Parque Nacional del Este
Draw a line between Bayahibe and the village of Boca del Yuma on the western side of the peninsular, and all of the land below it - including the island of Saona - comprises the Parque Nacional del Este. The total area is 430 sq. km, none of which is populated. The mainland section of the park is a series of limestone terraces formed about a million years ago - which is quite recent in the great scheme of things. The terrain is generally flat and dry; the climate hot. There are no rivers, streams or brooks due to the high porosity of the soil, and most of the park is covered with subtropical humid forest, dry forest and transitional forest (a mixture of tropical and deciduous forest). The principal attractions on the mainland are the caves on the western side around Guaraguao (not far from Bayahibe), which contain pre-Columbian pictographs (drawings) and petrographs (rock carvings). The coastline is well known for the diversity of its coral formations, and there are a number of excellent dive sites particularly along the western stretch of coastline, which also has one or two beaches with calm and clear waters. The eastern side is characterized more by steep cliffs which drop straight into the ocean. On the southern tip of the peninsular at Calderas Bay, there are saltwater lagoons and mangrove swamps where herons, pelicans and other birdlife can be spotted. Opposite the bay across the Catuano Channel, lies the island of Saona.
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Isla Saona is 25km-long, 5km-wide, and has two tiny settlements - Mano Juan and Punta Gorda - both on the coast and boasting a total population of not much more than 300. The island's original Taino name was Adamanay, but this was changed to Saona when the Europeans arrived in the late 15th century. You can swim at Mano Juan and Punta Catuano, where the beaches are white and the water very blue. The other areas visited by the public are Laguna de los Flamencos (Flamingo Lagoon) and Laguna Canto de la Playa, as well as the caves of Cutabanamá near Punta Catuano.
Flora and fauna: The main species of plant found in the park are Hispaniolan mahogany, coconut palm, wild olive, holywood, sea grape, gumbo-limbo, copey and zamia. Many of these are deciduous trees of Caribbean origin.
The Parque Nacional del Este is best known for its birdlife, particularly on Saona where many species breed in the mangrove swamps and lagoons around the island. In fact there are 112 bird species in the park, eight of which are endemic to the island. These include the endangered white-crowned pigeon, the Hispaniolan parrot, the American frigate bird, the barn owl, the stygian owl, the plain pigeon, the red-footed booby, and the brown pelican. Flamingos can also been seen on Saona.
As is the case all over the Dominican Republic, mammals are not as abundant as the birdlife. Although the chances of a sighting are rare (these are nocturnal creatures as well as endangered species), there is the possibility of seeing either a soledonon (with its small body and long snout) or a hutia (a bit like a gerbil), both of which are endemic to Hispaniola. Around the coastal areas, you have a slightly better chance of spotting a West Indian Manatee or a bottlenose dolphin: two endangered marine mammals. There are also two species of sea turtle, various snakes and reptiles, and large rhinoceros iguanas on the mainland.
Access: There are two entrances to the mainland section of the park. The western entrance is just beyond Bayahibe. Take the marked turn-off just before you enter the town, and continue for a few kilometers until you reach the ranger's cabin at Guaraguao. The trail here leads to the nearby caves. The eastern entrance is just past the village of Boca del Yuma. This trail follows the coast and is the longer of the two. Apart from these two trails access to the rest of the park is difficult, and a boat is usually needed to get to most places on the coast. The main office of the Parque Nacional del Este is in Bayahibe.