Often confused with the Dominican Republic (which is more than 600 miles away and 60 times as large), Dominica is the Caribbean country you’ve probably never visited but should—as soon as you can.
Afloat between Martinique and Guadeloupe, the 289-square-mile Nature Island (as it bills itself) is the definition of lush, its landscape pierced by 10 volcanoes and blessed with 365 rivers, several waterfalls, 300 miles of hiking trails, and a 200-foot-wide “boiling lake” (a vent in the earth’s surface through which volcanic steam and water escape) that’s the second largest in the world. Add to its considerable natural assets a population of around 70,000 gentle and welcoming souls. Then throw in nonstop service from Miami (up to four times a week via American Airlines, depending on the season), and you’ve got a largely undiscovered Paradise that’s easier than ever to get to and perfect for outdoor adventures.
Wondering where to stay? Options range from family-run bed-and-breakfasts to treehouse boutique hotels and, since 2019, an international branded luxury resort, Cabrits Resort and Spa Kempinski. The island’s newest rooms, however, are on its southern tip at Coulibri Ridge. Opened last October, the 14-suite oasis is an off-the-grid mountain retreat that merits a spot on your Dominica short list.
Here are five reasons why.
Believe the hype. Coulibri Ridge was built with sustainability at its core—a construction process that took a whopping 15 years. The result is a retreat that’s completely powered by the sun (via solar panels and a trio of “mini-grids,” each with 288 recyclable non-lithium batteries); the wind (there are two turbines on property); and purified rainwater (200,000 gallons are stored in the resort’s cisterns). Even better, Coulibri Ridge produces enough power to potentially share it with the neighboring community of Soufrière, a real benefit on an island that was without electricity for months following 2017’s Hurricane Maria.
One reason construction took so long was that the building exteriors are made entirely of volcanic stone that was already on the property (once a citrus plantation), which was hand-chiseled by local masons to make the cut-stone walls. All the resort’s lights and faucets—even the outdoor showers—are motion-activated to reduce waste. And, in a region where the tourism industry employs so many foreign workers, I found it refreshing that the staff is all Dominican, with 40 percent of them from Soufrière.
The Sweetest Suites
True confession: I was one of those people who believed that sustainability required sacrificing the creature comforts (air-conditioning; butler service; high-thread count bed linens, and streaming services) I’m accustomed to. Wrong. Suites here—studios, lofts, and one-bedroom penthouses—couldn’t have been further from the no-nonsense, functional-but-not-fun level of rusticity I’d associated with eco-resorts.
My penthouse, in one of five three-story buildings, was a bi-level roost featuring a kitchen, two terraces, an outdoor shower, living room, and dining room on the open-plan entry floor. Above: the air-conditioned bedroom and en suite bathroom. A spacious 1,000-sq. ft., the penthouse is ideal for long stays (the record so far is 18 days) and remote work, facilitated by complimentary high-speed WI-FI throughout the property. My home away from home offered mountain views from every window and was oriented to take advantage not just of the sun’s energy-giving rays but also of the constant cooling breezes, so I never felt warm, even downstairs.
For personalized service, each suite is looked after by an attendant who functions as a housekeeper and butler, organizing spa treatments (yes, there’s a spa!), off-site excursions, and dinner reservations. (To further minimize waste, each morning guests are sent the evening’s menu and asked to make their choices.)
When it comes to luxury, Coulibri Ridge checked so many of the boxes I associate with fancy hotels. From the spa—a two-cabin oasis with a mountain-view plunge pool and outdoor bathtub—to its pair of infinity pools and restaurants, the sleek gym and complimentary electric bikes, the experience feels every bit like a splurge rather than a sacrifice.
Rates here (starting at $700 a night for a studio, depending on the season) are in keeping with the luxury category, and also reflect the expense of running a hotel on a lesser-traveled island. For many travelers they’ll be expensive, but a stay here won’t (literally) cost the earth.
If you think the menu will be all nuts, grains, and berries, think again! Sure, vegetarians, vegans, and plant-based peeps will be thrilled with Dominican chef Damien Mason’s menus, featuring produce from Coulibri’s acreage, where cacao, soursop, avocado, mango, orange, lime, guava, and banana trees flourish on land “mowed” by eight cows. But in its pair of restaurants, Mesa (for breakfast and lunch) and Vista (dinner), the focus is on local fish, meat, chicken, and seafood—with minimal imported meat and vegetables—so carnivores will be satisfied, too.
Breakfast (included in the room rate) is a tropical bounty comprising a fruit plate, banana muffins, banana chia pudding or granola parfait, croissants, and local juice (trust me; order the ginger-lime). And that’s just the beginning. Skip the scrambled eggs and order the Dominican special. It varies daily and offers a great way to sample local fare, including puffy deep-fried bakes with salted cod fish or cheese, smoked herring, cinnamon-dusted fried plantains, and sauteed local spinach, accompanied with a steaming cup of “cocoa tea.”
For dinner it’s more of the same, “same” being the finest and freshest local food, creatively conceptualized by chef Mason and his brigade. Begin with curried christophine, a delicately flavored Caribbean squash. Grilled garlic lobster with spicy pineapple salsa is a melt-in-your-mouth main course. And the spiced coconut rice pudding bears no resemblance to any of the flavorless pretenders you’ll find in your hometown supermarket. (Tip: Pack your stretchy pants.)
A Lofty Location
Coulibri Ridge is—you guessed it!—set on a mountain ridge, high above the Caribbean. So, it’s not a good fit for beach lovers or sand snobs (arguably, neither is Dominica). But it’s perfectly suited to visitors who want an uncommon island experience in a truly peaceful environment.
Just under two hours’ drive from Douglas Charles Airport (DOM) in the island’s northwest, it’s a winding and mountainous adventure to get to this property. But with every hairpin turn and hilly ascent you get further away from your everyday cares and closer to the tranquility the resort delivers.
At this altitude, the weather changes quickly, a warm downpour one minute, the sun bursting triumphantly through clouds the next. Constant cooling breezes feel like silk against your skin, and the tiny bats that live on the property mean there are no pesky mosquitoes to irritate it. At Coulibri Ridge, beachfront thrills are replaced with mountain highs.
And it feels like the perfect exchange.