Cocoa Cottages captures the best of the Caribbean for eco-trekkers: an intimate family atmosphere and plenty of opportunity for adventure!
Among all the Caribbean islands, Dominica is known for its special collection of small, environmentally friendly cottages and lodges. These unique accommodations offer an exceptional value for families and serve to protect the delicacy of the natural surroundings.
I spent almost an entire week at the Cocoa Cottages (767/448-0412), a wonderful eco-lodge located right outside Dominica’s capital of Roseau. Signs of nature are present in the entire design of the open-air lodge. The sturdy dining table bases are constructed out of bamboo shoots and the staircase leading to the second story is built out of native wood, much of it still retaining its natural form. From any vantage point, there is something beautiful to behold, whether it is the steep incline on the nearby mountainside, hummingbirds eating at the feeder located in the kitchen, or the colorful gardens that line the walkways.
From within the confines of the lodge, it is difficult to believe that it is located only 4 miles outside a major city. For guests, it captures the best of both worlds: the feeling of a retreat into the wilderness and the convenience of having a city nearby.
A Small Lodge with a Big Personality
The communal living room at the heart of the lodge is a colorful, lively place for families to sit and enjoy a quiet evening together or with other guests, lounging and pursuing the wide variety of books from the lodge library. The living area is furnished with wrap-around cushioned window seats and a grand piano that is often played by one of the local musicians. Imagine the soothing sounds of reggae classics and the smell of home cooking floating through the warm evening air and you have the Cocoa Cottages experience. The owner of the lodge, Richard, his infinitely knowledgeable guide Jeffrey, and the attentive staff make their guests a top priority. Personal attention is at the forefront of the experience and families can expect their every whim and fancy to be catered to graciously.
The lodge contains six private bedrooms, each tastefully decorated with local color. Hand-made tapestries cover the beds; paintings by Dominican artists liven up the walls; and shells, driftwood, coral and other natural elements give the rooms a rustic, yet cozy atmosphere. The Bwabwa Room, where I stayed, is ideal for families traveling with children who do not require constant supervision. This large room has two double-size poster beds with mosquito nets and is a great place for kids to stay. Parents have the option of retreating to one of the more private rooms for some time away. Each room has a private bathroom with a shower, sink and toilet. There is no air-conditioning at the lodge but, after a couple of nights, most people get accustomed to the tropical weather — and ceiling fans help to keep the air circulating.
Mealtime is a very important part of the experience at Cocoa Cottages. Breakfast and dinner are prepared on site by Dominican cooks who use only the freshest local organic ingredients. The morning meal typically consists of granola, island fruits (passion fruit, pineapple, bananas and guava), baguettes served with locally produced jams, freshly squeezed tropical juices, coffee grown on the island’s plantations and cocoa tea. Dinner is usually West Indian classic, like Chicken Creole served with rice, potatoes, breadfruit, plantains and salad. All meals are eaten at communal round tables so guests get to know each other quickly, sharing in the downtime and the vibe of community. Kids under 12 receive a half-price discount on all meals.
Adventure Tours Galore
Extreme Dominica Adventure Tours is a full service eco-tour operator located directly onsite at Cocoa Cottages. This is a perfect arrangement for guests, as signing up for tours through the lodge guarantees that daily activities, including snorkeling, hiking, canyon-trekking and coastal tours are organized at the whim of the guests and often turn into group excursions.
Cocoa Cottages is conveniently located just a few miles outside of the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a jungle refuge for nature lovers featuring some the island’s best hiking. A trek into this region is the perfect day tour from the lodge. The rainforest landscape contains rolling mountains, high treetops, flowers and butterflies. The approach to the Valley of Desolation is a mystifying experience. Travelers will marvel as they watch the landscape gradually transform from a tropical paradise into a desolate valley seemingly devoid of all life forms. The colors of this area are subdued in comparison to the vibrancy of the rest of the forest; however, there is more of a variety with blending purples, oranges, blues, yellows and browns.
In this unusual area, boiling hot water from the center of the earth pushes through the valley floor, bubbling and flowing close to the ground and sending clouds of hot steam surging into the atmosphere. The final destination on the hike is the arrival at the Boiling Lake, a 200-foot fumarole flooded with grey murky water, literally boiling hot, with enormous bubbles pulsing from the middle of the lake. It is truly an experience of a lifetime, rewarded with a refreshing swim in a cool spring after returning to the trailhead.
After braving the trek to the Boiling Lake, the much less strenuous hike to Victoria Falls, Delices was an easier feat and probably the best option for families with young kids. The path to the waterfall is a narrow dirt trail that meanders along the edge of the White River. At times the trail ends at the riverbank, so it is necessary to walk knee-deep through the shallow parts of the river and over some rocks on the other side before meeting the trail again. The climb to the top is slightly over two hours, mostly flat, with the exception of the last leg of the hike, which requires some slightly strenuous climbing over larger rocks and boulders. A large slab flat rock at the summit serves as a natural observatory to take in the magnificent Victoria Falls and the milky white sulfur pool swelling in the basin below. Despite the magnitude of the falls, which exceed 200 feet in height, the roar of the cascading water is soothing and calming in its effect. The climb down is equally refreshing with a couple of swim breaks in the pure sulfur pools.
No adventure in the tropics is complete without a day of snorkeling and the Extreme Dominica Adventure Tours has its share of underwater tour options. The shoreline along the southern half of the island is dramatically less rugged than the remainder of the coast and the water is clearer, making the area most suitable for swimming and snorkeling. Two of the best places to snorkel are located at Champagne Beach and Scott’s Head Marine Reserve. At Champagne Beach, gases push through volcanic geothermal vents in the sea floor, sending a steady stream of bubbles straight to the surface of the water. The benefit of this scientific phenomenon is the sensation of swimming in a sea of champagne! At the very southern tip of the island at Scott’s Head, families will find another great area for viewing a variety of marine life. Pristine coral reefs, schools of eels, spotted water snakes, trumpet fish, puffers and throngs of other colorful fish swim freely in this protected area. A special twist on this snorkeling site is a magnificent sea wall that dramatically drops 1,500 feet at the edge of the expansive reef, opening up into underwater utopia of brilliant blue water.
For many families, finding quality time to spend together is often a challenge. The slow, relaxed pace of the island, the communal spirit of the guest lodge, as well as the adventure tours available through the staff, provide the opportunity for parents and kids to share in unique and fun experiences that ultimately bond them. Guests at the Cocoa Cottages will come back home feeling refreshed, renewed and ready to plan their return visit!
Resort Report Card
|Name:||The Cocoa Cottages|
Dominica, West Indies
|Seasonal Rates:||$ – $$|
|Choice of Activities:||A|
|Quality of Amenities:||A|
|Bonus:||The generosity never stops. A guest in need is a guest served.|
|Note:||The lodge is expanding with two new apartment style accommodations. And there is talk of an onsite cocoa factory. Delicious!|
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