Still amazed that it has only just been over a week since I got back from the Dominican Republic. I can’t make my mind up about how I feel. It kind of feels like I’ve been back for ages, as nothing has changed, or that it was just a dream. That said, it also feels like yesterday we were sat by the pool bar with a bunch of our new friends, drinking cocktails and playing Uno. It’s so surreal. I absolutely love travelling but coming back home and integrating back into normality is a very odd experience. I’ve spent this past week and a bit suffering from a mixture of food poisoning and jet lag, whilst trying to search for a job to cover me just for the next six weeks, realising that I’m flying out to Tanzania on my next big adventure! I’ll admit, I’m addicted to searching for cheap flights and holidays. You’d think I’d be fine now that I’ve just got back, and I’m going away again soon! Nope, travelling is addictive. There is so much more of the world to see and whilst I’m still young, I want to explore it!
Back to the Dominican Republic…
Mentioned in my previous post, myself and Edmond decided it would be a good idea to climb Mount Isabel de Torres, 793m high, whilst in Dominican Republic to be adventurous and, I suppose, give myself some training before climbing Kilimanjaro in a few weeks time. I did a little research beforehand to check it was doable and how much it would cost if we got a guide to take us up. Most reviews of the trail on TripAdvisor said the route was clearly marked out by red paint and is easy enough to follow, however they would suggest paying for a guide simply for some information and the more tricky bits. Of course it is much safer if you’re with someone who knows where they are going and apparently it would cost around 800 pesos per person (around £15) so it seemed worth it.
The mountain is easy enough to find. As you head into Puerto Plata, you see it straight away. Mount Isabel de Torres is the third tallest mountain in the Dominican Republic and it one of the main tourist attractions in Puerto Plata so most tour operators offer excursions or add-ons to city tours. We chose to get a taxi from our hotel for a $40 return. All taxi prices are set and the drivers will either wait for you or pick up at a set time so it was the easiest way to do things on our own. Our taxi driver was lovely and happy to chat with us about the mountain and dropped us off at the door at the base. By door, I mean the entrance to the cable car or Teleférico.
The Teleférico is the easiest option to reach the peak of the mountain. It is also, as it seemed, the cheaper option too which is why it attracts tourists and locals everyday between the hours of _ and 5pm. Originally built to increase tourism into the city, it’s doors opened to the public in 1975 to allow everyone to ascend the mountain to see the Christ the Redeemer statue, being a very Christian country. It costs about 400 peso each for a return at any time ticket and there is one every 15 minutes, so it is the very simple and easy way of getting to the top. As I’ve said, stupidly we didn’t take this option.
Walking up the Isabel de Torres Trail
When you arrive at the main door, it’s likely that you’ll be greeted by someone who will show you the way. They will try take you to the cable car and offer you a guide, of course if you go that way and don’t want a guide just say no and you can wander around at the top yourself, instead we explained to him that we wanted to walk up the trail. I wasn’t entirely sure he understood what I was saying but eventually he understood and began telling us the price of a guide. Starting price was $75!!! There was no way I was paying that. Thinking back to it, I probably overreacted as he was giving us a price for two. Even so, I wasn’t willing to pay that much at all. I tried negotiating saying we know people who have done it for 800 pesos each. But they wouldn’t have it. In the end, because we were desperate to do it since we’d come all that way, I think we paid around £20-25 each. It does seem a bit ridiculous when you can go up in the cable car for much less but I was putting it down to training and luckily we had enough money. Those who are better at haggling than I am could probably get them lower but either way, off we went.
