Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic: A World of Enchantment
By Habeeb Salloum
After studying what the numerous organized tours offered, I decided on the Santiago-Jarabacoa excursion -- a trip which included the city of Santiago, factories of interest to tourists, then driving up to a pine-dotted mountain to the west of Jarabacao.
Julio, our guide, was cheerful as we left Puerto Plata in the early morning. “I want to introduce you to our driver Eddie. It’s his first trip.”
His First Trip
“What?” A number of the passengers seemed alarmed.
Julio had a wide grin. “I mean his first trip today. He has been driving for 15 years.”
In a clown-like fashion, Eddie touted his horn and shouted, “It’s me! It’s me!” We were to find out during the trip that he was a jolly person who not only exuded charm but also could speak English fairly well.
From Puerto Plata, we crossed a landscape of tree-covered mountains, seemingly with very few inhabitants, until just a few miles before reaching Santiago, a city of 1.2 million, we entered the large Cihao Valley, the most verdant area in the Dominican Republic.
Here, the majority of agriculture products in the country are produced and much of these are processed in Santiago, the second largest urban center in the country and its commercial and industrial heart.
The city, founded in 1494, is noted for the manufacture of cigars, spices, and textiles and is the home of the majority of the country car dealerships. Its inhabitants are the top entrepreneurs in the Republic and the city boasts clean streets, fine restaurants and is world-famous for its unique brand of merengue music. (See Sydney Hutchinson's article on Merengue Fever.)
"A Great Opportunity to Start"
Our bus came to a stop at the E. Leon Jimenis Cigar Factory, the largest of the 103 cigar factories in the country.
As we prepared to leave the bus, Julio’s voice boomed over the microphone, “Welcome to the number one cigar factory in our country. For all those who smoke, today you can smoke to your heart’s content; for those who don’t smoke, today you have a great opportunity to start.”
Apparently, he did not support the worldwide campaign against smoking.”
Leaving the cigar behind, we drove for some 20 minutes on the four-lane Duarte Highway to stop at a pottery factory for a while, then after driving on the Duarte Highway for another 20 minutes, we turned a short distance before Jarabacoa, on tree-shaded side road and were soon climbing upward the Cordillera Central - the highest mountain range in the Dominican Republic.
The Dominican Alps
Labeled the ‘Dominican Alps’, the mountains are covered with majestic Royal Palms and pines, and many other types of trees and shrubs.
As we climbed upward on the narrow and twisting road, a car tried to pass us. Another auto speeding around the curve almost hit him head-on.
Seeing what happened, my seat companion asked, “Do you have many accidents in the Dominican Republic?”
“No, but the ones we have are terrible,” Julio explained as Eddie threw up his hands in disgust.
In less than half an hour, we were driving on a plateau, filled with rivers and lush valleys, under the shade of pines and other trees.
Soon we were at a ranch, established for tourist tours, dining on tasty Dominican food. Next to me, Eddie, asked, “Do you like our food?”
I smiled, “Very much! I especially enjoyed the sancocho soup. It’s the best that I have tasted during my numerous trips to your country.” Always smiling, exuberant, non-aggressive and polite, Eddie, like most Dominicans, was fun to be with.
Climbing into trucks, which tour companies call jeeps, we made our way on unpaved roads toward a nearby waterfall.
The view from our vantage point atop the trucks was fantastic. A green-carpeted countryside, gently bathed by cool breezes and dotted with trees, dominated by Royal Palms and majestic pines, spread out in all directions. It was a landscape of beauty - an emerald world of enchantment.
Leaving our trucks behind, we followed Julio up a mountain trail. The young nimble and full of energy seemed to enjoy the climb. As for myself, past 80, and a good number of others, it was a tiring climb.
Huffing and puffing, I turned to a fellow climber, close behind, “Imagine one with a heart condition doing this climb.”
