Adventure comes in many forms in the Dominican Republic, from swimming with dolphins to the monkey jungle and ziplines. However, if you want an experience beyond the typical touristy, Disney-like attractions, then you’ll find tours designed and led by locals can offer an even bigger adrenaline rush, along with an insider view of one of the Caribbean’s most popular destinations.
Hang on while I take you on my full-day, Top 3in1 Adventure, with Camel Safari Exploring — it’s one adrenaline rush after another!
Hiking to the Top of Damajagua Falls
One thing I love about going to all-inclusive resorts is that everything is handled by somebody else — not me. Once my sister, Irene, and I, signed up for the Top 3in1 Adventure, all we had to do was show up by 9 am at the front desk with our gear and get on the bus.
The first part of the Camel Safari Exploring adventure, one I looked forward to with petrified-excited anticipation, was hiking through the tropical jungle to the 12th of the 27 Damajagua Falls. Over the millennia, the Damajagua River has gushed through the foothills of the Cordillera Septentrional mountain range to form what’s known locally as the 27 Charcos (or pools).
While locals enjoyed the location for centuries, tourists didn’t really discover it until 1994. A decade later, with the help of Peace Corps volunteers, international donor agencies, and the Secretary of the Environment in the Dominican, the experience we know today started to come together. That included training for the guides along with facilities for visitors.
But back to the hike, which was hot and steep, and thankfully, on a wooden staircase most of the way.
It isn’t a hike to take if you’re out-of-shape or have breathing problems, nor is it for children under eight. Luckily, there are two rest breaks with benches along the way. And, we’d been given bottled water to take along since I definitely worked up a thirst.
Sliding Down Damajagua Falls
While I’d done a lot of research before signing up for the Camel Safari Exploring adventure, because to be honest, I’m not much of a swimmer even in a lifejacket (which everyone is required to wear along with water shoes), I had no idea what to expect.
Not that I likely would have been prepared anyway. The first falls aren’t ones you can slide down. Nope. You have to jump!
Luckily, there really isn’t time to think about it. Stand in line. Move ahead. Look over the edge. Take a breath. Jump or the guide will help you out with that (okay, they don’t really push you, but you’re going over).
Before you can blink, you’re in water way deeper than the end of any North American waterslide can prepare you for! The good thing is you know you’re going to surface — the bad thing is that it seems to take forever.
And so began the series of waterfalls. Most you really could treat like a waterslide. Just remember the slide is solid rock that has been polished by bzillions of gallons of water rushing over it, so it’s fast, and the sides are hard. Luckily for me, I realized knowing how to fall off my snowmobile without banging my elbows or scuffing my helmet was a transferable skill. No injuries for this girl!
While the water level varies according the time of year and the amount of recent rainfall, the river that makes its way through the canyon can definitely be way over your head in places. So, thank goodness, when my half-hearted attempts to swim were too slow, the amazing guides (and some of the other participants) helped me out by being my water taxis and towing me to the next slide.
Time For a Break on the Camel Safari Exploring Adventure!
Luckily, it was just a short walk back to the bus after finishing the series of waterfalls. I was ready for a rest — and the lunch that came next.
Lunch on the Camel Safari Exploring adventure featured a number of things I’d come to expect in the Dominican Republic. The featured meat was chicken, here it was nicely seasoned and served with onions. Like Asia, rice is a staple food and served with every meal. It was topped off with coleslaw and a variety of cooked vegetables including something I’d never eaten cooked before, but really enjoyed — yuca.
Cassava, more commonly known by the Arawak name yuca, one of the most ancient ingredients in Dominican cooking, is used in dozens of different dishes. However, it’s not the same plant as yucca, a beautiful flowering plant that grows in dry areas of the United States. There, the yucca root has been used for everything from osteoarthritis and high cholesterol to migraines and diabetes.
After lunch, we went through a gift shop of local specialties, such as the traditional Mama Juana liquor made from rum, red wine and honey along with a mixture of herbs originally used by native Taino Indians. It’s considered to be a natural remedy for body aches and pains, as well as an aphrodisiac!
We also had time to watch local crafters hand-making cigars. Indeed, tobacco is considered the Dominican’s oldest crop, since it was first cultivated by the Taino Indians before Columbus arrived. Today, they export both tobacco and some of the world’s most popular hand-made cigars.
