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Exploring Punta Cana Outdoors Beyond The Resort Beaches

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punta cana nature
Jessie on a Journey wandering the PUNTACANA Ecological Foundation
Written by Michele Herrmann; sponsored by Luxury Retreats

While Punta Cana’s beaches are rightfully enticing, its natural beauty extends beyond sand and surf.

The resort destination offers accessibility to everything from rainforest hiking to waterfall horseback riding to swimming in crystal waters shrouded in legend.

Bonus: Punta Cana is surprisingly sustainable, with lots of ethical projects to discover via the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation.

If you want to see the best of Punta Cana nature attractions, here are five must-have outdoor experiences, great for couples, families, groups, and those enjoying a solo travel Caribbean experience.

Indigeous Eyes Ecological Park and Reserve
Photo via Puntacana Resort & Club’s Instagram

1. Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park & Reserve

Owned and operated by the PUNTACANA Ecological Foundation, this 1,500-acre private reserve is a network of interpretive and connected trails leading to 12 freshwater lagoons that shouldn’t be left out of any Dominican Republic travel guide.

You can go hiking in the Dominican Republic here. Not only that, but a few of these you can swim in, like Guamá Lagoon, the deepest at 26 feet and also including a diving platform. Tip: you’ll want a GoPro for this!

This location is more than a secluded recreational site and one of the best things to do in Punta Cana. The reserve portion of the attraction is a thriving eco-system where turtles, birds, insects and plant species coincide.

Moreover, the park portion contains educational exhibits delving into local Punta Cana nature and cultural history focused on this protected area.

For example, you’ll learn about the legacy of the Taino Indians, the island’s pre-Columbian inhabitants who were said to have called these lagoons “eyes” — or “ojos” – due to their unusual shape.

2. Los Haitises National Park

Offered through scheduled tours that can pick passengers up from specific Punta Cana hotels, Los Haitises National Park on the Samaná Peninsula is a protected subtropical forest area that is reached by boat. In this national park, meaning “hilly land” in Taino, there are extensive mangroves, caverns and islets plus an impressive bird population extending to rare species. Key sites here include the San Lorenzo Bay and Cayo de los Pájaros, with the latter having a strong overhead presence of pelicans and frigatebirds. Plus discover a set of the caverns, known as Cueva del Puente, graced with pictographs and petroglyphs created by native peoples.

Los Haitises National Park nicknamed the Caribbean's Halong Bay is home to mangroves, caves, a rich tropical forest, multicolored tropical birds and manatees. The coast is dotted with small islets where frigates and pelicans nest. South of the Samana peninsula, Dominican Republic.
Los Haitises National Park nicknamed the Caribbean’s Halong Bay. Photo via Robertobintti70 for Deposit Photos.

3. Cueva de las Maravillas

Just west of La Romana, Cueva de las Maravillas (“Cave of Wonders”) is a collection of underground caves dating back thousands of years, though was said to be “discovered” by Boy Scouts in 1926. With a portion accessible to the public, you’ll find a ton of engravings and paintings created by the Taino Indians lit up for viewing, and embedded fossils. Also take in the calcified deposits that have developed over time, draping these natural rock formations. It can get very humid inside, so dress appropriately. Moreover there are no photos allowed, so you’ll need to let your eyes be your guide.

4. Parque Nacional del Este & Saona Island

In the La Romana-Bayahibe area, this park — translated as “National Park of the East” — gets attention for its popular beach area, Isla Saona (or Saona Island). Overall it’s a coastal homebase for an impressive mix of wildlife – fish, birds, insects, reptiles and marine animals – plus mangroves and rocky outcrops.

Sea turtles use Isla Saona as a nesting spot during their egg-laying season, and a locally-run turtle sanctuary in the island’s Mano Juan village keeps tabs on their well-being. It’s also possible to spot dolphins swimming by — and sometimes whales, too. Along with Saona, attractions include Palmilla, a natural swimming pool; Catalinita, an island where the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea co-mingle; and Padre Nuestro, once the location of a small village.

5. El Salto de Limón

Sure, it’s considered a day-trip from Punta Cana, but taking an excursion to this beautiful secluded waterfall is definitely worth the trek. Embraced by lush green peaks, this roughly 120-foot high aquatic wonder on the Samaná Peninsula is often reached by horseback riding. While the hilly and muddy journey sometimes feels unending, the base of this waterfall is a rewarding natural — and refreshing — pool. Tours usually allot time for soaking, with departures typically leaving from the town of El Limón.

What are your favorite outdoor excursions in Punta Cana?

About mherrmann

Michele Herrmann is a travel and lifestyle writer and editor who is based in New York. She contributes destination features and articles on travel trends and culinary finds to Fodor’s, Frommers, Budget Travel, Zagat Stories, Forbes, Smithsonian Magazine, and more. Additionally, Michelle provides editorial and marketing content to national and international media outlets and B2B and B2C companies. She previously led Twitter chats for Fareportal's OneTravel and CheapOAir, wrote blog posts for, managed article submissions for Pink Pangea, and contributed articles to amNewYork, Yahoo Travel, Time Out New York, TravelPulse, Travelzoo, RoamRight, and ShermansTravel.

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  1. John Rodgers on at 12:50 am

    This place is so beautiful. Three things hit me that I know I would love. The bird and wildlife sanctuary would be great for me. I love to photography nature. The drawings and pictographs always interest me and I love to photograph them but I understand why many places do not allow it. Last the waterfalls, my wife Laurel is a sucker for any of them large or small. If one is around we have to see it

    • Jessie Festa on at 9:51 pm

      @John: Nature is my favorite photography focus, as well!

  2. Annabel on at 8:51 pm

    Love my country!

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