Sunday, August 12, 2012

Climbing Pico Duarte, highest mountain in the Caribbean

My Canadian visitors are here on honeymoon. Most people think of beaches, romance, luxury and relaxing when they think of a honeymoon. However, these two, Heather and Ian, are raving nutters. Their honeymoon so far has consisted of barrio visiting, firstly on the south coast, and then with me in the middle of nowhere. When they were travelling from the south coast to come and stay with me, they took a break – and climbed Pico Duarte.

Pico Duarte, meaning the Duarte peak, is the highest mountain in the Caribbean at 3,074 metres above sea level. I have always thought it would be lovely to climb it, but having heard what it was like, I have decided that knowing someone who has climbed it will have to suffice.

They were supposed to have their honeymoon and climb Pico Duarte last year, but due to a vicious attack of food poisoning they had to cut their trip short and fly home. Kudos to the company they booked the climb through,  Iguana Mama, who gave them a full refund when they cancelled last time, and organized the trip this time in a very professional manner. 

In order to climb Pico Duarte you need a guide, and they had two, both of whom were excellent they told me. I had heard you had mules to carry the bags and equipment, however I did not realise that the guides actually ride the mules, and the tourists walk! Apparently to say you have climbed Pico Duarte you actually need to do it on foot!

The trails are well organised, with charts and maps showing you where you are and how long it would take the average person to walk the distance. However, once again the DR excels itself as you can see when you look at this sign. Ian and Heather had just completed the 3.8 kilometres distance from Los Tablones in one hour rather than the two it said on the sign,so they expected the next bit to La Laguna, which said 2.8 kilometres in one and a half hours to take under an hour. The information was totally wrong and it was in fact 6 kilometres and took nearly 3 hours.

The total trip is 48 kilometres – 24 there and 24 back and they completed it in 2 days. The walking is however not easy. Sometimes it is on shale which can be very slippery, so good boots are essential, as are walking sticks, especially on the way down. They also had to trek through deep gullies caused by erosion, which would have been very hard if it had been raining, wading through streams.

The first day was walking up to the overnight camp, some 11 kilometres short of the summit. It was a very comfortable hut, with a kitchen, and decent bathroom. There you eat and sleep and then get up at 5 ish in the morning to get to the summit and watch the sun rise.

Unfortunately the sun is rising very early at the moment so although they saw it rise over the neighbouring mountains, by the time they got to the top of Pico Duarte it was already higher in the sky.

On the top is Mr Duarte, Juan Pablo Duarte, one of the founding fathers of the Dominican Republic and widely considered to be the architect of the country and its independence from Haitian rule in 1844. There is also the Dominican flag and a cross. The views, as you would imagine are awesome (as my Canadian friends would say), and it was also freezing cold.

Having posed for pictures taken by the guide, including the obligatory honeymoon kiss, they made their way back to the bottom of the mountain.

It was even more difficult walking down, and Heather, having knee problems, did a few spells on the mule, as she can say she walked to the top of Pico Duarte, even though she rode a little bit of the way on the way down! The guide looks a little miffed at having to walk!

A day or so before they started the climb, a Dominican had also done the climb with a guide. When they got to the top the Dominican decided to go and explore. It is said that the guide was fed up with waiting for him and left, and by the time Ian and Heather started their climb the Dominican had been missing for 4 days. Helicopters were buzzing around looking for him, and Heather and Ian came across a group of Dominican military rushing past them, guns at the ready. They assumed the lost gentleman had been found, but a few minutes later they realised that the soldiers were just rushing as it was lunch time. 

Amazingly shortly after the man was found alive and well, and was airlifted to safety.

Ian and Heather told me that they are very pleased they did it, but, like the market at Dajabon, they would not do it again. They said you need to be exceedingly fit, which counts me out, and ensure that you have an excellent guide, not one who decides to leave you if you go off for a little wander. Check the weather forecast as it would be horrid in the rain. They were so lucky to have a clear view from the top as well, as it is often cloudy. You also need the right equipment.  Hats off to them for doing it, and enabling me to learn more about this amazing country I live in.


  1. Ahh! You blew my mule cover! ;)
    So it is now 5 days later, and we are still walking with a bit of a limp...though we are now enjoying the obligatory "normal" honeymoon activities of relaxing beach and bliss!

    1. Carry on being blissful and enjoy the rest of your honeymoon!

  2. hahaha uno de los guardias tiene una foto del PLD, que chevere!!! yo soy dominicano y nunca he ido al pico duarte

  3. Brave friends you have to go to such heights on foot!!

  4. If some one is looking for highest peak i recommend them to get flights for pakistan here you can find world top peaks at very cheap cost you can make you tour.

  5. And if you don't want to climb K2 there is a tourist airflight on the weekends that will fly you around it - I've done it and it was amazing.