Horseback Riding at Rancho Los Cacaos
The next adventure on our Camel Safari Exploring list was horseback riding at Ranch Los Cacaos. The ranch is just 20 minutes away from the city of Puerto Plata and only 10 minutes from the Amber Cove Cruise Ships Terminal on the North Coast of the Dominican Republic. While my sister and I grew up on an appaloosa horse ranch (she was even Canada’s Appaloosa Queen!), it had been a number of years since we’d ridden.
As I’d expected, the island horses were somewhat smaller than riding horses at home, more like ponies. The horses that had come to the island with Christopher Columbus in 1493 had been a mixture of three breeds: Berber, Jennet, and Andalusian. Over the years, other breeds had also been introduced, creating an interesting breed of horse. My horse, named Diablo, was strong, sure-footed, and obedient!
Getting on a horse is often the toughest thing after years of not doing it. However, the guides at Rancho Los Cacaos had thought of everything and had a box to step onto. Swinging a leg over a pony’s saddle from that height was real easy.
Trail Ride in the Mountains
Anyway, once everyone was mounted it was out of the pasture and up the mountain we went. Diablo didn’t need any encouraging to follow the dirt road until we hit a section that was still muddy from the previous day’s rain. Then, he needed a few words.
As we turned a corner, I could see why he’d balked. It was steep. Really steep! I leaned forward in the saddle as Diablo picked his way between rocks and rutted hoofprints without slipping. Ahead, the guide waited as we all made it around the bend and onto an easier stretch.
I quickly got used to Diablo’s easy gait, enjoying the rich green foliage of the trees around us and the comforting clip-clop of hooves behind us. It was a peaceful place with nothing to distract me from the beauty of the natural landscape little different from what Diablo’s ancestors would have trod some five-and-a-half centuries earlier.
When we reached the plateau that marked the beginning of our descent down the mountain, we paused for group photos. And then, we started winding down the mountain, eventually coming a lookout over the ranch and the highway beside it, and our return to modern life.
Driving Buggies Adventure at Park Los Cacaos
With our return to modern life, came our return to a more modern form of transportation at the park/ranch on the Camel Safari Exploring adventure. While Dominicans might call all-terrain-vehicles (ATVs) and side-by-sides (UTVs) buggies, where I’m from in Saskatchewan a buggy is more likely to be pulled by a horse. However, I’ve also ridden in dune buggies or beach buggies, which are somewhat similar, so I guess that’s where the name comes from.
At any rate, I hopped into the driver’s seat of my Polaris 800 side-by-side. Motorized fun was something I already loved!
We headed out along a dirt road, getting a feel for how the machines handled. I’ll have to admit mine had more power than I’d expected, but I guessed we’d need it for some of the steeper climbs. While we went the opposite direction to the horseback riding adventure, it didn’t take long before we started up the mountains again.
Of course, by that point most of the drivers were getting pretty comfortable with the side-by-sides, so we were kicking up a little dust. As we hit a straight piece of road, I glanced over at my sister and happened to catch sight of the view over the edge.
Yikes! It was a good thing I was driving, not looking that direction or my heart might have been racing from fear rather than excitement.
Rolling Hills and Agriculture
My favorite part of the drive was through the pastures and local landscapes of grazing cattle and little farmyards. Our guides even had to stop and open a few gates to let us through.
And the speed, well we were zipping right along past farms with the wind in our…helmets, which are required.
While you can take the girl from the farm, you can’t take the farm from the girl, and I found it fascinating to be exploring so much of the agricultural landscape. Agriculture is important in the Dominican, both for local consumption and export. Where we were, farm animals grazed peacefully despite our noisy intrusion. Indeed the Dominican produces a lot of chicken, pork, and beef, along with eggs and milk.
Once we left the farmland behind, it was back to dirt trails and kicking up some more dust on our way back to Los Cacaos to end the adventure.
Camel Safari Top 3in1 Tour
The tour we took included all three adventure experiences, however, you can book them individually and only take those you feel comfortable with. We particularly enjoyed the variety, and while I’m the speedy one with the motorized thrills, Irene’s the swimmer and beach lover so the water was more her thing. Since we’d both ridden horses back on the ranch, that was just a shared trip down memory lane for both of us.
Camel Safari Exploring – https://www.puertoplata-adventuresafaritours.com/
I received one free admission to participate in the Camel Safari Exploring Top 3in1 Tour, and split the cost of the second with my sister. It was an amazing day of experiences that neither of us would have missed (even without the freebie) on our Dominican adventures!
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About the Photos
The photo in the header at the top was taken on the Buggie adventure on our Top 3in1 Adventure, with Camel Safari Exploring. All photos in this article, except where otherwise noted, were taken by DS Filmaciones.
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