Worth a Trip: Islas Beata & Alto Velo
Islas Beata and Alto Velo are end-of-the-world spots, difficult to access but seductive because of their remoteness. They're challenging for independent travelers to visit, and can be enjoyed more fully by taking a tour.
Isla Beata, once home to a prison for political dissidents under the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the 1950s, is now jointly managed by the military and the Parque Nacional Jaragua. The small fishing village of Trudille sits directly on Playa Blanca, a 40km-long white-sand beach full of iguanas. The prison was destroyed after Trujillo’s assassination, but you can still visit the ruins.
Isla Alto Velo is a smaller, uninhabited island 1½ hours south of Isla Beata. It’s the southernmost point in the DR. Windswept and covered in bird droppings (from the swarms of seagulls that live there), the island has a lighthouse at its highest point (250m). It’s a two-hour (5km) return walk to the lighthouse, with amazing views along the way. There’s no beach, though.
The best way to visit the islands is to take a tour with Ecotour Barahona, which offers a day trip to Isla Beata (US$140 per person, minimum six), with the option of adding a night in Las Cuevas, and trips to Alto Velo on a private basis.
Worth a Trip: Larimar Mine
All larimar in the DR – and, indeed, the world – comes from this one mine. The mineral was discovered in 1974 by Miguel Méndez, who named it after his daughter, Larissa, adding mar (sea). Its scientific name is blue pectolite.
The mining operations are carried out not by a large company but by a collective of individual miners. You can visit the mines and even go down some of the shafts. A small group of basic shacks sells cut-rate larimar jewelry, and a few no-name eateries sell food and drink to the miners.
To get there, look for the turnoff in the hamlet of El Arroyo, 13km south of Barahona (3km north of Bahoruco). There’s no specific sign, but there's a European Commission sign referring to the mine. It’s an hour’s drive on a rough road (4WD absolutely required). Ecotour Barahona offers a tour here (US$119).
Twelve kilometers west of Barahona is the town of Cabral and the turnoff south for nearby Polo. About 11km south of the turnoff you’ll encounter a famous mirage. Put your car in neutral, let go of the brake and watch your car get ‘pulled’ uphill. The effect is best between the towns of El Lechoso and La Cueva, and it works on a smaller scale, too: if you get out of the car and put a water bottle on the road, it will also show a mysterious desire to climb uphill. The effect is known as a 'gravity hill,' an optical illusion caused by the slope's shape and its relation to the surrounding landscape.