LA VEGA.

This is a very important province of the Cibao (the fertile valley that runs north to south through the center of the island). On March 14, 1495, Christopher Columbus led 200 armored Spanish infantrymen, 20 armored horsemen, and an uncounted number of Taíno allies from the north coast to the site known today as Santo Cerro (“Holy Hill”), where the very first major battle took place between Europeans and American Indians.

The battle gave rise to the legend of the Virgin de las Mercedes, the patroness of the island, and a shrine was built for her atop the mountain that has been a popular pilgrimage site ever since.

Below are the ruins of the original site of Concepción de la Vega, the city the Spaniards founded to supervise the gold-mining operations; called La Vega Vieja today, the original city was destroyed by earthquake in the late 16th century. Modern La Vega lies a few kilometers to the west. You have to come on a Sunday afternoon in February, for La Vega celebrates its “Carnaval de los Diablos Cojuelos” then, and it has the most famous and most colorful Carnaval celebrations in the country.

The province also is home to the increasingly popular recreational regions of Constanza and Jarabacoa, high up among the tallest mountain peaks--the “Dominican Alps.” Here you can visit some of the country’s largest waterfalls, including Aguas Blancas, Jimenoa, and Baiguate, go horseback riding, four-wheeling, mountain hiking, whitewater rafting… or swim in the brrrrrr-cold rushing rivers. Really adventurous? You can climb (or ride up on mule-back) the tallest mountain in all the Caribbean, Pico Duarte, more than 10,000’ up, up, up. Pico Duarte is in the Armando Bermúdez National Park, but the province also boasts the New Valley National Park and Ebano Verde Scientific Reserve.

Dominicans can now enjoy fresh apples, strawberries, and grapes, and temperate-region flowers (like roses) and vegetables (potatoes, beets) that are grown in these high-mountain regions and sold all over the country.