Pico Duarte (3087m/10128 ft) is the highest mountain in the Caribbean. More significantly, it is the centrepiece of the huge Cordillera Central Reserve of Bermudez National Park, and almost untouched by the kind of tourism that threatens to make a Disney World of other parts of the Dominican Republic. The Park is uninhabited, a pristine wilderness of clear mountain rivers, jungle forests alive with the darting colours of hummingbirds and parrots, and the most magnificent landscapes in the Caribbean. Pico Duarte itself is only one of several similar peaks, and incorporates distinct sub-tropical eco-zones ranging from coconut palms and swaying bamboo groves to humid mountain forest, mountain rainforest and cool alpine scrub and pine.
Of the five routes to Pico Duarte, all are strenuous hikes of between 3 to 6 days and 46 to 108 km (28 to 67 mi). The most popular starts 25 km (13 mi) south west of Jarabacoa, from the village of La Cienaga where you have to register for the 46 km (28 mi) round trip, and hire a guide and mule (the mule is all but mandatory - if only as insurance for porterage and safety). Early in the morning, you follow the bubbling rivers up into the wild woodlands, serenaded by Mourning Doves. The dense forest thins, and gaps in the canopy reveal more and more of Hispaniola's fabled, translucent beauty.
By nightfall you reach a ramshackle cabin called La Comparticion, where the trails meet and hiking parties prepare for the pre-dawn scramble up the last 5 km (3 mi), through scented pines and open meadows, to greet the sunrise from the bare, rocky summit. On a clear day with the clouds flushed pink below you, with the emerald forest and blue sea sharp contrasts in the distance, Pico Duarte's rugged antiquity fully justifies its mythic status in the Caribbean imagination. A magical trek.
WHEN TO GO
Year-round - but never without a waterproof coat, winter clothing, a sleeping bag and hiking boots.
Traversing distinct climate zones almost guarantees unstable weather at any time of year.
TIME IT TAKES
3 days, 46 km (28 mi) round trip (La Cienaga); 5 days, 90 km (56 mi) (Mata Grande); 6 days, 86 km (53 mi) (Los Corralitos); 6 days, 96 km (59 mi) (Sabaneta); 6 days, 108 km (67 mi) (Las Lagunas).
Climbing the highest mountain in North America, east of the Mississippi.
The variety and numbers of birds - including trogons, hispaniolan parrots, palm chats, woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks. and zumbador hummingbirds.
Riding mules (you can hire as many as you want: the rule of thumb is one guide and one mule for every five hikers).
YOU SHOULD KNOW
With one or two extra mules, even small children can enjoy trekking on and around Pica Duarte. Some have been known to sleep happily while strapped to a mule on a 9-degree gradient.