Dominica is a hiker’s paradise. Aside from the Waitukubuli National Trail, which runs the length of the island, Boiling Lake is the most well-known hike on the island.
A day hike, Boiling Lake is strenuous yet beautiful. You will trek through rainforest, dip into hot springs, marvel at the waterfalls and step delicately around bubbling mud pools.
Following this you’ll climb up another summit to Boiling Lake.
Peter the Bushman
We were lucky enough to be guided by the best – Peter the Bushman. He has been taking people to Boiling Lake since he was in his late teens and knows it so well he could probably do the hike with his eyes closed.
Plants and animals
As you hike with Peter the Bushman, he will tell you all about the different species of trees and animals found on Dominica. Here are just some of the interesting tibbits of information I learnt…
- There are 40 species of mango and 11 species of banana on Dominica
- The cannon tree provides a leaf that when boiled can help with bronchitis
- The ferns have been on Dominica for millions of years
- There are leaves you can eat that taste like green apple – I think they’re sorrel leaves
- The boisbande tree is a natural aphrodisiac
- The Mang Tree has been nicknames the Rasta Tree because it has vines that grow down its trunk to the floor, making it look as though it has rasta hair
- There aren’t any poisonous animals on Dominica, although Peter the Bushman says the boas might give you a ‘friendly hug’
- There are so many different species of animals including:
- 5 snakes
- 55 butterflies
- 22 land crabs
- 12 bats – with one species that eats fish
- 4 hummingbirds
- 165 birds
- 12 whales
Now that’s an impressive list of species!
First stage of the Boiling Lake hike
There’s a reason Boiling Lake has previously been rated as the hardest hike in the Caribbean – it’s tough!
The beginning began easily enough though – we stood over a canyon, called Titou Gorge, at the beginning of the hike and took in the gushing waterfalls. Next, we began the steady climb to the top of the main summit – which involved some steep inclines.
Unfortunately it was too tough for one of the members of our group and she had to turn back, being guided by another leader who was making his way back down the mountain.
The rest of us – five in total – reached the main ridge in two hours. Unfortunately we couldn’t see a thing! The photo below was taken on the way back.
Second stage of Boiling Lake – into the Valley of Desolation
This was my favourite part of the hike. It was probably also the toughest – but I like a challenge.
Coming down from the ridge was difficult because it had rained a lot and was very muddy. I very nearly lost a hiking boot in the mud a few times!
There are steps to help you but you still need to pay careful attention in getting down the steep slope. It didn’t help that it was blowing a gale and we felt as though we were about to be swept off the mountain.
We then had to clamber over some large boulders until we reached the Valley of Desolation.
The Valley of Desolation
Inside the Valley of Desolation – which is essentially in the crater of a volcano – you can hear the hiss and bubble of the boiling water and mud coming up from the ground around you.
Unlike Yellowstone, where you have to stay on the board walks – you can walk where you please at the Valley of Desolation. Although it pays to stay alert because I wouldn’t want to fall into a pool of boiling water.
Being inside the Valley of Desolation is magical. You can feel the power of mother nature and you realise that the island’s volcanic activity is certainly still very active. (The last eruption – although small – was only in 1997!)
Volcanic face painting
Peter the Bushman decorated our faces in volcanic mud which dried instantly. He later decorated our faces in a different colour mud – brown instead of grey – from a separate pool of water.
We washed our faces in the hot springs later and our skin felt silky smooth.
After around four hours of hiking (we were slower than normal because we took many photos and stopped to chat along the way) we reached Boiling Lake.
The second largest boiling lake in the world (the biggest is in New Zealand – although it’s often debated as to whether it is actually bigger), Dominica’s Boiling Lake is impressive.
Unfortunately for us, it was a rather cloudy day so we probably didn’t get as good a view as we could’ve when there’s blue sky.
We could hear the lake bubbling away though – and at 100°C I wouldn’t want to fall in there!
Tragedy at Boiling Lake
Unfortunately for one guide, he did fall into Boiling Lake a few years ago. He survived but was burned from the waist down.
Peter the Bushman told us that the unfortunate guide had been leading a group the day before the accident when someone dropped their camera on the edge of the lake. Leaving it as lost, the guide came back the following day and tied a rope on to a boulder to go down and fetch the camera.
Unfortunately for him, on the way back up he slipped on the rope and fell part way into the water.
