MONTE CRISTI has the feel of the mythic Wild West, a dusty frontier town bearing the occasional tarnished remnant of its opulent past along wide, American-style boulevards that the sand incessantly tries to reclaim. Among the very oldest European cities in the New World, it was founded in 1501 and became one of the country’s most important ports in the eighteenth century, when it shipped out vast quantities of mahogany. The next century saw the port, like Puerto Plata to the east, benefit greatly from the tobacco boom, but its prosperity came to an abrupt end during the era of Trujillo, who shut down its shipping in retribution for local resistance to his rule. The town has never fully recovered, and the only industry of note comes from the large Morton saltpans – rectangular pools of the salty local water that are filled from a canal and then harvested by allowing the water to evaporate – just north and south of the city, which supply much of North America’s table salt.

Most people use Monte Cristi as a base from which to explore the local beaches and the Parque Nacional Monte Cristi. The latter protects a towering mesa named El Morro, an enormous river delta region with a wildlife-filled mangrove coast and a series of seven tiny sandy islets, encircled by coral, where sea turtles and migratory seabirds lay their eggs.

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