The first image that jumps into my head when I think of the Caribbean is a cocktail glass twinkling in the sunset over a glowing beach. Relax. Take it easy. You’re on island time now.
So I was very surprised when I found that Dominica, the island we house sat on for two months, is actually considered a haven for those who love hiking and other outdoor activities. And for those who can’t sit still, and want more of a challenge than your average mountainous hike, there is canyoning.
What is canyoning?
Well, we signed up for it and then I had to Google it.
Canyoning is basically a sport where you navigate a water filled canyon using abseiling, climbing and jumping; you do whatever it takes to get from one end to the other. The tourist board of Dominica suggested we give it a try and helped arrange a day for us with Extreme Dominica – who National Geographic rated as one of its 20 best travel tips in 2011.
Extreme Dominica’s headquarters is in the lush surrounds of Wotton Waven just above the capital Roseau and when we arrived they kitted us out with long wet suit, jacket, harness, flotation vest and a helmet. Carmen and I were joined by two American couples who were all from New York. We learned together how to abseil at a training wall and then we all piled into a bus that would take us to Titou Gorge.
Our guide for the day -Richard – told our group the only rule of canyoning aside from safety is ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’. Once we were inside the canyon there was no turning back. We had to get from one end to the other, no excuses.
When we arrived, Richard phoned HQ to check the weather. It’s crucial that there is no heavy rain on the horizon because a sudden downpour could cause a flash flood – you don’t want to be in a canyon when that happens!
Abseiling over waterfalls
We got the all clear and walked a short distance from the bus to the entrance point to the canyon and nervously lined up for the first abseil stage – a sheer drop over a waterfall! The first person went over, then another, and another until it was my turn. Nahji, the assistant guide, hooked my harness to the safety line and coached me through the drop off. I lowered my body until my legs and body were shaped like an L. Then I fed slack through the friction device and went down, down, down until Richard caught me at the bottom, unhooked my line and told me let go.
I dropped into a pool of brisk, fresh water and swam over to join the others. I looked up and saw the waterfall cascading down from the level above with the curving walls of the canyon rising high and framed by lush jungle on either side. It was spectacular… and that was just the beginning.
Jumping into the unknown
On and on we went, deeper into the canyon which was like a long series of steps, each one with a pool of water and a waterfall. Some of the falls were so high we had to abseil, but many of them were the right height to jump from. ‘Aim for the middle,’ Richard told us, and we all jumped into the clear air and plunged down the plughole. It was scary but exciting and we all whooped with laughter and elation as we took our turns.
Scrambling and clambering
There are a few tight spots and my favourite was a section where we had to hold onto a taut rope, lean back and frog step sideways around a sheer cliff bend. Once that was done we had to hook up our harnesses again and abseil down a steep waterfall.
We reached a section filled with huge boulders and Richard told me the rocks has been flushed down the canyon by rain. The weather in Dominica can anger suddenly and the rocks were evidence of how powerful it can be. Water surges into the canyon, picks the rocks up and spins them around the canyon walls like a huge washing machine. The thought of being stuck in the canyon when that happens is pretty scary! But we had good weather all the way and Richard assured us no one has ever been injured with Extreme Dominica.
The amazing ending
The experience of being inside the canyon is like nothing I have ever done before. We hiked to Boiling Lake the week prior to the canyoning day and we actually looked down into the very canyon we were now exploring. The view from the bottom is much better than the view from the top!
The most magical section was a hollowed out area that had a flat bridge of rock spanning the gap between the canyon walls. It looked like the inside of a cathedral or an amphitheatre. It was a just reward for a lot of hard work.
Chocolate is for finishers
After around two hours of abseiling, climbing, jumping and scrambling we were all soaking wet, tired and thirsty – but beaming with smiles! Richard drove us back to HQ where we stripped off our gear and got changed back into our clothes. We then walked over to the other side of the business – Cocoa Cottage – a guest house that sits on a former cocoa plantation still producing chocolate.
We were served a fresh brew of hot chocolate along with a delicious chocolate cake and had the laborious process that goes into growing, harvesting and processing the cocoa beans to get chocolate explained to us. We wolfed down the cake and hot chocolate as we listened and then bought a few packs of the chocolate to take home.
I was sore all over the next day, mainly in my hips from where the harness pressed in. But it was a good reminder of the fears I’d overcome to explore a canyon and do something I wouldn’t normally do. To ease the aches I poured myself a cocktail and watched the sun set; back to normal for me!
We received a discounted rate of 50% for our canyoning trip, but as always, our views are our own.
Win a GoPro!
Our video was made possible thanks to our awesome GoPro camera. If you’re into adventuring – whether it’s canyoning, surfing, skiing or something else – a GoPro camera is the best way to capture it.
What you need to know:
Cost: It’s $160 US dollars per person for a 4 hour experience with transportation and gear included. You spend about 2 hours down in the canyon, depending on the group size. One hour beforehand is spent preparing and going through some safety procedures and training and the final hour is spent getting back to the canyoning shop and resting next door with some snacks at lodging owned by Extreme Dominica – Cocoa Cottage. They have delicious chocolate for sale there for US$10 a bag.
How to get there:Extreme Dominica will pick you up from Fort Young in Dominica’s capital Roseau. We spend the canyoning adventure going down Titou Gorge and surrounds for the beginners course.
When to go: Any time, but it is a weather permitting activity so the rainy season between August and November could be difficult. They watch the satellite weather forecast continuously to make sure there won’t be any flash flooding and that the expedition will be as safe as possible.