Where: Dominican Republic, Caribbean
Best Season: Caribbean is a year round paradise
Best Sights: A mysterious ciguapas blue skinned banshee
Remember to Bring: Warm clothing and a reliable mulateer guide
Most people think of the Dominican Republic as a paradise of sun and sea. Whilst that is definitely true, there is another attraction in the area that is just as spectacular – the mountains. The Cordillera Central range runs down the spine of the Dominican Republic and houses two national parks that are actually joined to form one huge wilderness area, home of the mountain Pico Durante.
The two national parks were established in the 1950’s, as the Dominican Republic government didn’t want to follow Haiti’s fate and log their national forests. Pico Duarte, at over 10,000 ft high (3175 metres) is the pinnacle of the region, and one that attracts hikers from around the world. There are five different tracks that lead to the summit, ranging in difficulty. Another drawcard to the region is the fact that twelve of the major rivers in the Dominican Republic start in theCordillera Central.
The Caribbean’s highest mountain was named after Juan Pablo Durante, who gained independence for the Dominican Republic in 1844. Each year on February 27th, the anniversary of that day, many Dominicans come here to make a pilgrimage to the top.
Curse of the Banshee
A common way of hiking is to take mules, to carry all hiking equipment for the hikes that start from three day round trips. Local men known as mulateers handle the animals. The mulateers are characters themselves, and sometimes tell hikers that these mountain trails are haunted byciguapas, blue-skinned women with their feet facing backwards, who seduce young men at night and lure them to their death.
Whilst those stories are usually taken with a grain of salt, it is worth remembering that the weather can reach freezing point overnight, so good preparation is essential. Whilst there are rangers in the area, they only speak Spanish, as do all the mulateers, but there are organised tour groups that speak English and take care of all preparations for you. But whatever way you tackle it, when you reach the top of Pico Durante you will feel on top of the world, or at least, on top of the Caribbean!
Dominican National Parks and Ecotourism
Check out the lush National Parks of the Dominican Republic
By Lorna Musgrove