Jarabacoa (här əˈbə kō ə) is a small mountain town in the Dominican Republic with a population of about 70,000. It’s far (both in distance and in experience) from the many popular beach resorts that foreigners like to visit for tropical vacations and honeymoons. But a trip to the Caribbean without visiting this town is incomplete.
Jarabacoa is in the heart of the Caribbean, and just like you don’t really know someone until you get to know them on a heart level, you don’t really know the Caribbean until you’ve experienced what life is like in it’s center.
At first sight, the city is a hidden paradise; tucked into the central mountain range, it’s surrounded on all sides by natural beauty. Many locals and visitors alike enjoy hiking and biking on mountain trails, and others enjoy camping on the peaks and enjoying the view from the top of mountains such as El Mogote.
After a long day climbing mountains, many people enjoy going to one of the two major rivers that mark the borders of the town for a gíra; to swim and cook sancocho (stew) over a fire. The rivers are also a popular place to go white-water rafting or kayaking or to catch freshwater crabs.
Others prefer to stay in the mountains, where many Dominicans have built homes and restaurants in a neighborhood called “jamaca de dios” or “God’s hammock” because it’s such a peaceful and beautiful place. The saying around town goes, “God is everywhere, but He sleeps in Jarabacoa.” A favorite mountainside restaurant is Aroma de la Montaña (named after the characteristic scent of Caribbean mountain air), where many people enjoy having dinner and a glass of wine on the open-air balcony overlooking the town.
In town, people enjoy many Dominican past-times, including dancing to salsa, merengue and bachata, playing Dominoes, shooting pool and playing Baseball. Baseball is a favorite sport of Dominicans, and they sometimes credit their internationally-renowned baseball ability to “Mangú Power”, claiming that their favorite plantain-based food, Mangú, gives them an advantage.
There are many friendly establishments in Jarabacoa which will serve a characteristic Dominican breakfast of Mangú, fried salami and a cafecito. A cafecito is a small, shot-glass-sized coffee that is more sugar than it is coffee. That’s how most Dominicans prefer their coffee, but for those who need their morning caffeine jolt of 12oz or more, Café Taíno at Doulos Discovery School serves coffee from a local coffee farm, Spirit Mountain, in larger quantities.
Doulos Discovery School is one of the many non-profits that is active in Jarabacoa. It is a joint effort between locals and foreigners to provide a private education for the local community. The school hosts teams of volunteers, which are a great opportunity for visitors who want to learn more about unique challenges that Dominicans face and how they can be a part of helping to meet those challenges.
These are just examples of the experiences that make up life in the heart of the Caribbean. No words can take the place of having your own first-hand experience, so next time you’re thinking about taking a tropical vacation, be sure to include a visit to Jarabacoa in your plans.
Josiah Sprague was the Media Coordinator and Communication Teacher at Doulos Discovery School. This article was a collaborative effort between him and the students of his high school communication class, to introduce you to Jarabacoa. The students will be posting their own unique stories on Medium.com soon, stay tuned.