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Jaragua National Park 

Is located in Barahona Peninsula, in the southwestern part of the Dominican Republic, near its border with Haiti (Pedernales Province). It includes the islands of Beata and Alto Velo, as well as the cays named Los Frailes and Piedra Negra.  With an area of 1,536 km2 , it is one of the most important protected areas in the insular Caribbean. Since 2002, it is one of the core areas of the Jaragua-Bahoruco-Enriquillo Biosphere Reserve. Also, it is one of the Important Bird Areas (IBA) of the Dominican Republic.

Jaragua National Park provides an excellent representation of the pristine nature of the West Indies, especially of arid and coastal marine ecosystems. If includes numerous ecosysems, ranging from natural forests, beaches, rocky sores, wetlands, seagrasses and coral reefs.

Within Jaragua, a sample of ecosystems belonging to important biogeographic provinces of the island of Hispaniola and the West Indies can be found.  These have served as speciation centers for the rest of the Caribbean.  This makes it flora and fauna so unique, with very high levels of endemism (that is, especies that are only found there).

This park is the only are under protection in lowland, coastal and marine habitats from the "southern paleoisland", one of the two islands that merged to form the current island of Hispaniola.  Since these paleoislands acted as colonization and speciation centers, in Jaragua distinct, but closely related species converge, such as Ricord's and Rhinocerous igunanas, and the slider turtles Trachemys stejnegeri vicina and Trachemys decorata, among others.


Jaragua NP was established on 11 August of 1983 by Presidential Decree  (1315), but its current limits were defined by the Sectorial Protected Areas Law (no. 202-04).

At present, its has an area of  1,536 km², of which the marine areas cover some 900 km².  The studies that supported the establishment of this Park were conducted in 1981-1982, by the Natural Resources Subsecretariat of the Agriculture Secretariat, in cooperation with the German Social and Technical Cooperation Service (DED).  Currently the park is managed by the Vice-ministry of Protected Areas and Biodiversity of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources of the DR. 


The Parks terrain is composed of limestone terraces of marine origin (that resemble giant stair steps) coastal plains. A lot of the exposed limestone of its terrain has been eroded, forming "dog tooth" limestone, which is difficult to walk on.  This natural aridity and rocky substrate have confered it a  historic protection from most human activities, allowing many unique species to survive. This protection was reinforced when it was declared a national park. 


Twelve vegetation types have been described for the Park.  In general, it is characterized by a great variety of plants adapted to high solar radiation and low precipitation.  There are many unique species only found in Jaragua, including Jaragua's canelilla (Pimenta haitensis, an aromatic and medicinal plant with a distribution almost defined by the Parks boundaries), Gouan palm of Cabo Rojo (Coccothrinax ekmanii), Oviedo's cacheo palm (Pseudophoenix ekmanii)  and the spiny melon cactus of Pedernales (Melocactus intortus var. pedernalensis)

Among its marine ecosystems one can find the most extensive and best preserved sea grass beds in the southern coast, which support many threatened species of high commercial value, such as queen conch (Strombus gigas) and the spiny lobster (Panulirus argus).


Jaragua's animals include numerous species of comercial, fishery and biodiveristy value, including critically endangered ones (according to IUCNs Red List).  

In terms of reptiles, Jaragua has a very diverse fauna. Among its more conspicuous reptiles are two rock iguana species: the rhinocerous iguana (Cyclura cornuta) and the critically endangered Ricord's iguana (Cyclura ricordi), endemic to the southwest region.  The park is also the only place in Hispaniola where all the species of some reptile genera can be found, such as those the Ameiva lizards and the Uromacer  snakes.  The park also has certain endemic species of very limited distribution, such as the Alto Velo anole (Anolis altavelensis)  and Jaraguas gecko (Sphaerodactylus ariasae).  And the park's beaches are visited by marine turtles, which come to lay their nests leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) and hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata).  Juvenile hawksbil land green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) are also found in great numbers in the coral reef areas of the western Jaragua coast. The Park is also an important habitat for the Hispaniolan southern slider turtle (Trachemys decorata), endemic, and endangered.

