Our resident couples travel bloggers, Mike and Anne Howard of HoneyTrek, reveal the untouched beauty of the southwest Dominican Republic and why you need to get there stat!
Everyone’s heard of Punta Cana… but Barahona and Pedernales? You’d think this area of the Dominican Republic would be famous for having the country’s only UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the lowest point in the Caribbean, and the one place in the world to find the precious larimar stones, but no… the southwest DR is a hidden gem. We spent a week exploring the region and were in awe of its dramatic landscapes, biodiversity, convivial spirit, and that we had the place virtually to ourselves. Stroll untouched beaches, horseback ride lush jungles, climb pine-covered mountains, island hop a wildlife reserve, and truly get away from it all!
Commune with Flamingos, Igaunas & Sea Turtles
Just off the Caribbean, yet three times saltier than the sea, Laguna Oviedo is home to a slew of species, including the endemic Titaco fish. Royal herons, parrots, spoonbills, and American flamingos are among the birds that happily nest here. It’s also a nesting beach for four species of sea turtles. See the leatherbacks lumbering to shore to lay their eggs in late spring or watch the baby turtles crawl to sea in the late summer. No matter when you arrive, the fascinating rhinoceros iguanas will be waiting for you on Iguana Island. Organize a boat and guide with the Jaragua National Park office and bird-watch, island hop, skirt the mangroves, and spot ancient pictographs from the Taino natives.
Discover the Larimar-Blue Rivers
Hike along the Bahoruco River with its Caribbean blue color and clarity. The path winds between the jungle of wild oranges and strangler figs, rocky shores, and directly up the riverbed. Dip into the pools, slide down waterfalls, and keep your eye out for Larimar. The only mines in the world for this precious blue stone are found in the mountains above. Sifting through the pebbles for a few minutes, we found a half dozen rough gems! Stay at the gorgeous Small Luxury Hotel of the World, Casa Bonita Tropical Lodge, and their guides can lead you via ATV to the best river trailheads.
Explore Untouched Beaches
Close to the Haitian border in Pedernales is a beach largely unchanged since pre-Columbian times. Protected within the Jaragua National Park and a dramatic cove only accessible by boat, Bahía de las Águilas is perfectly pristine, from its white powder sand to vibrant coral reef. Enjoy a day of snorkeling (with luck you’ll spot manatee and hawksbill turtles) and spend the night around the bend in Cabo Rojo. This gorgeous beach is home to a few lovely lodging options, including Eco del Mar – a charming glamping retreat with ocean-front tents and a lively beach bar.
Get Mountain High & Canyon Deep
Take the red dirt roads through the Sierra de Bahoruco, the mountain range within the multi-faceted Jaragua-Bahoruco-Enriquillo Biosphere Reserve. The highest peak soars 5,348 feet, only to be accentuated by the adjacent 2,300-foot deep chasm of Hoyo de Pelempito. From the cliffside visitors center and vista point, peer down the lush canyon walls and over this untouched park. Notice the pine trees and chill in the air; surprisingly enough for the Caribbean, the morning temps can drop below freezing.
Find the Luxury Side of the Jungle
With so much of the southwest being uncharted, eco-lodges like Rancho Platón are blazing a trail to some of the region’s most remote and gorgeous areas. Meet their 4×4 truck in Paraíso and take a scenic ride from the beach to the lush mountains. After a half hour, the lodge emerges out of the jungle with an open-air lounge, bungalows, and tree houses. Ride a horse to the coffee plantations, tube down the river, or take a nature walk through a tropical forest rich with life.
Get Ultra Local at the Markets
Markets are an open window into local culture and Barahona’s is no exception. Southwest DR is largely agricultural, growing plantains, sugar cane, oranges, passionfruit, and other delights. Stroll the open-air aisles, shop for fresh fruits, and have a chat with friendly vendors. Stop to watch a domino game (the unofficial pastime of the DR) and maybe learn a few moves. Scope some voodoo potions and herbs and see how Haitian culture blends with Dominican along this border province. You won’t find any tourists here… just locals happy to see you.
The Southwest Surprises
From pine to palm trees, emerald jungles to red mountains, and five-star hotels to bohemian glamping retreats, the Southwest has a taste of it all. It’s not the Dominican Republic you know, but one we hope you’ll meet someday soon!
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