Hiking Pico Duarte in the Dominican Alps: Conquering the Tallest Mountain in the Caribbean

pico duarte hike

Hiking Pico Duarte in the Dominican Republic is often overlooked by tourists who visit the island and are usually more interested in the tropical country’s more conventional attractions: white sand, crystal clear beaches, coconut palm trees, and pina coladas. And while we proudly have lots of those scenes scattered throughout our coastlines, they’re just a little piece of our very diverse topography. The Dominican Republic is also home to deserts, fertile valleys, dense rain forests, low-lying lakes, rivers, caves, waterfalls, and even generous mountainous regions such as the Dominican Alps. Moreover, the cool, pine-green studded Dominican Alps are home to the tallest mountain in the Caribbean: el Pico Duarte.

For nature lovers interested in a more holistic experience of the Dominican Republic (in addition to its tropical appeal) consider a hiking trip to Pico Duarte. Being able to reach the top of Pico Duarte is a national sense of pride for many Dominicans, and we welcome you to join us on the special journey.

Where is Pico Duarte? What Are the Dominican Alps?

The Dominican AlpsThe Dominican Republic is home to a significant amount of mountain ranges. The most well-known is the Cordillera Central range which stretches across the “heart” of the Dominican Republic for hundreds of miles, extending into Haiti. Because of it’s cooler climate, green valleys, and mountainous tall peaks, the Cordillera Central is referred to as the Dominican Alps. Jose Armando Bermudez National Park is located in this range and is home to the prestigious and magnificent Pico Duarte, soaring at over 3,000 meters (10,000+ feet) in altitude.

Bonus: Among many other treasures, the Dominican Alps are also home to the two most cherished mountain towns among local Dominicans: Constanza and Jarabacoa.

Getting to Pico Duarte: How to Get There & Which Trail to Hike

According to locals, there are at least 5 known hiking routes that lead to Pico Duarte. The most popular one is La Ciénaga which usually takes 3 days and is 23.1 kilometers of hiking. This is also the quickest and most paved trail. 

To get to La Cienaga, you travel to the town of Manabao located 30 minutes from Jarabacoa. In Manabao is an official park entrance (pictured above) where hikers begin the trail. Here you will also find the park’s office where you can hire local expert guides and rent hiking equipment.

This Cienaga route also gives you the fastest access to Valle de Tetero, a beautiful natural valley on the Yaque del Sur River. Many often skip Pico Duarte and instead go to Valle de Tetero to camp and relax. Valle de Tetero is on the way to Pico Duarte until a certain point (El Cruce at 1,500 meters high) where you stop advancing upwards in altitude and instead proceed horizontally for about 5 hours.

The other routes include Mata Grande, Sabaneta, Las Lagunas, and Los Corralitos. As of yet, no official information can definitively say with 100% accuracy how long these hikes are and what they compose of. There seem to be no government reports providing factual information. Most of it is word of mouth. But they all seem to range from 40 to 108 kilometers and 3 to 7+ days hiking. These websites have differing numbers and information about the other four routes: RJM125, Accion Verde, Viajar RD, Pico Duarte RD, and Kiskeya Alternative

How to Prepare for Pico Duarte & What to Pack

The number one regret most Pico Duarte hikers expressed (during and after this hike) was wishing they had prepared better for. Do not slack off on this. Here are some important ways to prepare and pack:

Try to Physically Train/Prepare Your Body for Pico Duarte
If you don’t work out much, try to warm up your body for the hike. Here are some ways to work out before a big hike by REI. Remember to stretch in the mornings before each hiking day. In the evenings, give your legs massages at night before going to bed to lessen muscle soreness the next day. And remember to stay hydrated to further avoid leg cramping.

