Dominican Republic Conclusions

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The Dominican Republic is a small tropical country occupying two thirds of the island of Hispaniola. It is the most visited destination of all other Caribbean nations attracting tourists with its natural beauty and geographical and biological diversity, luxurious beach resorts, small mountain villages, cities, rainforests, high mountains, caves, rivers, waterfalls. Here is the highest mountain peak in the Caribbean, the biggest lake with the lowest elevation, some of the best surfing beaches in the region and the first cathedral, castle, monastery, fortress, and university in all of the Americas. There is so much to see and do! Not surprisingly, we met many people from different corners of the world who have moved here permanently after visiting the country making the Dominican Republic their home. Even whales come here for their honeymoon.

We spent one month in the Dominican Republic travelling inland and visiting many of its historical sites and natural monuments. The further we explored the more we fell in love with this country and its nature and we promised ourselves, one day we will return.

The Best Hurricane Hole in The Caribbean

Anchorage in Luperon, Dominican Republic

Anchorage in Luperon, Dominican Republic

The anchorage in the small rural town of Luperon on the north shore of the Dominican Republic is a notorious hurricane hole surrounded by hills and cow pastures. Deep inside a channel among mangroves, with excellent holding, the bay harbors a community of sailboats, some staying here for years. It is a safe anchorage protected by the National Guard against theft where we left our boat at anchor for days and went to explore the interior of the island not worrying for the boat’s safety. 

Read full article The Hills of Luperon

The Highest Caribbean Mountain

Early morning on Pico Duarte

Early morning on Pico Duarte

Climbing the 3087 meters-high Pico Duarte was the best part of our visit to the Dominican Republic. It is an adventure that requires physical strength and endurance, provisions and gear for at least two days, a guide and mules. Walking through rainforests, inside dry riverbeds, through high-altitude meadows, pine forests, and mists was the most beautiful experience of our lives so far. And it’s not the summit but the journey to the summit that we so much enjoyed. We would do it again and again, once or twice every year if we had the chance.

Read full article Pico Duarte. Journey Beyond the Clouds

Most Extreme Waterfall Adventure

Evo

Evo

The Damajaqua Cascades is an extreme waterfall adventure that we all absolutely loved, more than we expected. The tour includes hiking up river for about 30-40 min and then swimming, sliding, cliff-jumping and diving downriver for about one hour. Young children are not permitted, and only physically fit adults can do all 27 waterfalls and cascades.

Read full article Swimming, Sliding, Jumping, Diving Down Damajaqua Cascades

The Oldest New World Capital

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Santo Domingo and its Colonial Zone, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, should be on every visitor’s list. This is the oldest New World capital with some of the oldest colonial buildings, museums, and ruins. To us, it seemed much more impressive and preserved than the colonial zone in Havana, Cuba. In and around Santo Domingo there are many other tourist attractions. We only had time to visit the National Botanical Garden.

Read full article Santo Domingo. History, Culture, Nature

The Biggest and Lowest Caribbean Lake

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Lake Enriquillo in the southwestern part of the DR near the border with Haiti is one curious place. It is the biggest and saltiest Caribbean lake lying some 30 meters below sea level, populate by the densest in the world population of American crocodiles. On its arid shores, among dry spiky trees and cactus plants, we also met lots and lots of friendly lazy Rhinoceros Iguanas. Near the lake, in the town of Descubierta, we slept in the best hostel ever, an old house once belonging to a high-ranked official in Trujillo’s government, one of most terrible dictators the world has seen.

Read full article Lake Enriquillo. Crocodiles, Iguana, and Other Predators

The Surfing Mecca of The Caribbean

Kitesurf Beach, Cabarete

Kitesurf Beach, Cabarete

Cabarete near Puerto Plata on the north shore of the island became our favorite small town in the Dominican Republic. It is a very touristy, artsy, and laid-back place with a large community of expats who, together with locals and tourists, spend their entire time mostly surfing. Or kite-surfing. Or wind-surfing. Or paddle-boarding. Or chilling. We spent two memorable days in Cabarete with our friends Jade and Gabriel, surfing-maniacs and traveling junkies like us, who started us surfing a bit. Read about Jade&Gabby’s adventures and follow them at We Travel And Blog.

