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Parque Nacional Los HaItises 

On the southern tier of Samaná Peninsula, this sprawling mass is the country's second-most-visited park, covering 202 sq. km (78 sq. miles) and spanning 24km (15 miles) west from Boca de Inferno and Bahía de San Lorenzo to the head of Río Barracote, a river at the western end of Bahía de Samaná. The park can only be visited by boat .

The park, which is actually a mammoth expanse of mangrove swamp, is home to 112 bird species, nearly 100 plant species, a huge variety of marine life, and several Taíno caves once inhabited by the island's original settlers.

The interior of the park is almost impenetrable, the home of a dense rainforest that is eerily punctuated by the ruins of sugar plantations "gone with the wind." On the boat tours offered, you will get to view mangrove rivers with tiny islets and coastal caves that today are the habitat of rainbow-hued tropical birds, such as the jacana or the Hispaniolan parakeet.

The mangroves aren't necessarily green, but red or white in color. You may very well think you're in an aviary with flocks of roseate terns, frigate birds, ruddy ducks, snow-white egrets, narrow-billed todies, white-cheeked pintails, grebes, and the Ridgway's hawk, along with double-breasted cormorants, coots, and the stunning blue heron. Falcons fly overhead.

At least three caves contain pre-Columbian drawings. The best of these is the stunning Cueva San Gabriel because of its stalactites and stalagmites. Some of the most notorious pirates in the Caribbean were said to have hung out in these caves, including Jack Banister and John Rackham.

At the entrance to Cueva de la Línea you'll see a long row of rocks, which are the remains of a railroad erected more than 50 years ago as part of a long-abandoned railway to ship sugar cane.

Near the entrance to Cueva Arena is a most unhelpful ranger station, with some bored attendants charging an entrance fee of RD$53.

Entrance to the park is at a port of entry, Cana Hondo, a small pier. Getting here is not easy, as you must endure a 19km (12-mile) passage along an often rough sea.

Victoria Marine, Avenida La Marina (tel. 809/538-2494), runs tours to the park only Wednesday and Friday, leaving at 9:30am with a return at 4:30pm, costing RD$2,400 per person.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.