The Dominican Republic’s Best Spots for Nature Lovers
The Dominican Republic is filled with reasons to visit; from friendly locals and delicious food, to great nightlife and intriguing history. City folks, architecture-lovers, dancers, explorers; everyone can find something of interest in the Dominican Republic.
But natural beauty is one of the Dominican Republic’s best offerings. Between the jungles further inland, the beaches and reefs, and the wildlife, nature lovers will find no end to what the country has to offer. That doesn’t come as much of a surprise, really; the Dominican Republic is the second-largest country in the Carribbean, and nearly 25% of its land and shore are protected as national parks or sanctuaries. The country is considered a “biodiversity hotspot,” and plays host to innumerable endangered or unique species. As a result, the country is considered one of the best eco-tourism destinations in the world.
So, it’s kind of a fool’s errand to try and fit all of these into an article this size. As such, we’re going to narrow it down to some of the island’s most important or unique spots for nature lovers, with a special focus on those that do their best to protect the land and wildlife within.
Los Haitises National Park
Let’s start with a bang.
Los Haitises National Park is a little difficult to reach (which, seeing as we’re talking about nature spots, should be seen as a good thing), being placed on the Northeast coast of the Dominican Republic. The park was established on June 3rd, 1976, and in 1996, its area was quadrupled from 80 square miles to 319. As such, it stretches through three different provinces: Sabana de la Mar, Monte Plata, and Samana. Finally, Los Haitises has the greatest diversity of fauna out of any of the country’s protected areas.
As we mentioned before, Los Haitises is remote. It’s a protected virgin forest with barely any road access, and they do limit the number of tourists allowed, in the interest of protecting the land.
What’s more, the park is still a “real” rainforest, ranking high in annual total rainfall and number of rainy days. So, expect to get wet!
Among the most popular tourist attractions in Los Haitises are the mangroves. In fact, Los Haitises contains the greatest number of Caribbean mangrove, and they have guided tours where you’ll get to hop aboard a boat and zoom through the mangrove forest. It’s a beautiful experience, and one you shouldn’t pass up.
The caverns are another popular attraction. They’re beloved both by nature lovers and historians, as Native Americans filled these caverns with a variety of paintings… some of which predate the oldest known indigenous group on the island.
Finally, Cayo de los Pajaros (literally meaning “Bird Key”) is popular among bird lovers. Why? Because it is almost always filled with frigate birds and pelicans flying low, looking like a scene out of a nature documentary.
Los Tres Ojos (The Three Eyes)
Los Tres Ojos (a name we’ll explain in a minute, here) lacks the unmitigated grandeur of Los Haitises National Park, but it’s no less interesting. It’s a large, open-air limestone cave located in Santo Domingo Este, dotted with stalactites and stalagmites.
Oh, and the cave has three giant, crystal-clear lakes, which earned it its name: “The Three Eyes.”
Now, the cave system was created after tectonic movements caused some underground caves to collapse, resulting in a bowl-shaped gap that eventually filled with water. The lakes in the caves are fed by an underground river, and many of them have hidden outlets outside of Los Tres Ojos.
Which is where things get interesting; the water composition of the lakes varies. Two are made of sulpherous water and salt water, while the largest is mostly freshwater. Their temperatures vary, as well, and the myriad depths result in different colored reflections including blue, green, and yellow. Due to this variegated ecosystem, the fauna is incredibly diverse and the vegetation around the area is abundant.
And, for those who love a mystery: The depth of the lake is still unknown.
The National Botanical Gardens in Santo Domingo
Initially, we weren’t going to add this one. It seems a little strange to throw a curated, man-greated option into an article about natural beauty, right?
Well, we changed our minds after reading about this spot.
The National Botanical Garden is a 200-acre park created to study the plant life of the Dominican Republic for the purpose of furthering efforts at conservation. IT’s considered to be one of the best parks of its kind in the world, and features innumerable native plants, including bromeliads, ferns, palms, succulents, and medicinal plants. In fact, it has over 300 different varieties… of orchids, alone.
As a result of the variegated plant life, the park has also begun to attract rare bird species.
Parque Nacional del Este (National Park of the East)
This park is Los Haitises big competitor.
It’s one of the most biologically diverse reserves in the country, and, at 305 square miles, is one of the only single parks capable of comparing to Los Haitises in size, alone. The park is home to more than 500 species of plants, as well as hundreds of species of fauna—144 species of birds, alone. These are dispersed through the subtropical rainforest and dry forest further inland, and the islands, sea grasses and mangrove forests around the edge of the peninsula.
Unlike Los Haitises, however, Parque Nacional del Este is easier to access. There are rugged trails winding through the park, the most famous of which is Sendero del Padre Nuestro, which passes by tide pools, tropical forests, and caves. Speaking of caves, the park also houses Cueva del Puente, one of the islands most famous caves, which can be easily hiked on food. The park has also become a hot-spot for divers, on account of the coral reefs resting just offshore.
Partly due to the comparative ease of accessing Parque Nacional del Este, you’ll find a greater variety of tour options to see the park.
While you’re here, be sure to go to Saona island to see the sea turtles; this is the most important turtle nest in the country. Likwise, bottlenose dolphins swim the seas around the islands. And finally, further inland you might be lucky enough to see an endangered rhinoceros iguana. Don’t worry about missing him—at 4-and-a-half feet long, you’ll probably see if you two cross paths.
Monkey Land Zip Line Adventure
This option is certainly commercialized, but it isn’t one you should pass up.
This option will take you deep into the Anamuya mountains a little under an hour from Punta Cana. It’s structured as a tour, rather than a “park,” and allows you to fly over the hills and mountains on a zipline course with 16 platforms.
But there are two reasons it made the cut for this list.
The first is that, from above, you’ll be able to see the wildlife and landscape of the Dominican Republic from a birds-eye view without disturbing it. It’s the closest thing to seeing it “as is” that you can get.
Second, it puts you in contact with the island’s friendly and adorable squirrel monkeys, which love to interact and play with visitors.
Jaragua National Park
So, you thought Los Haitises and Parque Nacional del Este were big, huh? Well, try Jaragua on for size.
At 530 square miles, Jaragua National Park is, by far, this largest protected area not only in the Dominican Republic, but in the entire Caribbean. It’s located in Pedernales Province at the very southwestern edge of the Dominican Republic and, as such, can be very hard to reach.
It was established by presidential decree on August 11, 1983, and wound up names after a Taino region. The park is an excellent representation of the immense diversity to be found in the Dominican Republic. It includes dry forests, scrubs, and mangroves, and more than 300 square miles of the park are considered “marine.” In other words, you can roam from dry mountain regions to waterlogged coasts, to swamplands and then circle back around to see some cacti.
In fact, the park actually houses four separate regions that are considered attractions in their own right: Lago de Oviedo, a saltwater lake and the second-largest body of water in the Dominican Republic, noted for its diversity of bird life; Bahia de las Aguas, a four-mile, totally isolated and untouched stretch of beach considered to be one of the most beautiful in the world; Alto Velo island, part of an underwater mountain range; and Isla Beata, a small limestone island with a surprisingly varied landcape.
The Dominican Republic is full of attractions for nature lovers and, as long as this article was, it doesn’t even scratch the surface of what the Dominican Republic has to offer. What’s more, the Dominican Republic works hard to take care of its natural landscape and wildlife, making it beloved by environmentalists all over. So, take a trip and enjoy some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world!
Written by Connor Johnson
Connor Johnson is a flexible content and copy writer located in the Boston area. He supplements his writing with in-depth research and general marketing skills. He can be contacted here.