Bird watching may not top most people’s list of things to do in Santo Domingo—but perhaps it should. With rainforest-cloaked mountains, fast-flowing rivers, steamy lowlands, and vast sun-scorched salt flats, the Dominican Republic’s geography is not only exceptionally varied, but it creates a huge diversity of habitats for birds of many species. This corner of the Caribbean is home to 300 recorded species—32 are found nowhere else in the world. The vibrantly colored parrots and parakeets are most commonly associated with tropical latitudes, and for novice birders these may prove most impressive to spot, but cuckoos, hummingbirds, bananaquits, and other small species are also common. Higher in the mountains and dry forests, you can find various species of warblers, tanagers, crows, and hawks, while at the coast, you are more likely to catch sight of herons, gulls, pelicans and other sea birds. The southwest part of the country has some of the best bird watching, and Santo Domingo is an ideal start point for day trips.
National Botanical Garden
Make the National Botanical Garden within the city your first stop. As you stroll through the impossibly green, tropical vegetation, keep an eye out for the crazy-eyed Hispaniolan woodpecker, and if you look carefully, you may just spot the blur of wings of the tiny vervain hummingbird, said to be the second smallest bird in the world. Down by the meandering streams and quiet ponds, you may happen upon a West Indian whistling duck, or even a flamingo, standing sentry on one leg.
Sierra de Bahoruco National Park
You will need to make an early start from Santo Domingo to get up into the Sierra de Bahoruco, but it is well worth the effort. This mountain range, whose slopes are covered in cool, misty cloud forest, is the ideal area for observing species that live at higher elevations. Look out for the elusive La Selle thrush on the northern slopes of the mountains, and the western chat tanager and rufous throated solitaire amongst the foliage. Higher up, where the vegetation turns to pine forest, you can spot Hispaniolan crossbills (it’s not just a name) and pine warblers.
Jaragua National Park
Oviedo Lagoon in the deep south, part of the Jaragua National Park, is a huge salt water lagoon dotted with tiny islands and mangrove swamps. The best way to explore this remote wildlife sanctuary is to take a tranquil boat trip around its shores. As you glide silently by, you are bound to see iguanas basking in the sun or even swimming, but search the tree canopy to see endemic parrots. Further from shore, you can also marvel at the different fishing methods used by pelicans, herons, and flamingos.
Serious birders could spend weeks checking hundreds of bird species off their lists, but for most, a day trip is a rewarding introduction to the area’s colorful bird life. Explore on your own or take an Explora Ecotour for guided day trips to various top birding sites around Santo Domingo.