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Located in the foothills of Cordillera Central. The word Ocoa means, "land between mountains". The terrain of the province is mostly mountainous with many steep slopes. The highest altitudes are in the north and east with mountains as high as 2000 meters / 6562 miles above sea level. It was a haven for runaway slaves in the 18th century because it was so difficult to access.
Some historians claim the start of the original city of San Jose de Ocoa was in 1805. According to the legend Andrés Pimentel, a young man from the town of Matanzas in Baní, was forced to kidnap his girlfriend Lucía Tejeda because her family refused to consent to their engagement. The couple took refuge in Maniel and started to populate the area, which later was named San José de Ocoa.
Other main towns in Ocoa are Rancho Arriba, Sabana Larga, El Pinar, La Ciénaga, Nizao-Las Auyamas.
The province of Ocoa produces at least 35% of the Dominican Republics agriculture. Their main products are coffee, potatoes, beans, carrots, cabbage, peanuts, avocado, tropical fruit and more.
There are two main rivers that pass near or through San Jose de Ocoa. Rio Nizao and Rio Ocoa.
There is not much tourism in the area. There is some promotions for eco tourism but in is a farming community.
San José de Ocoa
The town of San Jose de Ocoa is surrounded by deep valleys formed by the rivers outside of the town. When there is no rain the rivers are very low but one good rain and the levels can rise dramatically. When this happens some of the mountain roads are virtually impassible.
Ocoa is a big small town. There are no tall buildings; maybe the tallest is the very unique church in the center of town facing the park. The park is a wonderful place to hang out sitting in the shade of the large trees. There are restaurants where the food is usually very fresh and prices are reasonable. There are many Colmados and Bars both large and small where you can visit with neighbors, play pool or do some dancing. There are banks in the town with automatic tellers for you to access your cash. Most of the businesses do NOT take credit cards so cash is important to have on hand. There is also a Western Union in town if needed. Pretty much the town has everything a normal town would have just a little smaller in proportion.
The town has their Festival for the Virgin Altagracia, the spiritual mother of the Dominicans, on January 21 each year in the center of the town. Here they have all sorts of festivities to celebrate the patron saint. They celebrate with the Noche de Velas/ Candlelight Evenings, which is a nightlong vigil to honor their patron saint. They pray, sing, dance and also play the Afro based music of Palos or Atabales to honor the virgin. Really it is a day long, sometimes lasting for a few days, party and celebration.
San José de Ocoa was the principal municipality in the Peravia province until the province was divided in January 2002. At this time this new province was named after its principal town, San José de Ocoa. The original name of the town was Maniey named after an ancient lake that has long since disappeared. This was home to many of the Taino Indian nation. Later the name was changed to Maniel Viejo de Ocoa.
By car it takes about 2 hours to get to Ocoa. The road can get bad at times and it has many twists and turns but for the most part it is easy driving.
Take the bus at Parque Independencia in Colonial Zone. The bus leaves every ½ hour to hour. The 2 hour and 45 minute ride costs $160 pesos (10/2011) to the center of San Jose de Ocoa. The road can get bumpy at times but the Guagua/ bus is comfortable and has air conditioning.
Once in San Jose de Ocoa there are many transportation options. Guaguas/ busses, mototconchos/ motorbike taxis and taxis are all available in the city. Once outside the city a taxi is almost impossible to find.
Walk. Make sure you get out and take a walk around the town. Stop by the Bomberos/ Fire Station and say hello. They are very proud of their fire company. The people here are so friendly but not overly so. Smile, say hello, talk even if you do not speak Spanish.
Motoconcho drivers I recommend:
Rodin - 829-892-3350 (locally in Ocoa)
*Odalis - 809-966-7741 and 809-931-2390 local in Ocoa and also can take you around the area. I used him from Rancho Arriba to Ocoa $200RDP plus gas and extras. He will stop and show you the sights for a little extra cash. Very trustworthy, tell him Janette sent you.
*Hotel Marion Restaurant and Bar - Located in front of the central park, Parque Duarte, Calle Andres Pimentel and San José. The restaurant and bar prices are very reasonable (try the Monfongo, it is great). Rooms have cable, air conditioning, hot water and fan. Room rates start at $600 RDP (10/2011). 809-558-2438. Owner speaks some English. Cash only.
Hotel Restaurant El Barcon - Avenida Canada #48. Prices start at $400rdp for a basic room and up (10/2011). 809-558-2432
Rancho Francisco - Just outside of the town, Calle Padre Billini #1, and has a resort look and feel with a giant restaurant and bar area. Prices start at $1000 and up (10/2011). They have 3 fresh water pools where you can buy a day pass for $50RDP per person. 809-558-4099
There is a small supermarket near the park Supermercado Massiel, Calle Duarte #41, 809-558-3725. There is a man there that speaks some English and can be very helpful.
Rancho Arriba is 750 meters/ 2500 feet above sea level. It is a farming community where you will see many Caballeros/ Cowboys riding fine horses around the town at any given time. You will see cows in fields in the center of town as well as other farm animals. There are coffee bushes in the center of the town just behind the park on the little rise with their shiny green leaves. The area is known for their coffee production, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and other veggies. There are many greenhouses located throughout the area providing a year round growing season. It is centrally located 30 K from Ocoa and Pierda Blanca.
*Note* - Most of the hotels and business here do NOT take credit cards. There are no bank machines to withdraw money from your accounts in Rancho Arriba. The closest banks are in San Jose de Ocoa. Make sure you have sufficient cash with you before you arrive.
From San Jose de Ocoa to Rancho Arriba by bus/ guagua the cost is $100 Dominican pesos (10/2011) and takes about 45 minutes to an hour on rough terrain, mountain roads with wonderful views. If you continue on the same bus from Santo Domingo the ride is comfortable. You can also go to the bus station/ Parada in Ocoa and get the bus up the mountain.
If you take a bus from the street or from Rancho Arriba there is a good chance you will ride a Land Rover type vehicle with vegetables and maybe an animal or two going along for the ride. It can be quite cramped but is a real experience. The main bus station is at the bridge across from the park and Colmado in the center of town.
The other option where you can really get a chance to see the views and enjoy a bit more is to take a motoconcho. Make sure you tell them to drive slow and easy and tell them what you want to see. A direct ride from Ocoa to Rancho Arriba starts at $200rdp. I recommend Odalis (mentioned above) for the long trip (tell him Janette sent you).
Make sure you get out and take a walk around the town.
*Hotel Tell Apin - A few blocks from the town center. There is a complete restaurant serving all types of fresh food at very reasonable prices. The rooms are very basic, no tv, cold water but clean and comfortable, safe parking area. There is a tv and internet in the lobby/ lounge area. The owner is Fernando. His son can speak English. They are very friendly and helpful and love to share information about the area with everyone. I recommend a visit here if it is only to have dinner (the Mondongo is wonderful). 809-601-0422 (email: firstname.lastname@example.org). Cash only.