The birthplace of the dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, San Cristóbal is 25 km west of Santo Domingo. Most of the sites of interest are related to his involvement with the town. He was on his way to San Cristóbal to visit a mistress when he was gunned down. Both of Trujillo's homes are now in ruins but can be visited. The Casa de Caoba was looted and stripped bare after the dictator's death, but still gives an idea of the building's former opulence, when it was lined with mahogany. Take the turning off the dual carriageway from Santo Domingo signed to La Toma de San Cristóbal, bypassing the city. Turn right after the purple PLD office and then stop just after the water tank on your left. The 1-km road up to the house is on your left, but a sturdy 4WD is required - it is better to walk. A caretaker will let you in and show you around for a tip. The Palacio del Cerro was another luxury residence on top of a hill with a tremendous view. The Palacio is run down, although there are more decorative features than at the Casa de Caoba, including a grand marble staircase, a gold and silver mosaic-tiled bathroom and a heliport on the roof. From the Parque Central follow the Baní road, Av Luperón, and turn left at the Isla petrol station. The house is guarded by the military, for a tip someone will show you around.
From San Cristóbal the road runs west through sugar cane country to Baní. Baní is the birthplace of Máximo Gómez, the 19th-century fighter for the liberation of Cuba. The Casa de Máximo Gómez is a museum with a mural in his memory, set in a shady plaza within walking distance of the main Parque Duarte, the centre of the town and a pleasant spot. The small house is at the back of a pretty park marked by a bust of the hero at the entrance and flags flying at either side. There is a great deal on his biography, as well as general history of the period, photos and old documents, but no personal belongings.
Barahona is a comparatively young town, founded in 1802 by the Haitian leader, Toussaint Louverture, when he was briefly in control of the whole of Hispaniola. Its economy initially rested on the export to Europe of precious woods, for example mahogany. In the 20th century the sugar industry took over. The large sugar mill at the northern end of town is surrounded by the shanty town district of Batey Central and is currently closed pending privatization negotiations. The main attractions of this rather run-down grid-system town revolve around the seafront Malecón where most hotels and restaurants are to be found. The Parque Central, five blocks up, is the commercial hub of the town and a pleasant spot to sit (although tourists are liable to be pestered). The small, public beach at Barahona frequently has stinging jelly fish. It is also filthy, as is the sea, and theft is common. The best beach near town is called El Cayoand is reached by passing the sugar mill and surrounding slums and doubling back on to the sandy peninsula with palms.Beaches south of Barahona
Those with a car can visit remote beaches from Barahona (public transport is limited to públicos). The coast road south of Barahona, runs through some of the most beautiful scenery in the Republic, mountains on one side, the sea on the other, leading to Pedernales on the Haitian border (146 km). All along the southern coast are many white-sand beaches with some of the best snorkelling in the Republic. The first place is the pebble beach of El Quemaito, where the river comes out of the beach, the cold freshwater mixing with the warm sea; offshore is a reef.
Pedernales is the most westerly town of the Republic, on the Haitian border. This is a major crossing point for migrant Haitian workers who come over to work in the sugar cane plantations and in construction. There is no immigration office so in theory only Haitians may enter Haiti here. However, this prohibition is frequently flouted, as border guards are willing to turn a blind eye in return for a small sum. It is advised, however, that you make yourself known at the Anse-à-Pitres police station on the Haitian side and that you return within a few hours. If there is a change of personnel at the border station, you may find yourself paying another 'tip'. There is no road link, but the crossing can be done on foot if the stream that divides the countries is not too high, or you can hire a motoconcho. Every Friday there is an informal market in the no man's land at the border crossing, where Haitians sell cheap counterfeit clothing brands, smuggled spirits and a vast array of plastic kitchenware.Parque Nacional Jaragua
Parque Nacional Jaragua is the largest of the Dominican Republic's national parks. This area of subtropical dry forest and inhospitable prickly scrub also contains a marine zone, in which lie the uninhabited islands of Beata and Alto Velo. The vegetation is largely cactus and other desert plants, but there are also mahogany, frangipani and extensive mangroves. Of particular interest is the Laguna Oviedo at the eastern end of the park, which is easily accessible from Oviedo. Here there are the country's largest population of flamingos as well as herons, terns, spoonbills and frigate birds. Animals include the Ricord iguana, the rhinoceros iguana and several species of bat. The lagoon is reached via the National Park office just outside Oviedo where an entrance permit must be bought. Turn right on a rough track after the office to reach a hut, where the park official, Señor Blanco, offers a highly recommended boat trip around the lake. He is a knowledgeable guide (Spanish only), who will point out birds and iguanas and will take visitors to inspect a couple of Taíno cave sites with pictograms.
Near the Haitian border, is the 200 sq km Lago Enriquillo, whose waters, 30 m below sea level, are three times saltier than the sea. Once linked to the bay of Port-au-Prince and the Bahía de Neiba, the lake was cut off from the sea by tectonic movements some million years ago and the surrounding beaches and the islands are rich in ancient seashells and coral fragments. Wildlife includes about 500 American crocodiles, iguanas and flamingos. Three islands in the lake, together with the lake and surrounding shoreline, make up the Parque Nacional Isla Cabritos. There are usually one or two boats waiting to take parties over, which leave when full. Isla Cabritos is a flat expanse of parched sand, with cactus and other desert vegetation. It is extremely hot and oppressive around midday (temperatures have been known to rise to 50°C) and visitors are recommended to arrive as early as possible and to take water and precautions against sunburn. This barren island is home to the rhinoceros iguana and the Ricord iguana, both of which have become quite tame, even aggressive, and approach boat parties in search of treats. The two smaller islands are Barbarita and La Islita.Jimaní
Jimaní, at the western end of the lake (not on the shore), is about 2 km from the Haitian border. The space in between is a no man's land of rocky terrain crossed by an extremely hot road, which fortunately has a constant coming and going of guaguas and motoconchos. Jimaní is an authorized crossing point for foreigners in general (as is Dajabón) and it is possible to leave the Dominican Republic here and cross into Haiti . Customs officers in Jimaní are not above taking items from your luggage. The immigration office closes at 1800 (or before). There is a semi-permanent market in the no man's land, in which Haitian merchants display vast quantities of mostly shoddy and/or counterfeit goods, Barbancourt rum and perfumes. Jimaní itself is a spread-out town of single-storey housing which swelters in temperatures of up to 50°C.
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