SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – Home to nine different ecozones, Dominican Republic’s natural contrasts provide a bevy of breathtaking nature for visitors to explore. The country’s natural diversity and varying climates create the perfect eco-playground for all nature enthusiasts.
“Dominican Republic’s natural features extend far beyond the beaches we are best known for,” said Magaly Toribio, marketing advisor for the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism. “From lush green jungle to arid semi-deserts to pine-covered mountains, our country truly does have it all.”
A land of striking contrasts, the country is home to both the lowest and highest points below and above sea level in the Caribbean. Lake Enriquillo is a scientific marvel situated in a rift valley. This saltwater lake is both the largest lake and the lowest elevation in the region, at 45 yards (42 meters) below sea level. The lake is a designated Ramsar Site and is best explored by boat, allowing visitors to take in the spectacular sight of the wildlife refuge featuring tropical birds, flamingos, two types of iguana and American crocodiles.
To the northeast of Lake Enriquillo stands Pico Duarte, the highest peak in the Caribbean at two miles (3,087 meters) above sea level.
The peak is accessible by two- to four-day treks from nearby Jarabacoa, allowing travelers to take in magnificent panoramic views once they arrive to the top. In Jarabacoa, visitors can also enjoy a cool mountain climate that provides a welcome reprieve from warmer conditions in other parts of the country. By contrast, the sand dunes in Baní—about an hour from the capital of Santo Domingo—offer a desert-like atmosphere, spanning over 9 miles (15 km) and reaching heights up to 115 feet (35 meters). Tourists can explore the dunes by foot, but good shoes are recommended, as the sand can be hot.
For even more stunning bird’s-eye views, a cable car journey to the top of Mount Isabel de Torres in Puerto Plata is a can’t-miss. A massive statue of Christ and a botanical garden also await visitors at the top of the peak.
Dominican Republic is home to another extreme: the shortest river in the Antilles. Los Patos River in Barahona, named for its large populations of ducks, is the shortest river in the region and one of the shortest in the world. By contrast, the Yaque Del Norte River is the longest river in the country, winding from Jarabacoa up to the far northwest corner of the country in Montecristi.
For a comprehensive showcase of Dominican Republic’s natural diversity, look no further than the national parks. The lush Los Haitises National Park in Samaná features mangroves that can be explored by boat and ancient pictographs from the Taino Indians preserved in caves. On the opposite end of the country, Jaragua National Park in Pedernales is characterized by dry forest and scrub.
Jaragua is the largest protected area in the Caribbean and is home to several ecosystems including natural forests, wetlands and coral reefs. In the center of the country, Valle Nuevo National park in Constanza offers spectacular bird watching and mountain trekking, along with cool temperatures and pine tree forest—perfect for camping. The park features a vast array of elevations and a diverse assortment of plants and animals, with 531 plant species and 145 wildlife species. In the northwest corner of the country, Montecristi National Park’s dry, subtropical forest landscape is surrounded by mangroves that can be explored up close by boat or on foot through a network of inland waterways. Visitors can also explore a cluster of small islands within the park and take advantage of the coral reefs for snorkeling. Montecristi National Park features three categories of protected areas, offering an assortment of unique natural wonders within the park.
Animal lovers will be in heaven while exploring the country’s fauna, which boasts greater diversity than any other country in the Antilles region. More than 250 species of birds call the country home, 22 of which are endangered species. The American crocodile, the Ricord’s iguana, the hutia and the solenodon are among the more than one thousand species of reptiles, in addition to 60 species of amphibians. The Samaná Peninsula on Dominican Republic’s northeast coast offers the opportunity for unparalleled whale watching between December and March, when humpback whales migrate to the bay en masse.
Dominican flora includes more than five thousand plants, many of which are endemic and can only be found in the country. Among these endemic species are the royal palm and the pine, while within the native species there is tobacco, pineapple, the kapok and the mahogany tree, among others.
Both in the upper reaches of the country, as well as in the plains, there are a large variety of areas where nature expresses itself in different and extreme forms, from luscious tropical forests to arid deserts.