Destination: Barahona, Dominican Republic
My two days stay in the Barahona area only allows for one full day trip. According to my research, playa de las Aguilas is one of the most outstanding beaches in the country, the Laguna Oviedo is famous for its enormous biodiversity, the Larimar mines are the only place on the planet where one can find the semi-precious Larimar stone while the biosphere reserve Cachote offers world-class views and is home to around 45 endemic birds. While it is not easy to put all these options aside, I decide to take my 4×4 to La Descubierta, a little town close to Lago Enriquillo from where I will get on a boat and visit Isla Cabritas. I am in for a long day!
It is 08.15 am when I leave Juan Estaban, 10 miles south of Barahona. The first town I look out for is Cabral. My journey continues south of Laguna del Rincon to El Albanico. I take the road to Neiba where the scenery starts to improve dramatically and continues to do so after I take the turn that leads me straight to Lago Enriquillo. Nearby the town Villa Jaragua I get my first glimpse of the lake. Along the road, I see fishermen cleaning the Tilapia (fish) they caught on the lake while taking advantage of a fast running irrigation channel alongside the road. Lago Enriquillo, which is situated 42 meters below sea level, is the only saltwater lake in the world inhabited by crocodiles. The lake is not only the largest in the Caribbean, it is also one of few “island lakes” on the planet that features its own separate island, Isla Cabritas with a surface of about 25 square kilometres. Isla Cabritos or “Goat Island” thanks its name to a long history of goat farming on the island dating back to at least 1785.
The best time for an excursion around the lake and to the island is around 7 or 8 o’clock in the morning. This would require a stay in a basic hotel in La Descubierta. Arriving from Barahona automatically means that the changes to see the American crocodile are minimal. Due to the extraordinary amount of precipitation in the mountains, the water level of the lake has risen. The crocodiles have been forced to seek higher grounds and are harder to spot, especially later in the day when they seek shelter from the burning sun.
The excursion to the Isla Cabritos costs around $100 USD for a group of maximum 15 persons. I am the only one there and since I made it so far, I decide to spend the money. I ask one of the employees at the lake entrance to call the number of the Asociacion de Guias Ecoturisticos del Lago Enriquillo and arrange for a guide to take me to Isla Cabritas. Within about an hour I am on my way to Isla Cabritas with my guides Adenaurys and Evi. The wind stirs up the waves on the lake and causes the ride to be rather bumpy though it is still is a lot of fun. The final approach to the island is spectaculair as tallest branches of the trees and bushes that “drowned” as a result of the rising waterlevel stick out of the water. The island itself looks like a desert, no wonder since the average rainfall here is the lowest of the Dominican Republic. The large Iguana de Ricord and Iguana Rinoceronte, which, do not live elsewhere in the Dominican Republic, are roaming around freely and are not excessively shy. Adenaurys shows me various endemic species including an incredible variety of cactus and takes me to the small visitor centre that provides all the essential information (in Spanish) about the lake and the island. Although I would have enjoyed seeing the American Crocodile or a large colony of Flamingo’s, I enjoy every minute of my visit and take lots of interesting pictures that will serve as a reminder of a unique experience. Before returning to Barahona I pass by the village La Descubierta where I come across an amazing green oasis resulting from a subterranean river in the centre of the village. I also stop at the site of a Taino cave featuring the famous “Caritas” stone carvings, which you can reach by climbing the steep stairs. The view over the lake is nice bonus. Other nearby attractions are the natural sulphur pool and the town Malpasse close to the border with Haiti. Instead of taking the same road back, I decide to take the slightly dull road that takes me from Neiba via El Saldado and El Palmar to Barahona. It is almost 7 o’clock when I arrive at Hotel Casa Bonita.
Although I generally prefer to drive and find my own way around, I do feel that a daytrip from Barahona to Lago Enriquillo could be more relaxing by joining a professionally organised excursion. The next time I am going to Lago Enriquillo I will plan an excursion with the people from ECO Tours with whom I met. They work together with the Asociacion de Guias Ecoturisticos del Lago Enriquillo and their excursions are very complete.