on the edge of a national park, this resort feels totally secluded on its quiet peninsula, and the vibe on-property mirrors that. This is not the place for parties, loud music, or other resort-style rowdiness.
Who Stays Here: Guests come to Dominica to relax, but also to enjoy its unique natural features. There are hikes leading to hot springs and waterfalls; red-dirt cliffs that tower over the sea; plus incredible diving and fishing opportunities all over the island. On the other hand, there are few easily accessible sandy beaches like you'll find elsewhere in the Caribbean. In short, this resort is for the guest who wants to balance exciting outdoor experiences and excursions with the comfort of a luxury stay.
You’ll Love It If: You crave both adventure and a sense of uniqueness, as well as solitude.
Don’t Say We Didn’t Warn You: The island (and this resort) are tough to reach. U.S. travelers will need to layover once — or even twice, depending on where they're coming from — to get to the island. The property itself is 90 minutes from the airport down a series of extremely windy roads. (Bring motion sickness tablets and your keenest sense of adventure and discovery.) Additionally, the resort does not have much of a sandy beach. While the pools provide plenty of opportunities for sun worship, you'll be back a few feet from the very beautiful, albeit sand-free shoreline.
What You’ll Get
Spa, Pools, and Fitness: When we visited, the spa and fitness areas were a work in progress, but the former especially looks promising, with its palapa-shaded treatment rooms and open-air lounges.
Notable Brand Collabs: When we stayed, bath amenities were by Ferragamo.
What You’ll Pay
Average Rates: Expect to pay $350 to $450 per night for the resort's standard rooms. Suites start around $1,000 per night.
When to Stay for Less: Hurricane season (from June to November) brings rates just south of $300 per night, which is an excellent deal.
Resort and Other Fees: This property does not charge a resort fee, but transfers from the airport — a necessity — will cost extra, as will spa treatments, all food and beverages, and excursions.
Get Loyal: Sign up for Kempinski's loyalty program, Kempinski Discovery, for perks like free wifi and bottled water, pastries in the morning, and a daily newspaper. Stay more than nine nights in a single year and you'll earn even better benefits like free upgrades and late checkout.
Know Your Neighborhood
Area History: Before its independence in 1979, the island of Dominica was held by the French and then by the British. English remains the official language, but you'll hear local creole dialects, as well as French, when you're on the island. The town of Roseau, on the southwest coast, is the island's capital, and where you'll see the occasional small- or medium-size cruise ship in port. It takes about an hour to reach the capital from the resort by car.
Important Local Attractions: Cabrits National Park, which is just outside the property, sits on a peninsula at the northern end of the island. On its wooded grounds, you'll find Fort Shirley, formerly a British and then French garrison on top of a hill overlooking the sea. The sunsets here are stunning, and the fort has been well maintained. The island's annual Jazz n' Creole festival is held here (usually in May or June).
Getting There and Getting Around: The easiest way for East Coasters to reach Dominica is to fly to Barbados nonstop on JetBlue. From there, you can transfer to a more localized carrier, like LIAT. Another small carrier, Seaborne Airlines, flies to Dominica from San Juan, making it possible to connect to most U.S. carriers. Flight times can vary significantly depending on your route, but plan for a full day of travel each way to and from the resort. Once you arrive on the island, you'll likely rely on planned excursions to take you away from the resort.
What to Eat and Drink
The Best Food: Dishes at the resort are freshly prepared and, in Cabrits Market in particular, they stick to familiar territory. Think pastas, grilled fish, eggs in the morning, and salads. If you're venturing off the resort and into Roseau, Dominica's capital city, The Great Old House serves fantastic island fare (conch salad, grilled red snapper, coconut desserts) in a homey and welcoming second-floor space.
The Best Drinks: Don't hesitate to try some of the incredible bush rums offered in Rumfire, the resort's rum bar. Here, rums are infused with everything from ginger to starfruit, tobacco leaves to cinnamon sticks. It's a fascinating way to delve into a local tradition.