Hiking Pico Duarte, Dominican Republic

The tallest peak in the Caribbean—once renamed Pico Trujillo by the eponymous dictator—is one for the bucket list traveler. Even if you don’t keep tabs, accomplishing the hike to the highest summit of the Antilles earns you lifetime bragging rights.

Should you do it? That will depend on your level of fitness, as well as how many days you have to spare on your trip. You’ll need at the very least two full days for Pico Duarte (and possibly a full third to rest your bones from the hike). While there are several hiking routes to the peak, it’s easier to take the one that departs from La Ciénaga or Mata Grande, through the entrance of Parque Bermúdez, simply because the climate is cooler on this side, with more rain and breezes likely, and there are several river sources that run through it.

View along the mountain range while hiking Pico Duarte.
Hiking Pico Duarte. Photo © El Serrano, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

Day one of the hike usually goes from La Ciénaga to Compartición (18 kilometers [11 miles], up to 2,438 meters [8,000 feet] elevation), and day two, from Compartición to Pico Duarte and back.

The latest official rates for guides and mules per day are listed outside the Bermudez park office in La Ciénaga. The national park entrance fee is RD$100 (US$2.18), a guide costs RD$800 (US$17.44) per day, and mules RD$400 (US$8.82) per person and RD$450 (US$9.81) per carrier mule. Two mules per person are mandatory, as you might tire or need help, and provisions need to be carried separately. It’s much simpler and safer to hop on an arranged expedition with one of the tour companies and individual guides listed below.

Last but not least: if you’ve never attempted such a hike, be prepared in terms of knowing what to pack. It’s not a super-technical hike, but it does require endurance and good fitness. Do your research and ask your hotel or guide for advice. The two most important elements are proper hiking boots and proper clothing to accommodate for the cold nights, which sometimes reach below freezing. You should also remember to bring a waterproof bag and gear, swimwear, sunscreen, toilet paper, and bug repellent. Stay hydrated and keep your own pace—don’t kill yourself trying to achieve the hike in a shorter time than allotted.

Tours and Guides

If you’re independent travelers looking to save a buck and not leave your vacation fortune on a single hike (it’s incredibly pricey to hike Pico Duarte), contact the young David Durán of Jarabacoa Eco Adventures (tel. 849/917-7638). He’s one of the most reasonably priced tour guides.

Mountain landscape near Jarabacoa City, Dominican Republic. ©Aleksei Mukhanov, Dreamstime.

David grew up in Jarabacoa and knows the mountains and their hiking conditions like the back of his hand. Through his company, and working along with guests of Jarabacoa Mountain Hostel, he has guided numerous visitors to Pico Duarte and back, as well as to other peaks in the area. David takes care of all your arrangements, including transportation to the park entrance, mules, meals and water, and tents for the two-day expedition.

The journey up to Pico Duarte takes two days and one night at a minimum. If you choose to space out the hike, it will cost more—just discuss your needs with the guide beforehand. It goes without saying that you should be in good health before embarking on this journey. It’s no easy hike, and you’ll be on your feet for at least eight hours in one stretch on the first day. But the evening spent next to the bonfire and under the stars is as unforgettable as reaching the summit itself.

Rancho Baiguate (tel. 809/574-6890 or U.S. tel. 646/727-7783, US$255/3-day, 2 night pp) is the other major organizer of hikes to Pico Duarte, for hotel guests as well as anyone wishing to join their groups. They have a minimum of 2 nights, and an expedition stretching up to five days and four nights if you’d rather space it out that long.

From Cabarete, Iguana Mama (tel. 809/654-2325, 9am-5pm Mon.-Sun.) offers a three-day, two-night excursion to Pico Duarte (US$425, all-inclusive). Note you are on your own getting to Jarabacoa. You can easily reach town via public transport or a rental car.

Manabao, one of the gateway villages to Pico Duarte. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.
Manabao, one of the gateway villages to Pico Duarte. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

Getting There and Around

Most who visit Pico Duarte come through or choose Jarabacoa as their base. The latter is probably the easiest due to the number of organized tour operators; you’ll have more luck finding groups to join in high season.

The drive to the visitor center at La Ciénaga de Manabao to reach Parque Bermúdez and the hiking entrance to Pico Duarte on this side is one of the most spectacular rides surrounding Jarabacoa. It’s even more enjoyable by motorbike, if you’ve got time to spare and can spend a half day here—bathing in the Río Yaque del Norte along the way—before beginning your hike the next morning. There are overnight bunk beds at the park office, or you can inquire there for cabanas to rent (call park ranger Herman, tel. 809/271-8929, US$10 for four).

Lebawit Lily Girma

About the Author

Born in Ethiopia, Lebawit Lily Girma was nine months old when her parents moved to the West African country of Côte d’Ivoire. She has loved travel ever since: exploring cultures and learning languages on various continents, including Europe and the Americas.

After practicing law in the U.S., Lily took a leap of faith to pursue her passions: travel, writing, and photography. After a three-week visit to Belize in 2010, she was determined to return. A year later, Lily was commissioned as an in-house writer and photographer for the Belize Tourism Board for three months. She explored Belize extensively, sharing her adventures through a collection of online articles, blogs, and photo essays. Belize’s diverse cultures and people struck a chord and she returned to Belize for long-term stays while researching freelance articles on the country.

In addition to this title, Lily is the author of Moon Belize Cayes and Moon Dominican Republic, and her writing and photography have been published by CNN Travel, BBC Travel, Delta Sky, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, MorningCalm, Every Day with Rachael Ray, The Travel Channel, and AFAR, among others. She was also a major contributing writer and senior editor for the 2016-2017 edition of Destination Belize Magazine, Belize’s main tourism publication.

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