While Punta Cana is the most popular place to visit in the Dominican Republic, this second-largest country in the Caribbean boasts many areas that are as spectacular and diverse in geography. From a large lake home to American crocodiles to lagoons where pink flamingos thrive, soaring mountains, wild, undeveloped beaches, and a capital city ranked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, there’s a lot to the Dominican Republic that many miss seeing. Here are the top 10 places you should visit in the Dominican Republic.
The Dominican Republic’s capital offers modern and historical sides, along with plenty of shopping, dining, arts, music, and nightlife. Santo Domingo’s Colonial City–also known as the Zona Colonial–is a World Heritage Site since 1990 as the oldest city in the Americas, built when the Spanish settled here in 1496 and brought enslaved Africans.
Visit historic sites turned museums, including the first hospital, the first university, and the first cathedral built in the “New World.” Walk the neighborhood’s charming streets–enjoy its parks, sidewalk cafes, and live music. Nearby, the Malecon’s breezy seaside boulevard is lined with restaurants and casinos. In the city center, you’ll find shopping malls, upscale restaurants, and botanical gardens.
The Samana Peninsula’s Beaches
Dominicans will agree that among the most stunning beaches in the DR are the ones that lie along the Samana Peninsula’s rugged coastline. From Las Terrenas to Las Galeras, beaches here are wild, dramatically framed with cliffs and palm trees as far as the eye can see. Las Galeras boasts stunners such as Playa Rincon, reached by boat, while Las Terrenas has easily accessible Playa Coson and Playa Bonita. There are also secluded beaches that few tourists get to, including Playa del Valle and Playa El Moron.
Parque Nacional Armando Bermúdez
Tucked in the center of the Dominican Republic, Parque Armando Bermúdez is the most accessible departure point to a two-day overnight expedition to Pico Duarte—the highest summit in the Caribbean at 10,105 feet. The park also offers numerous daytime trails for those who wish to immerse themselves in nature, swimming in the Yaque del Norte River, which flows directly from the peak. It’s a great spot to spend a day out in the mountains while visiting the mountain resort town of Jarabacoa.
Constanza is a complete departure from what you expect to find in the Caribbean, and that’s precisely why you’d visit. Tucked at 4,000 feet above sea level, it’s the highest altitude inhabited town in the region. It’s also the heart of the DR’s agriculture. Drive along fields of chayote, potatoes, and even strawberries. Stop at a local colmado or corner shop and order a strawberry milkshake or batida. Go hiking or biking in the hills to take in the fresh mountain air. One of the most spectacular national parks and birding locations in the country lies here at Valle Nuevo National Park. Hike its trails, lined with giant pine trees and ferns, and warm up from the cold temperatures by a chimney when you overnight in a mountain cabin.
Barahona province was made for the adventurous traveler in search of road trips, serendipitous cultural encounters, and a rustic, great big outdoors. This least visited province of the DR boasts scenic drives, with roads snaking between a dramatic landscape of mountains and an iridescent turquoise sea. Beaches are pebblestone for the most part, and the sea too rough to swim far, but there are stunning river parks, where freshwater streams tumble down to meet the sea and create pools idea for a swim.
If you’re a fan of crocodiles and iguanas, you’ll find them at Lago Enriquillo in the southwest of the Dominican Republic. Take a boat ride onto the lake to spot American crocodiles lurking beneath the waters of this giant part salt, part freshwater lake. Lago Enriquillo is also the largest lake in the Caribbean, lying at the lowest altitude in the country below sea level. Within the park’s dry forest grounds, endangered green iguanas thrive and will welcome you from the moment you enter the parking lot. You might even spot a few crossing the road.
Parque Nacional Jaragua
This national park boasts a lagoon that’s home to a colony of pink flamingos, among numerous other bird species. There are multiple trails, easily accessible after you pay a single entrance fee, guided or solo, as well as caves, a mangrove coastline, and secluded beaches. Hop on a boat ride of Laguna Oviedo to spot more birds and take in the natural scenery.
Puerto Plata Province
Among the most well-rounded destinations in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Plata’s province offers a little bit of everything: beaches, culture, outdoors, and water sports. Beach lovers will find numerous options along its northern coastline, from Playa Dorada, lined with resorts to Playa Alicia in Sosua, and Cabarete’s kitesurfing and surfing hubs, Kite Beach and Playa Encuentro. Inland, brave the 27 Damajagua waterfalls, hike trails in El Choco National Park, and go canyoning in the countryside. Cultural experiences are easily found, too, from cacao plantation tours, where you can make chocolate, to dining out in historic downtown Puerto Plata.
In the early morning, thousands of tourists descend on Bayahíbe VIllage’s bay to depart on catamaran day trips to nearby Saona Island. While it’s a worthwhile day trip, it’s also worth it to overnight in the village, stay in a boutique hotel or guesthouse and enjoy the lively international atmosphere, from local to foreign-owned bars and restaurants. Walk the colorful streets to view traditional Bayahíbe wooden homes, beach hop along the shoreline and catch the sunset in front of the bay; it’s one of the most beautiful in the Dominican Republic.
You won’t hear of it often, but Monte Plata is an outdoor lover’s dream with its lush forests and waterfalls tucked inside national parks. An hour drive north of Santo Domingo, Monte Plata boasts a stunning waterfall at Salto de Socoa with a deep emerald pool for dips close to shore. Nearby, Salto Alto is even more impressive with a 75-foot cascade and pool that’s safe to explore, as well as other areas of the park with plenty of picnic tables. If you’re not much of a beach fanatic, Monte Plata is an ideal day trip in the Dominican countryside.