Read full article Surfing Cabarete

Oldest New World Settlement

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The ruins in Isabela Historica, a National Monument, are from the oldest settlement in the Americas constructed by Columbus and his settlers. Not much is left of the buildings but the place itself, a site up on the rocky cliffs facing the Atlantic Ocean near a snug little harbor is a beautiful place to see and hang around for a bit. There is a small museum with artifacts and historical information, as well as gift shops with hand-carved wooden Taino figurines, extremely cheap. Not too far is Montecristi, a small coastal town with very relaxed atmosphere and beautiful seascapes. One day was enough fo us to visit obth, Isabela and Montecristi.

Read full article Isabela Historica and Montecristi

Sailing Dominican Republic

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Cruising by sailboat around the Dominican Republic, especially on the north coast and especially going east, is not a joke. These are considered some of the most dangerous and difficult  waters for sailing due to unfavorable strong Trade winds, North Atlantic swell, strong Equatorial current and rocky shores with very little possibility for anchoring and sheltering, especially in bad weather coming from the north. A hook that helped us get from Luperon to Puerto Rico across the infamous Mona Passage safely is a must-read for anyone attempting the passage: The Gentelmen’s Guide to Passage South by Bruce Van Sand.

Read full article The Murderous Mona Passage

Our Biggest Regret

Cabo Samana, DR

Cabo Samana, DR

Not visiting Samana and the national park Los Haitises is our greatest regret. We were planning to stop there with the boat on our way from Luperon to Puerto Rico, but we had such a nice weather window that we ended up sailing all the way non-stop taking advantage of the favorable sea conditions. Samana and the park Los Haitises with their gigantic rocky cliffs looming over the sea and caves where the Taino Indians used to hide form the conquistadors provide the most impressive owe inspiring Jurassic vistas. The deep bay is also humpback wales breeding ground in the winter months. We hope to return to Dominican Republic some day and visit Samana. This time, we just sailed by the cape early in the morning absolutely stunned by the size and beauty of the cliffs.

Dominican Republic Facts

Entry Procedures for Sailors: The entry procedures are somewhat lengthy but not necessary unpleasant. You will have El Comandante from the National Army come aboard and inspect the boat, but chances are he is a really good guy. On shore you will go through customs and immigration and you need a dispacho when leaving a port.

Currency: They spend pessos in the DR. One USD is about 43 DR Pesos.

Language: Spanish is the language here and not many speak English or any other language. Moreover, the Dominican speak a very fast and muffled sort of Spanish, hard to hear and understand them even for Spanish-speaking people.

Security: Be vigilant, theft even gun shots are not uncommon occurrence in this part of the world. We didn’t have any problem, but it does not mean it is totally safe. Lock your boat/car/room and guard your stuff. Don’t get in trouble and respect everyone.

Music: If you don’t like merengue tipico you will be in hell here. Loud music is everywhere all the time booming from huge loudspeakers from restaurants, shops and cars parked at some street corner.

Food: Food is not expensive even in the restaurants. You can have a grilled chicken with french fries and beers for four people for less than 20 USD. Plantaines are everywhere and often they will serve you fried plantains instead of french fries, so make sure to make it clear what you order.

Shopping: mostly everything is available in the DR but only in the big cities. In the small ones like Luperon shopping is limited. For groceries there is a big chain store like WalMart in the big cities called La Sirena. Food is not expensive (especially after the Bahamas).

Water: Fresh water is a problem. There is no such thing as drinkable tap water and everyone buys huge water jugs. Not expensive.

Electricity: Electricity is a problem too. Many places have electricity for six hours and then don’t have electricity for the next 6 hours… Some people install generators.

