SUBSCRIBE | NEWSLETTERS | MAPS | VIDEOS | BLOGS | MARKETPLACE | CONTESTS
TRY BACKPACKER FREE!
SUBSCRIBE NOW and get
2 Free Issues and 3 Free Gifts!
Full Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip Code:
Email: (required)
If I like it and decide to continue, I'll pay just $12.00, and receive a full one-year subscription (9 issues in all), a 73% savings off the newsstand price! If for any reason I decide not to continue, I'll write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing.
Your subscription includes 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Or click here to pay now and get 2 extra issues
Offer valid in US only.

Also on Backpacker.com


Enter Zip Code

Backpacker Magazine –

Highpoint the Carribean

Find culture, scenery, and solitude at the top of a tropical island.

by: Mark Aiken


A scrum of taxi drivers accosts my wife and me as we step off the bus in Jarabacoa. This is the town nearest Pico Duarte, which, at 10,128 feet, is not only the high point of the Dominican Republic, but of the whole Caribbean. Before we know it, we’re sitting next to our packs in the bed of a 1978 Datsun rust box for the 15-mile drive to the Parque Nacionale José Armando Bermúdez. Sure, we could have sipped mojitos by the sea like every other tourist, but we wanted a unique experience. Our taxi driver, a real conservationist, turns off the engine and coasts the downhills, restarting by popping the clutch. We have found unique.

Five routes approach Pico Duarte, one of four 10,000-plus-foot peaks in the Dominican Republic’s Cordillera Central range. We want the most direct: 14.5 miles up an unnamed trail. But first, we need a guide. Our driver steers us down a side road to the shack of a man named Pablo. Pablo speaks no English. My Spanish is limited to montaña, playa, cerveza, and, for emergencies, “Donde está el bano?” Using gestures and drawing pictures on a scrap of paper to communicate, we agree on an itinerary—leave today, no mules. We set off, hiking 3 miles through a valley where workers cultivate coffee beans and color-filled clotheslines flap outside tin shacks. Then we make a steep ascent to our camp, a small ranger cabin called Los Tablones. Pablo points to a concrete floor—our bed for the night. We spread our summer bags and mats (packed from home) and boil water on wood coals for our backpacker meals. (Pablo had offered to cook, but how do you communicate “My wife has celiac disease” using drawings and gestures?)

Day two’s hike starts in a misty jungle. The trail slices through a wall of dense parrot trees and the spiky leaves of sierra palms. As we climb, the fog gives way to sunshine, and the forest stirs with chirping birds and animals moving just out of sight. At mile 7, after 5,000 vertical feet, we reach a junction with a sharp, .3-mile descent to Aguita Fria, our final water source. Pablo waits for us among grasses and pines while we drop down, feeling the humidity increase with each step. 

Most guided groups camp 2.5 miles past Aguita Fria at La Compartición, make a summit push (another 2.5 miles) the following morning, and then ride mules all the way to the trailhead. We have other plans: We need to catch a bus tomorrow morning. Again, relying on drawings and gestures, we agree to head to the summit now. The trail leads across a grassy saddle and then we’re pushing toward the top. The trail becomes rockier, the steps grow bigger as we ascend the final switchbacks. We don’t see another soul. The sky is overcast, but the ridgelines of the Cordilleras make impressive views across vast and cloud-filled valleys. 

On a clear day, you can see the sea from the summit: The mass of land that is the Dominican Republic drops into nothing like it’s the edge of the world. We “settle” for views of the Cordilleras, a maze of ridgelines weaving away from where we’re standing. We can see blue sky, but the clouds hug the highest points as if to add appropriate mystique around the bronze bust depicting the stern face of Juan Pablo Duarte, the Dominican founding father and the mountain’s namesake.

Of course, the beach is down there, too. If all goes according to plan, we’ll be relaxing, toes in the sand, in less than 24 hours. And having seen the Caribbean from its high point, I’m betting beachside Mai Tais will taste that much sweeter. 

Do it Rancho Baiguate, Jarabacoa, D.R. (ranchobaiguate.com); Iguana Mama, Cabarete, D.R. (iguanamama.com) Guide Independent guides cost about $9/day; a mule is $8/day. Food, provided and prepared by the guide, costs $30/3 days. Note: Most independent guides aren’t wealthy and charge very little; tip generously. Info Parque Nacionale José Armando Bermúdez (admission $3/person; medioambiente.gov.do) 




Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter
Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip:
Email (req):

Reader Rating: -

READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
SkeeterBait
Mar 13, 2014

I'm so glad to see an article on this hike! My brother and I made this trek after his high school graduation. 11 years his senior, I was not in shape for it! It's a tough hike that for me was about the same as unmediated child birth. Take a tough pair of shoes! The trail is littered with the soles of those gone before you :)

ADD A COMMENT

Your rating:
Your Name:

Comment:

My Profile Join Now

Most recent threads

The Political Arena
Ebola breakout
Posted On: Aug 30, 2014
Submitted By: dayhiker9
Trailhead Register
Who's Working this weekend...?
Posted On: Aug 30, 2014
Submitted By: swimswithtrout
Go
View all Gear
Find a retailer

Special sections - Expert handbooks for key trails, techniques and gear

Check out Montana in Warren Miller's Ticket to Ride
Warren Miller athletes charge hard and reflect on Big Sky country, their love for this space and the immense energy allotted to the people who reside in Montana.

Boost Your Apps
Add powerful tools and exclusive maps to your BACKPACKER apps through our partnership with Trimble Outdoors.

Carry the Best Maps
With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site MyRockyMountainPark.com.

Follow BackpackerMag on Twitter Follow Backpacker on Facebook
Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 3 FREE GIFTS
Survival Skills 101 • Eat Better
The Best Trails in America
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Backpacker
and my 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Full Name:
City:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
State:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions