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After decades of trashing its environment, the Dominican Republic is becoming more environmentally responsible. The signs are everywhere, even at the Punta Cana airport, which uses native materials and has an open-air feeling with tropical birds darting through the rafters.

The country today boasts 16 national parks and 67 protected areas within its borders. It's a land of white sandy beaches, forests with dense growth, and towering mountains. With its rich flora and fauna, it is a popular spot for eco-minded visitors.

There are no official campgrounds within the reserves. To visit one of the national parks, eco-adventurers have to secure permission. To camp in one of the parks, a regular pass costing RD$50 must be obtained at local park offices or through the national office at Avenida Máximo Gómez, Apartado Postal 2487 in Santo Domingo (tel. 809/472-4202).

Another way to go for the independent eco-traveler is to seek hostel-style campgrounds located in areas close to natural attractions. These cost as little as US$8 to pitch your own tent. Cottages and cabins are also available close to the national parks and protected areas. These eco-type hotels rent rooms for as little as US$40 a night or US$115 for a room and full meals.

But let's not paint too rosy a picture. Rapid development, the most expansive in the Caribbean, threatens the environment and the island's natural beauty. Once the D.R. was the front-runner in the Caribbean with its lush rainforests. Some 1,500 species were found only here. But to make way for development, swamps were drained and trees cut down. Today, the D.R. has less than 15% of its original forest cover remaining. Even so, it's a lot better than Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the D.R. Haiti has been almost entirely deforested because of the pressures of poverty.

One of the latest efforts to promote sustainable tourism is through the eco-initiative of coffee production called La Ruta Del Café; the project operates in the towns of Salcedo and Bonao. Visitors come here to see the process of coffee production and discover unique pathways into the tropical forests.

For more specific adventures in the D.R., several outfitters can hook you up with eco- and adventure activities; ask at your hotel desk for local contacts. The major activities include mountain biking, surfing, whale-watching, white-water rafting, bird-watching, canyoning, hiking, horseback riding, kayaking, jeep safaris, island exploring, and rock climbing. For a general preview of these activities, refer to www.godominicanrepublic.com. Dominican Eco-Tours (www.dominicanecotours.com) offers a number of adventure tours on island, including hiking, river rafting, mountain biking, scuba diving, and river tubing. Some of the best adventures are offered by Iguana Mama (tel. 809/571-0734; www.iguanamama.com), featuring mountain biking, hiking, canyoning, mule treks, and cultural tours.

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.