The Dominican Republic boasts a magnificent landscape, between gorgeous beaches and mountainous jungles, it’s a paradise on earth for nature lovers. The country features over 15 national parks and many more protected areas sparkled around the country.
It might be hard to pick which ones you should visit during your trip to the Dominican Republic, so we have selected the best national parks in the country. From trekking and bird watching to exploring virgin beaches and Tainos caves, you’ll find the right fit for you. Read on to discover the best national parks in the Dominican Republic to add to your bucket list:
1 – Los Haitises National Park
Nicknamed the Ha Long Bay of the Caribbean, Los Haitises National Park is a paradise on earth. Embark on a journey like no other where you’ll see diverse wildlife, stunning scenery, and visit caves rich in history. The park is only reachable by boat. The tour will take you through the mangrove where you’ll be able to spot rare birds and might see dolphins, whales, and manatees. The park is home to over 230 bird species, many endemic to the Dominican Republic, some you’ll only be able to see within the park.
Along the way, you’ll see lush vegetation and huge karst rock formations formed by centuries of rains and the sea’s powerful waves. On land, you’ll trek to remote caves where you’ll get the chance to see petroglyphs and pictograms from the prehistory, some paitings and carvings dating as far back as the pre-ceramic era. Traces of several civilizations have been found there, some still unidentified. The latest tribes having inhabited the caves are Tainos – the people that where there before the Spaniards.
Witnessing this unique testimony of ancient life is a unique experience you should live during your trip to Las Terrenas. You can easily book a tour to Los Haitises National Park from Las Terrenas or Punta Cana. If you want to go on your own, you can take public transportation to Sabana de la Mar and from there negotiate with a fisherman to take you.
2 – Jaragua National Park
Spreading from sea to land over 1,536 km2, Jaragua National Park is part of one of the most important biosphere reserves in the Caribbean. Home to hundreds of endemic species and plants, it’s a paradise for birders and botanists. Like in Los Haitises, you’ll find several caves with spectacular rock carvings and painting, some dating as far back as 2,590 B.C. The drawings correspond to an indigenous settlement with lithic industry, characterized by the use of shell artifacts and silex instruments. Later Tainos inhabited the area, the park takes its name from the original “Cacicazgo” (kingdom/state) which was then named Xaragua.
Other points of interest include the Oviedo Lagoon – surrounded by mangroves and stunning scenery, it’s a good place to see birds, especially flamingoes – Bahía de las Aguilas, one of the most beautiful beaches in the country, and a couple of islands worth visiting. Your best option to visit the park is to book a tour as you’ll need a boat to access the points of interest. Most tours leave from Baranoha.
3 – Cotubanamá National Park
Known for the stunning Saona Island, Cotubanamá National Park (also known as National Park of the East) is a must-visit while in the Dominican Republic. Located between La Romana, a popular resort town on the southern coast of the island, and Punta Cana, Saona Island is one of the most visited places in the country.
Known for its multitudes of virgin beaches and population of birds (over 300 species), the park is a great place for hikers and snorkelers. From Bayahibe village, you can trek to several caves and freshwater springs, trying to spot birds on the way. All the trails are marked and well maintained. If you take a boat trip, you’ll visit breathtaking beaches and be able to snorkel above huge coral walls seeing turtles and many colorful fishes.
On Samoa Island, you can visit the turtle sanctuary, the island is one the most important nesting place in the country, and go to some of the villages. Near the island, you’ll find the largest natural pool in the world, located 400 meters from the shore, in the middle of the sea. To visit the park’s beaches and island you’ll need to book a tour from La Romana or Punta Cana, you can also try to negotiate with a fisherman in one of the nearby villages. You can plan to spend a couple of days on Saona, you’ll find a couple of hotels there.
4 – Monte Cristi National Park
Located on the Dominican Republic’s northern coast, near the border with Haiti, Monte Cristi National Park is a remote protected area, home to one of the country’s most beautiful coral reefs. Because of its remote location, it’s also one of the least frequented national parks. Travelers who make the trip will be rewarded with an incredible underwater experience as well as some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean.
From Monte Cristi village, you can walk to El Morro de Monte Cristi, a high promontory that offers breath-taking views over the park and the sea. Get on a boat a visit the nearby uninhabited islets and cays, and spend some time exploring the mangrove. Don’t forget to plan some snorkeling time to discover the beautiful reefs and colorful places.
