After a taxing hike into the dense forests of Miches, I look down at my Garmin sport watch and the results read:
- 8.25 miles hiked
- 1,569 calories burned
- 4 hours and 55 minute total time
- 1,372 ft total elevation gain
And to whom do I express gratitude for this strenuous trek of nearly 5 hours? Her name is La Jalda and she is the tallest waterfall in the Caribbean.
La Jalda Waterfall (salto in Spanish) is found about 12 miles west of Miches, close to the town of Magua, a tranquil fishing village on the northern shores of the Dominican Republic’s eastern region. Perched at nearly 400 feet and hidden in a far corner of Salto La Jalda National Park, the waterfall stands above any in the Caribbean. It’s only competition, Salto Fino of Cuba, is actually taller at almost 1,000 ft; but unlike La Jalda, Salto Fino is several separate waterfalls combined into one. La Jalda, on the other hand, is one absolute drop, plummeting the Magua River against sheer rock to a natural lagoon below.
La Jalda is a colloquial Spanish word which means “side of a mountain” and since the fall sits between two mountain slopes, locals thought La Jalda the most fitting name. The most authentic way to appreciate La Jalda’s beauty is an 8 mile round trip hike through cacao forests and humid forests, all while transversing the Magua River several times. Although a Punta Cana helicopter company promotes a view of La Jalda, after only a 25 minute helicopter flight from the popular beach destination, there is nowhere to land; a quick view through the helicopter window and you’re off.
The true experience of witnessing this one-of-a-kind mountain cascade is saved for those who choose to sweat it out on foot or on horseback. On this particular day, we laced up our hiking boots.
Our local guide, Johan, showed us the way to la Jalda. Although I had been to the waterfall several times before (and I consider myself good with directions) there was no way for me to find the fall without Johan. The trail, or lack thereof, meanders through acres of cacao forests, at times though locals farms and at times directly through the Magua River. Although the beginning of the hike is mainly level ground underneath a beautiful canopy of cacao trees that offered much appreciated shade, the last half mile features numerous switchbacks with an elevation gain over 1,000 ft. This more strenuous hiking is found after the park ranger station about 3.5 miles into the hike.
The ranger station is the perfect place for a rest. The humble, but surprisingly well equipped two-story wood structure, offers panoramic views of the surrounding mountain slopes and, most importantly, your first glimpse of La Jalda in the distance. Visitors are so infrequent that the friendly stationed rangers will not only offer a smile but most likely something to eat and drink.
The final half mile is the most difficult part of the hike. Here, the trail narrows along the mountainside with several ascents and descents. Also, the cacao forests gives way to a lush, tropical vegetation which may remind you of hiking in the set of Jurassic Park. At this point of the trek, the sound of La Jalda’s crashing waters become more distinct with each step.
Eventually, the trail propps you out of the forest and onto a picture-perfect ledge to appreciate La Jalda grandeur. The Magua River tumbles nearly 400 ft down a sheer rock cliff and creates a mighty white wash which contracts with the surrounding emerald jungle. At the base of the cascade is an alluring natural lagoon, of cool mountain water, that offers the perfect reprieve for those who braved the previous 4 mile hike.
Miches is home to the Caribbean tallest waterfall but few people are aware and even fewer make the trip to visit. The few that have made the hike (like myself) can tell you, without a doubt, that no trek is more rewarding in the Dominican Republic.
For more information on how you can hike to La Jalda please contact us. Magua is located only 1 ½ hours from Punta Cana and the hike can easily be done in a day from any Punta Cana hotel.
Make sure to bring sneakers you don’t mind getting muddy or even better yet, rubber boots, as rain is common in the forest and the ground is normally moist.