I’m back from the southwest of the DR — and now more than halfway through my updates for the 2019 edition of Moon Dominican Republic.

Barahona. It’s a place not many get to see, yet filled with national parks (including a Biosphere Reserve), crystalline river waters flowing down from mountains that also produce coffee and larimar, a precious blue stone found only in Barahona on in the DR.

It was rare to hear of Barahona in tourism marketing materials prior to this year. It’s the least developed region, the beaches are not swimmable – in fact, they are downright dangerous, except for one or two, but even then you’d have to stick close to shore. Surfers venture here but there’s no organized professional surfing outfitter based here (yet). Yet it’s a stunning area that offers nature hikes, coffee trails, scenic drives snaking around mountains and coastline, wildlife parks, caves, and a glimpse of rural Dominican life.

A soon-changing province

Lately, particularly over the past few months, Barahona is being promoted… a lot. This is probably no coincidence. A mega luxury resort and vacation home development called Perla del Sur is currently underway—building all along the coastline of La Cienaga, Barahona (a small fishing town). They’ve bought a huge swath of land and are still negotiating with locals to buy more (some are refusing to sell, I was told). I was able to take a quick drive along the construction site and this project is huge, running along the shore of from Bahoruco to La Cienaga, sitting amid low income communities. The walls are high. So high they’re partially blocking the full gorgeous view that once was as you descend towards La Cienaga.

The village of La Cienaga, where the new luxury resort called Perla del Sur is being built.

It’s bringing a lot of employment they say, and people have even moved this way to work on the project. At what cost and effect, long-term? That remains to be seen. I was reminded of the words of Talib Rifai, former UN Word Tourism Organization Secretary General who was brutally honest at a conference in Jamaica last December:

“We cannot continue to build five-star hotels in three-star communities… . We have to continue to lower the walls between the host communities and visitors. We cannot let our visitors live in bubbles. That is not acceptable anymore. We cannot continue to promote modern-day plantations in our own countries called exclusive resorts. That is not the model we are looking for at all.”

Well I’m sad to say, this “luxury amid poor areas” model without lifting communities continues across many parts of the Caribbean and is increasing more than ever.

I also wondered immediately, upon seeing this seafront luxury resort’s location: will visitors know that the beaches on this Barahona coastline are not safe to swim in, much less the one facing their resort? Will they be aware that the main, worthwhile activities will be outside of the resort exploring mountains, swimming in rivers or balnearios, seeing wildlife and lagoons, hiking cloud forests and generally outdoor adventures (which is great for non-beach persons), but not frolicking in the sea at their resort? Will visitors heed the advice to stay out of the sea?

Other hotels and projects are underway as well in the southwest, including Punta Arena, from the Punta Cana Group, closer to the capital. It’s just a beach club for now.

What will the southwest look like 12 months from now (after my Moon DR manuscript deadline), and how will the villages change once this large scale resort is in place here? Will it remain peaceful and crime free? Time will tell.

Barahona City’s Malecon

There is one aspect of Barahona that remains continuously disappointing and is downright baffling to me: the perpetually dirty and polluted Malecon or waterfront in Barahona City.

I simply don’t understand why no one ever tries to clean it up (or maybe they’ve tried and it keeps happening), or why the Government isn’t doing anything to improve this entire park and area. It’s true that most visitors head out of the city to one of the small hotels facing the sea, but what about the residents of the city and their families? Three years have passed and it’s the same neglected, dirty waterfront. Yet locals continue to pour in at sunset just to catch a breeze, while some kids even get in the polluted waters, no doubt for lack of choice. It’s literally the worst Malecon I’ve seen in the DR. There’s clearly a lot more involved beneath the surface in Barahona.

There were other small updates across the region, including more camping in Pedernales, but otherwise things move slow around these parts. You’ll be able to find out the gist of where to go, eat, and stay in the next #MoonDR2019. The current edition is also good to use.

A nature haven

On a more positive note, the natural landscape across the province of Barahona remains stunning and lush—thanks to the mountain-to-sea landscape, and river attractions. I got to river hike to natural pools, among other activities, and I reconnected with the local cooperative based in La Cienaga, COOPDECI, which you’d know about if you have the first edition of my guidebook. I was glad to see them still thriving and receiving visitors for their tours around the province.

Enjoy this sneak peek of my river hiking adventure along the Bahoruco River with the rural cooperative.

Which region am I headed to next? Stay tuned to Instagram or Facebook to find out.

Lebawit Lily Girma

A former corporate attorney, Lebawit Lily Girma is an award-winning travel writer, photographer, and author of several Caribbean guidebooks for US-publisher Moon Travel Guides, including Moon Belize and Moon Dominican Republic. Originally from Ethiopia, Lily calls herself a “culture-holic”–fluent in four languages, she has lived in eight countries besides the U.S., including Belize, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic. Her articles and photography focusing on culture, adventure, and sustainable travel in the Caribbean region have been published in AFAR Magazine, CNN, BBC, Delta Sky, The Guardian, and others. She is the recipient of the 2016 Marcia Vickery Wallace Award for Excellence in Travel Journalism from the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

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