Portsmouth is Dominica’s second city but with about 3000 inhabitants that’s not saying a lot and generally the place feels like a slightly bigger village. While Portsmouth itself doesn’t have a lot of sights to occupy a traveler’s interest, two destinations right on the outskirts of town make it a must-visit stop on every Dominica itinerary.
The Cabrits National Park features the historic Fort Shirley as well as several hiking trails leading through beautiful stretches of forest to fantastic viewpoints, while the serene Indian River can be experienced during a fun boat trip.
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What to see and do in Portsmouth
Indian River Boat Tour
The boat tour along the beautifully located Indian River should definitely be on your itinerary. Locals waiting by the bridge on the coastal road between Portsmouth and Picard will row you along the river in colourfully painted boats, pointing out various species of local flora and birdlife.
It’s a pleasant way to experience the splendid natural surroundings and the river is a very atmospheric place, at times overhung by coconut palms at others hemmed in by bloodroot mangroves populated with scuttling crabs.
Birdwatchers will have chance to spot various species of kingfisher and heron and movie buffs might be interested to see the hut of Tia Dalma from the second Pirates of the Caribbean Movie. While the structure in the movie was mainly computer-generated, the actual wooden hut left on location was used as a stand-in during filming.
The tour also includes a short stop at the “Bush Bar”, where you can have a drink and a look around the area. Here, you’re actually at the edge of a swamp and it’s quite an atmospheric place with its abundance of gnarly trees and a small tributary of the Indian River winding under a dense canopy that bathes the whole place in a constant half-light. If you didn’t have a chance to visit the Kalinago village, you can see some traditional Tree Fern carvings around the bar.
Access to the Indian River itself is included in Dominica’s Ecotourism site-pass, which is 5$ (13.25 ECD) per day or 12$ (32.04 ECD) per week and allows you to visit as many sites as you manage in that time. The price for the boat tour is negotiable to a degree but expect to pay about 50 ECD per Person. The boats carry a maximum of 8 passengers.
Cabrits National Park and Fort Shirley
Situated on a peninsula directly north of Portsmouth is historic Fort Shirley, constructed by the British in the second half of the 18th century. Today, the central buildings, including the guardhouse, barracks and magazine serve as a museum informing visitors of the geology and colonial history of the area as well as of military skirmishes, including a revolt by disgruntled troops in 1802. Outside, the ramparts and batteries offer great views over Prince Rupert’s Bay and down the western coast of the island.
Cabrits National Park and viewpoints
The entire peninsula was designated a National Park in 1986 and has since found its way on the Unesco List of tentative World Heritage Sites. It’s a nice place to spend a couple of hours exploring several pathways winding through the forest and leading to viewpoints on the two hills that dominate the area.
Both paths leading up the hills are short, but pretty steep and end at old batteries with cannons looking out over the sea (on the western hill) and inland (on the eastern hill). Plan about 30 mins to reach each viewpoint from the ruins of the Officer’s Quarters between the two hills.
Ruins of the Officer’s Quarters
More atmospheric ruins can be found in the valley between the two hills. The walls of the former Commandant’s quarters and officer’s quarters are overgrown by gnarly trees and a fun place to explore. Considering that they’ve been abandoned since the 1850s, they’re still surprisingly well preserved. Another nice viewpoint that doesn’t require you to climb one of the hills can be found slightly to the northeast of the Officer’s Quarters.
While you’re walking around the National Park, look out for snakes, lizards and birdlife. While we were there, we spotted hummingbirds and flycatchers as well as the endemic Antilles Racer snake (which was unsettlingly large) as well as the Dominican ground lizard (or Abolo), which is endemic as well.
Entrance to the Fort and National Park is also included in the Ecotourism site pass (see info in the Indian River section).
Other sights in Portsmouth
While an altogether pleasant place, there aren’t many other sights of note in Portsmouth. Purple Turtle Beach, which is located directly south of the Cabrits Peninsula is a nice stretch of sand backed by coconut palms and looking out over the many boats usually anchored in the bay. The small Anglican Church and slightly bigger Catholic Church are worth a peek, if you’re in the neighbourhood. Both of them are located close to the North River in between Pownal and Pembroke street.
Where to stay in Portsmouth?
We stayed at Douglas Guest House, which is a simple, but clean and centrally located budget option located at the southern end of Bay Street. They don’t have a website but you can call them at 767-445-5253 to make a reservation. There are surprisingly few mid-range options in town. Picard Beach Cottages, which is located about 2 km south of Portsmouth in the village of Picard, rents self-contained bungalows.
At the top-end – not only in the area, but the entire island – Secret Bay is Dominica’s number one luxury resort and has a stellar reputation. It’s located about 5 km south of Portsmouth. You can find more options in the map below:
Where to eat in Portsmouth?
There are plenty of small restaurants serving tasty and affordable local food along Bay Street, which is the road running parallel to the coast. Otherwise, there are also some small supermarkets and grocery stores along the same road.
How to get to Portsmouth?
As Dominica’s second-biggest city, there’s no shortage of Minibuses going to Portsmouth, especially along the coastal road to Roseau. They leave from Roseau’s River Bank near the New Market and can pick you up along the way if you wave them down. The same goes if you’re traveling from Calibishie or the Kalinago Territory in the east – just wait for a bus on the main road and signal them to take you along.
Buses to other destinations leave Portsmouth at different locations: If you’re going south in direction of Roseau they leave at the small roundabout at the southern end of the city near Douglas Guest House. Buses going to the eastern coast (as well as Calibishie along the way) leave a little further east along Granby street near the southern edge of Benjamin’s Park Sport Stadium.