How to Climb the Highest Mountain in the Caribbean
Pico Duarte – on the Cheap
It all started with my boyfriend, Honza’s upcoming 30th birthday. I always knew he would love to climb Pico Duarte – the highest mountain in the Caribbean, but I also knew I wanted to plan this trip myself and surprise him on his birthday. So I seemingly ignored his talks about it and secretly started plotting. Through The eXtreme Hotel, I got in touch with Jade and Gabriel of the fantastic travel blog: wetravelandblog.com. They climbed Pico themselves, so I was able to get a number for a guide and valuable advice on How to Climb the Highest Mountain in the Carribbean – Pico Duarte – on the Cheap
Pico Duarte (elevation: 3,087 m) is situated in the Armando Bermudez National Park, roughly 80 miles (130 km) from Cabarete. There are basically two ways of doing this trip. Either you can go through an agency which will organize everything for you, transport, hotel, guide, etc. for approximately 500 dollars per person or, if you are more adventurous, you can do it on your own will!. We opted for the latter. We had a great experience, and on top of it, managed to lower the cost to slightly under 200 dollars for both of us.
On Friday morning, we set off from Los Brazos on our motor bike towards Jamao, Moca, and Jarabacoa. It went quite smoothly all the way there. Although those steep hills were definitely challenging for our bike La Perla Negra. (Name she got when one man in Cabarete claimed it was his stolen bike called la Perla Negra. Turned out it wasn’t the guy‘s bike but we liked the name so it stuck.). For those of you who decide to go by a motor bike or a car, in Jarabacoa it can get a bit tricky. There is a sign ‘turn right to go to La Ciénaga’ but then no sign telling you to turn left at the next crossroads. So, naturally we kept going straight. Another big challenge for our bike: a steep dirt road, many holes, very little traffic…us thinking that La Ciénaga must be really off the beaten track. Turns out we were on the wrong track ourselves, of course. Luckily there were two men driving a van back to Jarabacoa who took me and our big backpack with them and Honza followed us on the bike. This time we took the right turn and got first to Manabao and then to La Ciénaga: the starting point for the hike to Pico Duarte.
In La Ciénaga we asked for “parque nacional“ and pretty much anyone would send us in the right direction. We met our guide Francisco in the centre of the village. He then showed us to his house which is right next to the colmado where we bought food for our trip. We dined together at his cousin’s little shack and Francisco arranged for us to sleep in the building of the national park. Herman, the keeper of the park, let me and Honza stay for 200 pesos per night. We agreed to meet up early morning in our guide’s house, have a cup of coffee and set out on our adventure.
Happy hikers on pico duarte
Saturday morning, 8:00 a.m. Honza, myself, Francisco, one horse, and one mule – ready for the trip! The last two were the ones who carried it all – our stuff, our food, and our guide. The weather was great, sunny and a little bit chilly – perfect for a hike. It didn’t take long and we were higher than we could ever get in our country – Alto de la Cotorra. The path was steep as we got higher but the view was stunning and we were full of energy so we didn’t mind.
We were amazed at how different the landscape was, how palm trees changed for pine trees, how hilly and cool it was. Hard to believe we were still in the Carribbean. As for animals, we heard many birds sing and almost all the way up we were accompanied by humming birds. It seemed they welcomed our company and enjoyed flying around us. We took regular refreshment breaks in order to regain our strenght. Funny how even ordinary things like bread and cheese taste so much better once the body gets tired and you are in fresh air.
Landscape around Pico Duarte
We weren’t the only ones who decided to climb Pico Duarte that weekend. There was a group of four people with two guides who we kept passing. Apart from them, all the other people were going down. It was nice to hear that although we had a long way ahead of us, we were doing really well when it came to time.
It took us less than 8 hours to get to Compartición (2,450 m), a place where we found shelter, spacious kitchen, bonfire and a good company of fellow travellers. That night there was a big group from Propa Gas having a team building weekend. They were really welcoming and we spent a good part of the night laughing and joking with them. Around 10 p.m. both me and Honza as well as our guide Francisco went to sleep because we wanted to leave at 4 a.m the next morning.
We woke up before the alarm clock and started packing. Francisco decided to leave the mules there and we only took a small backpack with us. The sky was amazing, so many stars among silhuettes of pine trees. We greeted the other group of guys that was getting ready to go up that morning and set off. Pitch black, a bit rainy, Francisco with a torch leading and us behind him with a headlight. We kept walking up, following only a narrow stony path, putting one foot in front of the other. I had to stop more often to catch my breath and soon enough we saw a line of headlights in the dark approaching us. The way they swayed I couldn’t help but think they looked exactly like the Seven Dwarfs.
Although the very last part ot the trip seemed really lengthy for me, we made it to the top at about 6.30 a.m. Just in time for the sunrise, which was definitely beautiful but unfortunately not for us that morning. All we saw were clouds. We took photos anyway and waited around hoping the sky would clear up, looked for an easter egg that Jade told me was hidden somewhere around Pico Duarte but no luck with either. What we did find though, burried under the rocks, was a samurai sword with a very nice carving on the sheath saying PAZ (peace). We got the message and decided to slowly head back. We also didn’t want our guide, Francisco to freeze. As we were leaving, he waved at the statue of Juan Pablo Duarte and said “Adios. Hasta la proxima!“
At the peak. We made it to the top!
This hike is usually done in three days, two nights. That was our initial plan too but as it was only around 10 a.m. when we descended to Compartición and the sky cleared up, we decided to go back to La Ciénaga the same day. We had a small breakfast and coffee, packed our things, loaded the mule and set out for the last part of our adventure. As it turned out it was also the most exhausting part. The trip back seemed never ending. I kept asking myself how could I have made it all the way up so easily.
The path was steep, winding and it didn‘t look familiar at all. There were lots of stones and I started to feel blisters on my feet. Still, when Francisco offered me the mule I said no. The pride in me didn’t let me and riding a mule didn’t look that comfortable anyway.
We had a bit of rain on the way down. Just enough to refresh our minds and bodies and to appreciate how amazingly new and green everything looks after the rain. Pine trees slowly replaced by palm trees again, now and then we even saw a wild orange tree and most importantly we could hear the river which meant we were getting closer. We still kept walking and when I asked Francisco if we were there yet and he said “almost“ for the third time. I replied, “I’m just gonna stay here.” As long as it seemed, surprise surprise we made it to our “base camp” in the national park. Exhausted, sleepy and tired but happy.
Sunday’s total – 17.4 miles (28 km), 12 hours of walking and 14 hours awake when we reached our original starting point in La Ciénaga.
We took a cold shower, had a small dinner and a celebratory beer with Francisco at his cousin’s shack and then went to sleep to regain our strength for the next day’s adventurous motor bike ride home.
Info and contacts
Our guide’s phone number – Francisco 829-903-9274 (he only speaks Spanish)
Feel free to contact us for more info – firstname.lastname@example.org