Two national parks protect much of the mountains, cloudforests and pines present in the Cordillera Central, BERMÚDEZ and RAMÍREZ, each encompassing over seven hundred square kilometres that really need to be explored on an organized trek up Pico Duarte, the highest mountain in the Caribbean. At the very least, you’ll need to check in with a ranger and be accompanied by a guide for whatever trip you take into the parks.
Once in, you’ll see no small array of flora, though the endemic Creole pine tends to proliferate. Reforested Caribbean pines have been planted in places where there was once agriculture, and scattered palm trees dot the fringes. You’ll also spot many orchids and bromeliads, along with Spanish moss and parasites known as The Count of Pines, their branches winding up the trunks of other trees and slowly strangulating them. There aren’t many large animals in the mountains – persistent rumours of wild pigs aside – but you’ll notice a number of lizards and even Coquí frogs near the summit of Duarte; the relatively rare tarantula or non-poisonous snake is also known to make an occasional appearance. There are plenty of birds, too, especially Hispaniolan parrots, hummingbirds and woodpeckers; you’ll hear a raucous population of white-tailed crows near the summit.
Signs of agriculture are visible in the small valleys along the southern half of Ramírez, though the traditional slash-and-burn farming has been banned. Local folklore has it that small bands of Tainos are still holed up in the deepest mountains waiting for the Spaniards to depart, and that the trails are haunted by ciguapas – mythical blue-skinned women with their feet back-to-front who seduce young men at night and lure them to their deaths at the bottoms of streams.Read More
Five strenuous treks lead up to 3087m Pico Duarte, which towers over the centre of the mountain range alongside its sibling peak La Pelona (“Baldy”; before 1930 they were known as Pelona Grande and Pelona Chica). The lack of fresh water on the mountain has left it uninhabited through the centuries – though Tainos once lived in the nearby Valle del Tétero – and the first recorded ascent was only in 1944.
Climbing to the very top of the Caribbean’s highest mountain holds definite cachet, and the view from the treeless peak is magnificent (though even here you can’t quite escape from it all – Duarte’s face is sculpted onto one of the rocks). If you’ve come this far, think seriously about extending your trek to include Valle del Tétero – a broad savannah with roaring mountain rivers, wild horses and Taino petroglyphs. This can be done by adding a two-day loop into the La Ciénega trek or by following one of the trails that crosses the valley on the approach to the peak. Unless you’re a seasoned trekker, you’ll do well to stick to the La Ciénega route.