Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Mountain Dreaming: San José de Ocoa

Carrots, bananas and other produce flourish in the Sierra
Untainted by commercial tourism, the mountain town of Ocoa has maintained a tranquil pace of life. Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, known for denouncing the enslavement of the Taínos, made the first written reference to San José de Ocoa in the 16th century when he described the then sparsely-populated Taíno province of Maniey. The region became known as El Maniel in the early 17th century when runaway slaves, or cimarrones, took refuge there. Ocoa continues to be a rural haven for its 60,000 inhabitants, who live primarily off small-scale agricultural production. The most common crops are avocados and potatoes, which blanket the ridges and valleys surrounding town.

Where to Eat

Surrounding the park are a few food options including Hotel Marien serving traditional Dominican fare (RD$100-250; corner of C/ San José and C/ Pimentel), and the sandwich joint on the park’s east side that also blends up fresh fruit smoothies (RD$30-150).

Hotel Baco

A peaceful existence in Ocoa
Serving up inexpensive Dominican food, this hotel-restaurant always has a generous plate of the day, as well as a hearty Cuban sandwich. Wash it down with the deliciously original oatmeal carrot juice, or fresh-squeezed cherry juice. RD$100-150; Corner of C/ Duvergé and C/ 16 de Agosto; 558-2368

Where to Sleep

Hotel-Restaurant El Barcón

Centrally located and reasonably priced, this hotel has modest, tidy rooms with simple but bright decorations and a restaurant that is open all day. RD$400-1200; Corner of C/ Canada and C/ San José

Rancho Francisco

This serene enclave surrounded by broad trees and set along a babbling stream is certainly the most comfortable accommodation in Ocoa. Cool off in either the guests’ private pool or mix it up with the locals in the larger pool open to the public. Order up the stewed goat at the restaurant, and check out the bachata bands that perform regularly. RD$1000-1500 for a room and RD$200-400 for the restaurant; located 1km south of Ocoa on Highway 41

A corn field blanketing the Sierra
What to Do

El Parque Central

Vines wrap around mature trees, children chase each other in the central gazebo, and neighbors gather on the shady benches to catch up on the latest gossip or the previous evening’s baseball games in this small, pleasant green refuge in the center of town.

Mercado (El Reguero)

Located on Calle Duvergé, this Thursday-only outdoor market is full of housewares, shoes, and clothing from pacas (huge bundles of clothing donated from North America) that reach the hands of vendors through mysterious ways.

Ocoa-Constanza Scenic Highway

Oxen-towed plows replace tractors on these steep ridges
Traversing the Sierra de Ocoa into Cordillera Central, this tremendous rocky dirt highway steers through the agricultural villages of La Horma, and then wanders among the conifers of the Valle Nuevo National Park, eventually reaching Constanza’s high valley perch. Read more here.

Presa de Jigüey

La Presa (dam) is not recommended for actual swimming, but the challenging road to get there offers some excellent views of Ocoa (four-wheel drive is required). Pack a picnic and enjoy the water views, while talking up some local fishermen. 

To learn more, check out the chapter on San José de Ocoa in Dominican Republic (Other Places TravelGuide).

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