Cotubanamá National Park (also known as East National Park) is part of the National System of Protected Areas of the Dominican Republic; it is located in the furthest limit of the Southeast of the country, between the provinces of La Romana and La Altagracia. Its territorial scope constitutes a peninsula with a trapezoidal shape, the major base would be represented by an imaginary line of 25 km that connect the towns of Boca de Yuma and Bayahibe, its smaller base on the south coast is 11 km long. The protected area also the park includes the Saona Island and the maritime zone that surrounds the entire protected territory. Through Law 519-14 of October 2014, the park changed its name in honour of the cacique Cotubanamá who governed the area to which the park belongs and confronted the Spaniards in the conquest.
The National Park covers a total area of 791.9 km2, (including the 110m2 of the Saona Island and the maritime zone). There are two villages on the island: Mano Juan and Catuano, the first one is the more active and has the largest population. Its resources includes a wide range of exuberant forest masses, coastal areas, beaches, mangroves, inlets, rock shelters, cliffs, wetlands and valuable enclaves of historical and cultural resources. The interiors of the caverns and shelters serve to protect the vestiges of the culture of the former inhabitants of the island before the arrival of the Spanish represents these last ones. Also several Taino ceremonial plazas of great importance and the only sinkhole of Aleta were found.
Cretaceous shales seated in coastal limestone, which was formed from a large barrier reef, form the subsoil of Cotubanamá National Park. This limestone is extremely porous, full of gaps and debris from corals and other fossilized organisms. In general terms the topography is flat and exhibit one kilometre of cliff on its east coast. In the interior of the Park there are no rivers, streams or any surface of water due to the high porosity and drainage capacity of the soils. There are several springs, some superficial, fed with the rain, and others underground, which are supplied by water currents present in the subsoil. On the coast of the peninsula that constitutes the National Park three types of environments can be distinguished: Along the West Coast, from Guaraguao to Palma Seca, the terrain ends in beaches of yellow sand and low smooth rocks, projecting towards an underwater platform with shallow water. The South Coast is swampy with the presence of mangroves. A rocky cliff of little height and small beaches at intervals characterizes the East coast.
The territory of Cotubanamá National Park gathers diverse manifestations of the ancient human occupations of the island. The protected area contains a significant amount of caverns, both in the coastal zone and in the interior. In these cavities the formers inhabitants of the island, a gatherer society, have left traces of their existence.
In the protected area the remains of different human occupations have been found. Some of them were the town of La Tortuga, the village of La Palmilla, the town of Martel, among other enclaves on the Saona Island, such as the town of Catuano and its ceremonial plaza and the Taino’s settlement of Mano Juan. Numerous caves of Cotubanamá National Park accumulate cultural manifestations of the prehispanic inhabitants of the zone through pictographs and petroglyphs, in the group the cave of Jose Maria, with an inventory of 1,200 paintings stands out; on the other hand, the cave of Ramoncito has about 300 paintings. Both sites are located in the western sector of the park (Guaraguo). Given their extreme fragility, these caverns can only be visited for scientifics purposes and under special authorizations granted by the Vice Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources. Another important rupestrian site is the cave of Berna with 350 petroglyphs and 20 pictographs is located in Boca de Yuma sector.
Cotubanamá National Park has a historical and archaeological value that makes it unique and worthy of the category requested due to the following characteristics: It contains masterpieces of the human creative genius, such as the caves of José María and Ramoncito, where more than 1,500 pre-Hispanic pictographs are preserved, as well as 378 petroglyphs in caves as important as those of Berna and Panchito. The archaeological set of rock art of Park provides a unique and exceptional testimony. As a result of the research carried out in the park by an investigation team, the existence of a hieroglyphic communication system similar to those being used by other Central American cultures in the same period has been verified.
The archaeological sites of Park contain several important and well-conserved examples of the only pre-Hispanic rock constructions known in the Antilles. Because of the impressive number of archaeological sites already known within the National Park the site is the best-preserved example of a land inhabited by the Taino culture.
The accumulation of shipwrecks from the early sixteenth century under the waters contains the largest group of shipwrecks of the contact period currently known in the Caribbean. This unusual feature demonstrates that the zone was very active and visited by the first Spanish settlers.
Criterion (i): The archaeological heritage of the Cotubanamá National Park is a masterpiece of human creative ability, as shown in the José María Cavern, where many original designs can be seen painted on its walls. They are considered masterpieces of Taino and prehispanic art, with more than 1,200 pictographs, is one of the largest amount of paintings ever discovered in a single cave discovered in America,
Criterion (ii): The archaeological heritage of the Park shows an important development of prehispanic architecture, as it includes different samples of ‘ball courts’, the only stone structures documented for the Taíno culture. Some of them, such as the group of four ‘ball courts’ of La Aleta, are considered one of the most representative sets of this type of work developed by the Taíno culture.
Criterion (iii): The archaeological heritage is an exceptional testimony of a lost civilization, as it contains a group of forty-eight archeological deposits that belong to different prehispanic cultures and five shipwrecks (four from the time of the Spanish Taíno encounter and another from the XVIII century). Only about 10% of the park surface has been explored so far, thus, it is expected to find many other archeological deposits hidden within the tropical forest and into a huge underground lake where hundreds of commonly used and votive objects from the Taíno culture still rest.