Parque Nacional Los Haitieses is a 1375 sq. km park in the NE of the Dominican Republic. The park's northern border is the Bahia de Samana which opens to the Atlantic. Small limestone karst mountains, 30 – 50m high fringe much of the coast. Where there is limestone there are often caves and Los Haitises has a number that can be visited. The park is covered in subtropical humid forest and along it's coast are significant stands of mangroves.
We planned to do a day visit to the park from Las Terrenas, a popular coastal resort town not far from Los Haitises. We arrived in Las Terrenas on a Friday afternoon and we asked our guesthouse hostess, Julia about day trips. She told us that there was one going tomorrow, Saturday, so we were in luck as they generally only run on Saturdays and Wednesdays. So, without much information as to what was to come, we signed up on the spot. Que sera sera.
We were picked up next morning just before 8.00am by a minivan. Eventually there were 12 of us, a full load, in the van. We paid our 3000 Dominican pesos each ($US 65/ $AUS87) and were on our way. There was no explanation as to what the day's itinerary was to be, the van driver just took us all to the large regional town of Samana, a 1 hour drive from Las Terrenas. However, we knew from Julia that the day involved a boat trip of some sort and a visit to an island.
In Samana we got out of the van and followed our driver to an office which had a lot of other tourists milling about, most looking as confused as us. We then all, en masse, traipsed across the road to the dock and were shepherded onto one of a number of waiting boats. We estimate that our boat had around 80 tourists plus crew. It was called Rey of Reyes – King of Kings.
After some time bobbing about we left and headed out across the Bahia de Samana towards the park. The King of Kings did not sound at all well as it wheezed it's way across the bay. To 'entertain' the hordes, or possibly to disguise the engine's groans, ear splitting 'doof doof' music was cranked up. This continued interminably as we made our way to the park. Water and soft drinks were offered. Those hardy souls who wanted a tot of rum amidships could have one. We didn't find that it went well with the swell and the doof doof so declined.
At last, after about an hour and a half of what was a fairly bumpy crossing, we made it to the coast off the park. Over the next couple of hours we visited various sites. This included the Island of Birds.
Shark Mouth Cave.
A couple of caves, where we were able to get off the boat and do a short walk - though much of this was in Indian file as we were many and the caves were few and small.
We also saw some good stands of mangroves.
The karst islands and mountains were interesting and they give the park an unusual appearance.
Throughout this part of the day, our shipboard guide, Rafael, explained what we were seeing in not two or three languages, but four: Spanish, French, German and English. He was impressive and gave good information.
After our visit to the park it was now time to head to the island for lunch and a swim. It turned out that the island was Cayo Levantado, which is a small island with a resort just 15 minutes by boat from Samana. The trip was slow, with a strong current running against us, and the King of Kings was not as sprightly as he once was. Eventually, after over two hours of salt spray drenching and more doof doof, we made it to the island. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
We made our way to an area with lots of outdoor picnic tables where our contingent was served a reasonable buffet lunch of grilled fish and chicken, several salads and tropical fruit. Lunch was included in our ticket price along with a bottle of water or a soft drink.
After lunch we had around an hour and a half to swim and relax on the island's beaches. Lots of beach chairs available (for a price) or you could just lay your towel down in a likely spot.
At 4.30pm we made our way back to the boat and we then had a 15 minute trip to Samana (yes, with more doof doof). Our van driver was waiting at the dock, so in we piled and were dropped back at Las Terrenas at around 6.00pm.
So, how would we rate our day out to Los Haitises? The park itself was interesting, what we saw of it, and the guide worked hard to provide a good commentary. The lunch was ok and the dip in the sea on the island a welcome relief from being stuck on a boat for so long. If you like passive, mass tourism, where you don't have to do much, and most needs are catered for, then you'd probably rate it well. But for us there was far too much sitting on the boat and getting from A to B. We had hoped for more walking and exploring in the park. This is really our own fault for not doing the research before signing up. There may well be other tours out there that would've met our needs better.
But we're glad we went, even if at the end we did feel like shouting “We Survived Los Haitises and the Rey de Reyes!”. Seven out of ten.
PS A Brief a Note on Las Terrenas
We found Las Terrenas to be an easy going, relaxed beach town. It is well geared for tourism with lots of hotels and guesthouses and a wide choice of good standard restaurants. There are long strips of fairly clean white sand beaches and some safe swimming.
For accommodation we stayed at the very pleasant Casa Delfin with hosts Stefan and Julia. It is very reasonably priced and close to town and the beach. Definitely recommended.