One of the most geographically diverse countries in the Caribbean and the second largest in size, the Dominican Republic boasts an incredible range of scenery. Beyond its renowned beaches and over a thousand miles of coastline, you’ll find mountain ranges, offshore islands, lakes and waterfalls, offering plenty to do outdoors. As diverse as the landscape are the culture and history — from the Taino days to the Spanish colonial years with the arrival of enslaved Africans, and the influx of immigrants from Europe, Asia, the U.S., and the Middle East. These influences are reflected today in the people, the cuisine and the music. It's this incredible range in nature and culture is what makes the Dominican Republic one of the most interesting destinations to visit in the Caribbean.
Hit the Beaches
Millions of visitors flock to Punta Cana every year for some of the Dominican Republic’s longest white sand beaches, but there are other spectacular and less crowded coastlines to explore. Venture northeast to remote Las Terrenas and Las Galeras on the Samaná Peninsula for long palm-lined golden and white sands. If you’re into water sports, head to Puerto Plata’s surf-rich coastline and beach hop your way from Playa Dorada to Cabarete and Monte Cristi. Wherever you end up, you’re sure to find beachfront restaurants with fresh catch (in season), plenty of rum, and music.
Tour the Colonial Zone in Santo Domingo
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990, Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial is recognized as the first European city built in the “New World,” serving as a model for the rest of the Americas. Today it’s a charming, culture-packed and lively neighborhood that’s a favorite of visitors and locals. Tour a number of important museums and colonial buildings, including the first fortress of the Americas, the first cathedral, the ruins of the first hospital, the first convent and the first university. Stroll the pedestrian Calle El Conde, lined with shops, outdoor sidewalk art, restaurants and cafes. Enjoy the outdoor parks and plazas, and dine under the stars at Pat’e Palo or Pura Tasca on Plaza España.
Taste Dominican Cuisine
Beyond the national dish – la bandera dominicana (a plate of rice and beans with stewed chicken and a side salad) – there are local specialties you should sample. Try mangú, a deliciously seasoned mound of mashed green plantains topped with sautéed red onions, for breakfast or sancocho, a hearty stew combining various meats and roots vegetables, served with a side of white rice and avocado slices. Desserts and salty snacks are popular as well, from yucca empanadas to coconut sweets.
In Santo Domingo, Villar Hermanos and Meson D’Bari are among the best Dominican restaurants, but you’ll also find local dishes in comedores or small local restaurants around the country.
Visit the Museums
The country's museums shed an important light on the country’s fascinating history. Start in the Colonial City – tour the Alcazar de Colon, the former home of Diego Columbus turned museum, as well as the Museo de las Casas Reales. Continue to the Museo del Hombre Dominicano, the most comprehensive in the country, covers various eras starting with the origin of Dominicans to its present day culture and society. In Altos de Chavón, the Museo Arqueologico Regional Altos de Chavón boasts one of the most comprehensive collections of Taino artifacts and history.
Dance to Merengue and Bachata
Dance and music are an intrinsic part of Dominican culture. You can practice your merengue and bachata dance skills anywhere in the country, whether on the beach or at your resort’s nightclub, in local bars and at concerts. Live performances are also popular and an important part of the culture. In Santo Domingo, head to Jet Set Club for weekly concerts on Monday nights. In Puerto Plata, shows are held regularly at the Puerto Plata Amphitheatre.
Take the Cacao Trail
The Dominican Republic ranks among the top three largest exporters of cacao in the world. For a full experience of a cacao plantation and the bean to bar process, sign up for the Sendero del Cacao or the Cacao Trail Tour. Located in the province of San Francisco de Macorís, just over an hour north of Santo Domingo, you’ll experience a fully operating, family-owned cacao farm – you’ll hike the plantation, taste raw cacao, and tour the chocolate making facilities where you’ll make your own bar.
Catch a Baseball Game
The Dominican Republic counts the highest contribution of baseball players to US Major League Baseball. The passion for “play,” as it’s locally called, is just as strong at home. The Dominican Baseball League runs an annual baseball tournament from mid-October through January, and you can catch the games at any of the professional baseball stadiums around the country. Combined with on site music and food, you’ll get a solid glimpse of the locals’ passion and natural talent for baseball.
Visit the Offshore Islands
As if the mainland didn’t have enough beaches, the Dominican Republic counts a handful of offshore islands with spectacular white sand beaches. The most visited is Saona Island – part of the Cotubanamá National Park – for its breathtaking coastline and Caribbean turquoise pools. Off the coast of Samaná, Cayo Levantado’s beach is a perfect daytime escape, with restaurants on site. Off the coast of Puerto Plata, Cayo Arena is the tiniest offshore caye, its surrounding waters teeming with tropical fish.
