Los Haitises National Park in The Dominican Republic

Dock to the tour boat

The government of The Dominican Republic was super smart and forward thinking when they created all their national parks. They have 29 throughout this country, including ones with waterfalls and ones with beaches and even one with the only cloud forest in the Caribbean! These protected areas create an amazing buffer zone that is much needed on an island regularly hit by intense hurricanes. Plus, they protect so many critters in these areas and you know I love critters. Ecotourism here I come!

No, I’m sorry, but you can’t come with us

First thing I did when my family got to town was walk them down to the local tour shop. Tours! Tours! Tours! They chose the Los Haitises Park Tour, and we sorted out all the details. Their condo was kicking them out the day of the tour, so we arranged to have the tour company pick them up first with all their stuff. Then they dropped off their luggage at my place when they picked me up. It worked out perfectly.

Doggo sleeping in planter box
This street dog (perra callejera) followed me home and has been sleeping in my neighbors’ planter box. Good thing she gets along with their cats!

So you remember that doggo that followed us from Playa Escondida to my apartment and then disappeared? Well, she has been turning up now and then at random times. I haven’t fed her again after that first encounter, which means she’s not always around (although I suspect some of the neighbors are feeding her!). Last night, she stayed right outside my apartment in the planter box on our complex’s deck. Now she’s following eagerly to (hopefully!) go on this adventure with me.

My aunt named the dog Mojito (but she’s a girl dog so it should be Mojita or Hita for short… but I digress) and that cute little perra jumped right into the tour van and booked it for the back. She really wanted to come along for the ride! Like real bad! I asked her politely to come on out and jump down from the van, and she begrudgingly obliged. She looked stressed at being abandoned again and that pulled on my heart-strings for sure. Poor pup!

Kids are gross

My aunt and uncle and I were the first ones in the van. I typically try to wear a mask as much as possible in closed spaces just to hopefully keep the locals safe. However, I knew we would be together all day long and have lunch together, so I figured I would skip it for the day. I fully regretted my decision when we next picked up an entire family with two small children, all coughing and snotty and looking like they all have colds. I hope it’s just allergies… sigh.

Stairs up to cave system
The caves in park are just amazing! I highly recommend this tour.

I, however, did not regret my decision to take my generic-Dramamine before the car ride. The ride was really very gorgeous and I’m glad to see it as I missed it coming in so late the first time. The road winds back and forth up into the mountains with amazing views before slowly winding its way back down the other side to the Samana Bay. It was so pretty, but you could tell the sick people were getting even sicker. Yup, the kids vomited. Kids are gross.

What this meant for the rest of the trip was that the kids and parents had to skip the actual boat tour. Did not miss them. The family members were all big smokers which I’m not used to coming from Seattle. That is an expensive habit! This made me feel better about all the coughing that happened in the van, as really maybe only the kids were sick. We might make it through this without a cold (or The Rona) after all!

Mrs. ItchyFeet in a boat inside a cave
I worried that my head would bonk into the roof of the cave on the way out. It was all good!

Los Haitises National Park

Time to use the bathroom before the boat ride (no bathrooms on the boat or in the park, so don’t drink any liquids until the end). Speaking of the boat: it’s a speedboat! With no sun protection! Take a minute to bring up a map of the Semana Bay in The Dominican Republic. It’s real big. We crossed it in about 25 minutes, which was a trip. I kept looking around for whales but didn’t see any. Turns out that area of the bay is really shallow, so not possible for those giant mammals to swim and breach and play in the area.

After we speed-boated (is that a verb?) our way across the bay, we came to these gorgeous cliffs that rise right out of the sea. There’s limestone on the bottom that has washed away to create really interesting structures and caves. Rich vegetation and all kinds of birds covered the tops of the cliffs. So many birds!

It’s fascinating to see specific birds having laid claim to particular rock structures. Like one is totally covered in nesting turkey-vultures. Those things are massive. Another has all these majestic frigate-birds. The males display fabulous red throats filled with air (gular pouches) to let the ladies know they are “in love”, as our guide pointed out. Nesting season is just about the only time they land. Otherwise, you can see them riding the thermals above the ocean, harassing the food away from other birds.

Nesting frigate-birds with caves below
Nesting frigate-birds! That is a sight to see!

The birds! The birds!

We also saw nesting gulls (there’s no such thing as a ‘seagull’ Ha! Figure that one out!) and giant pelicans. Now those birds are massive-massive! They chase after the small fishing boats, aggressively begging for fish innards. I feel like if enough of them landed on one side of the boat, they could sink it in no time at all. Birds are scary.

