It is 8.30 AM. I am on my way to visit Johan Guyot, the French manager and partner of ECO Tour Barahona, located in yet another pristine coastal village suitably named Paraiso, some 30 km west of the city of Barahona. more...
It is 8.30 AM. I am on my way to visit Johan Guyot, the French manager and partner of ECO Tour Barahona, located in yet another pristine coastal village suitably named Paraiso, some 30 km west of the city of Barahona.
ECO tour was founded six years ago by a French couple who initially set out to start a similar initiative in Venezuela, only to find out that some basic conditions, most important political stability, were not in place. They turned their focus on the South West region of the Dominican Republic where 5 natural parks, numerous untouched beaches, unique salt-water lakes and an absolute wealth of flora and fauna were just waiting for a professional and passion-driven tour and excursion organizer. ECO Tour started to promote the South West by approaching renowned travel publications like Routard, Fodor and Lonely Planet. This effort led to an increased amount of visitors, mostly backpackers and adventurers and the moral support of the government agencies that did not have the resources for a similar effort.
Upon arrival it becomes quite clear to me that I did not arrive at some full-fletched commercial outfit with a polished office and a time is money conscious manager.
Johan Guyot, who was invited to join ECO Tour by his best friends for over 15 year, gives me an education on the geographical circumstances that allow for the existence of an ecosystem that forms a sanctuary to a large number of endemic plant (including 36 Flowers!) and animal species. These endemic species used to live on a separate island, which now accounts for the South West part of the Dominican Republic, before it was united with the northern part of Hispaniola by a major seismological event, millions of years ago.
The coastal mountains literally catch the rain and function as a natural water management system thanks to the enormous amounts of ferns and other vegetation that ensure a constant, perfectly controlled, release of water. This water finds its way into rivers and streams that flow towards the sea, meanwhile irrigating the green mountain oasis where oranges, avocados, coffee, cocoa, passion fruit and bananas grow in abundance.
ECO Tours offers a large variety of established excursions as well as individualized trekking programs. Camping equipment, ecological showers, a cook, transport of your luggage, lifejackets when needed, a 1st aid kit and an English-speaking guide and are included.
I am impressed by the fact that ECO Tours incorporates the local population in their activities and give these people an opportunity to become involved. Some became an independent guide after learning “the trade” while working for ECO Tour. “No problem at all”, says Johan. “We are not in the business of creating a monopoly, controlling other people or personal enrichment. We believe in bringing people together, empowering people and promoting eco tourism as a whole”.
Only 2% of the 4 million people who visit the Dominican Republic each year leave their hotels and go out to discover the immense beauty of the mountains and country site. Increasing this percentage number holds the risk that the natural treasures suffer irreparable damage. Eco tourism done right increases awareness and avoids the negative environmental impact. This is a line of work; you cannot fake your way through. One has to understand the fragile natural balance that exists in the South West of the Dominican Republic and elsewhere. Talking with Johan Guyot, who now runs the company with a full time staff of 4 and various free-lancers, definitely gives me ample reason to recommend the services of ECO Tour.
Most popular are the excursions to Lago Enriquillo, Bahia de las Aguilas, Laguna Oviedo, the cloud forest of Cachote and the Larimar mines while Johan mentions Laguna Oviedo, due to its biodiversity -including flamingos’ and turtles- as well as the caves, as a personal favorite. We visit the small village of Los Patos where the sweet water river flows into the salty Caribbean Sea and visit a nearby “bat cave” with primitive Taino art, carved in the rocks. It is amazing how many little treasures there are to be discovered travelling these parts.
It is time for me to move on. “Do not forget to check out the beach of San Rafael”, says Johan. “When you see a white streak in the blue sea, you found the spot where a subterranean river streams into the sea”.
This will be the last natural phenomenon I check out before leaving the Barahona area for Constanza. I will have to return for a longer stay and at least one full day ECO tour. If you plan to take an ECO Tour, I can recommend the very personal Hotel Casa Blanca and the luxury hotel Casa Bonita; both are located within a short drive from Paraiso.