Monte Cristi is the Dominican Republic’s most northwestern province, bordering Haiti, and about 3 hours’ drive from Puerto Plata or 2 hours from Santiago. It’s uniquely located in a topography that offers clear emerald green beaches, natural swimming pools surrounded by mangroves, vibrant wildlife, uninhabited little islands (keys/cayos), and arid desert-like mountains. This more virginal and not-so-trotted region also boasts some of the earliest and most impactful colonial history in Latin America: from being one of the first colonial cities to having critical ties with Cuba’s independence thanks to Maximo Gomez.
“There’s nothing in Monte Cristi but lots of mosquitos” local expats in Cabarete warned me when I asked for suggestions on the best things to do in Monte Cristi. Three days into exploring the Monte Cristi region had proven those grumpy expats wrong, leaving me hungry to see more! I can confidently say that Monte Cristi is one of the most underrated and best places in the Dominican Republic to explore. If you are considering the idea of whether Monte Cristi is worth visiting, I hope this list of the best things to see and do will convince you to go!
1) El Morro/Playa El Morro (“El Morro Beach”)
This iconic view is probably what you get when you google Monte Cristi. And it not only lives up to but surpasses the expectations of the images you see online. Tall limestone mountainous cliffs surround the golden shores of El Morro beach. There are at least three hikes you can do here for beautiful views from above or you can just walk down to the beach to see the views from below. Both are stunning. At night you can also get some mesmerizing views of the night sky. Perfect for astrophotographers. The paths here are rocky so bring proper shoes if you don’t have strong ankles.
2) Isla Cabra (“Goat Island”) / Playa Paraiso (“Paradise Beach”)
This uninhabited island offers little hikes, naturally shaded areas for a picnic, and a beautiful emerald-green beach all to yourself. What more can you ask for? You can reach Isla Cabra’s Playa Paraiso by taking a boat which you can hire at the town fishing dock.
3) Cayo 7 Hermanos
If you’re already on a boat tour going through the canals and Isla Cabra (#2 above), you may be interested in paying for the full day excursion and head to Cayo 7 Hermanos. This group of uninhabited island keys are also within the Monte Cristi National Park region. They are composed of: Terrero, Monte Grande, Ratas, Muertos, Arenas, Tororu and Monte Chico.
4) Mangroves & Natural Pools of Monte Cristi National Park
While on the boat ride through Monte Cristi’s National Park to Isla Cabra (#2 on the list), ask your boat driver to stop by the mangroves so you can swim/walk up close to them. You can also stop by a cute wooden post for lunch between the mangroves, and then swim at one of the “natural pools”. The natural pools are spots along the canal of mangroves with crystal clear and shallow water. Don’t forget your snorkeling gear!
5) The House/Museum of Maximo Gomez
As noted above, Maximo Gomez helped Cuba’s Jose Marti in gaining Cuban independence from Spain. This alone, is reason enough to check out his home/museum to gain a deeper insight into Dominican history and its connection with our Latino neighbors as well as how it affects us all today.
6) Parque Central, Reloj de Monte Cristi, Villa Dona Emilia (Central Park, Monte Cristi Clock, Victorian houses in town)
This clock tower was designed by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (yes- of the Eiffel Tower) and built by Jean-Paul Garnier (and yes- of the famous watches). There are beautiful historic homes that surround the clock tower main square. Across the clock tower is the Victorian mansion, Villa Dona Emilia which was once the home of the famous Rodriguez Jimenez family. It is currently under renovation.
7) Salt Pans in Monte Cristi
Did you know that a lot of North America’s salt comes from the Monte Cristi’s salt pans? If you’ve never seen how salt is produced, it may interest you to stop by one of the many salt pans in Monte Cristi to see how salt is collected and dried from sea water!
8) Marine Manatee Sanctuary (Estero Hondo)
Estero Hondo is a small fishing seaside village located about an hour outside of the town of Monte Cristi, but still within the province. Estero Hondo is home to a natural refuge for manatees, and as such, is one of the few places in the Caribbean where you can still see them in their natural habitat. In fact, in one of my photos in Monte Cristi it looks like there was a manatee under the water! Nature depending, they can come up to your boat and are very friendly. There is a protected lagoon you can reach by hiking in Estero Hondo where you can see the home of the largest number of “endangered herbivore West Indian Manatees” in the Dominican Republic (according to the Ministry of Tourism).
9) Buen Hombre Town
We were captivated by the beautiful road to Buen Hombre, a little and lesser known town an hour away from the Monte Cristi town (towards Puerto Plata/Santiago). Locals and expats argue this is the best town in the country to kitesurf. If that’s not your thing, the sight of the gorgeous rural farms on the way to Buen Hombre may be enough to make it worth the trip for you. Cactus plants nestled next to coconut palm trees and colorful wooden houses imbued by olive-green pastures. The road goes up a lush mountainous terrain and then back down where you can see a massive backdrop of the beach from the top just before reaching the town. I highly recommend a trip here even if just to eat a whole fried fish a lo Dominicano on the beach.
10) Cayo Arena, Punta Rucia
While incredibly touristy, Cayo Arena is said to be one of the best beaches in the country. You can catch a boat transfer to this sandy key/island off Punta Rucia, which is located about an hour from Monte Cristi town (towards Puerto Plata/Santiago but still in the Monte Cristi Province). I haven’t been, but given the good reviews, I’ve heard I thought it may be worth a mention here for folks interested in stopping by here on their way to or from Monte Cristi town center/national park.