27 Charcos of Damajagua, Dominican Republic
27 Charcos of Damajagua, Dominican Republic
This winter (around Christmas time) we took our first winter cruise. While a good time because of work holidays, this time of year is generally more expensive and thus we have avoided it. However, this year we happened upon a deal that we could not resist.
If you ever get the chance to take a holiday cruise (and you like cruising) do it! The ship was decorated and offered celebrations and services for both Christmas and Chanukah, as well as extra activities each day. Additionally, the ports of call were festive and 'decked' out, which I had not expected.
And lastly – I had been nervous about the water temperature during this time of year, but to quote one of our tour guides “we have eternal summer in the Caribbean” – which for the most part held true. However – this applies to the ocean water only… not the fresh water of the 27 Waterfalls in the Dominican Republic… but we’ll get to that later.
The cruise visited three ports which we had already been. The fourth was a new port – Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic. This was one of the more unique and enchanting cruise destination we have been to.
Unlike many of the islands in the Caribbean where the beaches and water stand out, The Dominican Republic was immediately striking with its lush, thick, deep green rainforests covering rolling hills as far as the eye could see. It was cloudy and rained for much of the time we were there, which only added to the jungle feel of the island. It was easy to see why much of Jurassic Park was based on the island and even some filmed locally.
After my usual exhaustive research, we had decided that the 27 Charcos (waterfalls) of Damajagua was the experience not to be missed. This excursion guides you through Mother Nature’s own water park… 27 natural waterfalls and limestone slides nestled deep into the rainforest.
For this excursion you have the option of doing 12 or all 24 falls. Very few reviews I read regretted the 24, unless they were unfit for the extra hiking time that the 24 trip requires. We decide to go for it!
Because this excursion is slightly dangerous, conditions do have to be just right to be able to experience all 27 waterfalls. If water levels are too high or too low, only the bottom 12 falls are safe to complete. Luckily for us, our day offered all 27.
I do also want to interject a side note here. We went with an independent company (as I usually do) – “Iguana Mama” and they were fantastic. As a comparison, Carnival’s excursion only offered the bottom 7 waterfalls, and was MORE expensive than what we paid for all 27! If you are up for a little research, I really encourage you to look into local/independent excursions. They are a better deal and you get a much more authentic experience. I will provide more detail in my upcoming cruise tips post!
When we arrived in Amber Cove, we had a short walk from the port to our bus where we met our tour. There were several others from our cruise, including a couple, similar in age. They were the last to arrive and had to sit separately on the bus. Before long the boyfriend was deemed “Casanova” by the Iguana Mama crew. Periodically through the trip the entire group would yell “Casanova” and cheer – a trend that carried on to the ship and even during disembarkation (I couldn’t help but chuckle when I heard a distant call of “Casanova”).
After a 20-minute bus ride through Puerto Plata (once you leave the cruise gates, a different world reveals itself) we arrived at the base of 27 Charcos. We quickly geared up (helmet and lifejacket are required) and headed off.
The excursion begins with a 40-minute hike to the top of the falls. It had been raining and much of the hike was slimy, muddy, or very slippery. We did have a few spills and face plants along the way (and unlike our snowy Colorado hike, we were not among them).
Once you begin to hear running water, you know you are near. Alas, we had reached our destination – Waterfall #27. Now, I really think this one is designed as the “warm up.”
First, you have to swim over to the ledge, fully submerged. Well HELLO 60 something degree water!! For Floridians… that’s downright freezing, but we did it! After you swim over to the ledge, you climb up on the rocks and have a very small jump back into the polar water (about 3 feet). At this point everyone is awake and ready to go!
We continued down the falls, each with its own characteristics. The first “slide” was a crazy experience. They say keep your elbows in…and they mean like really in! I’m also glad I heeded the “wear shorts” over your bathing suit memo. Sliding on natural rock is not the same sensation as the tubes at Wet N Wild. Funny to note here though is that once we got to the lower slides, they were much more smooth. A testament to how many more bottoms a day those experience!
Some of the pools were shallow and you had to cannon ball your way in – other jumps began to get a little higher. Then came the tunnels and caves that you swim through – which were truly breath taking! You glide through slightly rushing water, while thick, sleek gray walls billow beside, and sometimes above you.
Due to the constant movement and added rocks, slime, and gravel – the water is not clear. The guides know the falls intimately and are able to show you where to jump and step – though they themselves like to show off their risky moves whenever possible. After showing us where to jump in, feet first/body straight… they would take a running leap over a slide landing head first….but again, they know exactly where that deep spot is!
Between some of the falls there would be a small hike. I found myself realizing something on one of them. This excursion was definitely an adrenaline pumping one, and our small group had bonded almost instantly. It made me realize one of the amazing things about travel and adventure (especially as somewhat of an introvert) is that when you are pushed out of your comfort zone- making new friends becomes easy.
We were bonding immediately through this shared experience (and shared occasional fright quite honestly). If someone was scared of a jump, there would be cheers, and immediate talk afterwards of the experience. I realized that adventure has this unique power to break down walls and offer a place for instant comrades, and perhaps is one of the reasons I seek it out.
Now, speaking of adrenaline… Have we talked about Waterfall #8? #8 makes all of the other waterfalls look like kiddy pools. You stand on this small rock, and then jump! Twenty five feet later, you hit the water.
For me, I had done close to this before. I was a springboard diver and briefly a platform diver in which the tallest height I had jumped from was 7 meters (21 ish feet). I had been nervous about this, but honestly the moment I stepped onto the rock I was good to go, and would have done it 10 more times if they had let me. I should also note that is is possible to walk around this jump if you wish, and some of our group did just that.
Now for Michael (my husband), who I rarely ever see nervous, these 25 feet looked a little scarier. He went before I did and I employed one of my acro skill teaching tactics – I count to 3, on 3 you either go, or step down. Well, Michael went!
Which brings me to another public service announcement... if jumping off tall things into water is not something you do often… and you find yourself in Damajagua at waterfall #8, remember to squeeze your muscles, keep straight legs as you jump, and enter with flexed feet… something Michael wished I had told him before his frog like freefall (you can imagine how that felt in the morning).
Every waterfall was a blast and this was definitely one of our most unique excursions yet. We were fed local cuisine for lunch when we returned back to the base of the waterfalls and then afterwards returned back to the cruise terminal. Though our ride to the falls was very professional, traditional tour guide information as we passed landmarks, etc., the ride home to took a turn- into a Dominican party!
The music was turned up, drinks passed around, and even dancing the best you could in a van. At this point it was no longer a bus full of slightly nervous strangers in a new place, but a group of adventurers, with new tales to tell, partying like old friends.
If you want to see some of our adventure- and take a sneak peak into the 27 Charcos of Damajagua, check out the video below!
(This post is not sponsored in anyway by Iaguana Mama – they just did a fabulous job!)