Approximately 6,000 species of flora and 7,000 species of fauna thrive in the DR. Among the ones to look for on our island are the palmchat or Cigua Palmera, the DR’s national bird–endemic to Hispaniola–or our pink-colored national cactus flower, the Bayahibe Rose, endemic to the DR. Reptiles and amphibians are present as well, such as the American crocodile, or the endangered Ricord’s iguana. The stars of our wildlife species are the nearly 3,000 humpback whales faithfully flocking to the Bay of Samaná every year to mate and birth in our warm waters.
FLOWERS & TREES
The Dominican Republic boasts an astounding 6,000 species of plants, of which 2,050 are endemic – only found in the DR. Its most prized species is the exotic Pereskia quisqueyana or Rosa de Bayahibe, the country’s national flower. It’s a rare cactus that grows leaves, and the flower itself is a delicate pink color, 100% native to the Bayahibe area.
The caoba or mahogany is the DR’s national tree. You’ll spot numerous other species, including the ceiba, the West Indian cedar, the calabash tree, and of course, a wide variety of tropical palm trees–an African inheritance–punctuating the DR’s shores and hills. The coconut tree is ubiquitous, and the royal palm is symbolic to the DR, appearing on its national flag. In the summertime, you’ll notice the blooming, bright red flamboyant trees leaning over roadways or fields, an imported species. In the high elevation towns in the center of the DR, Creole pine trees are in abundance, matching the cool climate.
Flower lovers behold: you’ll find numerous tropical varieties here, but especially orchids–over 300 species. You can spot these in the wild in the cool valleys of Jarabacoa and Constanza, in contained parks like the National Botanical Garden in Santo Domingo, the largest in the Caribbean, the botanical gardens of Mount Isabel Torres in Puerto Plata, and Scape Park, in the Punta Cana area. The province of Constanza is known for its colorful flower plantations, an inheritance from the Japanese immigrant community who migrated to the DR in 1956, after World War II, for agricultural labor.
The best way to experience the DR’s natural abundance and variety in plants and trees in one place is to visit one of its national parks.
Between 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) of coastline and offshore islands, marine mammals have the ideal environment in the DR’s Caribbean and Atlantic waters. Aside from Samaná’s famous humpback whales–our most prized species, visiting Samaná’s Bay from mid-January through mid-March–manatees and turtles also have an important presence.
The endangered, herbivore West Indian Manatee lives in our estuaries and lagoons, particularly in the north coast, where the largest number of manatees take refuge in the protected lagoon at Estero Hondo Marine Mammal Sanctuary.
Off the island of Saona, four species of turtles–the loggerhead, the green sea turtle, the leatherback turtle, and the hawksbill turtle–nest on the island’s pristine beaches. They can also be spotted in the southwest, in the waters of Jaragua National Park, another turtle-nesting site.
Coral reefs are present in varying conditions and size, many of which have become protected in an attempt to save them from the harms of heavy tourism. The most pristine coral formation is found off the coast of Montecristi, but there are also beautiful corals to see in the waters around the islands of Cayo Arena, Saona, Catalina, and off the north coast of Samaná.
CROCODILES & IGUANAS
The endangered American crocodile species live and mate in Lago Enriquillo–an intriguing saltwater lake located in the southwest of the DR. Despite the lake’s rising conditions, the reptiles continue to lay eggs in the summertime, making it one of the few lakes in the world with a high concentration of crocodiles. Taking a boat ride on Lago Enriquillo in the summer is a great time to see them in big numbers along the shores, even if you can’t get off the boat for safety reasons.
The southwest coast is also home to the largest numbers of iguanas in DR–you are likely to spot them crossing the roads as you drive in the dry, hot Pedernales area. The rhinoceros iguana and the Ricord’s iguana are abundant inside the protected Lago Enriquillo park area, and in the Jaragua National Park.
Every year, the Dominican Republic’s birding reputation rises, and for good reason. Three hundred species of birds are at home here, of which 32 are endemic–including the national Cigua palmera–a high number for a single country. If you spot a palmchat by its nest, look to see if its neighbor is around–the endangered, endemic Ridgway’s Hawk or Gavilán de la Hispaniola likes to build its home directly above our national bird.
Look out for some of these additional endemic species: the Hispaniola woodpecker, the Hispaniola parakeet, the White-necked crow, the Black-crowned tanager, and the Golden swallow, among others.
Top birding hotspots around the country include the Sierra de Bahoruco–home to the majority of the endemic species–Los Haitises National Park, Jaragua National Park, Lago Enriquillo National Park, and Valle Nuevo National Park. You’ll spot plenty of species as well on the northern and southern coastlines and hills, havens for migratory and endemic birds who gather around mangroves, offshore islands, and protected parks.