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Nestled about an hour inland from the northern coast of the Dominican Republic is a river called the Damajagua. And within the river lies what locals call Los 27 Charcos – literally translated as "the 27 pools."
What that really means, though, is an experience that will leave your adrenaline pumping and muscles burning as you scramble through a series of tunnels and waterfalls, leap from heights exceeding 25 feet and slip through naturally-made waterslides. In a country that's increasingly popular with adventure junkies for its wealth of outdoor activities, the 27 Charcos is not to be missed.
Indeed, the first tipoff of the excitement ahead is the required helmet and lifejacket for all participants. The excursion begins with an approximately half-mile hike that winds through swaying sugar cane fields and crosses the river several times before you arrive at the first falls, called La Virgen.
From there, it's a thrilling scramble along the river and its waterfalls, or cascadas. In the most precarious spots, there are wooden ladders to climb, ropes to cling to and vertigo-inducing rock ledges from which you'll plunge into the pools below (though the highest jumps have alternative means of getting through and/or down).
Mercifully, there are also intrepid guides at, literally, every step of the way. They grew up playing in the river as young boys, and it shows – they know exactly where to tell you to put your foot or how to snatch the back of your life vest to pull you through certain tricky spots. And the second you start to feel like a badass for leaping from an intimidating alto, you're immediately humbled to see one of these guys, sans helmet, shoes, or life vest, jumping from one rock to another like an envious mix of Jason Bourne and mythical river merman.
Even with the river guides, it's recommended to also go with a tour company. The best, by far, is Iguana Mama. Based in Cabarete, a lively beach town about an hour away, this eco-minded outfitter will provide transportation, breakfast and lunch for $79 (a discount is also offered online). In addition, Iguana Mama will also take you to all 27 charcos, while other tour groups stop at 12 (or fewer), and usually arrives earliest to get ahead of other groups, which can bottleneck in certain spots along the river.
For few more information, visit www.27charcos.com.