Climbing Mount Isabela de Torres is a challenge that some can’t resist. Iguana Mama (t 571-0908, w www.iguanamama.com), an adventure outfit based in Cabarete, runs twice-weekly (Mon & Fri) hiking excursions to the top that take off from Puerto Plata (US$88); you then take the cable car back down. If you want to make the trek on your own, there’s a well-marked path on the opposite side of the mountain, starting at the pueblo El Cupey. Head east on the C-5 to the junction of the Carretera Turística and turn right. Just beyond the intersection is a marked dirt road leading to the pueblo – an isolated outpost tucked between two mountains. It has few facilities, though a couple of local farmers rent out horses and guides for the ascent. The Isabela hike is an arduous 4hr trek up the 820m mountain through a canopy of rainforest; start early to maximise your chance of a clear view from the summit. If lucky you may catch sight of the endangered Hispaniola parrot or the red-tailed hawk. There’s also a small system of Taino caves with petroglyphs near the summit, an hour’s hike west off the main path. Look for a guide in El Cupey if you want to see them.
Another great hike from the town is the trail that leads away from Mount Isabela up to the Río Camú and La Cueva del Gallo, an underground river cave several hundred metres long that traverses the side of the mountain to the south of El Cupey. Just 3km from the pueblo, it’s a less rugged hike than the Isabela trek and can be done in half a day.