BarahonaWhy choose Barahona?
The DR's tourist destination with the greatest biodiversity, the Barahona-Pedernales area of the country is the final frontier for local tourism development. These days, domestic travelers and international nature connoisseurs are the most frequent visitors. The striking natural attractions of this region are incomparable. It boasts the largest lake in the Caribbean, a spectacular panoramic highway with vistas along the coast, a mountain parador that overlooks a remarkable chasm, scorchingly hot, dry forests that lie not far from cooler highland pine tree forests, as well as being one of the most significant fruit-producing areas in the country.
What else is nearby?
Popular stops on the way to Barahona or back to Santo Domingo are Baní and San Cristóbal. Stop over in Baní to purchase Dominican sweets on the highway, visit the museum of Cuban national hero Máximo Gómez, or the Salinas dunes and windsurfing area. San Cristóbal is home to the Pomier Caves, the most important in the Caribbean.
Port of entry/How to get there?
Small private planes or chartered flights into the city's Maria Montez International Airport are available but people generally travel to Barahona by land. It is an approximate three-hour drive from Santo Domingo, the capital city, mainly along a very good highway.
- Las Caritas. This archaeological site is located on the north side of Enriquillo Lake. If you drive past on a weekend, there may be tour buses or cars parked on the road to indicate the site of the carvings in the rocks on the side of the cliff. There is a trail that leads to smiling and sad faces etched into history. Visitors to the Enriquillo Lake area should stock up on water, as this is an area of extreme high temperatures and strong sunlight, even by Caribbean standards.
- Enriquillo Lake. The largest in the Caribbean, this lake covers an area of approximately 102 square miles (265 square kilometers). The lake also marks the Caribbean's lowest point, a remarkable 40 meters below sea level. The name Enriquillo honors the first successful insurgent against the Spanish conquistadors. The high salt content of this inland phenomenon has created a barren, seemingly lifeless environment that is inhospitable to humans, but ideal for the basking American crocodiles, friendly iguanas and graceful pink flamingos.
A trip around Lake Enriquillo all the way to Jimaní (on the Dominican border with Haiti) and then returning back eastbound on the southside will bring travelers past the impressive salt and gypsum mines at La Salina. Start out early and set aside a full day for touring the lake and its environs.
- Cabritos Island. Visitors to Enriquillo Lake have the option of visiting this 7.5-mile (12-kilometer) islet that is home to hundreds of reptiles. Arrive early in the day to book the seven-kilometer tour to Cabritos and view the iguanas, crocodiles and flamingos before the blazing sun takes over. The guides will ensure that the crocodiles come close enough to your boat for you to peer into their eyes. Expect the excursion to take at least two hours, including a quick hike across the island.
- Polo and the Magnetic Hill. Cool off on the way back to the city of Barahona by heading south on the Cabral-Polo Panoramic Highway. Sightseers will marvel at its Polo Magnético, where parked cars seem to travel backwards up the hill on their own without any human assistance. Polo is located amid the forests of the Bahoruco mountain range, home to some of the country's best coffee plantations.
- Barahona. The region's main city and provincial capital, Barahona is a port situated at the end of a magnificent horseshoe-shaped bay that is framed by rugged mountains. Because of its salt and gypsum mines and numerous discos, Barahona is known as the town “that works hard and plays hard.”
- Barahona-Enriquillo Coastal Highway. This is perhaps the most splendidly scenic highway in the Caribbean, exceptional in its views of a multi-colored sea, untamed stretches of dense forest, sparkling rivers and towering green mountains. Visitors to this area are few and the simple ways of traditional village life may be glimpsed along the route. Wave to the residents and they will smilingly wave back. It's a lush landscape of brilliant greens, complemented by millions of graceful yellow butterflies and the melodies of innumerable birds.
- Jaragua National Park. Named in honor of an Indian chieftain, this park extends over 854 square miles (1,374 square kilometers) and includes several miles of some of the best Caribbean beaches, as well as the small islands of Alto Velo and Beata. This area is reached after the town of Enriquillo, when the highway takes a gradual turn to the west as it goes inland. Discover the ecological marvels this park has to offer by journeying a little further into the country's southwestern corner to the province of Pedernales. One of the Caribbean's best areas for bird-watching is found here at the Oviedo Lagoon.
- Pelempito Drop (Hoyo de Pelempito). Marvel at how flowering cacti and dry forests along the highway from Oviedo to Pedernales are replaced in less than half an hour with tropical pine forests when turning north inland into the Bahoruco Mountain Range, with its heights of more than 6,500 feet (2,000+ meters). The rest stop built by the government is situated at a height of 3,845 feet (1,165 meters) with an observatory that features several mountain trails. The natural depression, bordered by heights of up to 5,940 feet (1,800 meters), entails a 2,300-foot (700-meters) drop. Temperatures here range from 32°F (0°C) in the morning to 77°F or 25°C at noon.
- Bahia de las Aguilas. Accessed primarily by boat or by jetting down an angular road aboard a rugged 4 SUV vehicle, this area is in striking contrast to the abundant greenery of the Bahoruco Mountain Range although both are located within the same Jaragua National Park. The protected beach of Bahia de las Aguilas dazzles visitors with its crystal-clear waters. There are no palm trees on these white sands, where turtles nestle by limpid waters and a dry forest, showcasing the flora and fauna that existed even before the Spanish settlers arrived. It is part of the Jaragua-Bahoruco-Enriquillo Biosphere Reserve that was added to UNESCO's World Network of Biosphere Reserves in November 2002.
- Pedernales. This small provincial town has only the most basic accommodations, but its small restaurants serve freshly-caught lobsters.
Beaches along the Barahona-Enriquillo coastal highway include the pebble beaches of Quemaito and San Rafael, with its natural pools that are filled by a tumbling mountain spring. Next is Paraiso, an aptly named “paradise” of intense turquoise waters in a calm and crystalline bay. There are spectacular views to be had upon approaching the small town of Enriquillo and its rough-watered beach, where a small cemetery overlooks three shades of blue seawater. Cabo Rojo is a lovely white-sanded beach en-route to Pedernales, just one kilometer before Bahía de las Aguilas.
The city of Barahona is the provincial capital and along with Azua and Bani is one of the main urban centers in the southwest region. Barahona has a population of 66,000.
Guided bird watching expedition packages are available. One such company offering these is www.todytours.com Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel. (809) 686-0882.
There are also a number of tour operators providing tours to both Lago Enriquillo and Bahia de las Aguilas.
Small hotels readily abound and are easily accessible from this highway that heads south from the city of Barahona. Check out Villa Miriam, a private home that charges a small fee for admission to its pools set amidst river cascades and lush vegetation beween San Rafael and Paraiso.
Restaurants and nightlife outside the hotel
Given the active nature of this destination, not much should be expected from the night time activities that are limited to the discos that play Latin and Dominican music and the beer bars in the cities of Barahona and Pedernales. The larger hotels may offer some entertainment, but for the most part restaurant dining and quiet mingling to restore forces for the next day are in order.
While Barahona is a busy city, it has yet to awaken to the tourist trade, and thus its shops still primarily only cater to local needs.
The sea off the coast of Pedernales is considered one of the best scuba-diving sites in the Caribbean.