When the Spanish first landed on the island they referred to as “Hispaniola”, rain forests covered much of its northern parts. Were those conquistadors to come back to life and make another landing on the northern shores of the Dominican Republic, they would certainly be surprised at the extent to which the jungle has been replaced by cattle pasture. Just about the only place where things would have looked the same as 500 years ago on the northern part of the island is at Los Haitises National Park.
Saved from being converted into more munching grounds for cows and acres of oil palms by merit of its challenging limestone karst terrain, the park protects a wide variety of rare plants and animals endemic to Hispaniola. Access is mostly by boat although trails can be hiked for several kilometers across humid, hilly ground to reach its borders. Both means of entering the park can be arranged at the lodging option that is closest to its borders, a place called Parasio Caño Hondo. This eco-friendly lodge has a stream running right through the middle of its grounds and is located near patches of rain forest that harbor a good selection of local flora and fauna.
Another curious aspect of this lodge are the endemic White-necked Crows that pop in to look for food scraps around the bar and outdoor dining areas. Unlike crow species in Europe and North America, these island birds do not get along well with deforestation. They have disappeared from Puerto Rico and have become uncommon in Hispaniola (the only other place where they still occur). Paraiso Caño Hondo and the nearby national park have become the easiest places to see this strange bird in action. Whereas the familiar crows of the north tend to be dull black and make “caw”-like sounds, these crows are a beautiful glossy blue-black color, have reddish eyes, and make bizarre gurgling and squawking noises like a parrot!
For visitors to the area who aren’t into rain forest hikes, there are petroglyph decorated caves in the area as well as excellent whale-watching opportunities in nearby waters from December to April when the entire North Atlantic population of Humpback Whales visit the area to breed.
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