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Barajona / Oviedo / Pedernales / Descubierta / Jimani / Bani / Azua

A few words:

The Southwest of the Dominican Republic is truly unique. Having evolved as a completely separate island up until about 9 million years ago, it is the exclusive home to some pretty spectacular species of flora and fauna. The region, encompassing an enormous area, is so varied that it is difficult to speak about it in its entirety, so we will default to some of its national protected areas. It can be generalized, however, that the Southwest does not have a much of a tourism infrastructure, and this is exactly why you should go.

Jaragua National Park
The Jaragua National Park, located in the southwestern section of the country, is Dominican Republic's largest protected area, with 560 square miles. The park's name originated from the now-extinct Taino Indians that populated the area at the time of Columbus' arrival.
The park includes the Oviedo lagoon and the islands of Beata and Alto Velo. There is little rainfall in the area and the park has a desert like climate. Covered with a dry, thorn-forest there is a high population of cactus here.

Seventy-six species out of the 130 species of birds are known to exist in the Jaragua National Park, half of which live in an aquatic environment. The most common birds are the flamingos (largest population in the country), Great Egret, Little Blue Heron, Little Green Heron, Sooty Tern, Roseate Spoonbill and the White-crowned Pigeon. Other interesting species that live in the park include the ricord and rhinoceros iguanas, four types of marine turtles and 11 species of bats. The sea turtles climb up the park's beaches to lay their eggs.

Laguna de Oviedo National Reserve (within the Jaragua National Park)
The Laguna de Oviedo is one of the most important in the insular Caribbean due to its size (824 square miles of protected area), location, and natural protection for flora and fauna. Perhaps of most interest is the Cyprinodon nicholsi, a fish, to date, found only only in this lagoon. The largest population of flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber) in the DR is also found here among the many bird species residing and migrating in the lagoon. The dunes between the banks of the lagoon and those of the Caribbean Sea to the south are one of the few remaining sites in the Dominican Republic where the carey turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), among other species, arrive annually to lay their eggs.

Isla Cabritos (Lago Enriquillo) National Park
The Isle Cabritos National Park (Little Goats Island) is the largest of three islands found in the center of Lake Enriquillo, (a large salt-water lake 144 feet below sea level, which marks the lowest point in the Caribbean). Situated in the southeastern part of the country (approximately 232 kilo from Santo Domingo), between Sierra de Neyba and Sierra de Bahoruco, the island is 12 kilometers long and 2.5 wide.

The island, which was declared a national park in 1974, is flat with no traces of reefs. Marine deposits make up the soil, which consists mainly of limestone, seashells and coral. The park has numerous species of reptiles including the endangered rhinoceros and ricord iguanas and one of the largest wildlife American crocodile populations in the world. These reptiles can be seen from the lake's shores or on the boat to the island. A variety of waterfowl also inhabit the area. There are 62 species of birds include the flamingo, burrowing owl, Hispaniolan parrot and West Indian nighthawk.

Lago Enriquillo is part of an ancient canal separating the southwest of the Dominican Republic and southern part of Haiti from the mainland of the island of Hispaniola. This region between the Sierra de Neyba and Sierra de Barohuco is a tectonic depression 40 below sea level, and is the largest and saltiest (3 times that of the Atlantic Ocean) of the Antilles.

Sierra de Bahoruco National Park
Situated in the southwest near the Haitian border, Sierra de Bahoruco National Park is 320 square miles and has 49 bird and 166 orchid species. This national park is an example of climatic stability in the arid southwestern portion of Hispaniola. Vegetation here ranges from the dry forest at sea level to the wet forest in the central part of the park.
Birds include the common bobwhite, stolid flycatcher, Hispaniolan lizard cuckoo and the white-necked crow, which is extinct in Puerto Rico.

Laguna Rincon National Reserve
Also called the de Cabral Scientific Reserve, the lagoon area is located at the eastern end of the Neiba Valley, in the dry southwestern part of the country. It's the second-largest lagoon in the Dominican Republic with the largest spot of fresh water in inland Dominican. Here you'll find the largest population of endemic freshwater turtles (Chrysemys decorata) called sliders. Thousands of migratory birds from North America touch down here, and many kinds of shallow-water wading birds make the lagoon their home. The life zone of the reserve is classified as subtropical dry forest, and is called "home" by reptiles like the rhinocerous iguana (Cyclura cornuta); lizards Anolis spp., Ameiva spp. and others; snakes (Epicrates spp., Uromacer catesbyi y others); as well as amphibions, like Bufo marinus, Pelthophryne guntheri, Eleutherodactylus pictissimus apantheatus and Osteopilus dominicensis.

Sierra de Neyba National Park
The Sierra de Neyba National Park, created by presidential decree in 1995, is characterized by an extensive chain of mountains reaching up to 2,176 meters, and divided by a deep valleys, terraces, and depressions with challenging accessibility. Geological formation is principally limestone resulting in few superficial rivers due to the rapid rate of filtration. Climactic zones range from cloud forest, humiforest, semi-humiforest (possibly guarding the country's largest quantity of Mahogany-Swietenia mahagoni, dry forest (26%), pine forest (1%).

Fauna includes 11 country endemic species of amphibians (2 endemic to the region-frogs: Eleutherodactylus notitode y E. parabates), 39 species of reptiles (98% endemic), and 85 species of birds (17 endemic to the island). Mammals of greatest interest are the jutia (Plagiodontia aedium) and solenadon (Solenodon paradoxus), the latter possibly extinct.

Sierra Martin Garcia National Park
Located in the Azua and Barahona provinces, the Sierra Martin Garcia National Park begins in the Bahia de Neyba and covers approximately 190 square miles reaching elevations of 1,343 meters. Flora is delianted in 4 life zones: subtropical mountain forest, subtropical dry forest, subtropical humiforest, and low mountain subtropical humiforest. The four types of mangrove forests found in the DR are all found within the park: red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle), black mangrove (Avicennia germinans), white mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa) and button mangrove (Conocarpus erecta). A wide variety of cacti are also found here including Consolea moniliformis, Lemaireocereus hystrix, and Neoabbottia paniculata. 67 species of birds are found with in the park, 14 migratory and the rest native, including 11 endemic species. 25 species of reptiles, 6 amphibians, an interesting specie of blind snake, Typhlops sulcata, and the Dominican boas Epicrates fordi, E. gracilis y E. stucatus) reside within the boundaries of the park

Much of the Caribbean's ancient history is preserved in untouched condition along the Barreras creek within the park. An abundance of perfect plant fossils can be found that have yet to be studied. Nearby, the ancient "Paleo-indo de Barreras" is the site of the regions oldest indigenous settlement dating 2,590 B.C.

Proximate International Airport:

Las Americas International Airport (SDQ), Santo Domingo

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Most photos credited to "Open Shirt' Mike Gussak at unkmonk@hotmail.com