A small section of Dominica’s northeastern part is administrated by the Kalinago, who’ve populated the Lesser Antilles at least since the 13th century. While there is still some debate, the most prominent hypothesis states that the Kalinago migrated to the Leeward Isles from the northeastern area of South America’s Mainland, either replacing or acculturating the indigenous Igneri. Nowadays, the Kalinago territory is administrated by a chief and a council of five people, who are elected every five years.
For travelers, the area offers a fascinating glimpse into Dominica’s pre-colonial history and therefore shouldn’t be missed by anyone visiting the island.
Where is the Kalinago Territory located?
Dominica’s Kalinago Territory is located on the island’s northeastern coast between the villages of Bataka in the North and Sinecou in the south. Most points of interest for travelers visiting the area can be found in the vicinity of Crayfish River in the northern part of the territory.
What to see and do in the Kalinago Territory
Kalinago Barana Auté
This open-air Museum recreating a traditional Kalinago village is arguably the biggest point of interest for visitors to the territory. Translating to “Kalinago village by the sea”, it’s located on a cliff affording great views down to the Atlantic Ocean. Within its confines, you’ll be able to get an idea of how Dominica’s inhabitants used to live before the arrival of the Europeans in the 15th century.
A number of recreated Ajoupas (smaller buildings) surround the reconstruction of a Karbet, a large communal building used exclusively by the male Kalinago. In some of the buildings, tools and other objects that used to be central to the daily life of the Kalinago are showcased, in others colourful boats are exhibited. In various locations around the museum you can marvel at traditional tree fern carvings depicting various masks and anthropomorphic creatures.
Personally, I found it quite fascinating to watch the traditional larouma reed baskets being woven. Of course, there’s also the possibility to buy some of these for a reasonable price in some stalls within the museum compound. The Kalinago Barana Auté is located in the village of Crayfish River. The road leading there branches of the main coastal highway opposite the Salybia Police Station.
Salybia Church Ruins
Salybia is the village just to the south Crayfish River and the administrave centre of the Kalinago Territory. A road just north of the Salibia River leads to the new Salybia Catholic Church, a colourful modern building featuring a big mural of traditional village life in its interior. It was closed when I was there, but you can see everything inside through countless small windows all along the walls.
Arguably more impressive is the ruin of the old Catholic Church, which you will find if you follow the small trail starting at the church east to the Ocean. The roof is gone and just three walls remain of the building but it’s an atmospheric place, overgrown by trees and the remains of an interesting mural depicting villagers on the seashore can be found in the altar area.
Continue to the sea past the small cemetery for a nice view of the bay and south to the small islets Petit L’Ilet (the closer one) and Gros L’Ilet.
This big rock outcropping just outside the northern border of the Kalinago Territory features in the folklore of the local people and is said to be inhabited by a mythical spirit. More prosaically, if you climb the hill it stands on, you’ll be rewarded with some nice views all around. It’s located to the west of Atkinson along the coastal highway. You can’t miss it, as it towers over the surrounding landscape.
Sandy Bay Beach in Marigot
Sandy Bay is a beautiful tropical beach located close to the village of Marigot, some 5 km / 3 mi. north of the Kalinago Territory. The sea is usually calm enough for swimming, as the bay is protected by a riff. Otherwise you can just enjoy the atmosphere, watching dozens of curious crabs scuttle about.
Organized Day trip to the Kalinago Museum
If you’re short on time, these folks offer a Day Trip to the Kalinago Village, including round-trip transportation, a tour of the village and a live cultural performance in the museum. This would surely be the easiest way to visit the area, especially if you’re just here on a day trip from a cruise.
Where to stay in the Kalinago Territory?
I found Crayfish River to be a convenient base – it’s where you’ll find most areas of touristic interest, including the Kalinago Barana Auté Open Air Museum, which is arguably the biggest draw for tourists to come here.
I stayed at Aywasi Kalinago Retreat, which is actually more of a mid-range option, where you can rent out self-contained cottages. Staff at my last accommodation told me that camping there was possible and after some confusion (apparently no one ever actually wants to camp there), I was allowed to pitch my hammock in one of the traditional lean-tos on the grounds. A nice added bonus was the possibility to use the natural tide-pool near the sea for swimming.
Another option for budget-minded travelers would be the Carib Territory Guesthouse near Bataca.
Where to eat in the Kalinago Territory?
There are a couple of restaurants, cafés and grocery stores along the coastal road, especially around Crayfish River and Salybia. One Place you should definitely check out is the Cassava Bakery, where you can buy bread made from Cassava (Maniok). It is located along the main road a bit to the west of the turn-off for the Kalinago Barana Auté. The open-air Museum itself has a small cafeteria as well.
How to get to the Kalinago Territory?
Minibuses serving the coastal road from Portsmouth or Marigot in the North to Castle Bruce in the south pass through the territory and can be waved down from anywhere along the way. If you’re traveling directly from Roseau, buses going to the Kalinago territory start near the New Market in River Bank road.