Tucked away in the farthest southeastern reaches of the Vega Real, COTUÍ is the archetypal cow town – friendly and laid back, full of rice-processing factories and produce-laden trucks. The few visitors who make it here come for the beautiful surrounding countryside, especially Presa Hatillo, the largest dam in the Caribbean, and its peaceful reservoir that sits amid layers of rolling hills. There are also a couple of impressive Taino caves nearby that are definitely worth a special trip. To get to the dam, take Calle Sánchez 3km from the Parque Central to the police station, turn left and continue for a further 9km. There’s a hiking trail that leads along the edge of the lake, or you can go instead to Cotuí Piscina (daily 9.30am–5.30pm; RD$50), an Olympic-sized swimming pool at the entrance to the dam, fed by lake water and with a small restaurant/bar on the premises.

There are two major Taino caves in the area, one accessible only by water and the other by land. They’re very tricky to find so you’ll need to ask around for a reliable guide. If you’re intent on seeing a cave on your own, the only one you can get to is Guacara Sanabe. From Cotuí, head west to La Mata de Cotuí and turn left at the Farmacia Candileja. Turn right at the end of the road, then left at the small rectangular water tank and left again at pueblo Hernando Alonso. This takes you to the lakeside, where you can hire one of the farmers to escort you the rest of the way by foot (about 8km round trip) for RD$500. Inside the cave (bring a torch) you’ll find a plethora of stunning rock art: highlights include a variety of animals, men sliding down poles, two cave guardians at the back entrance and a couple of frightening depictions of Taino priest masks on the ceiling. The small piles of ground seashells that you’ll find scattered about were used to create the hallucinogenic powders that the Taino priests inhaled during cave rituals.