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.