Most of the world knows the Dominican Republic for its white-sand beaches…
The appeal of a place like Las Terrenas, with its warm Caribbean waters and swaying palms, is obvious.
If you’re after retirement by the beach, there’s not much I need to do to convince you of why Las Terrenas ticks all the boxes…
But what if you’re not all about sun, sand, and sea?
Not everyone enjoys hot weather and humidity, and not everyone wants to live near the beach.
Luckily the Dominican Republic offers an alternative: Monción.
Monción is a little mountain town located on the slopes of the Cordillera Central. Because of its altitude, cool weather, and highland scenery, the Cordillera Central is also known as the Dominican Alps and is home to the highest peaks in the West Indies.
At over 1,000 feet, it has spectacular views to go along with its pleasant climate. Winding your way up the mountain road towards the town of Monción, you pass brightly colored, perfectly maintained wooden houses interspersed between the villas with their distinctive Spanish-style red-tiled roofs.
The roads are lined with riotous bougainvillea and hibiscus—all the more special thanks to the pristine environment that reigns here (a complete lack of litter is an unusual sight in the Dominican Republic).
Monción is named after General Benito Monción who fought in the War of Restoration to take back the country from the Spanish. In fact, most of the municipality’s 40,000 inhabitants are direct descendants of the original fleet of Spaniards to come to the DR’s sunny, sand-fringed shores. They landed with Christopher Columbus at La Isabela, some 50 miles directly to the north on the Atlantic coastline.
The area’s main industry is agriculture, including rice, bananas, mangos, and avocados. It’s also the heart of the country’s casabe production, a flat bread made of cassava or yucca flour. The recipe for casabe has remained unchanged for hundreds of years, dating all the way back to when the Taíno Indians inhabited the island.
What Living In Monción, Dominican Republic Is Like
This is a great example of what makes Monción so special… apart from the spectacular views and the comfortable climate, living in Monción is like living life in the countryside as it was years—even decades—ago.
The roads are not lined with cars but with old men riding donkeys, their palm-leaf-plaited saddle bags full of yucca or sweet potatoes for dinner… or grass picked to take home to feed the cow.
Life is based on bartering and sharing, as everyone grows something in their farms or gardens… you “shop” for dinner by exchanging your avocados for your neighbor’s peas… your mangos for someone else’s pumpkins.
The air here is fresh and clean… instead of hearing the noise of factories or vehicles, you’ll hear bird songs, cockerels crowing, goats bleating, cows mooing, and pigs snorting. (Because, yes, every home has at least a cow, a pig, and a few chickens of its own.)
At night, while the other animals sleep, the tree frogs begin their calls, along with the occasional limpkin (kind of like a crane) crying. And with no light pollution, you feel you can almost touch the stars.
In Monción, there are no major supermarkets, no chain stores, no cinemas, and few restaurants. Most of the population has lived here for years and many are related, but that doesn’t stop them from being welcoming to foreigners.
The actual town of Monción is home to about 14,000 people and one main street. The streets are clean and the houses are brightly colored. The local hardware store staffed by men in gray coats gives individual service, be it for wood cut to measure, nails of all types sold by the pound, or sand and gravel sold by the wheelbarrow full.
The Dominican fast-food cafés sell fried chicken or la bandera—a truly Dominican dish of rice, stewed meat, and beans that translates to “the flag.” There is one bank and an agroveterinaria where you can buy everything your animals need (which comes in handy, as the nearest vet is in Santiago over an hour away).
But to feel totally awe-inspired, drive through the town for another couple of miles out the other side to the Monción Dam. I defy you to contain your gasp as you arrive. Completed in 2001, it is the highest dam in the country and is used to generate hydroelectricity and agricultural irrigation.
The highest peak in all the Caribbean lies just ahead of you from here: Pico Duarte stands tall at over 10,000 feet. Surrounded by mountains, hawks circling overhead, and standing on its edge with not a soul around, visiting the dam is something of a magical experience.
Monción is not for those who want beach life or those who need imported food or to go out to restaurants each night. It is a place of timeless tranquility, perfect for those looking to get back to nature and rediscover the simple pleasures of being part of a community.