Hiking Pico Duarte: Highest Peak In the Caribbean

By Moraima Capellán Pichardo

pico duarte - highest peak in the caribbean - yoga loft cabarete

Pico Duarte, has always been on the top of my list of places to visit in the Dominican Republic. Even though reaching the highest peak in the Caribbean is less of a visit and more of a physical feat, I longed to reach the summit. The hike to Pico Duarte is a must for anyone who loves the outdoors and to experience the diverse topography of the island.

Pico Duarte, at 3,098 meters, is not only the highest mountain in the Dominican Republic but also the highest peak of the Caribbean. Fun fact: The DR is also home to the lowest point in the Caribbean and the largest lake at Lago Enriquillo. There is much more to do in this island than postcard white sandy beaches (although we love those too). And hiking the Dominican Alps is a unique experience for any traveller.

My starting point was similar to the way you might have ended on this blog post: intense Google searches looking for all the do’s and don’ts. The blog over at the our friends from eXtreme Hotel has two guides on this infamous hike: Pico Duarte and Trip to Pico Duarte

All signs pointed to the conclusion that anyone attempting this hike should book with professional guides. Yes, even hiking experts.

I was thrilled to find out that Alejate Con Ale, whom I had previously taken a Samaná excursion with, was leading a Pico Duarte tour. I booked immediately and was added to a WhatsApp group chat, where participants of the trip shared tips and preparation goals prior to the weekend.

The excursion was under $200 USD, with transportation, all meals, snacks, camping gear, emergency mules and motivational vibes included, among others. Alejate Con Ale, partnered with Pico Duarte Tours, run by Luis Franco, who organizes some of the safest and best prepared excursions to this mountain. I am not exaggerating here, we were very well fed, and all of his staff was attentive and prepared for any last minute occurrences. Please don’t get scammed into a VIP excursion, there’s no such thing as glamping on these parts.

Cabarete to Santo Domingo to La Cienega

Our group met up in Santo Domingo, so I took a Metro Tour bus from Sosua to Santo Domingo the day before. There are people that travelled on the same day, but since I knew that this was a strenuous weekend, I decided to arrive a day early in order to be well rested. This can also vary depending on how your group is arranged.

From Santo Domingo, we headed to the Jarabacoa region. The drive there is already stunning on it’s own with many picturesque mountains as you head up to La Cienega and the Armando Bermúdez National Park. That evening, we went over procedures, trajectory and safety precautions for our stay and hike inside the park.

Day One

Up early, we began our trek at around 6 AM after a hearty breakfast. This is the longest and worst day of the hike. Officially, you are hiking roughly 18km but the health app on my phone tracked 24km. I am not ashamed to admit that it took me 10 hours to reach our camping site destination. Other members of our group hiked at a faster pace but it was great to be able to go at a sustainable pace for my needs.

It is extremely important to train yourself for such a journey, especially if you are a new hiker. My main tip for such a long hike is to maintain a long and steady breath as much as possible. This is where your Ujjayi breath comes in extremely handy as it can help keep you both relaxed and energized. Most of the time you are moving at an incline so take short and firm steps to secure your feet and legs.

Once you reach, La Compartición, the camping site. Take some time to stretch, eat a strong dinner and get as much rest as possible. Due to the ongoing drought affecting the island, there was a water shortage that has clearly affected the entire park. Sadly, many streams and rivers along the path that were marked with signs for potable water were dried up.

Near the campsite, there was a dried up river with a single stream of water. Many of us took a shower by gathering water in buckets. This water was freezing. I felt my soul freeze up. But the cold water did wonders for my tired and sore muscles so it is recommended. There was also a certain level of adventure to clean oneself out in the woods of a mountain, with cold water. Much like peeing on the side of the path—putting our Malasana squat to use—it was humbling to return to basic instincts.

Pico Duarte - Amanecer en La Vela - Armando Bermudez National Park

Day Two

The worst was over and it was time to reach the summit. It’s important to stretch before starting your hike. I was exhausted and felt heavy but a few hours later I finally saw the proud statue of Juan Pablo Duarte (one of the founding fathers of the Dominican Republic). It’s a moment that filled us all with pride and has a special significance if you are of Dominican descent.

We spent roughly 40 minutes at the summit before making our way back to the camping site. Upon arriving to La Compartición, we were treated to a warm shower and a filling dinner. The camaraderie was heart warming. We spent time by the bonfire, roasting marshmallows while a few musicians and singers serenaded those of us without an ounce of musical ability. I even gave a restorative yoga session to a group of women, many whom had never tried yoga!

Day Three

Our descent down the mountains started before sunrise. We departed at roughly 4AM and even though we were all extremely tired, getting a head start was essential. Very few experiences can compare to watching the sunrise over the mountains. It will take your breath away and give you that boost needed to continue your descent.

It’s important to be mindful of each step you take as you come down. Most injuries happen during the descent and in fact, one of our members fractured a foot as she slipped and fell. The path is full of slippery rocks and if you are afraid of heights, some parts can be terrifying as you can see the precipice a mere steps away.

Don’t be afraid or ashamed to use the emergency mules. Your guides might suggest it if you are falling behind but listen to your body. Riding a mule for even a few minutes can give you the rest you need.

La Comparticion - Pico Duarte

Environmentally Conscious

The biggest thing that I took away from this hike, was the urgency of the climate change crisis. It was heartbreaking to see, first-hand, the effects of climate change and political corruption on the Armando Bermúdez National Park .The path was dry, extremely hot and most sources of water…dry. Not only did this affect our comfort throughout the walk but served as a glimpse of what is coming if we do not, as humans, as a collective, make drastic changes to reverse climate change.

There is no doubt, from experts, that climate change is behind the drought affecting the island. The Dominican Republic is a developing country and too many communities are completely vulnerable and unprotected from the ravaging effects of a lack of water and changing weather patterns.

If you are looking to do this hike, please ask your organizers how they commit to reducing the environmental impact of such a trip. We saw other groups using disposable cutlery, which is not only tacky, but also inexcusable since the camping site has spaces for cleaning reusable cutlery.

Saving water is essential in all aspects of human life. Our sister business, the Taino Farm further explains how climate change has affected the Dominican Republic.

Hiking with Heart Disease

Nothing has tested my endurance and willpower as much as this weekend hike. As someone with congenital heart disease, reaching the summit is one of my biggest personal achievements. I wouldn’t have been able to attempt this hike if it wasn’t for my yoga practice.

Yoga has given me all the tools to manage my heart disease symptoms and the human fears that naturally arise in certain situations. From breathing techniques that helped me access more oxygen with the changing altitude to practicing non-attachment.

If you are hiking with any pre-existing condition, please make sure to check in with your doctor but also make sure that your organizer has proper emergency procedures.

Hiking Pico Duarte is a one of a kind adventure in the Dominican Republic. An absolute must for any traveling adventurer.