Getting back to nature comes easily in Punta Cana. One of the ways to do that and support sustainable tourism in the Dominican Republic, is to visit the Punta Cana Ecological Park.
About a mile from the Punta Cana Resort and Club, Punta Cana Ecological Park (tel. 809/959-8483, www.puntacana.org, 8 a.m.–4 p.m. daily) is a natural refuge for local flora and fauna, including many rare plants and endangered animals. A guided tour (US$10 adult, US$5 child) through the portion of the park called the Parque Ojos Indígenas (Indigenous Eyes Park) takes you through thickly vegetated trails of natural and cultivated gardens.
The Indigenous Eyes Ecological Parkand Reserve is a private protected area owned and operated by the PUNTACANA Ecological Foundation. Consisting of lowland subtropical forest, the reserve covers 1,500 acres of land dedicated to conservation, scientific research, and recreation. About 80 species of birds live here and over 500 types of plants can be found here.
The Ecological Park consists of numerous exhibits describing the cultural and natural history of the island. Visitors can visit a petting zoo with many domesticated animals common in the Dominican Republic since colonial times, a sugarcane exhibit, an iguana habitat and many other attractions.
The Ecological Reserve is a forest reserve with twelve freshwater lagoons, five of which visitors can swim in. Historians discovered that the Taíno Indians, the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the island, referred to the lagoons as “eyes” because of their distinctive shape. For this reason, the Ecological Park and Reserve was named “Ojos Indígenas” or “Indigenous Eyes.”
Children will love the petting farm, where Dominican domesticated animals are available to touch and feed. The iguana habitat has examples of the rhinoceros iguana, which is a species endemic to the island of Hispaniola. Agricultural exhibits have Dominican crops like the cacao bean, coffee, and tobacco, including a display of a traditional Dominican farm.
Guided tours are given in English, Spanish, German, and French. Self-guided tours are possible by purchasing a booklet at the visitor’s center.
They also offer Segways Tours as a way to see the reserve. They provide a brief training on how to use the Segways. The excursion leaves from the Ecological Foundation’s Tropical Fruit Tree Garden and explores the trails of the Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park and Reserve, winding through the PUNTACANA Resort & Club and ending with a refreshing dip in the freshwater lagoon, Yauya. This is one of the most exciting and ecologically responsible ways to discover the natural wonders of the Ecological Foundation.
If you prefer a more romantic and traditional way of seeing the park, you might want to try horseback riding. Horseback tours (US$20 for one hour, US$30 for two hours) are a fun way to see Punta Cana Ecological Park and all it has to offer, along with an extended ride along the coast. You will get to ride the forest trails and in front of one of the most beautiful beaches of the Dominican Republic, Playa Serena. This must be arranged ahead of time.
The Punta Cana Resort and Club created the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation and the Coastal Marine Project. They are nonprofit organizations that work to protect the ecosystem and sustain the health of the coastal zone and coral reefs. It has made significant headway in promoting the growing sustainable tourism industry in the Dominican Republic.