The Dominican Republic is mainly known for its all-inclusive tourism in Punta Cana and Puerto Plata, but few people know that the country harbours the highest biodiversity of all Caribbean countries, with interesting wildlife, fantastic panorama views, lush tropical vegetation, amazing hiking trails, picturesque waterfalls and mountains as high as 10,000 feet.
Much of this natural splendour can be found in the Dominican Republic’s national parks, which host some of the most beautiful natural attractions in the country. This guide reveals the best natural monuments and national parks in the Dominican Republic, including key attractions and tips on visiting visit to each of these parks.
National Parks and Protected Areas in the Dominican Republic
Before diving into the highlights and insider tips for visiting the national parks in the Dominican Republic, let’s have a look at a few numbers and names. If you check different online sources, you often find that there are between 27 and 29 national parks AND protected areas in the Dominican Republic. However, there isn’t much comprehensive information on precisely how many national parks the Dominican Republic has.
According to the Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Environment, there are currently 28 protected areas in the country, among them:
- 11 national parks
- 10 national monuments
- 3 wildlife parks
- 2 marine mammal sanctuaries
- 1 scientific reserve
- 1 recreation area
Interestingly enough, some of the national monuments in the Dominican Republic are more famous than the national parks but we will talk about this later.
List of the National Parks in the Dominican Republic
Here is a list of the national parks in the Dominican Republic
East of the Dominican Republic: Cotubanama National Park (formerly National Park Del Este) and Los Haitises National Park.
Center of the Dominican Republic: Valle Nuevo National Park , José Armando Bermúdez National Park , Montaña La Humeadora Sur National Park, José de Carmen Ramírez National Park, Picky Lora National Park.
Southwest of the Dominican Republic: Jaragua National Park and Lago Enriquillo & Isla Cabritos National Park.
North of the Dominican Republic: Cabo Cabrón National Park, and Submarine National Park Monte Cristi.
Top 5 National Parks in the Dominican Republic
While the list of the national parks in the Dominican Republic is great for a first overview, it isn’t that helpful if you’re planning a trip to the Dominican Republic and want to visit the natural attractions and wonders of the country. Therefore, let’s have a deeper dive into the most important parks, especially those national parks in the Dominican Republic you shouldn’t miss while on vacation.
Cotubanama National Park
Cotubanama National Park is by far the most popular national park in the Dominican Republic. Of all the national park visitors in the country, 80% are guests at this park formerly named National Park Del Este. The interesting thing is that most people don’t realize that they are visiting this national park.
The reason is that Cotubanama National Park is home to Saona Island, the most famous tourist destination for day trips in the Dominican Republic. Saona Island, called Isla Saona in Spanish, is a paradisiacal island with picturesque beaches, swaying palm trees, turquoise waters and gorgeous views.
If you enjoy tropical islands and boat trips, you should definitely visit the island. While Saona Island is advertised in every destination magazine or travel blog, it is hardly mentioned that Isla Saona is located inside Cotubanama National Park.
And in case you’re wondering, besides Isla Saona, there are not a lot of attractions at Cotubanama National Park. A few caves here and there, but the interior of the island is mostly inaccessible.
Best way to visit Cotubanama National Park
The easiest option, especially when you’re on an all-inclusive holiday in Punta Cana, is to book a day trip. There is an abundance of tours starting every day, which makes Saona pretty touristy (but still beautiful).
If you’re on a road trip in the Dominican Republic, you can overnight in Bayahibe and plan a day trip with a tour operator from there – or even rent a private boat.
And if you’re an adventurer and would like to see Saona Island off the beaten track, you can take the daily public boat to Mano Juan (a place 98% of all Saona visitors never see) and overnight in this sleepy fishing village, which also allows you to explore Canto de la Playa on your own, one of the most beautiful beaches in the Dominican Republic.
The best place to base yourself when visiting Cotubanama National Park is Bayahibe.
Los Haitises National Park
Los Haitises National Park is the second national park in the east of the Dominican Republic – and the second of only two national parks reachable as a day trip from Punta Cana.