Another guide heard his screams and called his brother for help, who made a makeshift stretcher out of bamboo and ran up the mountain. They carried the injured guide to the summit and a helicopter airlifted him out of the area.
He spent eight months in hospital and had to get skin grafts from all over his body to help mend his burns.
A sad story but a good one to remind you just how dangerous and powerful Boiling Lake is.
The return journey
After a quick break for lunch at the Boiling Lake, we began the return walk. The hike back to the starting point of our journey was only three hours long but by the end of it we were exhausted.
It was a wonderful day though and certainly worth the effort.
If I could do it again I would probably leave earlier in the morning and do the loop route from Laudat (where we began our original hike) through to Morne Prosper. The Morne Prosper section only opened in 2011 and is a little longer than the traditional route, but you can take in a few more hot springs and walk through prime Sisserou parrot habitat – a parrot that can only be found in Dominica.
Have you hiked to Boiling Lake? Did you enjoy it?
What you need to know:
Total time: 7-8 hours
Best for: Seeing volcanic activity on Dominica
How to get there: The trail head begins a Titou Gorge which is just outside the town of Laudat. There’s dirt road parking.
Cost: You can expect to pay between US$50-$US100 for a guide for Boiling Lake. Sometimes it will depend on the size of the group. Make sure you get a certified guide.
We can highly recommend Peter the Bushman. His number is 767-235-2270. You also need to pay US$5 for a site pass and these can be collected a numerous tourism-centres across the island, including at visitor centres, the Forestry Office, Wildlife and Parks division at the Botanical Gardens and Bath Estate.
A guide is recommended for the Boiling Lake hike. You can attempt it on your own but I’d advise you to take a guide – for all you’ll learn if nothing else.
When to go: Avoid hiking when there are downpours – so check the weather before you go. The trail will be very difficult – and certainly dangerous – in some places if it’s raining heavily.
The Tourism Board of Dominica gave us two complimentary tickets for Peter the Bushman’s guidance but, as always, our views are our own.
Video script for Boiling Lake hike:
Carmen: Our group gathered for a briefing from Peter the Bushman before our hike to Boiling Lake.
Dave: Having been labelled as the most difficult hike in the Caribbean, we knew we were in for a day of strenuous exercise.
Carmen: Entering the jungle, Peter explained to us the different plants you can find on Dominica and what types of medicine they can be used for. From curing the common cold to getting rid of back pain – there seemed to be a bush medicine for all ails.
Dave: We hiked up the most intact steps we were to walk upon all day and had a look into Titou Gorge from above. A scene from Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed here and little did we know we’d be creating our own canyoning video there a week later.
Carmen: Up some more steps and Peter stopped to show us some bark you can boil up to turn into some home-made Viagra. Who knows how effective it is!
Dave: He also showed us the gummy gum tree whose gum can be used as fuel for fire and wax for waterproofing canoes.
Carmen: Luckily the rain held off and before we knew it Peter was showing us his Tarzan moves.
Dave gave it a try but couldn’t seem to manage…
So I showed him how it’s done.
Dave: We trekked further and further into the jungle – I was beginning to work up a sweat. We arrived at a stream for a quick break and I was told we were only one quarter of the way there. This was going to be tough, that’s for sure!
Carmen: Peter demonstrated his epic peeling skills and we munched on some refreshing grapefruit before continuing on our way.
Dave: I was glad Peter was there to guide us as some parts of the trail were more difficult to navigate than others.
Carmen: An hour of uphill hiking later and we reached the summit of the largest mountain we were to hike which overlooked the Valley of Desolation below.
And boy was it windy!
Dave: Next came the most difficult section of the hike – clambering over giant boulders on a steep ravine.
Carmen: And then we could see it – Boiling Lake in the distance.
Dave: We were up high – clouds spun past our heads at top notch speed.
Carmen: But it was the ground we were really interested in.
Dave: The Valley of Desolation is inside the crater of the volcano and so you can see mud and boiling water bubbling up from the ground everywhere you look. Steam clouds the air and it’s a magical place – just watch where you step!
Carmen: Peter painted our faces in volcanic mud and wrote welcome notes in the hot springs’ residue.
Dave: And then it was time to climb some more steep steps… before we finally made it to the Boiling Lake.
Carmen: It was a shame it was too cloudy to really see the whole thing!
Dave: Well you know what they say – focus on the journey, not the destination!