Ride to Cable Car in Puerto Plata
One of the most unique activities in the Dominican Republic is Puerto Plata’s cable car ride or Teleférico, the only one operating in the Caribbean. It takes you soaring over 2,600 feet above Puerto Plata’s gorgeous Atlantic Ocean and hilly green landscape, from the city towards Mount Isabel. Once you reach the top, you’ll get off the cable car and see a giant Christ of the Redeemer Statue, similar to the one in Rio de Janeiro. After a few selfies, continue hiking towards the back of the statue, where you’ll find beautiful botanical gardens. Stroll at your leisure, and cool off afterwards at the on site cafe.
Experience Dominican Carnival
Carnival is a major part of Dominican culture. Based on folklore characters and tales, as well as syncretic religions, it’s an excellent time to glimpse the country’s diversity. Every Sunday during the month of February, you can experience a carnival parade in major towns and cities around the country. The most popular and widely attended parades take place in La Vega, Santiago and Puerto Plata. Carnival season closes with a final national parade on the first Sunday in March, on Santo Domingo’s seafront boulevard.
Conquer the 27 Damajagua Falls
Venture inland for adrenaline-pumping adventure at the Dominican Republic's most spectacular waterfalls: the 27 Charcos de Damajagua, in Puerto Plata. Its cascades and natural pools tumble down a series of canyons. You’ll hike, slide your way down, jump, and wade through beautiful azure and turquoise waters gushing over and around you.
Hike Pico Duarte, the Caribbean’s Highest Peak
Tucked in the heart of the country, Pico Duarte – part of the Jose Armando Bermudez National Park – is the tallest peak in the Caribbean, standing at 10,105 feet. The two- to three-day expedition will have you camping under the stars as you make your way to the summit at sunrise. Opt for Jarabacoa as your jump off point and relax in this cool mountain town before and after your adventure.
Go Humpback Whale Watching in the Bay of Samaná
Every year from mid-January through March, thousands of humpback whales make their way to the warm waters of the Bay of Samaná to mate and birth. Hop on a two-hour whale watching tour with marine biologist Kim Bed all’s Whale Samana – if you’re lucky, you’ll spot calves as well – after which you’ll head over to Cayo Levantado for lunch and an afternoon on the beach.
Hang Out at the Parks
Once the sun begins to cool off, parks begin to fill with locals who come here to relax and play with their friends and families. You’ll find a central park in almost every town you visit, whether beachside or inland. In Santo Domingo, visit the iconic Parque Colon, in the heart of the Colonial Zone, for a family-friendly atmosphere as well as surrounding restaurants. Nearby, Parque Duarte is a favorite of the LGBT community. In Puerto Plata, the Parque Central is one of the most attractive with its surrounding Victorian architecture.
Spot Crocodiles at Lake Enriquillo
Located in the remote southwest, Lake Enriquillo lies 60 feet below sea level, and is the largest lake in the Caribbean region. Part saline, part fresh water, its remarkable features attract the only population of American crocodiles in the DR. Hop on a boat tour led by a park ranger, and you’ll spot crocs of all sizes lurking beneath. On shore, you can’t miss seeing iguanas freely roaming the grounds.
Shop for Local Souvenirs
The Dominican Republic offers plenty of opportunities to shop items that are sourced and created locally. If you’re into precious stones, opt for larimar or amber jewelry pieces. Coffee, chocolate, and rum lovers will also find their bliss with homegrown varieties. Arts and crafts range from wood-carved decorations to oil paintings and the Dominican “faceless” dolls.
Get Social at the Colmado
The Dominican “colmado” is a corner mom and pop grocery store that doubles as a neighborhood bar. The colmado is affordable and ubiquitous in the country –you can find one on nearly every other corner, from the city to the smallest village. Order una fria or an ice-cold beer at the counter and grab a chair or two to enjoy outdoors while listening to music.
Savor the Coffee Culture
With coffee plantations around the country’s mountainous regions, it’s not hard to understand why coffee plays such an important part in Dominican culture. Enjoy a cafecito during the day, preferably while sitting outdoors and catching up with friends. If you’re not a coffee drinker, get a hot chocolate or a batida – a fresh fruit “milkshake” or smoothie. Sip, mingle and enjoy the fresh air.
Sample Rum and Cigars
The Dominican Republic is a top producer of rum and one of the largest exporters of premium cigars to the United States. Take a tour of La Aurora Cigar Factory in Santiago, where you’ll learn about the entire cigar making process. There are also cigar and rum bars around the country.
Visit Bahia de Las Aguilas
Lying on the southwest edge of the country, near the border with Haiti, this undeveloped and protected beach boasts five long miles of brilliant white sand and iridescent turquoise waters. The best way to enjoy it is on a boat cruise of the surrounding Bay of Eagles.