After about 20 minutes, we were looking down on the Jimanoa Falls, the most picturesque and largest waterfall in the Dominican Republic. With a background of a tree-covered mountain, the falls were like an ankle bracelet, emphasizing the charm of the landscape. As to the tumbling waters, if one has seen Niagara Falls, they appear insignificant.
Fantastic and Seducing Countryside
Back at the ranch, we climbed into our bus and began our return journey. Retracing our route to near Santiago, we turned right off the Duarte Highway then drove through Moca, a pleasant looking town, before beginning to climb the coastal mountains.
Unlike the route we took in the morning, this route traversed a terrain whose mountainsides and valleys were cultivated or used for grazing. It was a landscape which the hand of man had enhanced and by making it pleasing to the eye - a panorama of a fantastic and seducing countryside.
Down at the coast, we passed the neat seaside town of Cabarete, considered to be the windsurfing, kiteboarding and parasailing capital of the world. Here, annual windsurfing competitions draw visitors from around the globe. (See Nick Klenske's article on Cabarete.)
Past Sosúa with its renowned and beautiful beach, we were soon being dropped off at our hotels.
As the members of our group prepared to leave, Julio’s voice echoed through the bus, “ I hope that you have enjoyed the trip and learned more about our the beautiful Dominican world. Come again to our friendly land!”
His words well described our long day’s journey through a country which has been described as alpine, exotic, sensual, dream-like, touristy and tropical - a part of these attributes, we had savored that day.
Tips for Visiting Puerto Plata Resorts:
The best way to travel to the Puerto Plata resorts is to take the all-inclusive packages offered by tour companies, especially if traveling from Canada with SunSwing – their offerings are much better than other airline charter companies.
Tourist accommodation in the Puerto Plata area has improved greatly. In the larger hotels, there are now rarely any breakdowns of electricity, air conditioning or the water systems.
For affluent travelers who enjoy luxury, the VH Hotels & Resorts that include the Victoria Golf Resort & Beach, the Gran Ventana Beach Resort, and the hallmark of the three, Casa Colonial Beach Resort & Spa, hidden treasures in Playa Dorada are the places to stay.
The conversion rate of the Dominican Republic's currency fluctuates at around 33 pesos to a U.S. dollar. Change money in banks - some have branches in the major hotels.
Drink bottled water only - never from the tap.
Renting small autos costs some $65 per day fully insured. Gas costs about $5 a US gallon.
Meals in top restaurants cost from $25 to $50; in peoples’ eating places in town - from $5 to $15.
If visitors are brave they can try the popular street food: boiled green bananas, fried blood sausages, fried beef, fried lungs and fried yucca offered by street vendors.
While in Puerto Plata the thing to do is spend a whole day and evening at Ocean World Adventure Park where a visitor can spend and exciting time with the creatures of the sea then, for $65, dine amid luxury and attend one of the finest shows in the world.
Top sites in Santiago:
The Tomás Morel Museum of Folkloric Art, a colorful collection of carnival masks; the Santiago Museum and the Tobacco Museum; the Monument a los Heroes de la Restauracion, (from its top there is an amazing view of Santiago and the surrounding area) and the Leon Jimenez Cultural Center, which is the most important tourist site in the city, offering cultural exhibits and performances and a re-created historic cigar factory.
All prices are quoted in U.S. dollars.
or Bureau de Turisme de la Republique Dominicaine a Montreal
2080 Rue Crescent, Montreal, Quebec H3G 2B8
Toll Free 1-800-563-1311 or Tel: (514) 499-1918
Fax (514) 499-1393. Email
In the USA:
Dominican Republic Tourism Board
136 East 57th Street, Suite 803, New York, New York 10022.
Telephone: 1-888-374-6361 (Toll free in USA) or Telephone: 1-212-588-1012/14
Fax: 1-212-588-1015. Email
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Habeeb Salloum is a travel and food writer, as well as the author more than a dozen books, who lives in Toronto Canada. He is GoNOMAD’s oldest contributor, and going strong! Click his name above to see his books on Amazon.