Did you know that such a thing as boiling lakes existed?
I have seen small pools of boiling hot water in both Iceland and my home country of New Zealand but I never knew there were actual LAKES where the water was actively boiling.
Turns out there is, and the second largest boiling lake in the world is located in Morne Trois Pitons National Park on the reasonably offbeat Caribbean Island of Dominica. In fact, hiking to said Boiling Lake was one of the main tourist offerings on the island – if you are fit that is.
I had planned our trip to Dominica because it was offbeat. Because there are no large resorts on the island and little tourism compared to other islands and countries in the region, and because Dominica is known as the nature island – still densely jungled and undeveloped.
So hiking to an obscure attraction like a boiling lake definitely intrigued me.
A lot of the information I found online about hiking to the boiling lake was contradictory, some accounts described it as the most difficult hike you could possibly do, others made it sound like a pretty standard day hike. There were warnings not to hike to the boiling lake without a guide due to people burning themselves in the superheated thermal streams and geysers along the way, but a lot of people still seemed to be hiking to the boiling lake independently without too much trouble as well.
I ummed and ahhhed about whether I should suck it up and pay the fee for a guide, or if I should do the Boiling Lake hike at all. I really wanted to but I wasn’t convinced that my fitness level was good enough – I hadn’t been doing much hiking in the months leading up to it.
In the end I threw caution to the wind and signed up for the Boiling Lake hike. And it ended up being one of the highlights of my time on rugged and beautiful Dominica – a country with so many incredible natural attractions.
Hiking to the Boiling Lake in Dominica
I woke up the morning of the hike feeling like hell – unrested and with a stomach that felt like lava was roiling around inside. Apt considering the place I would be hiking to.
I had been up all night with a mild but uncomfortable case of food poisoning. I considered calling off the whole thing but in the end I decided to go ahead with the hike to the Boiling Lake anyway.
There ended up being a group of us that signed up from my guesthouse to do the hike to the Boiling Lake – Toby was not one of them. After I told him how long it would be he hell no’d out of that situation.
The group met our guide in the restaurant after breakfast to get started.
A van took us along the bumpy roads of Wotton Waven to the start of the Boiling Lake trail at Titou Gorge, near the village of Laudat. There were a few local ladies with small stalls near the trailhead, selling chocolate, nougat and drinks. I had packed plenty of my own water and snacks and managed to avoid the temptations.
The first section of the Boiling Lake trail was pretty easy going, hiking through a pristine tropical rainforest of tree ferns and thick greenery that looked more like a forest in New Zealand than any I have seen outside of the country. It felt like I was home, but with a lot more humidity.
Slippery log steps were embedded into the trail and jagged rocks were trip risks along the way. This section was also the muddiest of the trail: We were in the rainforest after all.
The Boiling Lake trail slowly gained altitude and we had a chance to glimpse down into the narrow Titou Gorge as we passed by it. Our Guide stopped often along the trail to point out native flora and fauna which, along with being interesting, offered us the chance to rest and drink lots of water – and we needed as much as we could get in the humidity.
The trail slowly started to descend, and we soon came to Breakfast River where we stopped for a short snack break and water top up. From there the going was definitely going to get tougher: The next section of the hike would see us climbing a mountain, or morne as they are known on Dominica.
It was hard, I won’t lie, largely because of the humidity and the fact that there was little shade the higher we rose. But once we got to the top of Morne Nicholls, it was definitely worth the struggle: The views were spectacular.
We could see for miles in every direction. The clouds of steam from the boiling lake in the distance, the forest and peaks of Morne Trois Pitons National Park surrounding us, and the Valley of Desolation just below us to the right. That was where we were headed next.
The trail down the other side of Morne Nicholls was steep, and after descending what felt like thousands of stairs, we reached the hardest obstacle yet – steep drop-offs down muddy banks that were hard to manoeuvre and a bit scary. All part of the adventure.
And then we were in the Valley of Desolation.
Entering the Valley of Desolation
I loved the name of the place, it sounded like something out of Lord of the Rings, and it looked like it too. The thick rainforest had given way to a desolate landscape of steaming rivers and colorful volcanic rock.
We made our way carefully into the Valley of Desolation, following our guide so not to stand in boiling hot water and mud, or on a thin patch of earth where we could fall through.