In addition, Jaragua is habitat for numerous native, endemic and migratory birds. One hundreed and thirty bird species have been reported for the park, of which 76 are native residents, 10 are endemics and 47 migratory.   Also, the largest concentrations of White Crowned Pigeons  (Patagioenas leucocephala) in the country are found there, which nest in large aggregations.   The Park also has the most important population of  ashy dove (Columba inornata), a threatened species in the West Indies.  In the island of Alto Velo is located the largest nesting known nesting colony of the sooty tern (Sterna fuscata)  for the Caribbean region.

The park is also an important reserve for the two surviving populations of the endangered and endemic terrestrial mammals: the Hispaniolan solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus), and hutia (Plagiodontia aedium), as well as 11 bat species.  The West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus), also endangered, lives and feed on Jaragua's extensive seagrass beds.  The bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) are also frequently spotted near the island of Alto Velo. 

The invertabrate fauna is very little known, but recently new species for science have been described from Jaragua.


Jaragua is rich in archaeological sites from pre-hispanic times.  The oldest of these sites dates from 2,590 B.C. and corresponds to advanced indigenous people. The most sophisticated of these cultures were the Taíno, inhabitants that practiced agroforestry, and who dominated the island upon the arrival of Christopher Columbus.

The Taino established certain territorial divisions of the island, known as cacicazgos.  To honor the name of the southwestern cacicazgo, Xaragua, the park takes its name.   In the park, there are a number of caves such as El Guanal, the Cueva La Poza and  Cueva Mongó, which contain inside pictographs, petroglyphs and artifacts from this period.

Oviedo Lagoon

Located at the northeastern side of the Park, it measures approximately 28 km2 . Into its highly saline waters, some freshwater courses flow, associated with extensive mangrove forests and aquatic fowl. Among its fish species, it should be mentioned Cyprinodon nicholsi, the largest pup fish in its family.  In terms of water fowl, the American Flamingo (Phaenicopterus ruber), and the Roseate Spoonbills (Ajaia ajaia) colonies are some of the most beautiful to see.  Other common birds are the White Ibis (Eudocimus albus), Great Egret, numerous terns and sandpipers.  Many of these birds nest in the cays of the lagoon or in other areas nearby within Jaragua.  The White Crowned Pigeon (Patagioenas leucocephala), often forms it nesting aggregations in the mangroves and forests surrounding the lagoon.  

Bahía de las Aguilas

Bahía de las Aguilas is a 4.4 km, beach located in the Parks' western side.  It is, without a doub, one of the most beautiful and best preserved beaches of the country, if not the world.  Its white, fine sands were formed by the beautiful coral reefs that are nearshore.  In this beach, leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) and hawksbill  (Eretmochelys imbricata) sea turtles nest. Also, near the base of the rocky terrace closer to the beach, the largest known concentration of nesting rhinocerous iguanas (Cyclura cornuta) meets every year. 

In recent years, the tourism development of Bahia has been a source of heated deabt in Dominican society, occupying large spaces in the media. Due to the proximity of coral reefs to the beach, any land-based pollution can degrade them rapidly.  Because of this, Grupo Jaragua believes taht the development model for Bahia needs to be extremely cautios with its environment.   See Five arguments for the sustainable development of Bahia (Spanish only)


Jaragua National Park has within its boundaries two islands (Beata and Alto Velo) as well as a small cay formed by and emerging reef called Los Frailes. 

Beata island

La isla Beata tiene aproximadamente unos 47 km2 de superficie.  Se encuentra a unos 6 km del sur del procurrente de Barahona. Fue bautizada por Cristóbal Colón. Su suelo es roca caliza, y la vegetación predominante es el bosque seco subtropical, aunque también hay vegetación de playa, humedales salobres y manglares a lo largo de su costa. 

A principios del s. XVII los colonizadores habían establecido fincas ganaderas que fueron posteriormente abandonadas. 

En la actualidad, ratas, perros, gatos y cerdos cimarrones deambulan por la isla.   Entre los daños que provocan se encuentra el saqueo de nidos de iguanas así como la depredación de iguanas jóvenes, se comen la vegetación y son una amenaza genera a toda la fauna nativa de la isla.

En 1959 se estableció una colonia que funcionaba como cárcel, pero fue abandonada 3 años después y los edificios ahora se encuentran en ruinas.  El único asentamiento permanente lo constituye un grupo de edificios pertenecientes a la Marina de Guerra de la RD.

En toda Beata es común ver la iguana rinoceronte (Cyclura cornuta), especialmente en la playa de pescadores durante la época de anidamiento.