Pack the Right Hiking Gear for Pico Duarte
Investing in proper hiking gear for this trip is critical. I cannot stress this enough. Here is the bare minimum gear to pack for Pico Duarte:

  • Hiking boots – The best investment I made was getting the right hiking boots for my particular feet.
  • Wool socks – Perfect for absorbing moisture, letting your feet breath, and keeping you warm. This is also great for your feet to avoid getting blisters.
  • Light backpack for you to have on the trail to carry your water, snacks and phone (in addition to the backpack that goes on the mule which you will only access again at the camping site)
  • Hiking sticks/poles (CRITICAL!)
  • Tent (unless your tour organizer provides it)
  • Tarp (for rainy nights or you will wake up cold and wet)
  • Sleeping bag
  • Gloves (it gets cold)
  • Hiking jacket
  • Layers 
  • Warm blanket or sleeping bag liner (it can get COLD)
  • Support from the ground such as a mat (to provide coverage from the cold floor)
  • Thermo for hot tea/coffee and water refilling
  • Water cleaning tablets if you want. We drank from the springs and no one got sick.

Pack the Right Food to Bring for Pico Duarte
If you go with a tour group, your tour organizers should provide all the food you need for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Talk to them beforehand to make sure you guys are on the same page about every meal and what they’ll provide. But in addition to this, bring your own snacks such as nuts, dried fruits, and energy bars. Make sure you’ll get enough complex carbs, protein, and overall nutrition.

Pack Emergency Medication and Supplements
In addition to things you personally require, just in case, pack the following medication: altitude sickness medicine, common cold medicine, antihistamines, asthma pump, muscle relaxers, blood thinners, painkillers, melatonin for sleep, anti-diarrhea medicine, antibiotics, and vitamins. Here are some more ideas.

Pay for the right Pico Duarte tour guides and their mules.
Read the following section below for full details.

Pico Duarte Tours & Guides

There are several tour organizers ready to help you hike Pico Duarte, however, they are mostly contracted by third-party organizers who take a big cut from what you’re paying. 

Be Careful Who You Choose
We went up Pico Duarte with a lady called Jenny Suriel (she often goes by Suriel) who charged us a very small price and offered us the world. And well… she didn’t deliver. We basically got what we paid for. She lied to us constantly, didn’t know the route so she couldn’t give us much trail information to prepare for, and she skipped our breakfast, lunch and on the second day tried to skip dinner! This a big no-no, especially for a such a physically demanding experience. We ended up having to scold and reprimand her during the trip. Turned out that she didn’t bring enough food and she was underpaying the local guides! Not OK. Make sure you communicate all your expectations with your tour guide. 

Custom Tailored + Local
Due to the high demand from travelers requesting my assistance, I’m working with local guides to provide a personalized Pico Duarte package tour starting at $250.00/per person includes:

  • Confirming and organizing of all of your meals (including hearty Dominican meals such as sancocho, asopao, and mangu)
  • Translations
  • A detailed itinerary of the trip/hiking tour package
  • Tour guide(s)
  • Cargo/emergency mule(s)
  • Equipment rental such as tents
  • General Pico Duarte trip consultation

You just show up and the guides will take care of the rest. Through this method, the local guides are paid fair wages.

If interested in this service, click here for our Pico Duarte Tours or contact me at +1(347)960-3437 or [email protected] 

Avoid the Gringo Packages
The $500/per person tour packages on the internet are a total robbery and basically, hire these same local guides to do all the work but pay them a sliver. And there is no such thing as a “VIP” experience up the mountain. That’s also a tourist-aimed marketing scheme. I met the “VIP” travelers, they hiked, ate, and slept the same way everyone else did.

Pay For the Get Extra Mules
Your tour guide should also provide you with mules in your tour package. MULES are a MUST. They saved our behinds in ways I can’t express. Have enough mules to carry your things and extra mules to ride, in case you are hit with exhaustion which is almost inevitable during this very LONG hike.

Communicate your Needs Ahead of Time!
Make sure you communicate the exact itinerary and your sleeping/meal expectations. Like everywhere else, non-Americans have a different culture of communication and expectations. So when it comes to business, do not assume that they will predict what you consider your “basic” needs. For food, you must communicate exactly what type of food you expect and when ahead of time. This is pivotal!

