The Dominican Republic’s national parks and varying climates combine to create the perfect environment for over 6,000 species of thriving flora and fauna, including a high number of endemic species. In Bayahíbe, Cotubanamá National Park stretches from land—where you can spot the national, endemic Bayahíbe Rose—to the marine jewels of Saona and Catalina islands offshore, teeming with marine life. The largest of all national parks, and part of the DR’s UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Jaragua National Park includes beach, lagoons, dry forests and cays. Nearby, the Sierra de Bahoruco is the only cloud forest in the Caribbean. Among the most visited parks in the country is also its most stunning: Los Haitises National Park, toured mainly by boat to view its towering rock mounts rising out of the water. In one of the most remote, pristine areas of the country, Valle Nuevo National Park astounds with its dense pine tree forests and frosty mornings.
Whether for hiking, bird watching, or on flora expeditions, the DR’s protected areas should feature on your vacation to do list.
27 CHARCOS DE DAMAJAGUA
Puerto Plata’s crown jewel attraction offers a day of hiking through thick forest, crossing footbridges and passing numerous flora before eventually reaching a rocky hilltop where you’ll begin making your way down by jumping or sliding down a series of waterfalls!
ARMANDO BERMÚDEZ NATIONAL PARK
The Armando Bermúdez National Park stretches 767 square kilometers (296 square miles), and together with the neighboring José del Carmen Ramírez National Park, boasts the tallest peaks in the Caribbean region, including the mighty Pico Duarte, source of the Yaque del Norte river.
BAHÍA DE LAS ÁGUILAS
Recognized as the most beautiful beach in the DR and part of the Jaragua National Park, this diamond-white stretch runs a whopping five miles, boasting crystal clear turquoise waters, and a spectacular rocky karst landscape hugs this beach all along the coastline.
Cachote is a stunning protected cloud forest area, with a tiny community living at 1,097 meters (3,600 feet) above sea level. There are winding paths along which you can observe tropical flora, including bromeliads and wild orchids, as well as a series of hiking trails for excellent bird-watching.
The smallest of the islands off the shore of Bayahíbe; popular for its crystal clear waters year round, and its abundance of marine life and coral reefs.
CAYOS SIETE HERMANOS
Formed by coral sands, they offer a world of underwater exploration and wildlife. Around the cayes’ shores, you’ll spot cacti, iguanas, and crabs. Underwater, submerged forests, sandy bottoms, and large rocky walls make this area a one-stop site for snorkeling, day or night diving.
COTUBANAMÁ NATIONAL PARK
This is one of the most cave riddled and adventure-packed national parks in the DR counting more than 500 flora species, 300 types of birds, and long stretches of white beaches and islands.
CUEVA DE BERNA
Part of the Cotubanamá National Park, Cueva de Berna ranks among the largest and most important Taino caves in DR for its high number of petroglyphs.
CUEVA DE LAS GOLONDRINAS
Tucked along the scraggly Atlantic coastline of Río San Juan, swim in the calm natural pool surrounding the cave or view its rock composition from ceiling to floor while you float on crystal clear turquoise waters.
CUEVA DE LAS MARAVILLAS
This cave houses hundreds of well-preserved Taino pictographs and petroglyphs dating back thousands of years, and impressive samples of stalactites and stalagmites.
CUEVA DEL CHICHO
Cueva del Chicho is one of the most outstanding underground caves; its aquamarine, sparkling fresh waters draw many hikers and it also holds numerous petroglyphs.
CUEVA DEL PEÑÓN
The Caves of Peñón reveal the richest underwater marine life in Bayahíbe. The sea flows through this series of dramatic, rugged caverns lined along the western edge of Cotubanamá National Park.
CUEVA DEL PUENTE
One of the most accessible caves, located inside the Cotubanamá National Park—there are over 400 of them— Cueva del Puente reveals a three-level chamber with stalactites, stalagmites, Taino pictographs, and numerous bats.
CUEVA FUN FUN
Aptly translating as the “double fun” cave, adrenaline pumps are promised on this hiking and caving expedition to Cueva Fun Fun. You’ll rappel into an enormous chamber filled with stalactites, stalagmites, water in parts, and bats.
