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Escape to Jarabacoa


It can sound far-fetched to say that there’s a spectacular side to the Dominican Republic that doesn’t involve beaches. From Punta Cana to La Romana and Puerto Plata, the DR is ground zero for an all-inclusive sea-and-sand Caribbean vacation. But there’s another unexpected, nature-filled escape that often eludes visitors, and it lies in the mountainous heart of the country.

Just two hours’ drive north of Santo Domingo or south of Puerto Plata’s golden beaches, Jarabacoa—“land of water” in Taino—lies 1,736 feet above sea level, tucked inside the DR’s highest Cordillera Central mountain range. This “town of eternal spring” is a favorite weekend escape of city dwellers, who flock here for year-round 75- to 80-degree temperatures, waterfalls, rivers—the Baiguate, Jimenoa and Yaque del Norte flow and converge here—and scenic hiking trails inside national parks. The few tourists who make it to Jarabacoa are intrepid outdoor enthusiasts who are eager to tick off their bucket list item for the Dominican Republic: an overnight hike to the summit of Pico Duarte, the Caribbean’s tallest peak at 10,125 feet.

As soon as I reach Jarabacoa, I feel a cool breeze as thick pine tree forests flash past my bus window, followed by plant nurseries and wide fields where horses graze against a mountainous backdrop. But I don’t fully grasp this area’s great outdoors until my first adventure with Rancho Baiguate.

The lodge is one of two outfitters in town offering a river rafting adventure along the longest body of water in the country, Rio Yaque del Norte. We watch a brief safety video before our group of four grabs life vests and heads out toward a calmer section of the river, about 15 minutes outside of town. In no time, our raft launches and we’re tumbling along gushing water. The river’s lush scenery distracts me until my guide shouts a warning for minifalls ahead. I get nervous, convinced I’ll fall overboard—which I do. The river’s flow isn’t as powerful as it looks, though, and my guide grabs me and helps me back into the raft in seconds, our laughter echoing over the riverbank. Toward the end of our adventure, we pause along a shallow area and snack on fresh fallen mangoes.

After a quick change into dry clothes, I’m back in town on Avenida Independencia, surrounded by bistros, pizzerias and comedores. For lunch, I opt for a Dominican plate of rice and beans with stewed chicken at La Tinaja, bustling with locals on their lunch break.

After an afternoon nap at nearby La Confluencia, a breezy riverside park, the outdoor fun continues. Heading to waterfalls at sunset is a quintessential Jarabacoa experience, and David of Jarabacoa Eco Adventures picks me up at 4 p.m. Salto Baiguate is one of the easiest waterfalls to reach in this area. Locals get there on horseback, but we are in the agricultural heart of the DR and I opt to take in the views of fragrant chayote and cilantro fields from the back of David’s motorbike. A short hike follows down a series of steps that lead to a huge canyon. Children are crawling barefoot on black rocks, shifting over and under the 82-foot cascading falls and leaping into a deep pool below.

I could retreat to my king-sized suite at Jarabacoa Mountain Hostel for the night, but instead I hop in a taxi for a starlit dinner at mountaintop Aroma de la Montaña Restaurant, eating on an outdoor terrace perched 3,000 feet over Jarabacoa and the Cordillera Central.

The next morning, we head out on a coffee-making tour at the family-owned Café Monte Alto factory in town. They produce a certified organic Arabica ground coffee, harvested at high altitude on their farms around the region. I get a complete bean to cup demonstration, followed by a tasting at the onsite café.

After an afternoon off, it’s time for one more extreme outdoor adventure at sunset: paragliding with Flying Tony. An hour’s drive from Jarabacoa to Constanza takes us to a mountaintop in the Paso Alto area. While strapping me up in my harness, securing belts and helmets, Tony explains how he and I will take off in tandem.

“Lily, when I tell you to walk, then you just start walking,” he says. Within seconds, tied together for the journey and with me leading in the front, he shouts, “Vamos! Corre, corre!” My legs freeze before the adrenaline kicks in, the wind pulls us forward and my scream fills the air as we run off the hill and soar into the horizon.

Feet dangling high over waterfalls I’d yet to swim in, my view fills with 360-degree mountains as far as I can see. As the sky fades into a blue violet, I think of all the tourists on the other side of the country, sandwiched on beach chairs and missing this spectacular side of the Dominican Republic.

Where to Stay

Mi Tia Yesy’s guesthouse offers a cozy wooden cabin and a treehouse for two, plus individual rooms. Hotel Gran Jimenoa boasts the river Yaque del Norte running through its grounds and spacious river-view suites, a swimming pool, restaurant and hiking trails. 

Where to Eat

Fresco Café y Bistrot caters to vegetarian and vegan crowds. The new Jarabacoa Food Park hosts a variety of food trucks, serving Dominican, Mexican and Colombian cuisine. 

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