The Trail Experience: What to Expect When Hiking Pico Duarte for 3 days

The following information that I am providing is GOLD. I couldn’t find this timeline anywhere and the uncertainty of time sense/distance length was frustrating for us at times. So save/write the following information down for when you’re hiking Pico Duarte! A lot of the information online and in person about the distance is contradicting, so I’m going by what the signs I saw on the actual trail in 2018 said.

HIKING DAY 1

We spend the night in Santiago and at the crack of dawn drove to Manabao. It was so dark and foggy as we drove through a cliff that at times many of us screamed during the drive. We arrived at the hiking base sleep-deprived and already exhausted. I strongly suggest hikers spend the night in Jarabacoa to get a full night’s sleep. Jarabacoa is also a cute mountain town with lots to do!

Manabao/Cienaga (base)
Upon arriving at Manabao, travelers will meet their guides, fill their water bottles from the natural spring all around the base, use the bathrooms, and pack their belongings onto the mules which are sent ahead. From here we began our 3-day round-trip journey to Pico Duarte, passing the following marked “stops” along the way:

Los Tablones
Manabao/Cienaga base offices to Los Tablones is 4.2km. 
The hike begins smoothly with beautiful river streams along the way. The hardest part is a little bit of mud here and there. We almost thought “this is a piece of cake!” that’s until we hit…

Alto la Cottora
Los Tablones to Alto de la Cotorra is 3.8 km.
Here is where the stair master fun begins. But only briefly. The trail is mostly flat even though we were slowly hiking upwards in altitude. The real challenge of this hike was how long it took to get to each breakpoint. On this first day, we hiked for 10 hours. Imagine walking up a mountain for 10 hours with little break time? And now imagine every break you take is extra time you’re adding how long it will take you to finish.

The first day is the longest and the hardest. But it’s literally almost all downhill from there. Make sure you get proper sleep and a good breakfast for this day. For less experienced hikers, you might want to split this hike into 4 days so that you can divide the first day in half.

La Laguna
Alto la Cotorra to La Laguna is 1.7 km.
This was the first real stopping point with a wooden but wall-less cabin where many gathered to take their medicine and eat lunch/snacks. Here hikers can refill their water bottles by the spring-water hose (pictured above). By this point, we’d hiked 9.6 kilometers. No one could tell us how much time or distance was left. They just knew that we were barely halfway there. This is the point where we knew we’d gotten ourselves into something that was starting to feel endless. So I caved and asked to take a break on a mule. By seeing me, the skinniest person hopping on a mule others decided it wasn’t a shameful admission and joined. I don’t know why people think skinny equals fit.

El Cruce
La Laguna to El Cruce is 0.6km.
El Cruce is where hikers interested in Valle de Tetero will veer off from. From this point on I would get on and off the mule to switch it up and take breaks or share it with others. And then the mule would get dangerously close to a cliff and we would all hilariously find the energy to start walking again.

Aguita Fria
El Cruce to Aguita Fria is 3 km.
Here in Aguita Fria is where you can really start to see a whole different topography and ambience. It’s a beautiful mountain valley with olive-green pastures, skinny pine trees, and a cold river stream that runs through the area giving it its name. The area is imbued with foggy clouds and tall patches of grass that make it all look almost eerie.

This flatter patch of land is also where helicopters can land in the case of emergencies. 

Descanso Alto de la Vela (2,680 mts)
Aguita fria to Descanso Alto de la Vela is 2.0 km.
On this cliff-side walk, the trail is littered with palm-sized rocks. It’s only a 2.7 kilometers hike but the uneven ground can slow you down, especially if you have weaker ankles. However, this path also offers some of the most scenic mountain views of the entire hike. 

La Comparticion
Aguita Fria to Comparticion is 4km.
This is the official camping site where all hikers come together from the same Manabao/Cienaga trail. Here you’ll find a large and shared cabin for sleeping and camping fire “stoves.” At the bottom beyond some bushes is a river where campers can bath. However, the water is freezing ice cold– which some argued would be good for muscle soreness. I think it definitely helped my muscles but at the cost of waking up the next day with a sore throat and runny nose. I would avoid the cold water and just use wet wipes or a wet rag with warmed water to “bath” yourself.

