Located in the countryside outside of Puerta Plata, Dominican Republic, the 27 Waterfalls of Damajuana is the most talked-about experience on the north side of the island. Is it worthy of the hype? In a word, yes.
What is the 27 Waterfalls of Damajagua?
The 27 Charcos of Damajagua is exactly what it sounds like: 27 waterfalls in a row in the middle of the Dominican jungle. Unregulated until 2004, the waterfalls are now controlled by a private company thanks to Peace Corps volunteer Joe Kennedy (yes, of those Kennedys), and there’s quite the operation at the site. When you arrive, either by tour group or on your own, you’ll now find a dirt parking lot, tour booth, bathrooms and lockers, and outdoor dining area. Your group is paired with a guide from the falls, and you opt between navigating 27, 12, 7, or just one waterfall.
We wanted to do all 27, but the water level restricted us to 12. We went with Iguana Mama, and had a fun-loving guide, Raul. Our group of about 10 people were fitted with life vests and helmets (required), and we trekked almost two miles up a dirt trail. (The trail is around 3 km.) The youngest person in our group was eight, and the oldest was probably me, at age 40. The trail included steep wooden steps, rocks, and pretty severe inclines and declines, but overall was in good shape. The way was shaded as we hiked into the jungle canopy, and we were joined by a second guide, plus our guide who came with us from our cruise port.
When we reached the end of the trail to the 12 waterfalls (which took about 45 minutes), we climbed down another steep staircase and entered the river. In places, the water was only ankle deep, and in other places, over our heads. We began making our way back toward the ‘camp’ via the river, alternatively wading, swimming, jumping, sliding, and climbing in, over, under, and through the river. It was amazing.
At each of the 12 waterfalls, our guides would stop us and explain our options, which usually included leaping off a rock or outcropping into a deep pool of water below, sliding on our butts along naturally carved waterslides in the rock, or taking the ‘chicken’ way around waterfalls on questionable-looking ladders and staircases. Honestly, I think the most dangerous route was via those ladders!
Most of the time, I opted to jump (sometimes as much as 10 feet), but I also enjoyed sliding. The kids loved both options, and often, we’d climb back up ladders or ropes to do certain waterfalls a second time. There were groups ahead and behind us, which meant we had to keep to a schedule (see ’tips’ section below), but overall, we didn’t feel rushed. I don’t love heights, but I’m used to jumping off ledges, so the experience didn’t daunt me. If you REALLY don’t like heights, there are work-arounds for each waterfall, but they’re in the form of the aforementioned ladders, which, honestly, are just as scary.
In some places, you can swim underneath the waterfalls or explore partial caves carved out of the rock, and throughout the whole experience, the jungle canopy is above you, shading you and sheltering you. The sunlight cuts through gently (you don’t need sunglasses), and we didn’t find the hike or the swim to be buggy. The water is refreshing but not too cold.
The route down through the waterfalls took us about 1.5 hours, and afterward, we had a short hike back to the camp where we changed and had an included lunch of Dominican beans and rice, BBQed chicken, and a few kid pleasers like (oddly) spaghetti. Soda and rum and coke were included.
How to book a tour:
You can either arrive to the waterfalls on your own, taking a taxi from Amber Cove or an autobus from Puerto Plata, or you can book an excursion through Iguana Mama or Marysol Tours. The latter option is more expensive, but what you’re paying for is the convenience of the transportation (and the expensive gasoline required to make that happen). If you opt to arrive solo, you simply pay as you arrive (about $480 Dominican pesos for all 27), and guides are assigned to you on a first-come, first-served basis. This means you may have to wait a bit for the next guide.
Tips for the waterfalls:
- Book a tour early in the day to play in the water with fewer crowds. This ensures you won’t wait for a guide if you’re going solo, either.
- Bring waterproof shoes (like Keens or Chacos) or an old pair of sneakers to get wet.
- Put on bug spray and sun screen ahead of time.
- Keep everything but your waterproof camera on the bus or in a locker.
We booked a tour through Iguana Mama, because we wanted the convenience of a port pick-up. Our tour included lunch and cost just over $50 US per adult. If you opt out of a tour, the cost is significantly less per person (around $10), but does not include transportation or lunch. We were quoted everything from $40-100 US for a cab ride for five people from Amber Cove. It IS possible to negotiate a flat rate from taxis on the highway.
How to get there:
If you go on your own, get up-to-date directions at 27charcos.com. More information is found here.