Conquering 27 Waterfalls of Damajagua 

Forget the damn shoes! If I could offer you one piece of advice before embarking upon Iguana Mama’s 27 Falls of Damajagua Tours in the hills surrounding the Dominican Republic town of Puerto Plata, this would be it.

 

“If you have any concern at all about your shoes being wet,” our guide tells us, “they have water shoes you can rent.” I look at my hiking boots, imagine their weight as they become engorged with water, hiking uphill through dense tropical jungle to reach the climactic moment at which we can begin our descent, and ask the cost of water shoe rental.

 

“One U.S. dollar,” he tells me, and, just like that– like a mark bamboozled by a snake oil hawker at a county fair– I’m sold to the lowest bidder. Seriously, people, FORGET THE DAMN SHOES!

 

Describing the discomfort of that day could not possibly do it justice. The shoes, such as they were, felt like strapping a recycled tire inner tube to my feet with a binding about two sizes too small. At first it was a mere nuisance. But, as the day wore on, climbing uphill over an uneven path lined with tiny rocks that seemed to have an incredible knack for getting all up in my foot business, it became quite literally a pain.

 

The Least Comfortable Shoes In The History Of Mankind… Seriously!

 

I cursed the shoes. I cursed the man who recommended the shoes. I cursed myself for worrying about my New Balance boots instead of my own comfort, and choosing to wear the damn shoes. I even considered hurling those godforsaken Croc wannabes into the river. But instead I kept going, up and up and up…

 

How did we go up, you ask? Well, sometimes we hiked (cue aforementioned scene of tiny rocks, add incipient blisters). Sometimes we climbed rickety ladders that looked as if they’d been there since the dawn of mankind. Sometimes we scrambled over small inclines like amateur rock climbers.

 

Then there were the times when we had to pull ourselves up knotted ropes, climbing up slick rock surfaces as the weight of the waterfall gushed into our faces, with guides on the top level pulling us up and guides on the bottom level pushing our butts like Dominican sherpas. (Note: I’m built like a linebacker, so we’re talking 250 pounds of man-meat here.) If you ever think of yourself as graceful and elegant, watch a video of yourself doing THAT! Luckily for you, dear readers, there was a guide there with camera in hand, documenting our masochistic mission for the world to see.

 

Mary Gets A Hand Up From Our Sherp… er, Guides

 

Finally, after hours of blisters, blood, sweat and perhaps even a few tears, we reached the top… and I was decidedly underwhelmed. After the rain, we were told, the 27th waterfall was a powerful and majestic reminder of nature’s beauty. Unfortunately it hadn’t rained in a while, so #27 was a mere trickle. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish for a minute or two that we’d stayed at our hotel’s gorgeous Serenity Beach for the day.

 

But then we began our descent, and my mood improved considerably. For starters, instead of hiking trails, on the way down we were actually walking through the cool waters of the riverbed (which made it a lot easier to keep detritus out of the damn shoes). Also, though we started off slowly, with waterfalls that were a short step or hop down, things quickly got a LOT more interesting.

 

Soon, we were jumping off ledges into pools of water, some just a few feet down but others 6 to 12 feet below. In some cases, because the water was lower than usual, the guides would point out very specific spots we needed to jump into out of depth concerns, which upped the intensity factor considerably. Having swapped my fear of heights for a love of adrenaline rushes years ago, I was loving every minute of it. But it was endearing to see Mary gradually getting more and more nervous as the jumps got bigger, yet finding the chutzpa to do it anyway (holding her nose every time).

 

Mary Jumps, Daintily

 

Then there were the rock slides—the good kind. In certain places, years of water rushing between the rocks had created smooth chutes you could slide down to splash into the pools below. Although everyone got a bit bumped and bruised along the way, these were major fun, but just barely wide enough to accommodate my broad-shouldered butt.

 

Finally, we made it to the grand finale. We cautiously made our way along a narrow ridge, holding onto ropes as we made our way to the ledge for our biggest leap yet. We were over 25 feet above the water, with sheer rock cliffs on either side, jumping into pools that seemed about as wide as the kiddie pools those carnival trick-divers leap into. To make matters worse, there was a VERY specific spot we had to aim for, as it was the only place deep enough for a leap from that height.

 

Mary had had enough, and opted out, but I knew I’d never be able to live myself if I didn’t conquer my fear. People were shouting, “Cannonball! Cannonball!” egging me on. I made sure our friend was ready with his still camera above, and our guide was ready with his video camera below, and then I took a deep breath and jumped… only to rotate in mid-air and land on my back at a 45-degree angle. It hurt like the dickens, but I did my best not to let it show, instead focusing on the exhilaration of the experience. There were high-fives and fist-bumps all around, then we made our way down to the bottom of the trail, battered but not broken.

 

Cannonball!!!

 

Later that night, we ran into our new friends from the tour at dinner. The family of four, ranging in age from spry teenagers to athletic 30-somethings, looked just as worn out as we were, but we all laughed and smiled as we recounted what proved to be one of the most memorable and challenging travel experiences of our lives.

 

If I ever make it back to the Dominican Republic, I’d definitely do it again in a heartbeat. Only this time, I’d forget the damn shoes. –Bret Love

 

If you enjoyed reading Conquering 27 Waterfalls of Damajagua in the Dominican Republic, you might also like:

Bahamas- Top 10 Attractions

Barbados- 7 Must-See Sights

Bermuda Photo Essay

Jamaica- Top 5 Eco Attractions

37 Responses to Conquering 27 Waterfalls of Damajagua in the Dominican Republic

  • One of us (guess which one) still wrestles with a major fear of heights. Just reading this made her/him a big queasy! Oh, and trips like this are exactly why we each have a pair of Chaco sandals at the ready. It looked like you were wearing some old man’s hand-me-down pleather shoes! Poor thing.