At night we all ate homemade asopao (Dominican stew), drank some wine, and were so exhausted we fell asleep pretty early.

HIKING DAY 2

La Comparticion
Waking up to a second day of hiking.The next morning, we were woken up by the screeches of our tour guide rushing us like a wailing banshee. I limped out of my tent, my muscles extremely sore, to see the sunrise over the mountains. Even the muscles on my arms hurt from using the hiking poles. But after moving around I was able to continue going. I couldn’t believe how adaptable the human body can be! We had some oatmeal and did some stretching before starting the last leg of our hike up the rest of the mountain approximately 5 hours to Pico Duarte.

Valle de Lilis (2,950 mts)
Comparticion to Valle de Lilis is 3.8km.
valle de lilis pico duarte break fireThis is the first stop on the last leg up to Pico Duarte and the coldest. I saw some travellers from other 7+ day long trails popping out of the woods and converging with us here. The area from here on up is covered with pine trees and other plants normally found in North America or other chillier regions of the world. By a fireplace, I saw a girl shaking from what seemed like hypothermia. She was covered with aluminium/plastic foil with a doctor hugging her for warmth and had to be sent back down. Other folks much younger and older than us seemed fine and full of stamina. As it began to drizzle, we took out our umbrellas sat there munching on snacks, hydrating, and waiting for the others before finally reaching…

!! Pico Duarte !! (3,087 mts)
Valles de Lilis to Pico Duarte is 1.2-1.8 km.
top of pico duarteReaching the top of this mountain was emotional for us. The only experienced hiker was Carolina (far right). The rest of us rarely hike or go camping so for us to reach the top filled us with an almost out-of-this-world sense of accomplishment. The views from above (first featured image credit to trekearth) were completed covered in a cloud so we were not able to see the mountain views. The irony is that all my life I’ve wanted to physically walk into and above a cloud. So when I got to the top and had nothing to see but white clouds; I couldn’t help but laugh!

Up here we saw some pretty unique plants that I’d never seen before like the one pictured below. If you love plant biology and studying nature, bring a local biologist of nature-specialist with you for a more informational guided hike!

pico duarte plantsWe spent the rest of the day relaxing by the campsite in La Comparticion meeting other travellers and sharing stories. The following night was extremely cold. Some of us even woke up with head colds because on top of the cold climate, it was also wet and rainy. It is critical that you pack for the cold and possibly rainy weather.

HIKING DAY 3

We ended up leaving our inefficient tour guide and took one the guides and two mules down with us. This was my favorite day of the hike because it was peaceful at our own pace. Another thing you should ensure with your guides is that you communicate time milestones and pace otherwise you may either feel rushed or like you’re always waiting for others. We hiked/rode down from La Comparticion to Manabao this day and it was a piece of cake compared to the first day. The weather was also sunnier and warmer.

From Manabao our guide linked us with his friend who drove us back to Jarabacoa.

Final Thoughts on Pico Duarte

hiking pico duarteReaching the top of Pico Duarte was a special and long-time goal of mine. As someone with an autoimmune disease where my body is constantly limiting itself, I wanted to be able to feel and prove to myself that I could do this, even if it required some personalized adjustments. I pushed my limits (carefully and without hurting myself) in gratifying ways while strengthening my endurance and finding out more about myself, my body, and one of my ancestral lands. I look back at the hike with pride and sense of accomplishment.

Would I do it again? Yes, but with the right tour guides!

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26 thoughts on “Hiking Pico Duarte in the Dominican Alps: Conquering the Tallest Mountain in the Caribbean

  1. cassie says:

    You had me completely hooked for the entire read. I loved your narration and honesty. Wow. I really, really want to go and do this. But isn’t it a shame your guide couldn’t have been better. I’m sorry. We’ve had similarly crap guides around the world. I’m glad you left her.

