Ecotour Barahona: Bunny Visits Bahia de las Aguilas and Lake Enriquillo
Travelling in the Dominican Republic earlier this year, Bunny was keen to visit the less-explored southwestern corner of the country. However, she wasn’t quite sure how to best organise a visit there. For example, Peninsula de Pedernales is too far to visit on a day trip from the capital Santo Domingo (and even further from the popular beach destinations).
Being a bit lazy and having rusty Spanish at best, Bunny wasn’t interested in organising all the travel on her own. She wanted a ready-made tour that was individual, easy, interesting and affordable. After some online research, she found Ecotour Barahona tours which turned out to be the perfect solution for her.
Read below about Bunny’s excellent 4-night trip with Ecotour Barahona, including lovely days spent at Lake Enriquillo and the spectacular Bahia de las Aguilas beach.
Bunny’s Ecotour Barahona Review
Ecoutour Barahona offers a number of different day trips around Peninsula de Pedernales as well as longer tours that leave from Santo Domingo.
Since Bunny was interested in easy travelling, she opted for the Hummingbird Package, which included transportation to and from Santo Domingo (including taxi rides from her hotel), two days of guided day trips, all breakfasts and lunches, national park entrance fees and the services of an English-speaking guide. Most importantly, the tour could be organised for a minimum of two participants.
Before her trip, Bunny dealt with all the details by email with Nico from Ecotour Barahona. She was impressed by his timely and informative replies as well as his accommodating attitude when Bunny requested some changes to the tour. She also liked the fact that there were a number of hotel options to choose from.
When selecting among the day trips included in the package, Bunny pondered between 7 different excursions on offer. Her main priority was to visit Bahia de las Aguilas beach. In addition, Bunny chose a day trip to the largest lake in the Caribbean, Lago Enriquillo, which promised interesting scenery and possible encounters with crocodiles.
Transfer from Santo Domingo to Barahona
Bunny’s tour started in Santo Domingo where, as part of the package, she was driven across the capital to the Carib Tours bus terminal. The driver then bought the bus tickets for the Bunnies and showed them where to wait for the announcement of the Barahona bus. Easy!
The announcement never came and the whole bus station was a bit chaotic. Most of the buses didn’t have their destinations displayed on their placards, so the Bunnies played a little bit of a guessing game before managing to board the correct bus.
The bus itself was new, clean and comfortable. The travel time to Barahona was approximately 3,5 hours. Communication on the bus was lacking a bit, so it was another guessing game for the Bunnies to decide where exactly to get off. Luckily, they spotted a guy holding a sign with Bunny’s name on it, waiting for them outside the bus stop in Barahona.
Then it was a short, 20-minute drive to Casa del Mar Lodge, an eco-lodge located on a wild beach among stunning coconut palms and tropical gardens. This is where the Bunnies would be staying during their Hummingbird Package.
The welcome at the lodge was very friendly. The Bunnies were offered a delicious rum-orange punch which immediately met with their full approval. The Italian owner was there to personally greet them and he also gracefully answered all of Bunny’s questions about the eco credentials of the place. She was pleased to learn that the whole complex ran completely on solar energy.
The Bunnies were then shown to their room, which was simply furnished, but nice, including a lovely terrace with a view to the crashing waves below. There was no air-conditioning but the Bunnies were happy with the fan.
Casa del Mar Lodge has a highly rated Italian restaurant which Bunny was eager to try on their first night. It turned out the menu was not really vegetarian-friendly but the chef did his best to accommodate the Bunnies’ diet. The bruschetta, in particular, was delicious!
Day Trip to Lake Enriquillo
Bunny’s tour started in earnest the following morning when Efrain, their Ecotour Barahona guide, and David, the driver, showed up promptly at 8am. Both were friendly fellows and Efrain’s English was excellent so Bunny had a good feeling about the tour.
The first short stop was at Laguna Cabral, a large freshwater lagoon, with plenty of reptiles (iguanas), huge colonies of both resident and migrating birds and many species of fish.
Next up was a local town of Neyba where Bunny visited a busy market with lots of good produce. She bought some grapefruit for the road and admired the town’s nicely coloured houses and street art.
