For many years Aguas Blancas Waterfall, located close to the town of Constanza, Dominican Republic, claimed the title of tallest waterfall in the Caribbean. At 272 feet high, the fall drops ice-cold mountain water, among pine trees, at an astonishing elevation of 5,500 feet about sea level. As Aguas Blancas enjoyed its prestigious title, another waterfall, in a far off corner of the country, waited to be discovered. Eventually, it was…
Salto La Jalda is located close to the town of Magua, about 20 kilometers west of Miches, a sleepy fishing village on the northern shores of the Dominican Republic’s eastern region. Standing at nearly 400 feet and tucked away in a newly decreed national park that bears its name, the waterfall has always stood above any other in the country; now, it’s beginning to receive the recognition. Jalda is a colloquial Spanish word meaning “side of a mountain” and since the fall is located between two mountain slopes, locals bequeathed the name La Jalda. Unlike Aguas Blancas Waterfall, where visitors can drive straight up to the cascade (on a bumpy, narrow road in all fairness) la Jalda’s beauty can only be appreciated by those who don’t mind sweating it out. Seven kilometers separate the National Park’s entrance with the waterfall. Visitors can choose to cover this ground on foot or on horseback. On this day, we chose to hike.
Our guide preferred to be called Papito, an incredibly knowledgeable and friendly young man who not only took time to explain our surroundings but also motivated me to ask questions. The trail was very well maintained considering the infrequent visitors the park receives. Much of the hike was level ground underneath a beautiful canopy of cacao trees that offered much-appreciated refuge from the sun while the cacao seeds offered a much-appreciated sweet snack. We would occasionally leave the cacao forest cover to cross the cool waters of the Magua River at various points. Approximately six kilometers into the hike we reached a park ranger station among towering green mountain slopes on either side. Here, the first glimpse of the waterfall, at the end of the valley, could be appreciated. The ranger station was surprisingly well equipped with electricity, kitchen, four bunk beds and, most importantly, two balconies with panoramic views of the valley and the still far off Jalda Waterfall. After being treated to a heaping portion of rice with small pieces of fish, avocado and cold water from the mini-fridge! We took a few minutes to digest and rest before embarking on the final leg of the hike.
The final kilometer was the most difficult section of the trek. The trail narrows a great deal, at points, along the mountainside with several ascents and descents. The open cacao forest is also replaced by thicker, tropical vegetation. But, with every step the sound of the encroaching cascade is ever greater, and La Jalda is quite the sight to see. The Magua River plummets 393 feet down a sheer rock cliff producing a powerful white wash that creates a stunning contrast with the surrounding dense, green jungle. At the base of the waterfall, an inviting natural lagoon is created with cool waters that can only be whole-heartedly appreciated by those who brave the nearly 3-hour hike through the Dominican Republic’s Oriental Mountain Range.
The crown of tallest waterfall in the Caribbean has been passed to Salto La Jalda; we can only wonder if another waterfall patiently waits, nestled in some corner of the Dominican Republic, to steal that crown once again.
Note: A new highway connecting Punta Cana to Miches is currently being constructed. The drive time between Punta Cana and Magua is about 3 ½ hours. When the highway is completed, this ride should be reduced to 2 hours. It is also important to note that Cuba claims the tallest waterfall in the Caribbean in Salto Fino. This is up for debate as the Salto Fino has various levels and is not one pure drop like Salto La Jalda.