The site where the famous Mirabal sisters were murdered on dictator Trujillo's orders on 25 November 1960. Today the remote spot by a rough mountain track in the northern inland of the Dominican Republic
is marked by a dedicated memorial monument.
The three Mirabal sisters Patria
and Maria Teresa
were on their way back home to Salcedo after visiting their husbands in prison at Fortaleza San Felipe
in Puerto Plata
, when they were ambushed by Trujillo's henchmen on this remote stretch of mountain road.
The killers dragged them and their driver out of their jeep and took them to a nearby sugar cane grove. They separated the three sisters and then brutally slaughtered them individually before putting the bodies back in the car. They then pushed the car over the edge of the cliff to let it roll down deep into the valley below – that way they hoped it would look just like an accident. But that cover-up didn't work. It was immediately clear to everybody that it must have been murder.
Eventually the outrage over the Mirabal sisters' murder spelled the end for Trujillo. Only six months later his car was ambushed by armed dissidents who assassinated the hated tyrant in a shower of machine-gun fire (see under Santo Domingo
). Cars have always played an uncanny leitmotif role in the darker parts of Dominican history
The monument by the side of the road at the site of the Mirabal murder was apparently erected only in the year 2007 or 2008. It is now part of what you could call the “Mirabal sisters pilgrimage trail”.
What there is to see: not much, just the monument, which consists of three tall concrete spikes with three pedestals in front on which bronze busts of the three sisters rest.
Plaques beneath the busts give the names and respective dates of birth of the three sisters as well as the common date of their death. Two more plaques give further details about the monument, its construction and administrative affiliations (it is apparently linked with the Museo Hermanas Mirabal
The artwork is not exactly of the very highest quality, I found. The bust for Minerva, as is often the case for some strange reason, does not really do justice to her beauty in real life (as attested by many a photo I saw in the Resistance Museum
in Santo Domingo
, for example). Maria Teresa's bust looks almost bold (though her big hair was legendary). And Patria looks positively damaged! There's a gaping hole down the side of her neck, as if somebody had smashed it in with an axe. Whether this is the result of decay or indeed of a deliberate act of vandalism is hard to say.
At the rear of the monument is a balcony overlooking the valley that the Mirabal sisters' car was pushed down in the cover-up attempt by their murderers to make it look like a car accident. To the left of the monument (as seen from the road) is a flagpole flying the Dominican national flag.
It's no more than a short stop near the route linking Santiago with the coast, a point of pilgrimage, nothing more.
north-east of Santiago, the Dom Rep
's second city, only 8 miles (13 km) as the crow flies, but in a remote spot off the “Carretera Turistica” mountain route at the village of La Cumbre, ca. 1.6 miles (2.6 km) down a rough dirt track.
Google maps locators:
Access and costs: very remote, free
Details: Getting here by public transport would be pretty tricky and cumbersome, though it's probably not impossible. You'd need to get a guagua (minivan service) to La Cumbre itself and then hire a motorcycle taxi to get to the monument.
Less time-consuming and complicated is to drive there yourself, provided you feel fit for the demanding road traffic in this country (see under the keyword 'driving' in the main Dominican Republic chapter
!). When getting a rental car it's advisable to opt for a 4x4 or relatively sturdy SUV. A compact car or mini might struggle with the road conditions on parts of this route.
Coming from the south, via Santiago, you'll have to take the No. 25 mountain road. The numbers of roads aren't used much in the Dom Rep, though, so you'd have to ask for the “Carretera Turistico” (also: “Ruta Panoramica Santiago-Puerto Plata”). It branches off the Circunvalacion motorway north of Santiago and leads up into the mountains. In contrast to what the name of the road might imply, this “tourist road” is not a particularly good road, but actually pretty rough and potholed in many places, so it can be slow going.
The road keeps winding and winding up for ca. 6.5 miles (10 km) until you come to the village of La Cumbre, signalled by stalls at the roadside selling amber, and a big coffee-processing place on your left. Just behind the police station on the right is the turn-off for the track towards the monument. It is actually signposted too, though the sign (saying “Monumento Hnas. Mirabal) is rather small and easily overlooked amongst all the other signs around it. The bigger sign below it saying “Taller de Ambar” (amber workshop) points the same way.
This is an unpaved and pretty rough track, so it's very slow. But you just have to keep going, past residential houses and shacks. At a turn-off towards some amber mines and workshops (with a Japanese connection, going by the signs) after just under a mile (1.3 km) you have to keep to the right. Approximately the same distance further on you'll suddenly get to the monument, which stands on the right-hand side of the track. There's a little bay on the left for parking.
When I visited there was a guard of sorts on duty, but he didn't bother me as I got out to take my photos (once a rather boisterous group of three selfie-stick-wielding youths had departed).
Time required: While you won't need long at the monument itself, getting there is what really costs time. The drive up the mountains on the Carretera Turistica from Santiago and onwards to the coast takes about two hours for just 30 miles (50 km). The rough track towards the monument from La Cumbre adds another half an hour or so (depending on your vehicle).
Combinations with other dark destinations: If you look up La Cumbre on Google maps you'll find a marker for “La Mansion de Trujillo” – and indeed it seems that what is now the Parque Ecologico de Cafe was in the 1950s apparently appropriated and used by the dictator. Whether anything at all is still made out of that dark historical connection at the site I cannot tell (my guess is: probably not).
However, there is another former Trujillo mansion not far from here that you can actually stay at, since it's been converted into a rather swish boutique hotel. This is the so-called Camp David Ranch. It is reached by a mountain road that runs almost parallel to the initial stretch of the Cerretera Turistica a bit further east, it's up a hill just to the north-east of Santiago, overlooking the city.
Thematically more related to the Mirabal murder site, but further away geographically, are two more noteworthy places. One is the Museo Hermanas Mirabal
near Salcedo (the sisters' former home, now a museum-cum-shrine and their final resting place). The other is the Fortaleza San Felipe
in Puerto Plata
to the north, the old Spanish fort that at the time was used as a prison. It was this place that the sisters went to visit their husbands in prison on the day they were later ambushed and murdered. This particular historical connection, however, is ignored at the small museum inside the fort today.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
La Cumbre is in the heart of the Dominican Republic
's main amber mining country. In fact the amber mines around La Cumbre are said the be the largest in the world. You can visit them, but you cannot go down a mine (otherwise I would have put this under 'dark combinations'). This is also a good source for purchasing raw amber. There are stalls lining the main road as you come into La Cumbre.
Otherwise this is just a relatively scenic, rural, mountainous part of the Dom Rep, pretty to look at but not exactly full of mainstream tourist attractions. For those you'll have to head further north towards the coast, and especially towards Puerto Plata
and/or east towards Samana and Las Terrenas.
- La Cumbre 1 - Mirabal monument
- La Cumbre 2 - with flag
- La Cumbre 3 - and plaques
- La Cumbre 4 - Minerva
- La Cumbre 5 - Patria
- La Cumbre 6 - Patria looks a bit shattered
- La Cumbre 7 - rear of the monument
- La Cumbre 8 - valley
- La Cumbre 9 - signposting