Then it was time for the main attraction of the day: Lake Enriquillo, which offers a strikingly different landscape in a country renowned for its gorgeous beaches.
The lake is named after the first Taino chief who successfully revolted against the Spanish colonialists. It is a superb destination for wildlife watching and nature exploration. Lake Enriquillo is home to the largest population of American crocodiles in the Caribbean (who knew there were crocodiles in the region?!) and 60 different species of birds, including egrets, herons and kingfishers.
Bunny visited in February which was prime time to see the crocodiles. Almost 400 crocodiles lay their eggs in Lake Enriquillo and spend time where the salty lake merges with an incoming cold river. It was amazing to be so close (in a small rickety boat no less!) to these awe-inspiring creatures.
The bird population was also prolific, not to mention the impressively large iguanas who guard the entrance of the lake. Bunny was a bit unnerved by their size, and ugly appearance, at first, but they proved reasonably friendly and totally harmless.
Lake Enriquillo itself is hauntingly beautiful. It is a hypersaline lake, 30 meters below sea level. The water levels have been rising the past few years for an unknown reason (climate change, anyone?), so only one island - Cabritos Island – remains on the lake. Many local farmers have also been forced to relocate.
There is very little tourism. The small visitor centre offers some information and a single boat is available for rides on the lake. If you travel independently, it is best to reserve the boat ride in advance to avoid disappointment. The lake is best experienced by boat and you get almost unnervingly close to the crocodiles. Some seemed as big as the boat.
If you are just driving past, it is worth stopping even for a short time as the lake is very picturesque. Bunny particularly loved the dead trees jutting out of the water. It created a beautiful, eerie atmosphere on the lake.
After Lake Enriquillo, the Bunnies enjoyed lunch in the small town of La Descubierta. The delicious vegetarian lunch was actually pre-prepared by Ecotour Barahona staff and included homemade national dishes.
On the way back, the Bunnies stopped at “Las Caritas” to explore a Taino cave with some impressive petroglyphs, including one that looked strikingly like a modern day smiley. The spot also provided a nice, panoramic view of Lake Enriquillo.
The last stop of the day was at a popular local swimming spot, fed by a natural fresh water spring, at Las Marias. This natural spa is popular with the residents of nearby town of Neyba. For Bunny, it was a nice spot to have a cooling dip after the long and hot day of sightseeing before the drive back to the hotel.
Day Trip to Bahia de las Aguilas
The next day’s adventure began with another 8am start. The boys were on time and so was Bunny. She had already enjoyed a lovely fresh breakfast on the terrace of her room at Casa del Mar Lodge and was now excited to finally see Bahia de las Aguilas.
It was approximately 2,5-hours of driving to get to the beach but luckily the coastal scenery along Peninsula de Pedernales was stunning. The road hugged the coast for most of the way and there were cute little towns and villages on the way.
One of the biggest surprises for Bunny was the huge, modern windmill park on Peninsula de Pedernales. It was such an unexpected and impressive site. Bunny had never before hopped around so close to such massive windmills and was mesmerised by their sight and sound (voosh, voosh!). Two thumbs (or even paws) up from Bunny for this alternative energy effort.
Afterwards, the scenery turned very arid but luckily the road was in excellent condition. The scenery reminded Bunny of an African safari, particularly when they turned on a dirt road surrounded by dry shrubs and red-coloured earth. She wouldn’t have been surprised if an elephant had suddenly emerged from the bush.
Upon reaching the Cabo Rojo area, where the boats leave for Bahia de las Aguilas, Bunny noted two separate glamping resorts: Eco del Mar and Rancho Tipico, both located directly on the beautiful Cabo Rojo beach. Bunny made a mental note of staying there if she ever returned to the area.
Ecotour Barahona had made arrangements with Rancho Tipico (the last place with bathroom facilities before leaving for the beach!) for the 15-minute boat ride to Bahia de las Aguilas. The Bunnies and Efrain were the only passengers on the boat. It was a beautiful, 15-minute, boat ride past picturesque rocky coast to the beach.
Most local people consider the 5-mile long Bahia de las Aguilas the most beautiful beach in the country. Relatively few tourists visit because of its isolated location in Jaragua National Park. So, if you make your way to Bahia de las Aguilas, you are likely to enjoy this paradise in total peace and quiet.