  2. Jane says:

    I enjoyed reading this! I’m getting ready to do some serious trekking so it’s nice to read about both the good and the not so good!

  3. Jane says:

    I enjoyed reading this! I’m getting ready to do some serious trekking so it’s nice to read about both the good and the not so good!

  4. Isaac A. says:

    This climb sounds awesome. Congrats on surviving it, and with an autoimmune disease too that sounds like a lot! The scenery of the mountains looks awesome. Reminds me of scenery I get in my head whenever I read some high fantasy books like The Hobbit or Lord of The Rings. Great shots Isabelle!

    • Isabelle says:

      Thank you! It wasn’t easy. But preparation was EVERYTHING! Also, those mules were like angels. I highly recommend people with disabilities invest in their own emergency back up mule!

  5. Eli says:

    Thank you for the informative post. I’m going to Pico Duarte in July and contacted one of the local guides you recommended. Hoping for a July 9th start. Wish me luck!

      • ELI says:

        Thanks Isabelle. The hike was amazing and definitely recommending to everyone I meet now. Thanks again for all the info. I ended up talking to Gendry and Victor (they’re brothers!) and using Gendry as a guide because of how responsive he was on WhatsApp.

        We did Pico Duarte and Valle de Tetero on the way back, all in a 4 day trip.

        If I had to do it again I would probably be more hands-on about the food. I brought snacks and let the guide make all culinary decisions for meals and realized after seeing other groups’ food that he was not the best at this. Let’s just say I had enough bowls of empty rice 🙂

        • Isabelle says:

          Yes! They’re brothers 🙂 How was Gendry’s services?

          Sorry to hear about the food. I went ahead and told him about providing ample amounts of hearty meals going forward. They’re new to doing it directly without a middleman so they’re still learning. Usually, it’s the middleman that takes care of the food/rentals. He says he understands now. I think you were his first direct client! Any other suggestions please let me know so I can tell him, he says he wants to improve!

          Thank you for the feedback! <3

  6. Helena Shipman says:

    Hi Isabelle, thank you for your post, which was really informative and so interesting to read. We are coming to DR in January 2018 and would love to do this hike. I have a couple of questions about logistics – is there anywhere to leave your main luggage in Manabao or Jarabacoa? We are coming to DR for 2.5 weeks, so we might have more stuff than is practical to bring on a hike. Also, is it possible to rent hiking poles etc locally? And finally, if there are only 2 of us, do you still recommend speaking to one of the guides you suggested? Thank you in advance!

    • ELI says:

      Helena, will let Isabelle answer as she knows more but I just got back from a 4 day hike which was only me and my friend and we had the same questions:

      1) We used ones of the guides listed here for the trip and all worked well. Recommend being very clear with guide about what meals would looks like and make sure they include more than just empty carbs.

      2) We had extra luggage and we left it with the main guard at the main park office at base camp. Our guide recommend we do so and that it would be safe and all was there when we got back. Don’t want to overgeneralize but our experience with that worked out well.

      • Helena says:

        Thanks so much Eli! That’s really helpful. Would you mind telling me how much it cost you both all together? Isabelle’s post says she paid $130 per day for her guide, but I wondered if that includes mules/food etc.

    • Isabelle says:

      I might be able to connect you with some other people doing these types of trips. Can you message me on FB? @dominicanabroad so that I can tag all those accounts for you? Will update this article when I’m back with the additional resources.

  7. Kristen T. says:

    We went through Isabelle last week and it was an incredible experience. The Dominican food was DELICIOUS (and hearty) and our guides were so kind and sweet and helpful. We don’t speak Spanish so it was great having Isabelle plan everything for us in detail including the transfer to and from our Jarabacoa hotel. The total cost was $250 per person + $40 for the car ride transfer (divided by the 4 of us) and $50/night for the hotel. Book ahead of time since our first choice hotel was sold out!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Very helpful and informative information. I climbed Pico Duarte few years ago. It took me 17 hours. It was an unforgettable experience. Thanks

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