There is something to be said for traveling to the Caribbean and having a “non-island” experience. In the Dominican Republic, I was apparently one of the few tourists to visit the country’s capital, Santo Domingo, and to venture to the mountainous central highlands.
Away from the throngs at the island’s beach resorts, I didn’t have to search for the local eateries or the bars not frequented by tourists; rather, authenticity was right at my fingertips.
As Christopher Columbus’ first landing point in 1496, Santo Domingo remains Spanish in character with strong influences from a number of cultures, African and Haitian included. Merengue and bachata music pulsate throughout the day, either from the speakers of a passing car or from the neighborhood package store.
With the ingredients of constant sunshine and frequent outbursts of dance, it’s not difficult to understand why Dominicans are a relaxed and happy bunch. Dominican children embody this spirit as well, playing in the colonial plazas with their siblings and families, often into the late hours.
In Santo Domingo, spend an afternoon people watching in the Plaza Espana and grab a bite at one of the surrounding restaurants.
Ride the bus to Jarabacoa for the three day trek to Pico Duarte, the tallest peak in the Caribbean.
At 3,098 meters (10,164 ft) Pico Duarte is climbed with a guide and the obligatory mule or two, assisting and lugging food and gear skywards.
The hike is not overly technical, though pushing to do it in two days surely makes it more challenging. A forest fire in 2003 burned for several months, destroying much of the flora in its path. However, what was once charred is quickly being replaced by many species of ferns and flowers, only adding to the spectacular views you will see on your way to the top.