Dominican Republic: Off The Beaten Path in Montecristi

 

After our off the beaten path adventure in Punta Rucia and visiting Cayo Arena and the mangroves, our next stop was the province of Montecristi. This is one of the towns in the Dominican Republic that borders with Haiti. From here we would visit El Morro and Isla Cabra. 

Salt mines in Montecristi with El Morro in the background.  All photography by Joris Hermans.

Salt mines in Montecristi with El Morro in the background. All photography by Joris Hermans.

It took us around two and a half hours to reach the town of Montecristi from Punta Rucia. It was only because the main road Villa Elisa is unfinished and we had to drive through other small towns like Estero Hondo and Villa Isabela, making the trip at least an hour longer.

Related read • Travel Guide: The Dominican Republic in a Coconut Shell

Arriving in Montecristi

Having arrived in Montecristi, we drove through this surprisingly clean, organized town to find our hotel. At first, we were hesitant about whether or not we chose a good location to stay. Often, when you stay in the middle of town, it can be really loud and busy all day.

Luckily, we were wrong. We arrived at Hotel Santa Clara which is located in a nice residential area. It was perfect for us. The rooms were small but cozy and clean, good bathrooms, nice outdoor area and breakfast included. A great deal!

Cliff along the coast.

Cliff along the coast.

There was a big jagua tree in the inner yard of the hotel. The owner was happy to give away any fruit that fell down so my dad didn’t hesitate to pick up a bunch of good looking specimens of the strange fruit. But the jagua tree was popular and not long after, a local old man came by to ask if there where any he could use for ‘medicine’ and dad gracefully offered him his.

A boat ride further off the beaten path

Enough of trees! It was time to get ready for more off the beaten path adventures. First thing to do, was going to the coast to find a company to take us on a boat ride around El Morro. The place our hotel suggested had a few boat tour options and all a bit expensive for our taste. We ended up choosing the first option for 4,500 DOP. It would take the four of us on a little trip inside the mangroves, a boat ride around El Morro and a stop at Isla Cabra.

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Our journey started the next day after a good sleep and a hearty breakfast, surrounded by bees that were after our coffee. We took a cooler with some drinks and snacks and off we went!

Adventure in the mangroves

The first part of our off the beaten path experience was a boat ride through the beautiful, dense mangroves. This area in Montecristi has the largest mangrove forest in the country and our captain took us along narrow paths and open spaces while telling us a bit about the area and helping us spot some birds.

We stopped at a little wooden view point station to get some nice pictures of the surroundings and then continued further into the mangroves to find a good spot for swimming. Isn’t that cool? The water there is a bit cold but crystal clear and if you’re at the right spot, it’s deep enough for a nice swim. Also, we saw a small stingray, so it was best not to put our feet on the ground. 

Me and my dad swimming in the mangroves.

Me and my dad swimming in the mangroves.

It was such a nice feeling. I felt one with nature, relaxed, refreshed. Having to swim a bit against the current was invigorating. You can’t find a spot like this anywhere. So quiet, surrounded by mangroves, clear water, clear sky.

Our captain stayed in the boat and patiently waited for us to enjoy the experience. Then, it was time to head out to Isla Cabra. On the way, we got to see El Morro and other rock formations from close by. 

Rock formations along the coast.

Rock formations along the coast.

Mixed thoughts about Isla Cabra

So, there are no goats anymore on “Goat Island” or Isla Cabra. Today, it’s simply a deserted island. Full of low trees with a lot of branches, it’s perfect for hanging your things or even to sit or take a nap. It’s not the most impressive place but it has a nice beach for swimming and coral reefs further out if you like to snorkel.

Our guide and some locals on the beach of Isla Cabra.

Our guide and some locals on the beach of Isla Cabra.

Unfortunately, the island is also full of trash. A big problem we’ve seen in many places. Just like many off the beaten path locations, not too many people visit it and even less of those people are thoughtful enough to pick up all their trash.

There was a group of young Dominicans on the island when we arrived and we got to see some of their trash flying by. It was sad to see this place turning into a trash can, so with the help of our captain, we all spent a few minutes picking up bottles and wrappings from the beach. The captain assured us he would give word to the authorities inland but we really don’t know if they’ll do anything about it. Shame...

Kids playing at Isla Cabra.

Kids playing at Isla Cabra.

All in all, we spent a really nice time on Isla Cabra. Had some snacks, took a dip, walked a little.

El Morro beach: a must see

Our boat tour was over and we headed back but we weren’t done just yet. With the car, we drove to El Morro beach, a must see if you’re in Montecristi. 

El Morro is a big limestone cliff with a unique red sand beach and deep blue sea. The current here is strong, so it’s best to stay close to the beach. If you have some time and like hiking, you can go all the way up the cliff for some great views.

El Morro Beach.

El Morro Beach.

We were a bit tired and decided just to take a few pictures and go back to town for an early dinner. Sadly, once more, we didn’t leave without each picking up three or four plastic bottles from the beach... We saw another family doing the same, which slightly restored my faith in humanity.



Local food in Montecristi

We love trying local food when we travel. Back in town and super hungry, there was only one thing in our minds: chivo liniero. It means goat from the line, in this case referring to the border, more specifically the border between Dominican Republic and Haiti. Because of Montecristi’s dry weather, goats, which can adapt better, is the preferred meat around here. The braised goat dish is prepared with tons of herbs and flavor and it’s a must try.

We found a nice local restaurant.

We found a nice local restaurant.

Exploring further off the beaten path

The next morning before returning to Santo Domingo, we made a small detour to check out a small, sleepy town called Buen Hombre (good man). My parents are ones for always exploring further off the beaten path. Anywhere they haven’t been to is interesting and so we came here after hearing our hotel host talk about it.

At the moment the place looks a bit abandoned but only because people don’t know it well. They recently got a new road so we’re hopping to see it bloom. Great little spot for windsurfing and chilling.

Buen Hombre Beach.

Buen Hombre Beach.

It’s always nice to see more of my home country, the Dominican Republic. The best way to see new places and learn about them is exploring the least known locations but for your safety, always with the recommendation of the locals. There are so many unexplored places in the Dominican Republic, so depending on how adventurous you are, you might end up finding an incredible new spot to share or keep to yourself.

To finish our trip, we had lunch in a local restaurant on the highway and of course, bought some fresh fruit along the way to take home.