Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Mountain Dreaming: Constanza

Golden fields in the valley of Constanza
The craggy peaks of the Cordillera Central cascade down into this town, highest populated mountain valley in the Dominican Republic at 1,300 meters (4,264 feet) above sea level. Arriving in town on the back of a pickup truck, descending on the winding road out of the hills and into the city, might herald one of the best views in the country on public transportation.

Because of the chilly temperatures that drop as low as 5˚C (41˚F) in the winter, local farmers are able to grow crops unusual for the island such as roses, apples, garlic, and strawberries.

Greenhouse with tropical flowers for export
Perfect for the outdoor enthusiast, Constanza boasts challenging hikes, natural attractions, and adventure sports. The paths through the Ébano Verde Scientific Reserve are cool and lush, often blanketed by thick fog in the morning. On hot days in the valley, locals and visitors head to the tallest waterfall in the Antilles, Aguas Blancas. Farther into the Cordillera Central is the Valle Nuevo Scientific Reserve, perfect for pitching a tent and hiking through the pine forests. Across the city of Constanza are relics of distinct ethnic enclaves, once part of Trujillo’s campaign to both “whiten the race,” and also introduce diverse agricultural techniques to the region. The four enclaves include La Colonia Japonesa, Húngara, Kennedy, and Española. While the Hungarians of Colonia Húngara and the Americans of Colonia Kennedy are long gone, descendents of the Japanese and Spanish settlers still maintain strong identities.

Farm to table is not just a fad, it's a way of life in Constanza.

Where to Eat

Aguas Blancas Restaurant

Aguas Blancas has a monopoly on Constanza-style gourmet, combining local products to make exquisite dishes like cream of celery root soup or guinea hen al vino for probably the tastiest food in town. A must try are Doña Emilia Caceres’ inventive desserts, such as the carrot or passion fruit flan. Behind the restaurant, there is a small, plain hotel, in case delicious food must be within shouting distance. RD$120-350; 10am-10pm; 54 C/ Rufino Espinoso; 539-1561

Esquisiteces Dilenia

Locals relaxing in park after the midday meal
Specializing in oven-roasted lamb and dulce de fresa (strawberry sweets), this restaurant is oozing with rustic charm from its exposed pine walls to its cabin-inspired furniture and locally grown flowers adorning every table. RD$200-360; 10am-10pm; 7 C/ Gaston F. Deligne, by Banco Popular; 539-2213

Where to Sleep  

Alto Cerro

With options for all budgets, including luxurious villas, standard hotel rooms, and camping spaces, this resort situated on the mountainside is far enough from the center of town to enjoy the peace and fresh air of the high mountain valley. Each villa feels like an alpine cabin, boasting a balcony to enjoy one of the best views of the Constanza surroundings. On-site activities and amenities include an exotic garden, fire pit, barbecues, zip line, soccer field, basketball court, gym, spa, and horseback riding. US$20-43; 2km on the highway to La Vega, across from the airport; 539-1553/1429; reservas@altocerro.com; www.altocerro.com

What to Do

Aguas Blancas

View from top of Ébano Verde 
This cascading set of waterfalls is located at an altitude of 1680 meters (5512 feet) above sea level, is the highest in the Caribbean basin, and according to the locals, the coldest on the island, with an average temperature hovering at 10°C. The first section drops 53 meters (174 feet) in height and the second, 38 meters (125 feet). Located near the small village of El Convento, 14 kilometers on the road into Valle Nuevo

La Pirámide y el Monumento a Francisco Caamaño Deñó

Located in Parque Nacional Valle Nuevo, this tall stone structure marks the geographical center of Hispaniola. Built by Trujillo, the pyramid is the probably last thing the unsuspecting traveler would imagine in this remote park.

Lichen at Ébano Verde
On the other side of the highway is the monument to Francisco Caamaño Deñó, hero of the 1965 uprising to defend the democratically elected government of Juan Bosch.

Ébano Verde

A verdant scientific reserve with winding trails, Ébano Verde is perfect for a daylong excursion. The reserve is home to over 80 species of orchids and is blanketed by the brilliant green of ferns and lichen. There are a number of bridges crossing small streams throughout the forest, which all feed into El Arroyazo (“huge stream”) – providing a refreshing reward at the end of the hike. Visits should be arranged through Fundación Progressio (565-1422; fund.progressio@codetel.net.do) or Constanza’s Tourism Office.

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