Transportation: Getting from place to place is a hustle for visitors and locals. Fuel prices are high and there is no pubic buss. Instead, there are public guanchas, normal cars where 7 strangers get squeezed and the driver is usually crazy. The big highways are in excellent conditions but the small roads between cities are all broken up and sometimes not passable. The motoconcha, a motorbike, is another option to travel cheaply, but it is even more precarious than the guancha. Renting a car is a good option to travel independently and visit the country. You can rent a car for about 1000-1500 DR Pesos

Climate: the best of the tropics, always sunny and hot, windy near the shores, but rainy and very cold even freezing in the mountains. Bring a jacket if you plan to climb Pico Duarte.

Nature: Diverse, abundant, mostly unspoiled green nature virtually everywhere. Mountains, lakes, rivers and waterfalls, pastures, forests, beaches, banana plantations, paradise on earth.

 

 

* Other similar articles from the blog: Bahamas Conclusions

 

 

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Pico Duarte. Journey Beyond The Clouds

Purple mountains all around us and over our heads. A sea of clouds beneath our feet. The world is mellow. Time is slumbering. The meaning of life has changed in the folds of these moments.  

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In the afternoon, after a day of hiking up and down El Mogote near Jarabacoa, we drive west to La Ciénega, a small mountain village in the heart of the Cordillera Central range, the greatest of the Dominican Republic’s mountain chains. The road is narrow and in bad condition, portions of the pavement are missing, a landslide slows us down, but it is passable and we arrive in La Ciénega before dark.

In the colmado, a small grocery store and bar where village people have gathered in the evening to drink beer, we ask for directions to the national park Armando Bermudez.

          You going to climb Pico Duarte?, a guy at the bar asks us.

Named after Juan Pablo Duarte, one of the Dominican Republic’s founding fathers, Pico Duarte is the highest peak in the entire Caribbean region with elevation of 3,087 meters. There is a well-maintained system of trails leading up to the summit, with trailheads at several locations all managed by the national park service. The easiest access is from the town of La Ciénega. The trail is 23.1 km (14.4 mi) to the summit, with a total elevation gain of about 2,000 meters and a shelter 5 km away from the summit. This is the most popular and shortest route which usually takes 2-3 days, other trails can take up to a week. The route is steep and can be muddy in places, but is not difficult. Hiking Pico Duarte is only possible between December and March when is the dry season. The rest of the year there are too many storms and rain. In April, we are already a bit late.

Pico Duarte Trail

Pico Duarte Trail

We are not sure if we want to climb Pico Duarte, we didn’t prepare any equipment for 2-3 days hike, plus we don’t know if we can afford it.  Apart from the park permits all persons are required by the national park service to hire a local guide and mules; entering the park without a guide is not allowed. We heard the price for a guide and mules is about $100-$130 per person. We are 4 and cannot spend $400-$500 to climb a mountain.

Turns out the guy at the bar, a short chubby guy who speaks a very particular sort of fast unfinished Spanish as if his mouth is full of marbles and I cannot understand half the things he is saying, is one of about 60 official guides in the village and he agrees, after about an hour of bargaining, to lead us to Pico Duarte for a total of $100, two mules included, but we have to make the journey in two and not in three days, and we have to pay for the food. Deal. We spend an additional $25 to buy all necessary food products for the five of us for two days: rice, canned tomato paste, oil, chicken noodle soup, sugar, hot chocolate powder, bread, smoked pork meat, crackers and waffles. Our guide looks pleased with the provisioning. At the park’s entrance we also pay $10 for park permits for the four of us ($2.50 each) and we rent 4 decommissioned American Army sleeping bags for $15 at the park; we need good warm sleeping bags as it gets freezing cold in the mountains at night; the American Army ones are probably the best we can get. Thus the entire excursion costs us $150 including food and sleeping accommodations for two days and nights. Not bad at all.

Bunk beds in the park's cabin where we spend the first night.

Bunk beds in the park’s cabin where we spend the first night.

