How to Spend One Week in the Dominican Republic

Sunset over Santo Domingo
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From coastal towns and beach villages to central mountains with the highest peaks in the Caribbean and remote, rocky scenery up north, the Dominican Republic boasts a diverse landscape packed with sightseeing possibilities. A weeklong stay could take multiple forms, and you won’t run out of things to do.

Start with an introduction to Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic’s UNESCO-ranked capital, and its cultural hub. Continue to mountainous Jarabacoa or Constanza to glimpse a little-known side of the DR yet one of its most breathtaking. End on the Atlantic North coast of Puerto Plata for surfing and more outdoor adventure, or to hop on cacao trails and enjoy live merengue concerts.

Wherever you end up, you’ll find warmth to Dominican culture and way of life, from the city to the “campo” or countryside. Here’s a recommended one-week itinerary in the Dominican Republic for a solid glimpse of this diverse Caribbean country.

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Day 1: Santo Domingo’s Colonial City

Santo Domingo Colonial Zone
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Santo Domingo’s Colonial City or “Zona Colonial” is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as the first permanent European settlement in the Americas or the first city built by the Spaniards in the Americas. There’s a lot to see, from the first-ever built cathedral, fortress, and other historic buildings turned museums to plazas and parks where locals and tourists mingle.

It’s a pedestrian-friendly area, and you can also bike your way around. Take a self-guided tour around the Zona Colonial’s streets. Stroll the pedestrian Calle El Conde’s shopping street, making stops at sidewalk cafes and arts and crafts shops. Enjoy a cafecito or a “batida” fresh fruit shake at Cafeteria Colonial before continuing your walk.  Relax at Parque Colon, where everyone relaxes on shaded benches, then tour the oldest cathedral in the Americas. Continue to Calle Las Damas, where many historic buildings and museums are located. Visit the Pantheon Nacional, the Ozama Fortress, the Alcazar de Colon, and the Museo de las Casas Reales. Lunch on Plaza Espana at the first tavern of the Americas, Pat’e Palo.

At sunset, take a walk along the seafront Malecon. Stop in at one of the hotel or casino bars to cool off and sip on happy hour cocktails with live merengue music. For dinner, head to Meson D’Bari, known for its Dominican cuisine menu in gorgeous colonial dining rooms; it was a favorite of the late Anthony Bourdain. Walk off dinner with a stroll down to Parque Duarte and feel the energy of the LGBT community.

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Day 2: Around Santo Domingo

boca chica beach
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Spend the day exploring the city’s outskirts. Parque Nacional Tres Ojos is an Instagrammable spot, but it’s also worth visiting to see a network of ancient, giant Taino caverns, surrounded by three jade lagoons.

Just 15 minutes east of the capital, the city dweller’s favorite white-sand Caribbean beaches begin with Boca Chica, where a turquoise natural pool and numerous beachside restaurants are ideal for families. Just a half-hour farther east lies Juan Dolio Beach, also lined with restaurants and with more wave action than Boca Chica. Wherever you end up, Lunch on a plate of fried fish with tostones, washed down with a cold Presidente. At night, go bar hopping and merengue dancing in the Colonial City at Jalao or pick a local corner “colmado” or bodega. If you’re visiting on a Sunday, catch the outdoor concert on the San Francisco Monastery Ruins.

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Day 3: Jarabacoa

Landscape
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Just two hours north of Santo Domingo, the mountainous heart of the Dominican Republic is a breathtaking world of rolling green valleys, rivers, and waterfalls. Horseback riding is popular here as well—sign up for a ride to Salto Baiguate or go hiking to Salto Jimenoa I. Lunch on local cuisine at La Tinaja, then spend the afternoon cooling off in the river pools at La Confluencia Park. At night, head to Aroma de la Montana restaurant for fine dining with a panoramic view of Jarabacoa’s mountains. You can either drive a rental car or catch the Caribe Tours large coach bus service from Santo Domingo.

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Day 4: Manabao and Parque Nacional Armando Bermudez

Go for a drive or a motorbike ride from Jarabacoa into the hills of Manabao, deeper in the mountainous countryside. Visit the Parque Nacional Armando Bermúdez, where you can hike several trails. If you’re brave, you can sign up for a two-day expedition with local guides up to the summit of Pico Duarte, the highest peak in the Caribbean at 10,105 feet.

If you’re not into hiking or mountain climbing, you could substitute your third and fourth days in Jarabacoa with the Samana Peninsula and explore its beach towns of Las Terrenas and Las Galeras.

Continue to 5 of 7 below.
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Day 5: Puerto Plata Province

Scenic View Of Beach Against Clear Blue Sky
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Another couple of hours north of Jarabacoa will land you in the Puerto Plata province, on the country's Atlantic Coast. This vast area covers some of the country’s best beaches, from surfing hubs to isolated coves, as well as plenty of inland adventure that includes canyoning, hiking, waterfalls, and river kayaking. Cultural excursions are also easy to find.

Start your day by staying in the hills of Tubagua at an eco-lodge, or on the beach at Playa Dorada. Spend the day surrounded by nature with a trip to 27 Damajagua Falls.

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Day 6: The Cacao Trail, Puerto Plata

Head out to Palmar Grande, just about an hour from Playa Dorada hotels, to visit Chocal, a women-run cacao plantation, and chocolate-making factory. Learn about the importance of the cacao, make your own bars, and lunch on site. Afterward, head back to the city for sunset and dinner on the Malecon.

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Day 7: Estero Hondo Marine Mammal Reserve and Playa La Ensenada

Head two hours east of Puerto Plata city. Make the first stop at the Estero Hondo Marine Mammal Sanctuary to spot manatees. The only and largest population thrives in the Estero Hondo lagoon. Continue to Playa Ensenada nearby, lined with outdoor cooks and picnic tables for Dominican seafood or chicken lunch. Relax on a lounge chair afterward and swim in calm turquoise waters.

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