Parque Nacional Jaragua
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Parque Nacional Jaragua (8 a.m.–5 p.m., US$1.50 entrance) is named after a Taíno chief and is the largest park in the nation. In it is a combination of terrestrial, coastal, and marine environments including two continental islands, Isla Beata and Alto Vela. Its 1,400-square-kilometer expanse includes scrub in a subtropical dry and a thorny forest. The high temperatures and low precipitation associated with that type of environment make the area dominated by different types of cactus. But in addition, you’ll see cedar, mahogany, oak, and even grapes.
Parque Nacional Jaragua protects flocks of flamingos who spend much of the year on the 27-kilometer surface area shore of Laguna de Oviedo, with hyper-saline waters, where you can also find egrets and black-crowned tanagers, all of which are a part of the 130-some species of birds found in the park. Birds are better viewed earlier in the day. This is a very sunny and hot area. Bring bug spray, sunscreen, and a hat. The ricord iguana and rhinoceros iguana, which are endemic to Hispaniola, also call this park home.
For a tour of Parque Nacional Jaragua, ask for a guide at the entrance, which is in a well-marked turnoff from Highway 44 just north of the town of Oviedo. The guide will take you by boat for a 2–3 hour ride through the lagoon at Oviedo, showing you the flamingos, three islands, and a cave containing Taíno artwork. Although the cost of the tour was quoted at US$60, this price fluctuates and is easily bargained down.
EcoTour Barahona (tel. 809/243-1101, www.ecotour-repdom.com, US$70) arranges excursions to Laguna Oviedo, picking you up at your hotel. You’ll have lunch on Iguana Island. This excursion requires quite a bit of walking so wear good shoes.
Getting to Parque Nacional Jaragua
Parque Nacional Jaragua makes for a good day trip when you use Barahona as your base. Guaguas will drop you off at the entrance. It is best to drive, though, so as not to risk missing the last guagua at 4 p.m. You don’t want to miss it since there are no hotels nearby.
If you are driving the Carretera Oviedo–Pedernales highway, be on the lookout at kilometer 16 for three Ecological Wells. These small fresh-water lakes are crystal clear and are a good remedy for the scorching heat of the area. Two are embedded into the rocks and are accessible for tourists to swim in, although there is no tourist infrastructure at these pools, just an all-natural dipping opportunity.
© Ana Chavier Caamaño from Moon Dominican Republic, 4th edition