That night we are accommodated at the park’s lodge at the trailhead, free of charge. We sleep tucked in our army sleeping bags in a small room with two metal bunk beds and occasional night-rats running on the roof beams. Not the most comfortable accommodation, but we are absolutely exhausted and our muscles hurt from hiking all day up El Mogote, so we sleep tight all night. It gets very cold. It rains for some time too that night. I am not sure hiking Pico Duarte immediately after hiking El Mogote and after months of just sitting in a boat at sea level is a great idea. Hope the kids will make it.

In the morning an invasion of people and cars and mules in the parking lot next to our lodge wakes us up at around 6 a.m. Turns out a group of over twenty hikers from Santo Domingo are going to the peak as well. They are all young people looking like professional athletes wearing special bright-colored hiking clothes and special bright-colored hiking shoes and special bright-colored hiking socks, brand new. They have special hiking sticks and special hiking hats and special hiking water-bottles. They don’t have special hiking backpacks, as a large herd of mules will lug their equipment up the mountain: clothes, food supplies, sleeping bags, inflatable mattresses, tons of stuff. We feel like some poor amateurs, with our unprofessional shoes and clothes all muddy from yesterday’s hike, and decommissioned American Army sleeping bags. We now doubt we will ever make it to the peak. Plus, our guide is late and the group of professional-looking hikers takes off about an hour before he shows up. Finally, our guide arrives with two frail sorry-looking mules, Pintero and Margarita. We load all our stuff on Margarita. Pintero is “the ambulance”, our guide explains, anyone who feels too tired to walk can hop on Pintero.

Our guide, our stuff, the mules, and us.

Our guide, our stuff, the mules, and us.

We begin walking into the foothills of the mountain entering the evergreen world of the tropical rainforest. Palms, giant ferns, and bamboo trees. A creek runs parallel to the trail. The air feels fresh.

Maya in a bamboo forest

Maya in a bamboo forest

Trail through rainforest

Trail through rainforest

 

The trail is divided into 8 portions. The first one, 4 kilometers, is the easiest with only about 170 meters elevation gain walking on soft earth. The second and the third one, 4 km and 3 km, are not bad either, with a total of about 600 meters elevation gain up to La Laguna, walking inside what looks like a dry riverbed. From La Laguna begins the hard part to station number 4 and 5, El Cruce and Aguita Fria.

Walking in a dry riverbed

Walking in a dry riverbed

Evo and Maya on the trail

Evo and Maya on the trail

 

Viktor and Evo

Viktor and Evo

Our guide calls this portion of the trail El Repentimiento, The Repent, for people and mules repent and regret coming here. We now climb a steep narrow path covered with loose rocks. It is very physically challenging, tiring, and dangerous, at 2,600 meters above sea level. 

Viktor

Viktor

Our guide Maya on the mule and Evo

Our guide Maya on the mule and Evo

 

Here the fauna and climate have changed completely. Tall pines begin to appear at the side of the road. We enter a pine forest with understory of shrubs and areas of treeless meadows of tussock-like pajones. The air is cool and humid, it might rain. We now walk inside clouds.

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There are a few fresh water springs labeled „Potable“ along the trail where we fill our bottles with delicious mountain spring water. We stop to rest and have lunch and we continue. Maya, Viktor and me take turns riding Pintero, Ivo walks all the way carrying a big backpack. I figured that it is best for the poor mule if one of us is riding him instead of our guide who is a lot heavier than us and every time nobody is in need on “an ambulance” he hops on top.

Margarita, Pintero and Maya

Margarita, Pintero and Maya

Riding the mule is almost as difficult and painful as walking up the trail. The animal jumps up and down the path, accelerates, and trips over rocks. Pretty soon your butt starts to hurt badly from the saddle and your legs and knees from trying to squeeze, balance and hold on to the mule. But at least your hearth gets a chance to rest from the heavy workout when climbing at high altitude.

Viktor with the mules.

Viktor with the mules.

Maya with the mules.

Maya with the mules.

