Caribbean National Parks Make Incredible Vacation Stops
By Jennifer Smith
There is so much to do at the National Parks found throughout the islands of the Caribbean. Want to spend an afternoon underwater, swimming with the fish? What about a morning watching beautiful tropical birds awaken? Or an evening gazing at the sun setting over mountains? These parks have it all.
While most travelers are familiar with their own country's national parks system, the Caribbean's parks get relatively little notice. From the volcanoes in Costa Rica to Curacao's sunken ships, there are a wide range of nature-oriented activities and sights to delight all ages.
With mountains, volcanoes, valleys, and plenty of other island terrains, doing a bit of island exploration is never dull. Travelers in search of a place to stretch their legs can find it among the Caribbean islands.
The Madre de Las Aguas protected area in the Dominican Republic contains the mountain range called Cordillera Central and the island's highest peak, Pico Duarte. At more than 10,000 feet tall, Pico Duarte is the tallest mountain in the Caribbean. Of course, mountains aren't all you'll find on the Dominican Republic. The ancient solenodon, a mammal which first appeared 30 million years ago, now lives only on this island.
The Trois Pitons in Dominica offer picturesque splendor, and the geysers in the Valley of Desolation will delight visitors. Dominica is also well-known for its incredible nature and relatively untouched physical surroundings.
Rincon de la Vieja, or Old Woman's Corner, is another unique park for vacationers interested in sights and heights. This Costa Rican volcano is said to be named for an old lady in Guatuso tribal lore who is, in some stories, angry, but in others is a kind old lady whose cooking fires send up the smoke for which the peak is known. However, this volcano is known to bubble and steam even now.
Puerto Rico offers an entirely different kind of terrain in its El Yunque Rainforest. Stop in at the only rainforest within the U.S. National Parks system. Puerto Rico's rainforest is unique and is known for its beautiful plants and animals.
The other end of the terrain spectrum includes deserts, and the most well-known is probably found in Aruba's Arikok National Park, an unusual sight on a tropical island. Vacationers can explore the desert and see sights like no other. Find divi divi trees, aloe, and unusual animals.
While some travelers may be content to stay on land, others want to explore beneath the sea. Luckily, the Caribbean is full of incredible underwater sights, like sunken ships and amazing sea creatures.
Check out the world-famous blue hole, where the bottom suddenly drops to more than 300 feet in a nearly-perfect circle. Belize's Hol Chan Marine Reserve is just one of many areas full of underwater treasures, and offers snorkeling off of the world's second largest barrier reef in this unique vacation hideaway.
Cura"ao also has a marine park in which snorkelers and divers can take in picturesque shipwrecks covered in coral. With almost 1,500 acres of marine park to explore, it's hard to go wrong!
Saba's National Marine Park was established in 1987 to help preserve Saba's natural underwater beauty. This tiny island did not establish the park to repair an already-damaged environment, but to stop any damage from occurring. These pristine reefs offer something truly one of a kind.
Although Caribbean islands share many characteristics, each has its own terrain and culture, making the Caribbean a diverse place. When you're planning to explore the islands, take a look at what their national parks have to offer.
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