Hiking Pico Duarte in the Dominican Republic is often overlooked by tourists who are usually more informed about our tropical country’s conventional attractions: white sand beaches, coconut palm trees, and piña coladas. And while we proudly have lots of those scenes throughout our coastlines, they’re just a tiny piece of our richly diverse topography.
The Dominican Republic is also home to deserts, rainforests, hypersaline lakes, open water caves, waterfalls, and even cold mountainous regions such as the Dominican Alps. Yes, you read that right, cold! And our pine-tree-studded. These Dominican Alps are home to the tallest mountain in the Caribbean: El Pico Duarte.
For nature lovers interested in a richer experience of the Dominican Republic (in addition to its tropical appeal) consider a hiking tour trip to Pico Duarte. Being able to reach the top of the Caribbean at el Pico Duarte is a national sense of pride for many Dominicans, and we welcome you to join us on this special journey.
I. Where is Pico Duarte? What Are the Dominican Alps?
The 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 the country of Haiti.
Because of its cooler climate, green valleys, and mountainous tall peaks, the Cordillera Central is often 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.
Among many other treasures, the Dominican Alps are also home to two cute mountain towns, highly cherished by local Dominicans: Constanza and Jarabacoa. Read our complete guide on traveling to Jarabacoa & things to do in Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic.
II. Where to Sleep the Night Before Your Pico Duarte Hike
You should stay at one of the following places:
- If your guide allows this, you may sleep at the camp base in a tent in the park the night before your big hike. For free!
- Otherwise, I recommend staying at Hotel Gran Jimenoa. This stunning hotel sits by the Jimenoa River with free breakfast included. I absolutely love this hotel.
- For a cheaper option, consider Jarabacoa Mountain Hostel.
III. Getting to Pico Duarte: How to Get There & Which Trail to Hike
According to the region’s locals, there are at least 5 known hiking routes that lead to Pico Duarte. The most popular one is La Ciénaga which usually takes 2-3 days and is about 23 kilometers of hiking. This is also the quickest and thus the more trotted trail.
To get to La Cienaga, you travel to the town of Manabao located 45 minutes driving from Jarabacoa. In Manabao there is an official park entrance (pictured above) where hikers begin the trail. Here you will also find the park’s office where you must pay to enter with a local park licensed guide.
If you choose this route, know that the guides do not speak English, and you must bring all things with you for this hike including food, hiking equipment, etc beforehand. Otherwise, you can do it through an organized Pico Duarte hiking tour like this one.
This Cienaga route also gives you the fastest access to Valle de Tetero, a beautiful natural valley on the Yaque del Sur River. Many local Dominicans 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 comprise of.
There seem to be no government reports providing factual information for other routes. Most of it is intuitive word of mouth from the local community. But they all seem to range from 40 to 108 kilometers and 3 to 14+ days hiking.
IV. How to Prepare for Pico Duarte & What to Pack
Table of Contents
Physically Warm-Up & Prepare Your Body for Hiking Pico Duarte
If you don’t work out much, try to train your body for the hike at least a few weeks before with some leg strengthening, cardio, and stretches. Here are some ways to warm up and 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. If you’re on a tighter budget, my hiking mates bought these lightweight hiking boots for $50 and loved them, too!
- Wool socks: These alpaca wool socks are perfect for absorbing moisture, letting your feet breathe, AND keeping you warm. They are also great for your feet to avoid getting blisters.
- Backpack: Get a light day backpack like this one for you to have on the trail to carry your water, snacks, and phone (in addition to the travel backpack that goes on the mule which you will only access again at the camping site because the mules often take different routes)
- Hiking sticks/poles (CRITICAL!): I used these hiking sticks/poles (pictured above), which are affordable yet high quality.
- Tent (your tour organizer should provide this)
- Tarp: Make sure your tour organizer provides this. It’s important for rainy nights or you will wake up cold and wet.
- Sleeping bag
- Gloves (it gets cold)
- Hiking jacket
- An ultra-compact drone like this one for epic photos
- 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. But 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 some medicine for altitude sickness medicine, common cold, allergies, asthma, muscle relaxers, blood thinners, painkillers, anti-diarrhea, antibiotics, and vitamins. Ya never know! Here are some more ideas.
Pay for the Right Pico Duarte Tour Guides and Enough Mules
Read the following section below for full details.
V. Choosing Your Pico Duarte Hiking Tour & Guide
There are several tour organizers ready to help you hike Pico Duarte, however, they are mostly third-party organizers who take a big cut from what you’re paying and then pay the local community guides less than $20 a day!!! Yikes.
Be Careful Who You Choose to Hike Up el Pico Duarte – A Personal Story
We went up Pico Duarte with someone who charged us a tiny price and offered us the world. And well… they didn’t deliver. We basically got what we paid for.
The lady lied to us constantly, didn’t know the route so she couldn’t give us much trail information to prepare for. She also skipped our breakfast, lunch and on the second day tried to skip dinner!
This a big no-no, especially for such a physically demanding experience. We ended up having to scold and reprimand her during the trip. Turned out that she didn’t even bring enough food and she was severely underpaying the local camp guides! Not OK.
