It's understandable if you don't think of the Dominican Republic as an ecotourism destination: after all, most attention goes to the big resort areas like Punta Cana, where highrise beach hotels are the norm. However, 20 percent of the land in the Dominican Republic has been set aside for preservation, helping to ensure that visitors can experience the island's incredible ecological diversity. In all, the Dominican Republic boasts 19 national parks, 32 national monuments, six wildlife reserves, and two marine sanctuaries. Here are some of the best:
The Dominican Republic's Sanctuary for the Marine Mammals is conveniently located near one of the island's most popular tourist areas, Samana. Stretching between Christmas Bank and the Bay of Samana, the sanctuary encompasses the largest mating, courting and calving grounds in the world for the humpback whale. Whale-watching cruises can be chartered out of Samana Bay.
Also near Samana is Los Haitises National Park, famous for its mangrove coastline, caves, and petroglyphs. Horseback tours through the park lead visitors to Fun Fun Cave, where amateur spelunkers can rappel 60 feet down to explore the underground environment. Visits to the park are led by ecological guides well-versed in knowledge of local climates, fauna, and culture - including that of the Taino, whose designs are still decipherable in the caverns in the park.
Cabritos Island National Park
Surrounded by Lake Enriquillo, the largest saltwater lake in the Caribbean and the Dominican Republic's lowest point (144 feet below sea level), this park in the country's southwest is home to American crocodiles, flamingos, and iguanas. An early morning or late afternoon boat tour around the island is the best way to see the crocodiles. The Carbritos Island National Park also protects tropical forests, wetlands, and coral reefs, and is known for its hiking trails and sightseeing points, making it one of the most visually appealing destinations on an ecotourism trip to the Dominican Republic.
Armando Bermudez National Park
Pico Duarte, at 10,128 feet, is not only the highest point in the Dominican Republic but in the entire Caribbean. In fact, Armando Bermudez National Park is home to four of the highest peaks in the Antilles, as well as the source for a dozen major rivers. You can climb Pico Duarte, but it's not a day-trip: overnight stays in tents and rustic cabins are permitted, and guided hikes can be arranged. Keep an eye out for wild boar, among the many wild denizens of the park.
Isabel de Torres National Park
Located close to the Puerto Plata tourist destination, Isabel de Torres National Park is best known for its mountaintop statue of Jesus Christ, accessible from town by a cable car. The park also is home to a botanical garden. Guided hikes to the peak are available from Cabarete.
La Ruta Del Cafe
For an awesome tourist experience that is kind to the environment and rich in Dominican culture, check out "La Ruta Del Cafe" a sustainable tourism project that focuses on coffee production in the Dominican Republic. Coffee is a huge part of the Dominican economy and way of life, but with the La Ruta Del Cafe project, it also becomes a unique piece of eco-tourism.
On the La Ruta Del Cafe tour, visitors will see the process of coffee production at work, from the cultivation of the bean to the packing and selling of it. The tour allows visitors to not only travel through the towns of Salcedo and Banao, two major coffee districts in the D.R., but also to explore tropical pathways and hidden spots along the coffee bean-lined trails of the Dominican forest.
As a dual effort in both eco-tourism and local profit- and awareness-raising, La Ruta Del Cafe isn't just for coffee junkies; it's for anyone who appreciates culture, nature, and a community at work.