The Dominican Republic  has an astonishingly diverse ecosystem on two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola. Today, 25 percent of this area is protected and includes nine scientific reserves and sanctuaries and 16 national parks (three of which are submarine), covering over 12,000 square kilometers.
If you don’t have enough time to explore all of the country’s mountainous highlands, pine savannas, mangroves, coastlines, sand dunes, rivers, and lagoons, following this itinerary will take you to the most diverse areas for a week of nature-loving fun.
Fly into Santo Domingo  and rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle; head 201 kilometers southwest to the coastal town of Barahona . Check into the Hotel Costa Larimar . Enjoy some fresh seafood at Brisas del Caribe  right on Barahona’s Malecón and some dancing at hot spot Los Robles .
Get an early start and drive along the very picturesque coastal Highway 44 to Parque Nacional Jaragua , the largest national park in the country, and hire a boat guide at the gate who’ll take you to Laguna de Oviedo. There you can view the 130 bird species that live in the park (including flamingos), iguanas, and a cave that has Taíno drawings.
Continue on to Las Cuevas village and hire a boat captain to take you to one of the last virgin beaches in the country, Bahía de las Águilas . The locals in Las Cuevas offer fresh seafood lunches prepared on the beachfront. Head back to your hotel in Barahona for the night.
Take the arid and very hot Lago Enriquillo Loop Road  to get to Parque Nacional Isla Cabritos . Stroll through the gardens at the entrance gate and mingle with the numerous ricord and rhinoceros iguanas. Purchase a tour that will take you to Lago Enriquillo  to see American crocodiles and flamingos hang out by the mouth of the Río de la Descubierta.
Continue the loop and head for the Taíno rock carvings at Las Caritas . After circling the lake on the loop road, stop for lunch in Neyba . Head back to Barahona for your last night in the southwestern region.
From Barahona , travel to Constanza , in a beautiful circular valley surrounded by mountains 1,200 meters above sea level. Stay at Alto Cerro  and enjoy the ranch’s horseback-riding tour through the countryside. Dine at Lorenzo’s , famous for its chivo guisado (goat stew) and other typical Dominican fare.
Take a day trip to hike in the Parque Nacional Valle Nuevo  (20 kilometers south of Constanza), where bird-watching reigns supreme. Afterward make the bumpy ride to a three-tiered waterfall, Salto de Aguas Blancas, and take a dip in its serene pool surrounded by the protected forest.
If you still have energy you can take a drive to the Reserva Científica Ebano Verde , created to protect the 621 plant species, amphibians, reptiles, small mammal species (such as solenodons and bats), and 59 species of birds. Enjoy a six-kilometer hike here along a trail where trees are marked with information about their species. Back in Constanza, have a plate of la bandera dominicana (chicken, beans, rice, and fried plantains) at Aguas Blancas .
Drive north to Jarabacoa , the gateway village to the central mountains and the national parks Armando Bermúdez and José del Carmen Ramírez.  Stay at the Gran Jimenoa  hotel, right on the bank of the Río de Jimenoa, and take short hikes to the waterfalls of Jimenoa and Baiguate,  where you can dip into the pools.
Take a tour of an organic coffee production plant at Café Monte Alto  of Jarabacoa and enjoy a cafecito in their coffee shop before heading back to Santo Domingo  to catch your flight the next day.