Revealing a growing consciousness of the country’s rich biodiversity and the need to preserve it for future generations, the Dominican Republic now oversees 18 national parks, nine natural monuments, and six scientific reserves. The first UNESCO Biosphere Reserve was established in 2009, combining three of the country’s most biodiverse national parks—Jaragua, Bahoruco, and Enriquillo—in the southwest region.
The protection of all this land was in part the result of the government stepping up to the plate after environmentalists’ warned in the 1970s that much of the DR’s forests would vanish by the 1990s if no changes were made due to illegal forestation, fires, and pollution, among other causes. Challenges and abuses have not gone away in certain national parks in the southwest, but for the most part, the country is a staunch protector of its natural resources, recognizing their vital role in ecotourism.
You will be able to explore a handful of the most diverse and unique national parks of the Dominican Republic during your visit, whether you’re headed north, south, east, or into the heart of the country. The government manages the parks and entry at each location costs a usual RD$100 (100 Dominican pesos) per person or about US$2.21.The southwest region is where you’ll find the crown jewel of the DR’s parks. Two of the most important parks protect the mountains and pine forests of the Cordillera Central and the most rugged landmass: Parque Nacional Armando Bermudez, founded in 1956 and home to the 3,088-meter-tall (10,128-foot) Pico Duarte, and the adjacent Parque Nacional Jose del Carmen Ramirez, founded in 1958. Many come here to hike the tallest peak of the Caribbean and check that item off a bucket list, but the parks offer plenty for birders and those who want to take in some of the most spectacular views of the DR.
The southwest region is where you’ll find the crown jewel of the DR’s parks, where the greatest numbers of endemic flora and fauna are found, including over 50 species of birds and up to 166 species of the country’s orchids, at Parque Nacional Sierra de Bahoruco. The park is a variation of dry forest becoming cloud forest and Hispaniolan pine forests at high elevations. It is one of the most fascinating parks for scientists because of its limestone subterrain. While it is currently under threat due to illegal farming and felling in the southern portion, there’s hope that the damage done is being identified and stopped before it’s too late.
On the southern tip of Pedernales, Parque Nacional Jaragua provides a habitat for the cute pink flamingo, among other species. It also encompasses mangroves, beaches, Taíno caves, and the Oviedo Lagoon.
Parque Nacional Isla Cabritos, also in the southwest and a popular excursion from Barahona province, is a tiny island within Lago Enriquillo, the largest lake in the Caribbean in which roams the largest population of American crocodiles, endemic iguanas, and over 60 bird species. While the island itself is currently closed to visitors as of publication time, Lago Enriquillo remains open and is a great choice for birders and crocodile lovers.
The east coast of the DR, off the Samaná Peninsula, is home to the mystical Parque Nacional Los Haitises with its rich variety of mangroves but also its giant rock formations jutting out of the water, best explored by boat. It is home to populations of frigates and brown boobies. Along its shores, some tucked away and others seafront, are Taíno caves with cavernous chambers filled with petroglyphs and bats.
Equally impressive on the southeastern tip of the DR below the Punta Cana region is the Parque Nacional del Este, starting in Boca de Yuma and stretching out to Bayahibe. It consists of dry, flat terrain with tropical forests and limestone bedrock. There are Taíno caves to explore on foot or underwater. The park also comprises the stunning offshore islands of Saona and Catalina and their coral reefs, supporting frigate populations, the endangered paloma coronita (white crowned pigeon), and the most important turtle-nesting site of the country at Isla Saona.
Along the northwestern coast of the country is the Parque Nacional Monte Cristi, a range of subtropical dry forest with towering cliffs rising dramatically over the Atlantic. The most impressive is El Morro, a limestone mesa towering 213 meters (700 feet) above sea level and facing a gorgeous stretch of beach. The park also counts offshore islands, including Cayos Siete Hermanos, which protect colonies of brown pelicans, great egrets, and frigate birds, coastal lagoons with mangroves, and freshwater pools. Coral reefs stretch from El Morro to Punta Rucia. It’s one of the least visited parks despite its uniqueness.
Northeast of Monte Cristi is another of my favorite protected areas, the Estero Hondo Marine Mammal Sanctuary with the largest population of manatees. You can observe them from a lookout tower or go paddleboarding on the lagoon. For even more off-the-beaten-track national parks, look into Parque Nacional Saltos de La Jalda in Miches, protecting stunning waterfalls, and Parque Aniana Vargas in Cotuí.
Just 12 miles east of Santo Domingo, adjacent to the international airport, is one of the first and smallest national parks. Parque Nacional Submarino La Caleta is a popular dive excursion from Boca Chica for its marinelife and shipwreck—though not better than the diving you’ll find off the coast of Bayahibe within the Parque Nacional del Este.
Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Dominican Republic.