  • Ouch! At least you had a great experience, despite the painful shoes!

  • Beautiful jumping form, both of you :) Sounds like one of those physically challenging days that are enjoyed the most in retrospect! I’d definitely do it.

    • Bret Love says:

      “Sounds like one of those physically challenging days that are enjoyed the most in retrospect!”

      That is an absolutely perfect summation, Natasha!

  • Kurt says:

    So are you athletes? 27 waterfalls in a day seems like an awe full lot of grueling labor? That experience must have been one of those that shows you what your made of inside?

    • Bret Love says:

      Far from it, Kurt! We’re average middle-aged Americans, a little too soft in the middle but with a definite adventurous streak. Sometimes I just like throwing myself in the water to see if I can figure out how to swim (metaphorically speaking). But honestly, if we’d REALLY known what we were in for, I don’t think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell I could’ve convinced Mary to go.

  • Good for you guys for sticking it through — and for trying the cannonball. Looks like a fun day with beautiful scenery, but yeah, those shoes look obnoxiously uncomfortable.

    • Bret Love says:

      I wish that the photo could convey more clearly what I tried to express with my words. But I think you’ll just have to take my word for it… they were EXCRUCIATING!

  • Alexandra says:

    Looks like a blast regardless of the shoes! I always climb those types of things barefoot in Maui! Call me a crazy island girl if you want but I was brought up like that ;)

    • Bret Love says:

      I grew up walking in the Georgia woods barefoot, but I don’t think you’d have wanted to do that here. LOTS of rocks, from tiny pebbles to large, jagged stones. Quite a few people from our group came back scraped and bruised from it.

  • Definitely something we would sign up for in an instance! But would keep our own shoes for sure :)

  • Laurence says:

    I love waterfalls! 27 of them would be an amazing adventure!

    • Bret Love says:

      Us, too! My only regret about our recent trip to Dominica was that we didn’t have time to get to more of the island’s waterfalls, but the few we saw were spectacular.

  • Simply incredible…great day!

  • Sounds like a fun day minus the shoes. I’m not sure I would have taken the last jump,

    • Bret Love says:

      Yeah, Mary decided not to, and I don’t blame her. Photos cannot convey how high it looked from above, or how narrow the gap we had to jump into seemed. Still, I’m glad I did it!

  • That looks incredible! What an experience you guys, one you’ll never forget!

  • Candice says:

    I was in the DR just last month, I didn’t know you could do this! How cool!

    • Bret Love says:

      You can, but I don’t think the tour is very widely promoted, even in Puerto Plata and Cabarete. It’s a little off the beaten path, but definitely one of our most memorable travel experiences to date.

  • Andrew says:

    Wow, how cool. So if you don’t recommend the rented shoes, what do you recommend? Bare feet? Bring your own water shoes? I am not sure I would like all that hiking in bare feet, but the walking down through the waterfalls doesn’t sound so much fun in shoes either.

    I love the idea of trekking down waterfalls and sliding down rock slides. It sounds SO Goonies, but I am not sure i would actually enjoy doing it. Thanks for sharing.

    • Bret Love says:

      Definitely recommend taking your own water shoes. I’d never owned water shoes before our Dominican Republic trip, but now I own several pair and always take them with me on trips where water activities will be involved.

  • Angela says:

    Looks like a great adventure!

  • I have recommendation for you on good water/ hiking shoes for the next time :-)

    • Bret Love says:

      Would love to hear it, Stephanie. We’re always looking for green gear and travel gear we can review for our readers.

  • Laurel says:

    It’s funny how something as simple as shoes can impact a day (and our memories). I was expecting this to be amazing, when I saw the title, 27 waterfalls sounds very impressive, too bad to hear that it wasn’t as amazing as it sounded.

    • Bret Love says:

      Don’t get me wrong, it was still REALLY amazing! But it would’ve been much more so if not for the damn shoes.

  • ahhhh i hate jumping off things…. and uncomfortable foot wear… I dont know if I could do this!

    • Bret Love says:

      It definitely wasn’t what you’d call an easy day, but it was quite exhilarating. It’s one of those experiences you’re not sure you’d ever want to do again, but you’re glad you did it the first time.

  • Kendra says:

    I have a silly logistics question. It seems stupid but its bugging me. I’m headed to the DR in 2 weeks and I can’t WAIT to do the 27 Charcos (hopefully all 27). But I can’t begin to understand where you put your… stuff… while you’re swim-climbing. Your money? Your hotel key? Did you take a waterproof daypack or waist pack, or did you have a waterproof camera with you?

    • The tour operator we went with, Iguana Mama, suggested we leave everything that wasn’t absolutely essential in the van, which they kept locked with a driver on watch. The only thing we took with us was a waterproof camera. I seem to remember they had bottled water for us at some point. Have a great time!

  • Jessica says:

    Hi Bret and Mary,

    I hope that this doesn’t sound like a silly question…but was this part of the hotel package deal, and how much did it cost? My fiance and I are looking to go to the Dominican Republic for our honeymoon, and this seems like something we could do. Estimates are fine by us, and if you could point us to some of the hotels in that region, that would be great.

    Thanks a bunch!
    Jessica

    • It wasn’t part of the hotel package. When last we checked, it was under $100 per person, but it’s been 3 years or so. CHeck the Iguana Mama website (linked in the story) for more info.

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