8 low impact activities to do in the Dominican Republic
Today more than ever it is clear that we have to think about how we deal with the world and Mother Nature. I'm certainly not the one who's going to tell you that you're not allowed to travel anymore. On the contrary, travelling is essential and everyone should travel as much as possible. To gain experiences and learn from others. And to discover how things can sometimes be better and different. In this article I talk about my favourite activities in the Dominican Republic. Activities with a low impact on nature and a low ecological footprint.
It's important to know that the Dominican Republic really is a safe place to wander around. So you certainly don't have to stay in your all-in hotel all the time or just book excursions through the hotel itself. I even advise you to explore the island yourself, because only then you will discover the real beauty of the island.
Some places and districts are far away and for that you have to travel a lot of kilometres. Unfortunately, there is no railway for people in the Dominican Republic. Real cyclists can not only tour the island by rental car or bus, but also by bike. Although you have to prepare yourself for some very strong climbs. In the meantime you can stop in the many villages and go shopping from local fruit and vegetable farmers. You can recognise them by the colourful stands full of exotic fruits and vegetables.
So what about those amazing activities I was talking about? Below I have listed eight of my favourite eco-friendly activities and some practical information:
Watchings sunsets from the beach
Mountain Cable Car
Watching sunsets from the beach
You must have seen it to believe it, but every beach in the Dominican Republic is different. That also ensures that every sunset immediately gets a different vibe. One thing's for sure. The sunsets in the Caribbean are among the most beautiful in the world!
One of the loveliest places to enjoy the sunset is from the Bahia de las Aguilas, or Eagles Bay. Even the Dominicans say it is the most beautiful beach in the Dominican Republic. This 8km long bay is 20 minutes from the border with Haiti and is part of the Jaragua National Park. You can easily reach the bay by car from Pedernales.
You can combine watching the sunset with an overnight stay at Rancho Tipico Cueva De Las Aguilas. This glamorous camping site will make your stay by the sea unforgettable. Not only will you sleep in a luxurious tent, but also in a comfortable bed with soft white linen. You will also get a fantastic atmosphere at the same time. Lunch and dinner are served in the open restaurant with a view of the sea. All that is prepared is the “catch of the day”.
A very satisfying and relaxing activity in the Dominican Republic is bird watching. More than 300 bird species can be spotted here. Among the different birds you can spot on the island, there is a lot of avifauna that you can't find anywhere else in the world. The Dominican Republic knows 32 endemic species (those that exist only in one geographical region). Among them are the Parakeet, Hispaniolan Emerald, Hispaniolan Trogon, Broad-billed Tody and the rare Bicknell's Thrush.
Where best to spot birds?
The best provinces for bird watching are Indepencia, Bahoruco, Barahona and Pedernales. Among others the mountainous area 'Sierra de Bahoruco' is known for its rich diversity of birds. Part of this national park is protected and recognised as a nature reserve.
In Pedernales it is best to visit Jaragua National Park. Within the park you will find Lago de Oviedo, a saltwater lagune. Here you will also be able to spot some Flamingos, along the “flamingo trail” or Paseo de los Flamencos.
One of my favourite activities on a trip is scuba diving. I already did it in Oceania and also in Europe a couple of times. But also in the Dominican Republic divers find what they are looking for: a special underwater world full of discovery.
In Caribbean waters you will find reef, caves and shipwrecks and an impressive array of Caribbean fish.
Where's the best place to dive?
The most famous place for diving is Punta Cana, especially because it is also the most touristic area. The region is good for beginners and has some nice underwater attractions.
Experienced divers can go diving in The Aquarium (Catalina Island), Airport Wall (Puerto Plata), The Aquarium Playa Blanca (Punta Cana), Penon Reef (Saona Island) and Enriquillo Wreck, (Playa Blanca).
Can you just dive anywhere?
No, you can't. In order to be able to dive, you first need a diving license, for example a PADI license. In addition, it is dangerous to dive alone, or to dive in an unknown area. Diving is best done with a minimum of two people. If you come for the first time in a new area, it is best to explore it first with someone who knows the area well.