Little pools along the thin ribbons of the river bubbled ferociously. Our guide put a small hessian sack of eggs in one of the pools then we ate the soft boiled eggs, which stunk of sulphur.
Shortly after our boiled egg break among the heat and steam, we headed out of the Valley of Desolation and back into the rainforest.
The trail wound through the forest, up and down along narrow ridges and past a hot river punctuated by waterfalls. It dropped down steeply at one point, crossing the river, and we had to pull ourselves up steep and muddy steps on the other side.
Before reaching the boiling lake, we re-entered another desolate landscape of steam vents and hot water, and then we were there.
Reaching the Boiling Lake
The first thing we saw as we edged closer to the lake was the giant cloud of steam enveloping it. As we got right up to it, the swirling cloud of steam momentarily cleared, revealing the lake.
Grey/blue water furiously boiled below us. I knew it would be boiling but I hadn’t expected it to be this impressive, and this active.
The boiling lake is a little over 60 metres in width and its depth is unknown. It is in a natural basin and collects rainfall from the surrounding hills as well as from two small streams, then the water in the lake is super heated when it seeps through the porous bottom to the lava below, where it is trapped and heated to boiling point.
Along with the boiling lake, the view was also impressive. You could see the ocean and even the island of Martinique in the distance.
We sat and rested our weary bodies, ate lunch, and took a whole heap of photos of the boiling lake, continuously getting glimpses of it when the steam cleared. I really had never seen anything like it before.
It was definitely worth the long, hard hike to get there. But the adventure wasn’t over yet – we still had to get back.
The Long Hike Back from the Boiling Lake
Hiking back was the hardest part. We were already tired from the hike in and, as it was now later in the day, the temperate had jumped. Luckily we stopped a number of times to rest along the way.
Although you can’t swim in the boiling lake itself (it would burn your skin off) there are a few waterfall pools in the rainforest along the way where the water is a very pleasant temperature.
We stopped at one particularly idyllic waterfall not long after turning back from the boiling lake. Everyone stripped off down to their underwear and jumped in. The soothing heat of the thermal water felt great on our tired bodies.
I scaled the waterfall to the pool at the top which was even hotter. Soaking in these completely natural hot water pools was a definite highlight of the day.
Back in the Valley of Desolation we stopped again to apply thick grey mud,that is rich in minerals, to our skin. I smothered the warm and slimy mud all over my face and it dried and cracked as we continued the hike, flaking off me.
At times during the hike back up Morne Nicholls I thought I was going to pass out from the heat of the beating sun. It was relentless and I was so happy when we finally reached the top and a cool breeze from the ocean washed over us.
The rest of the way was thankfully in the forest and I was so happy for the shade.
Finally, eight hours after we had left, we were back at the beginning – Titou Gorge. I couldn’t get in the cool waters of the gorge fast enough.
After sitting in the clear waters of the pool at the end of the gorge and regaining my strength for a while, I swam into the narrow Titou Gorge and against the fast flowing waters till I reached a waterfall, before letting the current push me back out. It was a fitting end to an adventurous day.
Hiking to the boiling lake was the hardest day hike I have ever done, but it was also the best. Twenty two kilometres of steep inclines, uneven terrain, and high temperatures made the hike tough as hell, but being able to swim under a natural hot waterfall, witness the boiling water and steaming vents of the Valley of Desolation, and finally reaching the boiling lake itself, is something I will remember always.
And doing it with food poisoning made it even more badass.
The Nitty Gritty
If you are going to do the hike independently, there is parking at the trailhead at Titou Gorge if you have hired a car, otherwise you can book a taxi to get there – the local bus is pretty unreliable. I recommend hiring a guide though as it is safer and you will be supporting the local community. I paid the going rate at the beginning of 2017 which is $50 per person. Most accommodations can put you in touch with a guide.
Approx. 13.65 miles/22 km return
I couldn’t find this information anywhere but I will tell you – it’s a lot
Hard. You really should be pretty fit to attempt this as it is a long day of hiking in heat and humidity, and don’t forgot that you are also climbing a mountain.
Plenty of water, lunch, lots of snacks and sunscreen. If you have hiking sticks – definitely bring them as they will help a lot when going down the steep sections of trail. Also pack a swimsuit although you can just hop into one of the thermal pools in your underwear like we did otherwise.
Would you hike to the Boiling Lake?