How to Make the Most of Your Stay in the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic is home to some truly spectacular waterfalls
The Dominican Republic is home to some truly spectacular waterfalls | © robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Konstantina Pyrnokoki
Travel Writer28 July 2021

Finding an unspoiled vacation haven in the Caribbean isn’t that hard, considering the region’s incredible waters and the exotic islands piercing their surface. The sun-filled Dominican Republic is an excellent example of Caribbean charm, marked with white sands, crystalline waters and abundant forests that make it a popular escape for American travelers. But there’s plenty more to do here that doesn’t often grab the headlines. Browse through our guide and find out how to make the most of your trip to the Dominican Republic – along with suggestions on places to stay.

Things to See and Do

From walking the streets of a colonial settlement in the capital of Santo Domingo, to swimming with dolphins in Puerto Plata, here are the top things to see and do during your stay in the Dominican Republic.

Discover the first European Colonial district in the “New World”

Ciudad Colonial – also known as Zona Colonial – is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the Americas. Strolling around the streets of this Unesco-listed town in Santo Domingo, you’ll come across gorgeous buildings from the 1500s, such as the Primada de América Cathedral or the peculiar Ozama Fortress. Standing out is the Puerta del Conde, the gate where Francisco del Rosario Sánchez first raised the Dominican flag and proclaimed the nation’s independence from neighboring Haiti in 1844. Above the gate’s arch, a phrase reads “iDulce et Decori est pro patria morii” – or, “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”

Ozama Fortress, one of the top attractions in Ciudad Colonial | © Odyssey-Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Swim in crystal-clear, aquamarine waters

Given it sits on an island, it’s no wonder the Dominican Republic brims with superb beaches, rivers and lakes. The country takes pride in its crystalline, emerald waters and white-sand shores, where you can either sunbathe or take part in fun water sports such as jet skiing, parasailing, and banana boat rides. Visit Bavaro Beach for the latter, and pass by the 20-mile-long beach of Punta Cana, or by Playa Dorada in Puerto Plata, to make the most of the exotic landscape – think creamy, soft sands and endless greenery. Two more water-heavens await at the Laguna Gri-Gri and Laguna Bavaro lakes – complete with playful sea turtles.

Punta Cana is one beach you can’t miss on a trip to the Dominican Republic | © Rawdon Wyatt / Alamy Stock Photo

Ride the waves in a wind-surfing mecca

For those looking to take water sports to the next level, Cabarete should be your go-to place. Known as the wind-surfing capital of the country, Cabarete attracts the athletic and adventurous. This resort town with warm waters and consistently strong winds is among the best wind-surfing and kite-boarding hubs in the world. Its four-mile, white-sand beach is lined with cafes, restaurants and shops, which means you’ll have a place to catch your breath should you get tired from trying to tame the ocean. Alternatively, lie on the beach and watch the pros do their thing.

Try your hand at wind-surfing in Cabarete | © travelstock44 / Alamy Stock Photo

Jump into a pool fed by dreamy waterfalls

Speaking of water, not one, not two, but 27 waterfalls make up the paradise that is Damajaqua Cascades. Found in the hills of the Northern Corridor mountain range, these amazing waterfalls are among the biggest attractions in the province of Puerto Plata, with more than 50,000 people coming here every year to marvel at their splendor. The Damajaqua Cascades pour over the rugged terrain, forming natural pools framed by rocks. Guided tours will allow you to climb up to the falls and then jump or slide all the way down to enjoy a divine swim in the milky, turquoise waters.

Go for an epic swim at one of the Dominican Republic’s stunning waterfalls | © Rafal Cichawa / Alamy Stock Photo

Explore immense lush forests

As filled with water as this country is, it’s also a green oasis comprising huge verdant parks. Don’t miss the Parque Nacional Los Haitises, which is one of the few remaining tropical forests in the Dominican Republic. Featuring mangroves and caves, this spectacular park covers a jungly area of 1,600sqkm which, unsurprisingly, was used as a setting in the Jurassic Park film. The 1,500-acre Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park & Reserve in Punta Cana is also a must-visit, boasting 12 freshwater lagoons, while hosting local plants as well as rare and endangered animal species such as the Ridgway Hawk.

Los Haitises National Park has some of the best hiking opportunities in the Dominican Republic | © Reinhard Dirscherl / Alamy Stock Photo

Climb a green mountain or a volcanic sand dune

When it comes to awe-inspiring peaks, the Dominican Republic does not disappoint. The most impressive has to be Mount Isabel de Torres, a 2,600-foot mountain (the highest in the Caribbean), that offers unparalleled views of Puerto Plata from its top. Hop on a cute, multi-colored cable car or hike all the way up, and you’ll be surrounded by botanical gardens and caves – don’t let the giant statue of Christ the Redeemer scare you away. On a more barren note, try sand-surfing at Dunas de Bani, a dune made of volcanic rock and grey sand. You will likely see lizards and desert goats pass you by.