If you don't have a diving license, snorkelling is a worthy alternative. For this activity you do not need a license. All you need is swimwear, goggles, a snorkel and a lot of desire to spot fishes and other marine creatures.
As I said before, no place in the Dominican Republic is the same. That's what makes this activity so much fun. You can repeat it many times and experience something different each time.
One of the most special activities you can do in the Dominican Republic is whale watching. On a cloudy rainy day, the chances of spotting whales are much lower. However, it doesn't have to be a reason not to see one or more. When I went last month there were occasional heavy showers. Because you're sailing on the open sea, they often pass quickly. We even got lucky to see not one, but three whales. One of them was a young calf and his mother.
Whale watching is not a zero-impact activity, as you sail on a boat at sea. A boat needs fuel, usually diesel. Nowadays there are also boats that run on electricity, but that is not the case here. However, this activity falls under that of low impact. Each participant pays a fee. This fee is used by the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources to subsidise research on whales. In the Dominican Republic, it is also forbidden to offer the same activity on a non-official boat. This is because they want to avoid that the activity is too commercially exploited and also because otherwise too many boats would sail at the same time.
Which species of whale can you spot?
The kind of whale you can spot in Caribbean waters is the Humpback whale. The name comes from the movement the whale makes just before it dives into the water. You can recognise a humpback whale by its unique body shape, with long pectoral fins and a lumpy head.
Each lump on the whale's head is as big as a fist. In fact, these are oversized hair follicles. According to researchers, in addition to its sensory system, the whale uses these hairs to better assess its environment.
When is the best time to go whale watching?
The whale watching season starts every year on January 15 and last until March 31.
How to book a trip?
In order to book this activity, I advise you to book through Whale Samana. This organisation promotes responsible whale watching as a viable economic alternative to “whaling”. They make this a sustainable, non-lethal, use of the North Atlantic Humpback whale.
Mountain Cable Car
Not only under water and on the beach there is a lot to do. Also high up in the mountains, the Dominican Republic surprises. In Puerto Plata you can go for a ride on a mountain cable car (teleférico) that will take you almost 800m (2,625 feet) above ground level. All the way up the mountain you can find the Caribbean statue of Christ The Redeemer, which is often mistaken for the one in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The site is part of the national park 'Isabel de Torres'. Although it is the smallest national park, you can walk here in seven acres of botanical gardens with more than 600 different species of plants.
There's not a lot of surfing in the Dominican Republic. Because the Caribbean Sea is mostly a flat body of water, it offers the perfect conditions for novice surfers all year round.
Still, there are some great places for surfing on the North coast where you can catch bigger waves. At Cabarete, which is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, the waves have a lot more power. Other organised surfing spots are Encuentro, Puerto Plata and Playa Preciosa.
I have experienced that Mother Nature often surprises on several occasions. Every trip again I stand at least once with my mouth full of admiration. Also the trip to the Dominican Republic was no exception. I love water, rivers and above all waterfalls. There are quite a lot of waterfalls in the Dominican Republic, but none are as breathtaking as El Limón. At 50 meters, it is certainly not the highest waterfall, but the most beautiful without a doubt.
Imagine that the center piece is surrounded by an exuberant amount of green. Near the waterfall you'll find an exotic forest full of palm trees and pineapple plants. At the foot of the waterfall you can swim in the fresh water of the emerald blue pool.
How to get to Salto El Limón?
The El Limón waterfall is located in the Samana district and is easiest to reach by car or on an excursion from nearby Las Terrenas.
To reach the waterfall from where you parked your car, you first have to count on a steep climb of about 40 minutes. You will also cross two rivers. So it is definitely recommended to wear good sturdy shoes that may get wet.
Go on foot, not by horse
You also get the option to go down the road with a horse, which I strongly advise against. I am not at all a fan of using animals to do things that are perfectly possible on foot.
Of course there are many other activities you can do on the Island. And some might have even been a good fit for this article, but as I explained before the list above is an outtake of my personal favourites. I hope this list can motivate you to go out and discover the beauty of the Dominican Republic. But keep in mind, you and you alone can change the way you act on this world. We only have one, so try to cherish it… Happy road tripping!