Save the Horses and Hike to the Biggest Waterfall in Dominican Republic

Breathtaking beauty, hillside villages and inland palm trees. You’ll have jungles of fun at El Limon waterfall.

High in the mountains on the northeastern Samana peninsula lies breathtaking beauty, hillside villages and inland palm trees. The highlight of not only the peninsula, but of Dominican Republic was Cascada El Limon; a beautiful waterfall falling 52 metres down from the pristine jungle and into a waterhole.

Nearby, we stayed in the seaside village of Las Terrenas longer than we should have because honestly, we were having a really nice time. The perfect Caribbean beaches, the artsy studio’s and their outdoor galleries, all while being surrounded by the luscious green jungle.

Dominican Republic surprised us. We arrived expecting the all-inclusive resort deals and were handed a backpacking journey across a Caribbean island for a fraction of the expected price tag.

Gua Gua public transport

Transport was made easy and super cheap thanks to the Gua Gua’s (pronounced wah wah’s). A Gua Gua is sometimes a tight fitting overcrowded bus, but for shorter journeys it comes in the form of an old ute with the back canopy decked out with wooden seats around the edge of the railing. We found the Gua Gua’s hanging out on the beach road of Las Terrenas and hitched a squishy 30 minute lift all the way to the entrance of El Limon. Decked out for 5 people, we squeezed in with at least 9. It was like being stuck between a rock and a hard place, but with the wind in my long hair (which was hitting my tightly squished neighbor constantly in the face) and the view of deserted beaches and wild jungle, we definitely got our money’s worth on this $1.50 lift.

Before we left for El Limon we had read numerous online reviews clearly informing us about the vast number of tourist scams once you get to the waterfall. They say the only way to see the waterfall is by riding a horse. They do a really good job of convincing you that without them, you may not make it out of the jungle alive. $25 dollars later you realise they lied to you and hiking the mountain in the humid heat and only paying the $1.50 park entrance fee, would have been way more fun.

It’s not the authentic jungle horseback adventure that you are imagining. The guides hold the horses by their tail as they force them to trod across sharp rocks, most with no horseshoes. These little ponies are often carrying out-of-shape tourists up steep terrain.

Simply put it, protect the horses, save money and adventure alone by taking the DIY hiking approach at El Limon like we did.

We hiked the track alone, huffed and puffed the humid air, got muddy feet from the slodgy terrain and zig-zagged across the river in knee deep water. The view along the path was outstanding and worth the pain our totally unfit bodies endured. Gazing across the empty fields of palm trees and the thick tropical jungle that meets the blue water of the Caribbean Sea, was a view that deserved a few moments of solitude. And a really good excuse to catch your breath again in the shade!

The path was fairly trod-on, us only being misguided once at the first river crossing (we guessed across instead of up the river), but a local guided us back onto the correct path as they swam in the river with their children. The rest of the 1 hour hike had horse footprints and squishy mud making it hard to get lost.

The jewel at the end of this exhausting but scenic hike was a stunning waterfall with water gushing down from high into the jungle. Our sweaty bodies had been dreaming about this moment since our first hill. The water certainly was refreshing, and jumping off the cliffs into the churning water was such a thrill. We were amazed by the local guides as they climbed up the waterfall while the heavy water thrashed their faces wearing only socks and shorts. They moved so swiftly and effortlessly like they had been doing it since they learnt to walk. They would then take the plunge from 20 metres high doing perfectly timed backflips.

Following the same track back to the main road, our runners had been the perfect shoes for the hike and the river crossings. Our friend wore the only shoes he owned, flip-flops. He completed the hike, slipped and slid around and left El Limon with one less working flip flop.

Within 2 minutes of sticking our thumbs ups on the main road, a friendly worker's truck had picked us up and taken us half way home. One of the workers was laying down sleeping in the back of the truck using a bag of rocks as a pillow and shading the sun with his arm. I’d never seen someone look so peaceful and comfortable, like he was sleeping on a cloud floating slowly above the land.  

El Limon was jungles of fun, beautifully picturesque and relatively easy to manage on our own. After expecting we’d be forced into an all-inclusive resort deal while in the Dominican Republic, we were instead spun around by the hand on a wonderful backpacking journey. It took us across the palm-tree covered island and had us stumbling upon scenic gems and adventurous hikes like El Limon waterfall.

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.