7 Reasons the Dominican Republic Should Be Your Next Eco-Friendly Trip

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7 Reasons the Dominican Republic Should Be Your Next Eco-Friendly Trip
Punta Cana may be the Dominican Republic’s most popular destination, but the second largest nation in the Caribbean has many more surprises in store if you venture beyond the resorts. Spread across the larger part of the island of Hispaniola, and bordered to the west by Haiti, the Dominican Republic boasts a diverse terrain packed with inland rain forests, jagged volcanic coasts, and sky-scratching highlands that could be straight out of The Hobbit. In an effort to celebrate the country’s natural wonders, and to reverse years of overdevelopment, Dominican tour operators have gone eco-friendly, offering visitors more responsible—and more personal—ways to experience the country. Here are seven reasons you should immerse yourself in this natural paradise.
Photo by Yulia Denisyuk
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    1. The UNESCO-recognized national park
    Los Haitises National Park’s vast network of karst islands, tight waterways, tangled mangroves, and underground caves stretches over 618 square miles in the country’s remote and verdant Samaná and Hato Mayor provinces. Once the refuge of the indigenous Taíno people, whose petroglyphs adorn the area’s caverns and grottoes, the UNESCO World Heritage site is now home to hundreds of avian and mammal species, including the endemic Ridgway’s hawk and squirrel-like Hispaniolan hutia. One day in the park just isn’t enough, but luckily, Paraiso Cano Hondo, a small community ecolodge that runs mangrove reforestation programs in the nearby San Lorenzo Bay, is located on the outskirts of the park.
    Photo by Yulia Denisyuk
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    2. Pico Duarte’s trek-worthy views
    The Dominican Republic can claim both the highest and lowest points of elevation in the Caribbean. Just 53 miles away from the region’s lowest point, Lake Enriquillo, stands Pico Duarte, the Caribbean’s highest peak, which reaches 10,125 feet. The green giant and its surrounding areas are located in the province of Jarabacoa, often called the birthplace of Dominican ecotourism, and they provide endless opportunities for day hikes and multi-day treks. Hire a guide and mules at the village of La Cienaga to take you over challenging trails and through misty cloud forests. Just be sure to prepare for cool year-round temperatures that can drop below freezing in winter.
    Courtesy of The Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism
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    3. Wonderfully watchable wildlife
    With such a lush landscape, it’s no wonder that wildlife in the Dominican Republic is impressive and widespread—the country is ideal for bird- and whale-watching. The widlife wonders of Laguna de Oviedo, once unofficially reserved for National Geographic expeditions and the like, are now easily accessible by a number of ecotour operators. The pale green color of the saltwater lake, due to a high amount of limestone sediment, is remarkable, but the lake’s main attraction is bird-watching. Head out in the early morning to see pelicans, royal herons, American pink flamingos, and other migratory birds flock to the lagoon. If marine mammals are more your speed, head up north from January through March to see colossal humpback whales gather in their traditional birthing grounds in Samaná Bay. Whale Samana provides seasonal three- to four-hour trips with Kim Bedall, an enthusiastic scuba instructor who is credited with kick-starting the whale watching industry in the Dominican Republic in the 1970s.
    Courtesy of The Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism
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    4. Next-level wellness stays
    Beach yoga has become ubiquitous in the Caribbean, but in the Dominican Republic you can take an even more holistic approach to wellness, while staying connected to the outdoors. Places like the family-run Villa Serena on the rocky Samaná coast pair regular beach yoga with a locally sourced raw food diet and mindfulness workshops that help guests get their bodies in sync with their minds and spirits. After a daily ritual of meditation, pranayama, and water yoga (available to all hotel guests), you’ll start to feel better than you have since your toddler years. Later this year, Villa Serena will also be offering raw food workshops designed to help guests create easy-to-make raw alternatives to their favorite recipes.
    Photo by Yulia Denisyuk
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    5. Miles of beaches (of course!)
    Beaches are, after all, a big part of why we head to the Caribbean, and the Dominican Republic has some truly extraordinary ones. Playa Fronton, on the island’s northwest coast, is a pristine four-mile beach that is accessible only by boat. Once there, you can explore one of the best snorkeling sites in the Caribbean, but watch out for red sea urchins (reef shoes are highly recommended). Another short boat ride from Playa Fronton, the family-run beach shack at Playa Rincon serves local fare and fresh coconut water. For a more unconventional way to enjoy the sand, head southwest to the Barahona province, where cactus-covered Dunas de Bani run into the bright blue Las Calderas Bay. You’ll likely be one of the few visitors there, so book an airy Airbnb cabana and take advantage of yearlong mild weather.
    Courtesy of The Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism
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    6. Fair-Trade Agriculture Tours
    The Dominican Republic is the world’s leading fair-trade cocoa producer, but the list of sustainable farming options doesn’t stop there. Seven different regions with rich soil and a variety of microclimates also yield internationally acclaimed coffee beans, the finest of which are cultivated in the southwestern provinces of Barahona and Peravia. Small coffee farms such as Café de la Mami in Paraiso offer educational tours that follow the little beans from planting to harvesting to roasting. For a taste of a spicier crop, the fledgling El Ruta del Jengibre—or ginger—in the Samaná peninsula, passes through the region’s ginger plantations, giving visitors a chance to see the production process behind the province’s staple cooking ingredient.
    Photo by Yulia Denisyuk
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    7. Local, sustainable boozy beverages
    A spicy-sweet alcoholic drink may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about eco-friendly experiences—until you consider how it’s made: naturally sustainably. The country’s signature drink, mamajuana, is made from an array of local herbs and tree bark chips that are collected in large glass bottles then infused with rum, red wine, and a touch of honey. But the best part is that the herb and wood chip base can be used multiple times—in fact, some bottles are said to last for generations. You can find the deep brown-red beverage almost everywhere, but be warned: It is believed to have many medicinal properties, including one that earned it the common name “liquid Viagra.”
    Photo by Yulia Denisyuk
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