Los Haitises National Park is particularly famous for its biodiversity and the abundance of (mostly smaller) wildlife as well as the spectacular scenery with hundreds of scattered islands, located in the large San Lorenzo Bay (Bahía de San Lorenzo). Furthermore, you can see historical cave paintings of the Dominican Republic’s native inhabitants (Taínos).
For the most part, these attractions can be visited on guided tours by boat, as the majority of the park is inaccessible by land. However, there are a few hiking trails in the park, but they are unmarked and we recommend that you hire a guide for your hiking adventure.
Best way to visit Los Haitises National Park
Similar to Cotubanama National Park, you have two options here. If you’re on vacation in Punta Cana, the easiest way is to book a guided day trip to Los Haitises National Park. Obviously, you can also rent a car and head to the park on your own, and join a boat tour near the park’s entrance.
Alternatively, especially if you’re on a road trip in the Dominican Republic, you can drive to the national park and stay at one of the only two eco-lodges in the park, located close to Sabana de la Mar. They are not only affordable but also set in very picturesque settings with waterfalls and fantastic views.
Last but not least, if you’re based in Las Terrenas or Las Galeras you can also book day trips by boat from the Samaná peninsula.
The best place to base yourself when visiting Los Haitises National Park is Sabana de la Mar or the two eco-lodges in the park (Paraiso Caño Hondo and Altos de Caño Hondo)
Jaragua National Park
Similar to the way Cotubanama National Park is overshadowed by Saona Island, there is a single attraction in Jaragua National Park that is much more famous than the park itself – Bahía de las Águilas.
You won’t hear anyone saying “I am going to travel to Jaragua National Park, whereas everybody would agree on an exciting weekend trip to Bahía de las Águilas.
Most Dominicans would agree that Bahía de las Águilas is one of the most beautiful beaches in the Dominican Republic. What’s unique about this 3.5-mile-long beach is that it is absolutely pristine without any infrastructure. There is no beach bar, no road (except for a rough track), no vendors – absolutely nothing, just pure nature.
However, this situation might change in the next few years or decades as the government of the Dominican Republic is heavily developing neighbouring Cabo Rojo into a new tourism destination.
Unlike Cotubanama National Park, Jaragua National Park features multiple additional attractions. You can visit the freshwater pools similar to the famous Mexican cenotes in Pozos de Romeo. Or head to Trudillé – probably the remotest beach in the Dominican Republic, only accessible by a 7-mile hike and with overnight camping. And if you are looking for wildlife spotting opportunities, you can visit a saltwater lake, Laguna Oviedo to see the Caribbean flamingos and giant lizards.
The best way to visit Jaragua National Park
For Bahía de las Águilas
Even though you can walk to Bahía de las Águilas, the typical way to get here is by boat from Cabo Rojo. If you’re based in Santo Domingo or Punta Cana and want to quickly visit Bahía de las Àguilas, you can take a day trip by plane.
For the rest of Jaragua National Park
The best way to explore the attractions at Jaragua National Park is a road trip to the Southwest of the Dominican Republic. Plan at least 4 nights to have sufficient time for all the places to visit, including Bahía de las Águilas. A road trip ideally starts and ends in Santo Domingo. You need approx. 6-7 hours to drive all the way down from Santo Domingo to Bahía de las Águilas.
The best places to base yourself when visiting Jaragua National Park are Barahona, Paraíso, La Cienaga or Cabo Rojo
José Armando Bermúdez National Park
José Armando Bermúdez National Park is another national park famous for its main attraction. In this case, it is the Pico Duarte, which, at more than 10,000 feet, is the highest mountain in the Dominican Republic and the entire Caribbean.
If you’d like to tackle the Pico Duarte hike, you need at least 3 days. The shortest hike is a 29-mile round-trip hike with an elevation change of around 6,000 feet one-way. You’ll start in La Cienaga at around 4,000 feet, camp up at La Compartición and summit Pico Duarte on your 2nd day. Other summit trails are available but need even more time.
