Dominica Canyoning Article

A watery adventure in the heart of the Caribbean nature island

Dominica canyoning article written by Travel Writer & Bradt Guides Writer Paul Crask

Standing at the top of the waterfall, Jeffrey began singing at the top of his voice and we all got the giggles. And then he disappeared. Peering over the edge we saw nothing but a red rope disappearing into the torrent that tumbled down into what seemed like a bottomless funnel between the vertiginous cliffs on either side.

“Next!” shouted Richard from a narrow ledge opposite. No-one in the group moved. The giggles abated.

Richard and his assistant Jeffrey are the heart and soul of Extreme Dominica and have been exploring Dominica’s myriad rivers, hidden canyons and gorges for years. Thankfully, they share their skills and discoveries with adventure-loving travelers, film-makers, photographers and rather nervous, acrophobic writers.

Headquarters is in the heart of the Roseau Valley where classroom, training wall and all the equipment you need are available so that complete novices can become full-blooded canyoneers by the time the day is out. Our adventure today is a stretch of canyon just below TiTou Gorge, location of a Pirates of the Caribbean sequence. Getting down into the canyon requires a waterfall rappel, one of several we would encounter on our journey, and the one above which I now found myself wobbling with a degree of light-headed giddiness.

Somehow I found myself being urged forward, first to go. How does that happen?

Richard clipped his safety line to my harness and fed a rope through my belay device. I was standing on the edge facing him, behind me was the watery void. He grinned, no doubt recognizing all the signs of nervous excitement he must witness on a regular basis.

“Ready?” he shouted above the waterfall noise. Against all the advice of my brain, my head nodded. “Good. Now lean back. Right back.”

This is tricky for the beginner, but the more you lean back, the more perpendicular you are to the wall, and the easier it is to ‘walk’ down the rock through the waterfall. The temptation is to fight this and try to remain upright which results in less grip and more slippage. I found leaning backwards from the top of a waterfall and walking down it is more mental than physical challenge.

Feeding rope through the belay device as instructed, I made my way down the wall. I could see Richard still grinning at me and the outlines of the helmet and wet-suit clad group now standing beside him. Then it was all water. To reach the bottom I had to pass through the waterfall itself. It was a fearsome few moments as the deluge crashed down upon me until I was clear and could see the rock face once again. And then, to my utter delight, I heard singing.

Jeffrey unclipped my lines and pointed behind me. The scene was breathtaking. Like something from the beginning of time, smooth, twisting rock formations towered on each side of the canyon with the outline of rainforest trees and blue sky high above our heads. Meandering down the middle, a cascading river and series of gin-clear pools that sparkled as if new born. I was no longer on Dominica. I was in it.

What followed was no less spectacular. For over four hours we rappelled down five or six more waterfalls, jumped into and swam through deep pools, hiked along the river and finally emerged at the Cathedral, a stunning cylindrical formation of polished rock, waterfall and pool, with vines and tree roots spiraling down from the forest above. Floating on my back I watched the others rappel down the waterfall, whooping and hollering, brash and bold, now seasoned canyoneers who would definitely be back for more.


UK born writer and life-long traveler, Paul Crask writes for Bradt Travel Guides. He also pens articles and takes photographs for magazines and newspapers about his new home, Dominica, and the islands he has now come to know well and love: Grenada, Carriacou and the Grenadines. Visit his website or follow Paul on Twitter >>

Read the Active Caribbean book review of The Bradt Travel Guide to Dominica, written by Paul Crask >>

Read the Active Caribbean Dominica travel guide on adventure and activities >>

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