Route of the Trail:
The route begins at the foot of the mountain, towards the back of the car park. When we were there, there was a small fair ground and the entrance to the trail was over by the left hand side. As far as I know, the fair is there all year round. It starts off easy enough. It’s a bit slippery going over a small empty creek but it dries up as the path gets grassy with rubble. It’s a straightforward path which crosses over a baseball field and continues up, basically following the route of the cable car. It does get steeper all of a sudden but if you take it slowly and pace yourself, it’s easy enough. Unfortunately for us, our guide overestimated our fitness and went full speed ahead which had me really struggling about half an hour in. I couldn’t give up so I drank a bit of water and slowed down. He’d just have to wait for me. About an hour in, it got much easier as the route took us down hill and more into the jungle. It was much cooler and a well needed break from the steepness. The path can get quite narrow at times and then, just when we think the rest of the walk is going to be quite leisurely, we found ourselves physically crawling and pulling ourselves up using branches and vines, hopelessly avoiding the nettles. Some of it was quite fun but when the path ended and we had to climb across a huge pile of rocks, which were incredibly unstable, I feared for my life. Our guide managed it with ease and Edmond, with his long legs, was just about alright. I, on the other hand, struggled to reach any kind of stability and came out with quite a few nettle stings. It became quite a bit of a climb, after our rep at the hotel told us it wouldn’t require actual rock climbing and that we could do it in trainers, but eventually we came out at a road. A road was a heavenly sight after clambering through the jungle but it quickly became a hill from hell. For the final half an hour, we walked up what is the steepest hill I have ever seen. By this point, I’d run out of water and everything was hurting. Luckily I think the guide noticed I was struggling and so we took a few minutes break every ten or so minutes. It was definitely needed. Finally, we reached the top!
Mount Isabel de Torres Peak:
Reaching the top was an amazing experience after what we had achieved. All I wanted to do was collapse, perhaps go get a drink from the cafe before checking everything out. As usual though, our guide was all for rushing us around and took us to a shop owner who took our typical tourist photos. I was so knackered and pleased that I had accomplished the mountain that I couldn’t say no and stood there whilst I had my photo taken. Photos finished and of course he wanted to show us his shop, and we didn’t want to buy anything. So our guide took us around all the shops. Still didn’t want to buy anything. We just wanted a drink. Unlucky, in some ways, for us, it started raining for all the shop owners were keen for us to browse whilst it rained. We were keen to stand out in the rain though. After climbing a mountain when it was around 30 degrees, I needed something that refreshing. With in ten minutes the rain cleared up and all clouds disappeared to reveal some astonishing views.
At the top of the mountain there is of course the great Christ the Redeemer statue, as the main attraction, some gorgeous botanical gardens, a small paddling pool which is always being refurbished, and somewhere there is a small cave. Our guide appeared to be in a rush and no matter how much we tried to tell him, he was ready to take us back down. It did get to the point where I did feel uncomfortable following him around when I would have preferred to have explored a little more at the top. That said, I was also too knackered to do argue with him and try understand his mediocre English. My Spanish isn’t quite good enough yet to have explained what we actually wanted to do. Anyway, he showed us towards the cable car to go down and explained that we would have to pay 200 peso each. We knew about that so that was ok.
The cable car was an experience in itself. There were no other English speakers on board but they were kind enough to let me get to the front with my camera. It takes a matter of minutes to reach the bottom yet it doesn’t appear to go to fast. Changing over cables to be lowered it always amusing though because no matter who is in the cable car with you, everyone always woos on the jolts.
Tips if you plan to do the walk:
- Take plenty of bug spray with 50% deet!
- Wear long trousers as you will get dirty!
- I would advise getting a guide but haggle with them based on everyone together!
- Ask for knowledge about the mountain.
- One 2L bottle of water is just about enough but take something sugary as well.
- Take it slow from the beginning.
- Take hand sanitiser for the top.
- If you don’t want to buy anything, avoid the dome at the top and say so straight away.
- Go in the morning to avoid cloudy afternoons. If there is clouds when you get to the top, be patient and ours clear up after the rain.
And main tip would to be to go on your own in the cable car!
It was a great experience and I definitely feel more confident about Kilimanjaro now than I did but I wouldn’t do it again. It really does seem like it’s worth the money and I felt rushed the whole way. Many other reviews have said they basically paid for the information they got from the guide whereas we only found out he had 5 children. Nothing of relevance to the mountain or the area. I suppose that can just be based on which guide you get and you won’t know until you’ve paid and set off. I’d definitely recommend going doing the cable car and having a wander around the trail at the top. It takes approximately 2 hours to have had a good look with a food and drink break. I would love to go back and see more of it when I am less knackered. That’s if I go back to the Dominican Republic. Maybe one day. At the moment there are other places I really want to go to, especially since I’ve done Dom Rep eight times since I was born now.
Until my next Dominican Republic post…Adios!
– KC xx
Photo cred: Edmond Denning(except for the GoPro one).