CUEVAS DE CABARETE
Tucked inside the forest of El Choco National Park, Cabarete’s caves reveal an underground network dating back millions of years. Cueva de Cristal rests underground with a fresh water pool, while other caves above ground are filled with stalactites and stalagmites.
ÉBANO VERDE SCIENTIFIC RESERVE
The scientific reserve boasts altitudes ranging from a low 245 meters (800 feet) to a high 1,565 meters (5,135 feet), home to over 600 species of flora and fauna, including over 100 bird species, giant tree frogs, lizards, and over 80 species of orchids.
EL CHOCO NATIONAL PARK
El Choco National Park offers a world of nature for hikes, mountain biking, swimming in fresh water lagoons, and cave exploration. Stretching 78 square kilometers (30 square miles), a handful of hiking trails take you through thick tropical forest along cacao and coffee trees, and into caves dating back millions of years.
EL MORRO NATIONAL PARK
El Morro rises 242 meters (794 feet) above sea level, gracing Montecristi’s coastal scenery with one of the most striking, unique views in DR. The dry, subtropical forest landscape around El Morro is surrounded by extensive stands of mangroves that can be seen up close on foot, or by boat.
ESTERO HONDO MARINE MAMMAL SANCTUARY
Climb the lookout tower and observe manatees at the Estero Hondo Marine Mammal Sanctuary. The protected lagoon is where the largest number of endangered, herbivore West Indian Manatees reside.
HOYO DE PELEMPITO
Located a cool 1,300 meters (4,265 feet) high–the drive is an attraction in itself, and unique to the Caribbean region. At the top are several mountain trails near the observatory, which overlooks the geological depression dropping 700 meters (2,300 feet), nestled between the Sierra de Bahoruco mountains.
Catalina is popular for water sports, particularly diving and snorkeling. Portions of the beach welcome cruise ship excursions, but the entire stretch is open for the public to enjoy.
Saona’s picture-perfect beaches attract more visitors than all of the DR’s national parks combined. A protected site and part of Cotubanamá National Park, the island is a dream tropical escape.
JARAGUA NATIONAL PARK
Jaragua National Park is one of DR’s most significant natural reserves; part of the first UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in the DR, the park encompass diverse ecosystems–from sea to land, lagoon to isles, and a rich and diverse wildlife.
JOSÉ DEL CARMEN RAMÍREZ NATIONAL PARK
Just like its adjacent Armando Bermúdez National Park, yet less explored, this is one of DR’s first national parks and protected areas. Stretching across three provinces at 764 square kilometers (295 square miles), it provides an alternative entry point to Pico Duarte.
LA VEGA VIEJA
Near Santo Cerro, discover the archeological ruins of the original town Christopher Columbus founded in 1494, classified as a national park. Archaeologists continue to study the excavated foundations of the old city once prosperous between 1505 and 1510.
Lago Enriquillo is the largest and deepest lake below sea level in the Caribbean, ideal for wildlife watching and nature exploration. Boat trips along the lake’s waters and onto Isla Cabritos reveal a large population of American crocodiles, and flamingos.
LAGUNA DE BÁVARO
Kayaking, fishing, hiking, boating, and bird watching through a tunnel of mangroves: these are a handful of activities to enjoy on the Laguna de Bávaro-home to reptiles and flora.
LAGUNA DE OVIEDO
The largest lagoon in DR, with a salt-water level three times higher than that of the sea, Laguna de Oviedo is a prime bird watching area. Around the lagoon’s thick mangrove swamps and 24 keys you’ll spot royal and blue herons, the great egret, roseate spoonbills, sandpipers, and flamingos.
Laguna Dudú’s series of turquoise, freshwater lagoons surrounded with caves and lush forest will keep you swimming all day long. Rent a kayak to navigate the waters, explore one of the caves on foot, or brave the makeshift zipline at your own risk.
One of the DR’s major bird sanctuaries, set along a peaceful lagoon flanked by thick mangroves. Boat rides take you along this mystical lagoon daily, though sunset is the best time to see egrets, and vultures soaring and chirping loudly above the mangroves as you pass through narrow channels.