Take the cable car up Mount Isabel de Torres | © Gaertner / Alamy Stock Photo

Go whale-watching and make friends with sharks

There’s no better place to connect with animals than here. The town of Samaná is where you will catch a rare spectacle starring humpback whales – around 2,000 of them gather at the Marine Mammal Sanctuary at Samaná Bay from December to March to reproduce. Some males sing songs to attract the females, while others perform all kinds of acrobatics. You may also swim with dolphins and play with sea lions and pet sharks at Ocean World Adventures in Puerto Plata. Or embark on a zipline adventure, where you’ll be soaring through the jungle – stopping only to pose with resident animals like squirrel monkeys.

See humpback whales up close in Samaná Bay | © santiago vidal vallejo / Alamy Stock Photo

Marvel at amber-encrusted animals at Museo del Ambar

The national gem of the Dominican Republic, amber is getting the royal treatment in the Amber Museum in Puerto Plata. As amber is formed when tree sap fossilizes, it’s known to sometimes catch plants and animals in it – which is what makes the exhibits in Museo del Ambar all the more fascinating. In the Victorian-style building that houses the museum, you will find a rare collection of valuable amber items, some of which actually incorporate entrapped plants and even entire animals. The most famous display – and for good reason – is a nearly 17-inch-long ancient lizard encased in amber.

Learn about the Dominican Republic’s national gem at the Amber Museum | © Hackenberg-Photo-Cologne / Alamy Stock Photo

Where to Stay

Take your pick from colonial-style retreats and glamorous resorts facing the shimmering coast. These are our top places to stay during a trip in the Dominican Republic.

Sublime Samana Hotel & Residences, Las Terrenas

Boutique Hotel
4.6/5 (191 Reviews)
Sublime Samana Hotel & Residences
Courtesy of Sublime Samana Hotel and Residences / Expedia
From $278 per night per room
This tropical jewel on the northeast coast is set within a huge palm forest. Echoing the Dominican Republic’s laid-back charm, the rooms range from minimalist suites to lovely, rustic casitas, complete with a jacuzzi and a private balcony. You may also choose to relax in a plush sunbed – with an actual mattress and its own wooden roof for extra shade – by the pool, or make the most of the coconut-based wellness treatments at the luxurious Coconut Whispers Spa. A golden-sand beach is only a few feet away.
More info

Hodelpa Nicolas de Ovando, Santo Domingo

Boutique Hotel, Budget Hotel
4.4/5 (354 Reviews)
Hodelpa Nicolas de Ovando
Courtesy of Hodelpa Nicolas de Ovando / Expedia
From $168 per night per room
If you’re looking for a hotel that captures the Dominican Republic’s medieval history, this colonial-style delight sits right in the middle of Ciudad Colonial, borrowing elements from the area’s characterful architecture. Think wood-beamed ceilings and stonework dating to 1502, along with grand chandeliers and vintage, satin sofas in the Imperial Club – an exclusive area for VIP guests. You can even organize your own fairytale-like, colonial wedding here, in the romantic patio or the exuberant gardens.
More info

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana

Hotel
3.9/5 (1304 Reviews)
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana, Punta Cana
Courtesy of Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Punta Cana / Expedia
From $349 per night per room
Home to the largest casino in the Caribbean, this is one of the poshest properties of the Hard Rock chain. Expect to find luxury suites with private jacuzzis, nine different restaurants and a fancy nightclub where you can dance your sorrows away until the early hours. The hotel organizes its own Dominican Experience Tour – which includes visits to sugar cane plantations and typical Dominican houses – as well as lavish cruises in the Caribbean; snorkeling around coral reefs and feasting on the beach are part of the deal.
More info

Beach Bungalows Los Corales Club & Spa

Resort
4.1/5 (259 Reviews)
Beach Bungalows Los Corales Club & Spa
Courtesy of Beach Bungalows Los Corales Club and Spa / Expedia
From $89 per night per room
A 10-minute drive from the pool-like waters of Bavaro Beach, these cozy bungalows come with their own garden, pool and patios. There’s also a private beach right at the front, equipped with snuggly loungers and umbrellas, and a wide range of restaurants and cafes nearby – such as the charming Dalia’s Cafe & Bakery with its mouth-watering desserts. If you don’t fancy leaving the premises though, the hotel’s spa offers just the right kind of body treatments that guarantee to rejuvenate you inside and out.
More info

Catalonia Santo Domingo

Hotel
4.2/5 (888 Reviews)
Catalonia Santo Domingo
Courtesy of Catalonia Santo Domingo / Expedia
From $120 per night per room
For uninterrupted sea views across the Malecón promenade, try this ultra-modern, 21-story tower near Ciudad Colonial. Boasting a sophisticated restaurant, a terrace bar, a glamorous outdoor pool and its very own, fully equipped fitness center, this resort is essentially paradise on earth – or a more modern version of it, if you will. The unreal ocean views can be accessed from every corner, so prepare to feel as if you’re floating on air right above the vast blue sea, when you’re picking up the pace on the treadmill.
More info
These recommendations were updated on July 28, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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