Make sure you go with someone who provides clear information to you ahead of time or that you clearly communicate all your expectations with your tour organizer ahead of time.
Consider the Custom Tailored + Local Pico Duarte Tour
Due to the high demand from travelers requesting my assistance from this article, we’ve begun working in collaboration with the local park-permitted guides. Together we’re providing a Pico Duarte hiking tour package including:
- Park-mandated local tour guide
- All of your meals (including hearty Dominican meals such as sancocho, asopao, and mangu)
- English/Spanish translations ahead of time
- A detailed itinerary of the trip so you have clarity beforehand (nothing like walking endlessly with no clue as to how much longer you have left).
- A detailed packing list
- Cargo/emergency mule
- Equipment rentals such as tents, hiking sticks, and sleeping bags
- FREE camping accommodation at the park base the night before
You just show up and the guides will take care of the rest. Through this method, the local guides are paid fair wages. And you don’t have to buy/bring heavy or bulky equipment like we did.
If interested in this service, click here for our Pico Duarte Tours.
Be Weary of the “VIP” Packages
Many of the $1,000/per person tour packages on the internet basically hire these same local guides to do all the work but pay them a sliver (less than $20 a day). And there is no such thing as a “VIP” route 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 must provide you with mules in your tour package. MULES are a MUST and required by park regulations. They saved our behinds in ways I can’t express. Especially when that terrible tour organizer wasn’t feeding us.
You will need enough mules to carry your things and extra mules to ride, in case you are hit with exhaustion or an injury.
Communicate Your Needs Ahead of Time!
Make sure you communicate your sleeping/meal expectations and that you know the exact itinerary. Like everywhere else, different countries have different cultures/ways of communicating and expressing 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!
VI. The Trail Experience: What to Expect When Hiking Pico Duarte
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 this Dominican Republic hike is contradicting, so I am providing the information by what the signs I saw on the actual trail said.
DAY 1 of Pico Duarte Hike
We spent 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 had many of us screaming during the drive. We arrived at the hiking base sleep-deprived and already exhausted.
I STRONGLY suggest hikers spend the night in Jarabacoa (or in the camp base) to get a full night’s sleep before your hike. Jarabacoa is also a cute mountain town with lots to do! I recommend staying at Hotel Gran Jimenoa.
1. Starting Point: Manabao/Cienaga Base Camp
Upon arriving at Manabao, travelers will meet the local 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.
2. Los Tablones
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!”
- Distance: 4.2 km from Base Camp to Los Tablones
3. Alto la Cottora
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. Or yanno, get proper sleep and quality tour organizers!
- Distance: 3.8 km from Los Tablones to Alto de la Cotorra
4. La Laguna (1.7km)
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.
- Distance: 1.7 km Alto la Cotorra to La Laguna.
5. El Cruce
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.
- Distance: 0.6 km La Laguna to El Cruce.
6. Aguita Fria
Here in Aguita Fria is where you can really start to see a whole different topography and ambiance. 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.
- Distance: 3 km El Cruce to Aguita Fria
7. Descanso Alto de la Vela
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.
- Distance: 2.0 km from Aguita Fria to Descanso Alto de la Vela
- Altitude: 2,680 meters
8. Sleeping in Comparticion
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), shared some wine, and were so exhausted we fell asleep pretty early.
- Distance: 4 km from Aguita Fria to Comparticion
DAY 2: Pico Duarte Hike
9. Waking Up in Comparticion
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.
10. Valle de Lilis
This is the first stop on the last leg up to Pico Duarte and the coldest. I saw some travelers 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 around the world.
By a fireplace, I saw a girl shaking from what seemed like some sort of hypothermia? She was covered with aluminum/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.
- Distance: 3.8 km from Comparticion to Valle de Lilis
- Altitude: 2,950 meters
11. Pico Duarte!
Reaching the top of this mountain was emotional for us. Most of us these days rarely hike or go camping, living sedentary industrial lifestyles. Especially in big cities. So for us to reach the top, filled us with an almost out-of-this-world sense of accomplishment.
The views from above were completely 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 smile!
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 or nature specialist with you for a more informational guided hike!
We spent the rest of the day relaxing by the campsite in La Comparticion meeting other travelers 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.
- Distance: 1.2-1.8 km from Valle de Lilis to Pico Duarte
- Altitude: 3,087 meters
12. Resting + Second Night in Comparticion
We were back in the camp base by lunchtime. It was nice to sit around with others and relax by the campfire. At this point, more experienced hikers will walk all the way back down to Manabao and go home. Most people, however, rest up and do the walk back the next day.
DAY 3: Pico Duarte Hike
We ended up leaving our inefficient tour organizer and took one of the local guides and two mules down with us. This was my favorite day of the hike because it was peaceful at our own pace. In fact, when we left that tour organizer, the skies cleared up and a rainbow appeared above us.
Ensure that your tour organizer communicates time milestones and pace with you ahead of time, otherwise you may either feel rushed or like you’re always waiting for others.
We hiked 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.
VII. Final Thoughts on Hiking Pico Duarte
Reaching 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 a sense of accomplishment.
Would I do it again? Yes, but with the right tour guides!
VIII. Read Our Other Dominican Republic Guides
We have several other Dominican Republic travel and culture guides.