La isla Beata tiene una herpetofauna sumamente interesante, incluyendo una importante población de la iguana Cyclura cornuta, y la especie de reptil más pequeño del mundo, la salamanquejita de Beata (Sphaerodactylus ariasae).

Isla Alto Velo

La isla Alto velo consiste en un promontorio de piedra que emerge desde el mar. La isla mide aproximadamente un kilómetro cuadrado, y su altura máxima es de 169m. Mañón-Arredondo (1970) dice que el nombre de la isla se debe a su majestuosa silueta que se observa a grandes distancias desde el mar, dando la apariencia de un buque con sus velas desplegadas.

Se dice que la alta silueta de la isla habría guiado a Cristóbal Colón hasta sus playas a finales de agosto de 1492, cuando la descubrió y le dio el nombre de Alta Vela.  Ese mismo día, Colón había descubierto la foca del Caribe (Monachus tropicalis) y Alto Velo era la única localidad de La Española en que la especie había sido observada.  La especie fue perseguida a lo largo de cuatro siglos, especialmente en los siglos XVII y XVIII por su aceite, carne y piel, hasta que desaparecieron. 

La isla Alto Velo fue muy famosa en el pasado por la explotación de guano, utilizado como fertilizante por su alto contenido en nitrógeno y fósforo.  Como parte de la historia de la isla, en 1840 existía allí un campamento pesquero haitiano, cuyos pescadores al parecer introdujeron chivos y perros a la isla.

En la isla existe un faro de concreto de unos 20 metros de altura, actualmente en desuso y en en ruinas. Hasta fines de los 1980s, la isla estuvo habitada por un solo marino, encargado de la operación del faro localizado en el punto más alto de la isla.  Esta persona fue al parecer quien introdujo los gatos a la isla.

Tanto Alto Velo como Los Frailes son de especial importancia para la anidación de aves marinas, particularmente la gaviota ceniza (Sterna fuscata), la cual tiene en Alto Velo su colonia de anidamiento más grande del Caribe.  En 1950 se estimaron 600,000 mil huevos de la gaviota oscura (Sterna fuscata), sin embargo, para 1979: sólo se contabilizaron 20-25 mil aves, y se reportó que los pescadores y marinos (de la Marina de Guerra de la RD) recogían los huevos.  (Ottenwalder 1979).

La isla de Alto Velo tiene una especie endémica, el lagarto Anolis altavelensis.  Históricamente, Alto Velo era el único sitio de anidamiento en masa de tortugas marinas de La Española, y probablemente de las Antillas Mayores.  Hay reportes de colecta de huevos por los colonizadores. 

Comunidades Aledañas

Existen varios asentamientos humanos tanto dentro como fuera de los límites del Parque.  Los principales pueblos están ubicados cerca de la carretera, siendo los mayores Oviedo (2556 habitantes en 2002) y Pedernales (13114 habitantes 2002). Otros poblados menores próximos al Parque son Juancho, La Colonia (Nueva Esperanza), El Cajuil, Tres Charcos y Manuel Goya.  Dentro del Parque, existen varios campamentos pesqueros, donde la mayoría de los pescadores residen temporalmente.  Los principales son: Trudillé, Piticabo, Isla Beata y Lanza Zó.



General Map of JNP

(larger resolution)








Ricord's iguana (Cyclura ricordi)









Vegetation/land use map (Tolentino 1998)






Rocky shore of Jaragua







Cacheo palm forest (Pseudophoenix ekmanii)







White ibis (Eudocimus albus) in Oviedo Lagoon







Flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber) in Oviedo Lagoon








Leatherback sea turtle  (Dermochelys coriacea) nesting in Bahia de las Aguilas











Hispaniolan Amazon (Amazona ventralis)

in Jaragua






Tody (Todus subulatus) in Jaragua National Park









Hispaniolan ligus snail (Liguus virgineus) in Jaragua



View of Oviedo Lagoon, showing its cays and the sandbar separating it from the sea






Blue tailed lizard (Ameiva lineolata) on Jaragua limestone








Juvenile hawksnill sea turtle  (Eretmochelys imbricata) near Cabo Rojo








Leatherback hatchlings (babies) emerging from their nest in Bahia de las Aguilas







Wetland at Bucan

de Base







Manatee (Trichechus manatus) with a calf near Bahia de las Aguilas




















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Ultima actualización: 14 May 2011

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