Nearby you’ll also find Cayo Arena, also known as Paradise Island, a popular destination in the Dominican Republic. The island is pretty small, with beautiful white-sanded beaches. To visit the park, the easiest way is to book a tour from Puerto Plata or arrange a boat trip with a local fisherman in Monte Cristi.
5 – The Three Eyes National Park (Los Tres Ojos)
One of the most visited tourist attractions in the country, The Three Eyes National Park is a series of three lakes located inside a limestone cave. The lakes are similar to the cenotes you’ll find in Mexico and Central America. They were formed when the caves collapsed and water started filling up the space that was created. For centuries Tainos used the caves and lakes for ceremonies and rituals. The three lakes are underground and you access the first one through stairs carved in the rock. Then a boat takes you to the others.
There’s a fourth lake with an opening above, it was discovered later on. The scenery is spectacular, with stalactites and stalagmites everywhere, many films have been filmed there. It’s a unique place and one of the best national parks in the Dominican Republic. There’s not much walking involved but you’ll need to be able to go up and down the stairs. The park is located near the capital, Santo Domingo, you can for through a tour or go independently as well. There are a couple of tour operators that offer tours to Santo Domingo from Punta Cana, some include a visit to the park.
6 – La Caleta Underwater National Park
The first underwater national park in the country, Caleta Underwater National Park is considered by many as one of the top diving spots in the Caribbean. Located 20 km from Santo Domingo, you can arrange for a diving trip from there. The reef is beautiful there, with walls between 10 to 50 meters deep. You will see many different types of corals and marine life. There are also a couple of shipwrecks that are worth seeing, as well as a few underwater caves. La Caleta is a true paradise for divers. The network of caverns and tunnels is over 328 feet, perfect for a technical dive.
The most famous landmark there is the shipwreck Hickory, installed there in 1984 by a group of researchers to create an artificial reef to increase marine life. On land, you’ll find a small archaeological museum featuring some artifacts that have been found in the area. This part of the country used to be a settlement for several tribes throughout time before the Spaniards invaded the country.
7 – Pueblo Viejo National Park
If you are into archaeology and want to learn more about the Dominican Republic’s history, Pueblo Viejo National Park is the park for you. The park encompasses Concepción de la Vega and the Pueblo Viejo gold mine. Concepción de la Vega was founded in 1495 by Cristopher Columbus to serve as a fortress, the village grew around it and the gold mine opened. Most of the village and the fort were destroyed by an earthquake in 1552, but some ruins remain and can be visited today.
The Pueblo Viejo mine is the only gold mine in the country and was once the largest producer of gold in the Western hemisphere. There you’ll find a small museum featuring some artifacts excavated from the site. To visit the park, it is best to rent a car or scooter or hire a driver for the day.
8 – Valle Nuevo National Park
Located in Central Dominican Republic, on a plateau averaging 7500 ft above sea level, Valle Nuevo National Park boasts a plethora of natural attractions worth visiting. It’s the perfect place to go trekking or bird watching. The park is known for its cool climate and biodiversity, featuring cloud forests, highland plains, and vast savannas of alpine grass hugged by rocky mountains. The landscape is unique and feels totally different from the rest of the country.
There you’ll find several well-maintained trails, perfect for hiking or mountain biking. You can also visit the Salto de Aguas Blancas, the highest waterfall in the country, trek to Alto de la Bandera, one of the highest peaks in the Caribbean, and don’s miss Las Pirámides de Valle Nuevo and the Monument to Caamaño. There’s only one hotel within the park, Villa Pajon Ecolodge. It’s recommended to rent a car and spend a few days exploring the area.
9 – Sierra de Bahoruco National Parc
Part of a UNESCO Biosphere reserve, Sierra de Bahoruco National Park is a paradise for nature lovers. It’s a great place for trekking and birding. Located near the border with Haiti, the park spreads over 386 square miles of lush vegetation featuring a wide array of fauna, flora, and ecosystem. The park is also well known for being full of orchids. There you’ll find several well-maintained trails to go trekking, a couple of waterfalls and rivers to swim in, and many outdoor activities like ziplining. You can take a guided tour from Barahona if you want to go with a guide, or you can visit on your own if you have a car.