DR’s largest freshwater lagoon, reaching 28 square kilometers (11 square miles), Laguna Rincón is home to a variety of flora and wildlife rich enough to make it a protected scientific reserve, with water turtles, iguanas, flamingos, pelicans, herons, and Florida ducks.
Climb a series of sturdy wooden steps and explore the large number of petroglyphs across the walls, faces suggesting the presence of Tainos thousands of years ago.
LOS HAITISES NATIONAL PARK
Los Haitises National Park is one of the crown jewels of the Dominican Republic’s national park system. Los Haitises attracts numerous visitors who come here by boat to see its magnificent series of high rock formations; also, it boasts extensive mangroves along its bay, dotted with keys and caves.
MARINE MAMMAL SANCTUARY
Thousands of visitors flock to Samaná every year for its chief seasonal attraction: the equally large number of humpback whales that return to court, mate, and birth in the Atlantic waters off Samaná Bay–an area officially declared a Marine Mammal Sanctuary in 1986.
MONTECRISTI UNDERWATER NATIONAL PARK
The Montecristi Underwater National Park boasts a rich coral barrier. It is the most untouched and vibrant reef in the country, and yet the least visited. You’ll spot gorgeous hard and soft coral gardens at various depths, including large moose horn corals, and schools of small tropical fish.
MOUNT ISABEL DE TORRES
Hike your way up or hop on the only cable car in the Caribbean to reach Mount Isabel de Torres, flanked by a giant statue of Christ the Redeemer–one of the province’s iconic landmarks–and standing 793 meters (2,600 feet) above Puerto Plata.
PADRE NUESTRO ECOLOGICAL TRAIL
Hike through a lush, protected forest where you can bird watch, spot native plants, and dip in cool fresh springs in underground caves.
A secluded, undeveloped white sand beach punctuated with rows of palm trees, and facing a wide, shallow turquoise natural pool, Palmilla is the ultimate Caribbean paradise.
PARQUE NACIONAL LOS TRES OJOS
Take a nature break around ancient Taino caves and lagoons.
PARQUE NACIONAL SUBMARINO LA CALETA
Discover bright corals and critters thriving off sunken ships.
The highest mountain peak in the Caribbean, rising at 3,087 meters (10,125 feet), Pico Duarte is tucked amid two national parks, and is reachable in two or three-day excursions depending on the chosen route. Hiking to Pico Duarte is definitely one for the Caribbean traveler’s bucket list!
SALTO DE BAIGUATE
The perfect waterfall and jade pool await at Salto de Baiguate-cascading down 25 meters (82 feet), tucked below a deep canyon yet easily reached via a series of wooden steps that lead directly to the water.
SALTO DE JIMENOA
Visit the two waterfalls that are synonymous with Jarabacoa–Salto de Jimenoa Uno and Salto de Jimenoa Dos–one set around a hydroelectric dam, and the other tucked deep inside a ravine.
SALTO EL LIMÓN
Reaching El Limón waterfall is an adventure that takes you on a 2.5-kilometer (1.5-mile) journey through thick forest, on horseback or on foot down lush hilly terrain, while spotting flora and fauna along the way. You can also go canyoning through El Limón river to reach the falls.
SIERRA DE BAHORUCO NATIONAL PARK
A nature lovers’ wonderland and part of the designated Jaragua-Bahoruco-Enriquillo UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Sierra de Bahoruco is home to an impressive range of forests, as well as a limestone sub terrain. The greatest number of flora and fauna make their home here.
Swim and snorkel with humpback whales from mid-January through March, when these giant mammals come to mate and give birth in the Silver Bank Sanctuary, north of Puerto Plata’s coast.
VALLE NUEVO NATIONAL PARK
Known for offering exceptional bird watching and mountain trekking opportunities, Valle Nuevo is one of Constanza’s crown jewels. At an altitude of more than 2,200 meters (7,200 feet), it is home to over 500 species of plants–138 endemic to Valle Nuevo–as well as numerous species of amphibians and butterflies.