The Indian River Cruise is on most tourists’ must-do list while they are in Portsmouth. Cruise ship passengers even make the trip on organized excursions. So, is it worth the time and money?
While the Indian River Cruise is not high adventure, it is a relaxing and educational couple of hours. I’d recommend it for a change of pace, and I’d suggest doing it on the early end of your stay on Dominica. It’s an opportunity to learn about the flora and fauna, and have your questions answered.
Because we didn’t book an organized excursion, we followed directions we’d read online and just drove to the bridge on the south side of Portsmouth where boat operators are waiting. We wisely chose a day when there were no cruise ships, so we didn’t have a wait, and we only had one other person on our boat (a pleasant young man on break from Martinique).
As we arrived in our car at the south side of the bridge, we slowed down to figure out where to pull in and park. Immediately, a couple of guys standing on the side of the road directed us to a parking spot right at the bridge. They let us know the procedure to do a tour: purchase a parks pass from the office around the corner if you don’t already have one, then bring the pass to the official in charge of the boat operation at the River (he was in an official park ranger shirt and made it clear he was in charge of checking your pass), then going with your rower to the boat. We learned that we would pay after the excursion (remember to include a tip). At the time we did the trip, April 2022, the trip was US$20 per person plus the US$5 per person parks fee.
The boats are wooden rowboats. Our rower, Aza, explained that he built his boat out of local wood. It was wide enough for 3 people on the center benches. I’m delighted to report that motors are no longer allowed on the Indian River, which makes for a very pleasant and quiet experience on the river. As a result, you get to see birds, crabs, and fish while peacefully floating along.
Probably one of the biggest draws to this excursion is the witch’s hut from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Search online and you’ll see lots of photos of the hut from other people’s boat rides. But, while we were there, the hut was under renovation so my picture is of the two construction workers, who gave us a friendly wave as one does when one becomes a tourist attraction. I must admit, seeing a building from a set in a movie did start to make the ride feel a little like the “real” version of the original Disney “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride!
Aza pointed out and described various trees, birds, and the shy land crabs. He was truly passionate about sharing his knowledge about his beautiful country.
After rowing further up river, we came to a bush bar where we bought rum punch. The bush bar was not the kind of shack that we were accustomed to seeing along the roads in Dominica. It was a nice almost touristy bar with comfortable seating. There’s even a couple toilets in a shack behind the bar.
While having our punch, Aza enthusiastically took us through the “gardens” around the bar, teaching us more about the plants. Then, suggesting we have a seat and rest, he proceeded to make me a beautiful bird and fish sculpture from reeds he pulled out of the forest. What a special gift!
All in all, I think the cruise is a great way to immerse yourself in the forest. Try to go when the cruise crowds aren’t there and make sure to wear sunblock. I wished I had something to cover my shoulders and feet to protect from the intense sun. Bring cash for your rum punch and water for the boat.