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Pintero on the way

Pintero on the way

We arrive at Le Comparticion, last base before the summit,  4 o’clock in the afternoon after 8 hours of hiking and riding Pintero, just before a thin rain begins to fall. It gets cold. Some of the hikers from the Santo Domingo group are already here gathered around a small fire outside the hut. They all look pretty tired, but still have enough energy to make jokes; we join in and we even make a new friend, his name is Maurice. The ones who haven’t arrived yet are those we passed on the way up, exhausted, all beaten-up and unhappy. They arrive, wet from the rain, later in the evening, some late in the night. And everybody cheers when they come!

Comparticion, last basecamp before Pico Duarte

Comparticion, last basecamp before Pico Duarte

Comparticion lodge and tents.

Comparticion lodge and tents.

 

We place our sleeping bags in one of the corners of the long wooden shelter near the fireplace. Inside is almost as cold as outside. The Santo Domingo hikers quickly take up all the rest of the space with their inflatable mattresses.

Inside the lodge. This is exactly half of the room. The other half is exactly the same, behind me from where I am standing; there are two doors to my left and right.

Inside the lodge. This is exactly half of the room. The other half is exactly the same, behind me from where I am standing; there are two doors to my left and right.

Our guide prepares the supper for the five of us over a fire stove in the building next to the sleeping hut: tomato rice with smoked meat all baked in a big pot. Tastiest meal ever. We feast on that while the Santo Domingo crowd nibble on healthy energy bars and crackers.

Evo and the guide making supper.

Evo and the guide making supper.

Maya by the fire in the kitchen.

Maya by the fire in the kitchen.

 

Tomato rice with smoked pork.

Tomato rice with smoked pork.

And then we die. We crawl inside our decommissioned American Army „body-bags“, and we curl on the floor. We envy all those people around us mounted on top of comfortable inflatable mattresses with clean shiny sleeping bags and pillows, who even took “showers” in the opposite corner of the hut before going to bed, organizing small shower rooms. The whole cabin smells of shampoo. That night the rats are nowhere to be found probably terrified by so much cleanliness and the smell of perfumes. We sleep to the rhythmical pro-logic surround sounds of people snoring and we wake up every time a girl with a flashlight gets up to go out and pee.

The Santo Domingo hikers and there inflatable mattresses...

The Santo Domingo hikers and there inflatable mattresses…

Us, inside our rented decommissioned American Army sleeping bags... (the empty one is mine (Mira), I am taking the picture)

Us, inside our rented decommissioned American Army sleeping bags… (the empty one is mine (Mira), I am taking the picture)

 

The next morning we wake up 5 a.m. It is still completely dark and unbelievably cold outside, below freezing. We put on all our warm clothes, long pants, jackets and hats, and we eat bread and drink the hot chocolate our guide has made over the fire stove, with extra sugar. The summit is only 5 km away and the hike should not be too difficult but we need to get up there and then walk all the way down to Cienaga in one day. This time we start before everyone else, the Santo Domingo group has to deal with inflatable mattresses, take morning showers, and figure out something for breakfast. We just roll up our second-hand “body-bags” and off we go holding flashlights.

Early morning on Pico Duarte

Early morning on Pico Duarte

About half an hour later, the sun begins its slow rise from the east. First everything around us becomes purple and mysterious. Then, at 3,000 meters, the most beautiful moment in our lives. Golden shafts of sunlight like cathedral light coming from under a sea of thick orange and pink clouds, slanting down the black pines, illuminating them as if they catch on fire, everything still, and the mists rising to meet the sky, grass and pine needles bathed in dew, and all the way around and below us the grand secret mountains covered in frost, slumbering.

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Pretty soon we reach the summit. Nothing stands higher than us now in all of the Caribbean islands.

Viktor and Maya at the summit. Pico Duarte

Viktor and Maya at the summit. Pico Duarte

Cookies and hot chocolate on the summit. Pico Duarte

Cookies and hot chocolate on the summit. Pico Duarte

 

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