Even though Pico Duarte is not the most spectacular hike you might do in your life, it is a beautiful one, especially considering that for the entire 3 days, you won’t see any villages, infrastructure or other people. It is also impressive to see how quickly you can move from the Caribbeans’ most beautiful beaches to an area where temperatures are close to freezing point.
Besides the Pico Duarte hike, José Armando Bermúdez National Park is mainly inaccessible to regular visitors, except for various other hiking trails which require full camping equipment and multiple days.
The best way to visit José Armando Bermúdez National Park
Given the challenging hike to reach the summit of Pico Duarte, you will need to join an organized tour from Jarabacoa
The best place to base yourself when visiting José Armando Bermúdez National Park before and after the hike is Jarabacoa
Valle Nuevo National Park
If three days to do a single hike in a national park sounds like too much time (or effort) but you still want to visit the central mountainous area (Cordillera Central) of the Dominican Republic, Valle Nuevo National Park is a great choice for you.
This national park is one of the best options to explore the majestic mountains of the Dominican Republic with its pristine nature without having to plan a multiple-day hike. One of the biggest draws of Valle Nuevo National Park is the panoramic road from San José de Ocoa to Constanza. Know as DR Route 41, this road reaches an altitude of more than 7500 feet, and, not surprisingly, offers incredible views.
However, this road is not for the faint-hearted. It is an adventurous dirt and gravel track for about 50 miles and requires a 4-WD. On the way, you can stop at the so-called Pyramids, one of the coldest points in the Dominican Republic you can reach by car. It lies more or less in the center of Valle Nuevo National Park.
The best way to visit Valle Nuevo National Park
The best way to visit the park is to book a rental car (4-WD required) and take the full-day adventure on road No. 41
The best place to base yourself when visiting Valle Nuevo National Park is Constanza, which is the closest mountain town to the national park. If you add road No. 41 to your road trip, it is best to stay in Constanza before and San José de Ocoa or Baní the night after (or vice versa).
Other National Parks in the Dominican Republic
The other national parks in the Dominican Republic not mentioned so far are not as popular as the top five, and are of more interest to specialised travellers, like divers and wildlife watchers.
Cabo Cabrón National Park on the Samaná peninsula is interesting for divers, as most of its beauty is located underwater.
Lago Enriquillo & Isla Cabritos National Park is another attraction in the Southwest of the Dominican Republic, perfect to combine with a road trip to Jaragua National Park. Lago Enriquillo is a saltwater lake below sea level while Isla Cabritos is home to crocodiles and other animals.
Submarine National Park Monte Cristi is another national park in the Dominican Republic interesting for those who love to snorkel or dive.
The three remaining national parks are all located in the center of the Dominican Republic. Montaña La Humeadora Sur National Park is famous among local hikers, as it is home to Valle del Dios, a popular hiking destination for 2- or 3-day trips.
José de Carmen Ramírez National Park is located next to José Armando Bermúdez National Park and can only be explored by strenuous and self-sufficient multi-day hiking and camping trips.
Last but not least, there is Picky Lora National Park, a bird-watchers heaven, even though Los Haitises National Park is more accessible if you’re looking for birdwatching in the Dominican Republic.
Other Protected Areas in the Dominican Republic
This article is intended to help you plan your trip to one of the Caribbean’s most diversified countries, which is why we also want to have a closer look at some of the protected areas which don’t have the official status as one of the Dominican Republics’ national parks – particularly those, which are relevant in terms of tourism.
Monumento Natural Salto de la Damajagua
Salto de la Damajagua, also known as 27 Charcos or 27 Waterfalls, is the most visited among the national monuments in the Dominican Republic. And it is an absolutely unique one. The name says it all: 27 waterfalls, cascades and natural pools are awaiting you in this natural paradise only 1 hour away from Puerto Plata.
The area can only be explored with tour guides which are available on the spot for a small charge. Safety equipment (helmet and life vest) will be provided. After a 15 to 45-minute hike up (depending on how many waterfalls you choose), you can slide, jump and swim down the canyon with its dozens of waterfalls and cascades. Fun and adventure for the entire family are guaranteed.