The boat slowly cruised between the massive rock protrusions, occasionally going inside a cave to check out the stalactites hanging from above. So cool! We even ventured into a mangrove to see the vegetation and crabs. There, the pilot turned off the engine and we experienced a couple of minutes of silence to listen to all the birds and insects in this amazing forest.

Cave as seen from the boat
We boated around and saw all kinds of structures like this. Very cool!

Time for the caves. The boat pulls up to a dock and we all carefully unload. We walk up some stairs and enter this really massive cave system. I’m glad I wore tennis shoes, as the ground is very rocky and uneven. We wandered about and our guide gave us the low-down on the difference between stalactites and stalagmites and what happens when they meet in the middle. He spoke in both English and French, which is very impressive. He also let us know that a recent season of Survivor (Croatia-Serbia) was filmed in the park. I can see why! 

Back to the boat

My family and I wandered around the cave, trying to get wonderful pictures for you all. Eventually, we all filed back onto the boat and headed to the next cave system. This one had a line and people were getting wrist-bands before heading inside. We skipped the line with the notion that we would pay for park entrance after. Okay. Inside we went.

This cave system was impressive and actually had petroglyphs! They didn’t have lights in the caves and we weren’t allowed to use camera-flash as it could damage the old drawings. I couldn’t see much until I realized my uncle had a really nice phone with low-light capability. After that, I just followed him around, looking over his shoulder. We got a really great history lesson about the indigenous inhabitants (Taínos) of this island of Hispaniola (La Isla Española).

Massive cave system in the park
This cave is absolutely massive!

Turns out when the Spanish came to mine gold and such here, they tried to use the Taínos as slaves. The indigenous peeps strongly resisted. Combine that along with the ‘suicide before slavery’ mentality of the Taínos and add a dash of European disease, wiping out most of the population, and you end up with the loss of a civilization. A near complete loss of an entire culture. The Spanish still wanted to make some money, so they brought in slaves from elsewhere.

Time for more History

The island’s current inhabitants are a blend of about 16 different countries, with Haiti sharing ancestry with many African countries and The Dominican Republic getting more from Europe and South America. There is definitely some rivalry between the two countries, which I hope they can sort out soon because Haiti could use some love right now.

View from inside a cave
Check out these amazing rock formations inside this cave!

This entire island has been taken over multiple times by Spain, France, Haiti, The Dominican Republic, and even the US at one point. The whole thing is just fascinating, but I wouldn’t want to be here for any of the uprisings. It makes sense why so many languages are spoken here. And why there are a variety of animosities for one group or another.

As we are leaving this amazing cave, we all get lined up for wrist-bands… but they run out by the time they get to my uncle and me. Okay. But we need those for the next cave! We pile back into the boat and head out. It’s all good. They let us in and this cave system is so pretty! Plus, there are sea-stars in the bay! Do you know how long it has been since I’ve seen a sea-star!?! So excited!


After wandering around in the caves for a bit, they herd us all onto this gorgeous beach and feed us some rum. Yes, please! We all get some great photos and then head back to the boat. It’s past lunchtime and I’m hungry. Plus, I need to pee. No bathrooms on that boat. Lucky for us, it’s a speedboat and we make fantastic time… until the boat suddenly comes to a screeching (eerily quiet) halt.

Sea-star on a rock
Look at the size of this sea-star! You don’t see too many of these anymore.

Have I ever told you the story about how I took a boat tour in Florida in the Everglades to see alligators and we sank into the mud and everyone had to get rescued? There were literally alligators swimming by the boat as it was sinking! At least these Caribbean waters are fairly safe… save for the sea jellies! Luckily, it was just a bit of seaweed stuck in the propeller and we got back, safe and sound.

Which was good because the lunch was really wonderful! And all of it was gluten-free, which just makes me happy. Stewed on-the-bone chicken. Coconut rice. Fried plantains. Dominican beans. I don’t know if you have ever tried Dominican red beans, but they are so good. They look like kidney beans, but have a softer texture. The flavor is buttery with a bit of sweetness. They can even be used for desserts. Noms!

Heart shaped entrance to cave
It’s a heart! My uncle takes some amazing photos. Thanks for letting me use these for you all to see!

Must stay awake

After the late lunch, we all piled back into the tour van. They put the sick kids in the front, but that made little difference on the windy roads. I offered some sani-wipes to the parents and hoped for the best. Gross. Didn’t matter too much to me as I could barely stay awake, despite my best efforts to get in as much of the amazing views during the drive as possible. This country is gorgeous!

Everyone made it back safe and sound. Even with everyone riding together with the sick people in the van, none of us got sick. Maybe they were on the rebound and not contagious? Allergies? Maybe it was because most of them were smokers and not sick? Who knows? I’m just glad my aunt and uncle stayed healthy for their trip back to the States. That was a really lovely day!

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