Bunny visited on a Sunday, which is the busiest day on the beach, and there were still only a handful of people there. The beach was absolutely gorgeous: miles and miles of deserted white sands, gentle waves and amazingly turquoise water.
Bunny was immediately sold on the beauty of this pristine paradise, even if the beach lacked the picturesque palm trees that line most other beautiful beaches in the Dominican Republic.
The climate at Bahia de las Aguilas is very dry so the vegetation consists mainly of cacti and other desert plants. There is very little shade, although Efrain managed to find a perfect spot underneath a tree for a beach picnic of delicious home-made Dominican fare.
Some sizeable iguanas roamed the grassy area next to their picnic spot, but otherwise the Bunnies had their perfect beach and crystal-clear waters to themselves. Other people could be seen further down the beach, but just far enough to Bunny’s liking.
After hours of pure bliss, it was very difficult to leave the beach but the Bunnies had a long way back to their accommodation.
On the return journey, David and Efrain were kind enough to make a quick bonus stop at Lago Oviendo where Ecotour Barahona organises separate day trips. Bunny was glad to have a little hop around as the lake was very peaceful and beautiful. She even spotted some flamingos (the main draw here) but they were far enough away that a separate boat trip would have been needed for any decent photos.
The last stop of the day was in Los Patos, which has a popular pebble beach and the shortest river (61 meters) in the country.
It was a very busy place, probably a bit too busy for reclusive Bunny, but it was interesting to see the locals enjoying a sunny Sunday by the sea. Everyone seemed to have a blast, the music was loud and the beer was cold (or so Bunny was told).
Then it was time to return to Eco del Mar Lodge for sunset and another delicious dinner at the hotel’s Italian restaurant.
Bunny’s Extension at Casa Bonita
Ecotour Barahona’s Hummingbird Package includes three nights of hotel accommodation but Bunny wanted to enjoy the region for an additional, lazy day, so she organised a separate, extra night at Casa Bonita at the end of her tour.
Casa Bonita is a small luxury hotel, located just a few kilometres from Eco del Mar Lodge. When the friendly owner of Eco del Mar learned that the Bunnies had no transportation arranged for the transfer, he provided his car and driver for the Bunnies free of charge. That is excellent service, Bunny says!
Bunny had high hopes for her stay at Casa Bonita as the hotel is a member of her favourite travel club, Small Luxury Hotels (SLH), where Bunny enjoys a number of travel perks thanks to her membership.
Casa Bonita was indeed a gorgeous hotel, with a fabulous infinity pool, good service and stylish rooms. In short, everything you can expect from an SLH hotel. Bunny was not totally impressed with her stay though.
For starters, Bunny did not receive any room upgrade, although she was entitled to one. In contrast, she had received upgrades at the two other SLH properties she visited while in the Dominican Republic. (Check out Casas del XIV and Sublime Samana for truly luxurious stays).
There was also a lot of up-selling in terms of available excursions and spa services, even though Bunny made it very clear that she just wanted to relax by the pool and sip cocktails during her short stay at Casa Bonita.
All in all, Bunny was happy to have checked out Casa Bonita but she thinks it is generally not worth the splurge. If you spend your days exploring the region, like Bunny did, Eco del Mar Lodge is a wonderful option for your accommodation - for a fraction of the price of Casa Bonita.
Back to Santo Domingo
Following her night at Casa Bonita, the Bunnies were promptly picked up by Ecoutour Barahona and transferred to the Barahona bus station for their bus ride back to Santo Domingo.
On the way, Bunny received a phone call from Nico in Ecoutour Barahona office, making sure that everything during the tour had gone well and that the Bunnies were happy with their trip. Bunny very much appreciated the gesture and the excellent service throughout her time with Ecotour Barahona.
Southwestern Dominican Republic is a really unspoiled part of the island country. There are very few tourists around and no all-inclusive hotels in sight. The infrastructure is not geared towards tourism and the atmosphere has a local flavour that is missing in many of the more popular places.
If you want to explore an authentic part of the country, this is where you should travel, Bunny says. And there is no better company to trust than Ecotour Barahona. Bunny was very happy with her well-organised, friendly and interesting tour with them.