Nearly 125 miles (3h 30m by car) south-west of the capital, Santo Domingo, the region of Barahona on the border with Haiti is the poorest but best preserved one in the Dominican Republic. It's also not easy to get to. It's useless to hope to find a Gran Bahia Principle, Riu, Barcelo or Iberostar when you get here, since all of these Spanish chains specialised in giant all-inclusive resorts which reign in Punta Cana have not yet invested in this region, meaning that you will find a complete change of scenery. Here, you either choose a homestay or one of the small hotels full of charm in the middle of nature. There are some lodges located in the middle of the tropical forest, like the Ranchon Plato. You have to use a 4x4 and cross some rivers to reach them. The surroundings have barely changed since the conquistadors explored this land. Lost in the forest at the edge of a river dotted with cascades, here you can sleep in a cabin with hotel standards in the middle of nature. Luxury is also a possibility, though, such as at Casa Bonita, a small gem overhanging a bay, with its spa in the forest and its zip-line on which you can pretend to be Tarzan!
Be ready for a few hours of travelling time upright in the back of a 4x4 truck and bending down to avoid branches on the bumpy jungle roads and when crossing rivers: you're just going to love the 'Camel Trophy'! You'll have understood by now that Barahona is not yet accessible via a motorway, and it's all the better for it! After two hours on the road, the arrival at the 'La Mamie' coffee plantation, perching 900m above sea level, is worthy of scene in an adventure film! Once you get here you'll be able to enjoy some of the good local coffee while admiring the fabulous panorama of the jungle-covered mountains right out to the sea.
Since tourists rarely venture out here, you are more than likely to meet the locals. You might also come across cows in the streets of a village, attend a cockfight or a voodoo ritual, or watch children bathing in the river which flows into the Caribbean Sea. If you are staying at Pedernales, on the Haitian border, you can take advantage of the opportunity to visit this old French colony. The most beautiful beach in the country, Bahia de las Aguilas, is not at risk of meeting the same fate as Bavaro beach: to reach it requires several hours on a 4x4 followed by a ride on a small motorboat. The reward? A heavenly site that brings to mind some of the islands of Thailand, or even Halong Bay: clear water, cliffs, rocky islets... this is Eagle Bay, free of any man-made constructions as far as the eye can see.
Visit the 'La Mamie' coffee plantation hidden in the mountains, go on a boat excursion to Bahia de las Aguilas, cross over to Haiti and visit the border town of Anse-à-Pitre, try the zip-line in the Casa Bonita forest, go horse-riding, mountain biking or hiking, or visit a larimar mine, the semi-precious stone endemic to the Barahona region.
Oviédo Lagoon, Bahia de las Aguilas, Enriquillo Lake and the town of Pedernalès on the Haitian border.
A light raincoat is useful during the rainy season. Remember to use mosquito repellent. You will have to follow some bumpy roads to reach certain sites like the 'La Mamaie' coffee plantation, the community of the cloud forests (in Cachote) and Bahia de las Aguilas. The hotels in the area, apart from some exceptions (Casa Bonita, Pirates of the Caribbean), do not offer great comfort. Homestays are possible in various communities.
The rainy season from June to November. Barahona, the city the region is named after, has no touristic interest.
Rich and spicy, Dominican cuisine is the result of Creole, European and African influences. Starches (rice, sweet potatoes, 'plantain' bananas), fish, shellfish and tropical fruit are the key food elements. You will definitely have the opportunity to try some crayfish or lobster. Bandera, the traditional dish, consists of white rice, fava and kidney beans, and a beef or chicken stew served with salad and fried plantain bananas ('platanos fritos'). Rum (Brugal and Barcelo) is the most popular alcohol and is served either pure (the most aged) or in a cocktail. There are two brands of beer in the Dominican Republic: Brahma and Presidente (the best!). Finally, far from the international buffets you find at resorts, Barahona provides visitors with the opportunity to finally taste the absolutely divine local cuisine, in particular its tropical fruit, its 'mofongo con camarone' (a banana purée served with shrimp), and its sweet potatoes. At breakfast time, succumb to the mango, orange, banana, passion fruit and guava jams. The traditional dish that you will definitely get the chance to try is 'mangu', a banana purée fried with onions and cheese.
Jewellery made of amber (solidified yellow resin), larimar (a semi-precious blue stone endemic to the island), leather items, wickerwork, colourful naïve art paintings, Taïnos art, CDs with merengue or bachata music, cigars, vanilla extract, jam, rum and coffee are the main souvenirs you can bring back with you. They can be found everywhere, but especially on the beaches and at the local markets. The only larimar deposits are in the region of Barahona.