The best way to visit Salto de la Damajagua
You can either book a tour from Puerto Plata or head to the base of Salto de la Damajagua on your own. The best place to base yourself when visiting Salto de la Damajagua is Puerto Plata
Monumento Natural Laguna Gri Gri
Laguna Gri Gri is a famous spot on the north coast close to Rio San Juan which can only be reached by boat. It is a turquoise lagoon with a cave nearby, which is ideal for swimming and admiring the beautiful north coast of the Dominican Republic.
The best way to visit Laguna Gri Gri
Head to Rio San Juan and ask the local guys for boat tours. The best place to base yourself when visiting Laguna Gri Gri is Rio San Juan or anywhere along the North Coast
Monumento Natural Isla Catalina
Remember how Isla Saona at Cotubanama National Park was the first and most visited attraction presented in this article ? If Saona Island sounds too touristy for you, you can also try neighboring Isla Catalina, which is less picturesque but offers better snorkeling opportunities and fewer boats.
The best way to visit Isla Catalina
The island is only accessible by boat. You can book a tour from Punta Cana or Santo Domingo incl. ground transfers or head straight to La Romana to the departure port. It is best to book in advance.
The best places to base yourself when visiting Isla Catalina are Bayahibe, Punta Cana or Santo Domingo
Monumento Natural Salto del Limón
In terms of natural beauty, Salto del Limón should be a national park in the Dominican Republic – but it “only” is a natural monument. Salto del Limón is one of the most picturesque and gorgeous waterfalls in the Dominican Republic and is located on the fantastic Samaná peninsula. You can either walk up here or take a horseback ride tour.
However, as the horses (or sometimes mules) are in pretty bad condition, I would highly recommend you opt for a hike. Depending on which one of the 6 trails you choose, it takes between 30 to 90 minutes of hiking (each way) along shady jungle trails. Salto del Limón has a natural waterfall pool hence you can refresh here after the sweaty hike (even though you will sweat again on the way back)
The best way to visit Salto del Limón
Hike one of the 6 jungle trails to the waterfalls. The best place to base yourself when visiting Salto del Limón: Las Terrenas
Monumento Natural Dunas de las Calderas
The Dunas de las Calderas are also known as “Las Dunas de Bani” which already implies its location: close to Baní, approximately one hour away from the Dominican Republic’s capital Santo Domingo. These impressive dunes are also called “the only desert in the Caribbean” and are a more than interesting change to fantastic beaches or the lush vegetation of the country.
The dunes are a perfect stopover on the way from Santo Domingo down to Jaragua National Park in the Southwest of the Dominican Republic. You can walk around, climb up the dunes, see giant lizards and admire the impressive views over the Bay of Ocoa.
The best way to visit Dunas de las Calderas
The most convenient way is to visit the park on a road trip from Santo Domingo. Baní doesn’t have much to offer, so you can visit the park en route coming from Santo Domingo or Barahona
Refugio de Vida Silvestre Cueva de los Tres Ojos
Los Tres Ojos is widely known as another national park in the Dominican Republic and might be the only national park in the Caribbean located within a capital city. However, currently, Los Tres Ojos doesn’t have the status of a national park, it is a so-called wildlife reservoir.
Interestingly enough, Los Tres Ojos is not famous for its wildlife. It is rather known as being a nature oasis surrounded by nothing more than concrete, as it is indeed located in the middle of the city. The center of this natural attraction are the three lagoons, which can be explored by walking over staircases and walkways. It is a unique way of exploring Santo Domingo and a perfect spot if you need a break from the chaos and the heat of the city.
The best way to visit Los Tres Ojos
This one is easy, just take an Uber or taxi right to Los Tres Ojos. And of course, the best base for exploring the park is Santo Domingo
About the Author
Chris is the creative mind and the adventurer behind the Punta Cana Travel Blog. He has been living in the Caribbean for 9 years, among them 6 in the Dominican Republic.