Ever been to Monti Cristi?
Monte Cristi & El Morro de Monti Cristi
Known as “The jewel of the northwest”, the border province of Monte Cristi presents a wild and striking landscape ripe for off-the-beaten-track adventures. Rice plantations, banana fields, goats and giant cacti stand sentry roadside, leading towards salt ponds and on to limestone cliffs hugging a wave-rich Atlantic Ocean. Around this part desert and part Mediterranean-like scenery, thick mangrove gives way to fresh lagoons, while offshore islands teem with migratory birds, and offer secluded white sand beaches. – At least that’s what the Internet says…
Getting there from Sosua / Cabarete really doesn’t require an elaborate set of directions – just go through Puerto Plata, down to Navarrete, take a right and keep going along route 1. Journey time is around 3 hours. Look out for the gradual change of scenery as the rice fields slowly give way to a more arid landscape finally culminating in the salt mines just as you enter the town. Along the way, Villa Vasquez has a rather elaborate gateway that’s definitely worth a Polaroid moment – apparently Finnish people set up a Utopian colony here in the early 1930’s. And look out for tuk tuk’s apparently there’s a main importer of them in a town close to Navarrete and you will see many.
As a bit of background information, we did some internet digging so you don’t have to: Monte Cristi was founded by Nicolás de Ovando in 1506 and populated in 1533 by Juan de Bolaños and 63 families from the Canary Islands. These migrated to various parts of the country soon afterwards leaving the town behind. It was later repopulated and became a very wealthy port in the mid-to-late 16th century.
In 1606, one hundred years after its founding, the town was destroyed as retribution for doing business with pirates. In 1756 the city was rebuilt and again became a prosperous trading centre, until the early 20th century.
The rebuilding was made to a grid formation making getting around very easy. Seeing as this is a beach blog, you’re basically going to drive to the ocean and turn right. As you approach the town you’ll see El Morro de Monti Cristi to your right. This is the place that you are eventually going to be heading for and it’s approached by one road (Ave. San Fernando) that drives along the coast. As you begin to drive along the coast we noticed a couple of bars and restaurants that in more normal time (at the time of writing Covid restrictions applied) would be impossible to pass up on, but regrettably we pressed on. There’s also an ocean side hotel and further up the road a sailing club that both deserved closer attention.
Driving on, you will start to climb the hill. There are some really good views as you climb higher. Soon after you will see that the road abruptly ends and you are now in the national park. There is a car park to the left that appears to be looked after by what looks like a small, staffed information centre, come car park attendant, come litter management and probably life guard.
You now have a couple of choices, what looks like a challenging walk along the cliff top for the amazing views from the end of the peninsular, or the walk down a quite gravelly path (so somewhat slippery) to the beach.
The beach is stunning with very golden sand and surprisingly clean leaving me to assume that it is regularly cleaned.. The colour of the sand is striking because as you drive along the causeway the sand is white. We don’t tend to go out at weekends so we can’t report on the crowds that might be there on a Sunday but while we were there, for most of the time we had the entire bay to ourselves. We went to the west under the shelter of the cliffs. The sea was quite rough although (if you fancy a swim) less challenging than it appears at first site, I would suggest that it is not ideal for small children. The bottom of the bay where we were is sandy and seems to level out for quite a way at a depth of about five feet. Once in the water looking back towards the cliffs is a view well worth getting wet for. The cliffs make a stunning backdrop.
I must admit, we only scratched the surface but we were very taken by the town. It definitely deserved more time and both “bucket” and I agreed that we would most definitely return and stay for a while so that we could take it all in. There would appear to be enough to do to warrant at least an over-night stay. There’s a museum where in 1895, the signing of the Manifesto of Monte Cristi by Máximo Gómez and José Martí took place at the Gómez home on Mella St. They sailed from "La Granja" beach, also in Monte Cristi, to Cuba to fight for its independence.
Monte Cristi has a tropical savanna climate with a pronounced dry season in the summer, and a wetter season in the winter. By all accounts, some cold fronts can come down from North America, with low temperatures and strong northerly winds in the Winter. It is also possible that cold currents coming down from the Arctic seabed can emerge when they hit the island shelf so in the Winter the water might be a little more chilly than you might be used to.
“Bucket” says::Don’t just drive past the beaches on Ave. San Fernando on the way to El Morro, the sea is so calm, clear and inviting. Soft, white sand between your toes and a nice little promenade to walk along with seating to enjoy a Presidente beer or two whilst gazing at the lapping waves. There is also a small wooden pier that you can wander out on and for a moment or two it's just you and the ocean. The little bars and restaurants looked lovely but as “Spade” says we were there during COVID times but it's absolutely on the list for a revisit and an overnight stay. Whilst the journey was a long one, it was well worth the effort.
“Spade” says: Being someone who enjoys peace and quiet; we might have been lucky but the beach at El Morro is worth the effort to get there. Stunning scenery and solitude made this trip one where we knew we would simply have to come back. The cliffs are magnificent and dotted with fossils although they are very loose sedimentary limestone and I would not advocate climbing them. While we were sitting under the cliffs we couldn’t help notice the constant and somewhat disturbing continual fall of small rocks from above. Don’t go there expecting beach traders, bars and bathrooms because if you did you would be disappointed. I would suggest an over-night stay would make for a really good experience.