The first time I set eyes on the cliffs of El Morro de Monte Cristi it was an awe-inspiring experience and the secluded beach that lay tucked 800 feet below the towering limestone mesa was just as mezmerizing.
I had made my way from the bustling streets of San Fernando de Monte Cristi, located in the north-western most tip of the Dominican Republic, approximately two hours west of Puerto Plata to discover this area untouched by the Domincan Republic’s tourist economy.
The History of Monte Cristi
Founded in 1533, the Province of Monte Criste (also written as Montecristi) was once an important trading port between the Caribbean and Europe. The city, inaugurated in 1822, was the historic setting for the Manifesto of Montecristi, the official document of the Revolutionary Party in Cuba. The manifesto was written and signed by José Marti at the San Fernando de Monte Cristi home of General Maximo Gomez on March 25, 1895.
Today, the small city of approximately 25,000 is best known for its farming, fishing and, more popularly, for its surrounding beauty.
Exploring Monte Cristi National Park
Stretching from the Haitian border to Punta Rucia, Monte Cristi National Park encompasses salt flats, sub-tropical dry forests, lush lagoons and a spectacular and rugged coastline.
It is here, beyond the city limits, that I discovered El Morro de Monte Cristi. Far removed from the bustle of the nation’s tourism, the beach was filled by a constant procession of Dominicans descending along the steep, natural path leading down to the beach.
The sounds of music emanated from the beach, echoing off of the majestic cliff backdrop. Family picnics were the theme of the day, as well as swimming in the channel that runs between the beach and nearby Isla Cabrita, known by diviing enthusiasts for its nearby colonial-era shipwrecks.
A Secluded, Local Paradise
On a sunny day, the limestone cliffs, salt flats and golden sands come to life in a brilliant glow and, on a typical weekday, you may be lucky enough to be the only soul on earth enjoying the area.
The biggest decision will be whether you are energetic enough to climb the man-made stairs to El Morro’s lookout, or whether to descend along the rocky path more traveled down to the sandy shores of its beach.
Easy Daytrip or Stay for the Weekend
For all its beauty and seclusion, the region’s supporting services are equally secluded. Monte Cristi is one of the few remaining treasures still far removed from the nation’s mainstream tourist map. While planning for development in the region has been bantered around for years, Monte Cristi remains primarily a domestic attraction.
The city of San Fernando de Monte Cristi is a typical Dominican town, which may seem a little rough around the edges to some tourists. However, for the adventurous, Hotel Chic is about the best accommodation in town. Closer to El Morro, along the salt flats, Hotel Cayo Arena is a waterfront property with quite decent accommodations.
But I would recommend El Morro as a full day trip from either Puerto Plata or Santiago via rented car, passing through the city centre to indulge in the beauty of its outskirts.
As part of the cultural experience, Monte Cristi is known for its Chivo Picante, a stewed goat dish prepared with oregano, garlic, green bell peppers, onions, tomato sauce and much more. The traditional fare can be had for under $10 at roadside venues along the salt flats, including Parada Kiara and El Oasis de Viajero.
As an alternative, the fishing-oriented region offers plenty of fresh seafood and ice cold Presidente beer as well, served at many of the same roadside “paradas” that feature chivo.
For those with less culinary curiosity, a picnic lunch on El Morro is as relaxing as it gets.
Five Places to Explore in Puerto Plata
The 16th-century city of Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic is the perfect spot for travellers looking for a bit more than lounging on the beach. Get a bird's eye view of the city from the top of Mount Isabel de Torres, explore a historic fort at Fortaleza San Felipe and visit the many historical monuments in Puerto Plata's colourful downtown.