Dominica's capital, Roseau, 20 mi/32 km south of Portsmouth, is a relatively good-sized town in the southwestern section of the island, though it's still small enough to be seen in an hour or two. You may still hear residents talk about the damage that was done to Roseau by Hurricane David in 1979. If any good came of the storm, it was that some of the town was rebuilt in a charming vintage-Caribbean style. It's more attractive now than it was before David struck, with many West Indian wooden buildings with gingerbread trim and balconies. (The balconies provide much-needed shelter from frequent rain showers.)
Several historic buildings have survived David and other hurricanes. Fort Young, built in 1770, is now a hotel. The Cathedral of Our Lady of Fair Haven was built in the mid-1800s, and its original stained-glass windows are still intact.
The Roseau Museum contains exhibits on a wide array of subjects related to the island, from geology to history to anthropology. There are vintage photographs, engravings and sketches, Arawak pottery and a replica of a Kalinago hut at the museum, which is closed Sunday.
Take some time to snoop in the shops and stop at the handicraft centers. The vegetable market (sometimes called the New Market) on the north end of Bay Street is authentic, not just a show put on for tourist photographers. The best times to go are on Friday night and Saturday morning.
Just east of town at the foot of Morne Bruce Hill, you'll find the beautiful Botanical Gardens that date to the 1800s. The gardens provide a perfect introduction to the flora of the island, and we especially like the "hall" of giant bamboo. There's a small aviary and breeding facility for the island's two endangered native species of parrots. Make sure to look for the crushed bus: It's of no botanical interest but is a sobering testament to the power of a tropical hurricane. The National Park Office is located at the Botanical Gardens: It can help you with tour guides and sells booklets about the island parks.
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