A Quick Guide to Getting The Most Out of Your DR Trip!
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There’s a whole lot to do in the Dominican Republic. Between its age, its growing tourism trade, and its size, it’s hard to throw a rock in the Dominican Republic without hitting something of interest. What’s more, the Dominican Republic is full of things you won’t find anywhere else. In fact, we originally set out to make a list of all the things you had to see in the Dominican Republic. About two hours in, we realized that we could write a book on the subject and still not cover everything.
So, what did we do? We decided to narrow it down. How?
We looked for all the things you could only do in the Dominican Republic, or that are best done here. Then, we whittled that list down, trying to find those attractions that both locals and visitors loved the most. Attractions that will make you say “There’s really nowhere else like the Dominican Republic.”
As a result, we came up with this: The top 15 unique, must-see attractions in the Dominican Republic. We picked five from each of the three most attractive spots in the Dominican Republic. These places represent the country’s best examples of eco-tourism, adventure, and cultural experience. At the end of the article, we’ll cover some safety concerns (or, more accurately, tell you why you don’t need to be worried) and go over the ways you can get around the island.
So, with that out of the way, let’s get to the first place on our list:
Samana Bay and Samana Peninsula, an Ecological Wonderland
You might think that “wonderland” is an overstatement—you’d be wrong. Hollywood couldn’t come up with a more beautiful, varied place to visit, and you could probably spend your whole vacation here and still not run out of things to do. So, why is that?
Partly because of the size of the peninsula; there’s a whole lot packed into one beautiful stretch of the Dominican Republic. From Las Terrenas to Samana Bay to Playa Rincon, Samana is loaded with things to do, and the closest of them are about an hour and a half from Villa Costa Norte. If you want to see just how beautiful nature can get, this should be your first destination.
And, if you get the chance, your first stop should be Samana Bay, to catch the Humpback Whale Migration!
Every year, from January 15th to March 30th, large groups of Humpback Whales migrate to the Domincan Republic, creating a scene that you wouldn’t see anywhere else in the world. Your best bet is to hire a boat and go out to see them up close. Barring that, try visiting Punta Palandra, a gorgeous beach that will give you a solid vantage point for seeing the whales.
If you missed your window, though, try visiting Cayo Levantado.
Cayo Levantado is a little island in Samana Bay. You know those dreams everyone has of running away to their own island paradise?
Yeah, that’s Cayo Levantado.
It’s easy enough to reach—go to Samana’s city port and take a 20-minute water taxi ride (which is beautiful in and of itself), then enjoy the island. While you’re there, hit up the food vendors—all of them are worth trying.
In the mood for something away from the ocean? Make your way to Salto El Limon.
El Limon is, arguably, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world. It drops 130 feet from the top of Sierra Samana, and while small, it makes up for its lack in size with its environment. The trip there is an attraction, by itself— it’s a 1.5 mile hike that can be taken on foot or by horseback. The trip is short enough to stay relaxing, but long enough to feel like an adventure.
As for the waterfall? Well, words really can’t describe it. Go there, take a hike, and end it with a dip in the cool water.
Not enough adventure for you? We have a recommendation: Parque Nacional Los Haitises.
Even for a place with more gorgeous national parks than this document has words, Parque Nacional Los Haitises stands out. For starters, it has one of the island’s few remaining rainforests, as well as mangroves covering 618 square miles. It’s a sight that’s hard to comprehend without actually seeing it.
On top of that, the park is dotted with keys and caves (most of which you can explore), and the jungle was used as a location in Jurassic Park. Finally, it’s replete with endangered birds that you wouldn’t see anywhere else in the world.
Visit, pick an attraction, and enjoy your stay.
As great as Cayo Levantado is, it’ll be full of other tourists. If you’ve had enough adventure and crowding for the day, take a trip to Playa Rincon.
At the moment, Playa Rincon is still undeveloped, and hasn’t attracted quite the number of tourists that the other spots have. As such, it’s a nice spot for a calm, solitary walk along the beach. It’s considered one of the 10 best beaches in the world, so finish up your day with a walk on the beach and grab some grilled fish to munch on.
Adventure after Adventure in La Romana
If Samana is an old, refined eco-tourism hotspot, La Romana is its adventurous younger brother. No less beautiful than Samana, La Romana gives you more options in terms of excitement and adventure. The two of them are easily the best eco-tourism spots in the whole country, and that’s saying something.
It is, however, a little further than Samana, and may take you as much as three hours to get to. Still, it’s worth every second of the (likely beautiful) trip.
Much like Samana, listing everything you could do in La Romana would take another article twice this size, so we’ll stick to some of the highlights. Some of the other options can be seen here.
And, if you liked Samana’s Parque Nacional Los Haitises, you’ll love Parque Nacional del Este.
Also called the National Park of the East, it’s known for crystal blue waters and sandy beaches. It’s the most peace and quiet you’ll get in La Romana, and you can take your pick of reef diving, fishing, or just relaxing on the beach at Saona Island, one of the most popular destinations in the Park.
Bayahibe is one of La Romana’s main attractions, and this is definitely the best way to explore it. You’ll be standing on the paddle-boards and roaming the beach. It takes some balance and concentration, but that makes the adventure much more fun!
You’ll need reservations, though, so email them at email@example.com
Now, let’s up the adrenaline.
And it’s exactly what it sounds like. There are seven double-cables that wind throughout the Dominican Wilds in La Romana, allowing you to see the jungle from above. Anyone five or older can take part, and there’s a ton of other attractions to be had along the sky-path, including a giant canopy swing, a pair of genuine rope bridges, and the aptly named “hurricane house.”
And, to top it all off, you can finish the trip by kayaking up the Chavron river. Want more water?
The Dominican Republic has a wealth of good diving options, but between the reefs, the unique wildlife, and the crystal-clear waters, La Romana houses the best of them. There are too many dive sites to count, and you can set up diving excursions or take courses offered at these dive centers.
You’ll get to see colorful marine life, dolphins, nurse sharks and manatees, and if you’ve never dove through a coral reef before, you’re in for a treat.
But, don’t let the adventure distract you from the country’s history.
Altos de Chavon is a replica of a 16th century Mediterranean village, right in the La Romana countryside. Every detail has been handcrafted by local artisans and, as a result, it’s become a cultural center for artists in all mediums from all over the world. There are art galleries, design schools, museums, a beautiful church and amphitheater.
It’ll be a good warm-up for all the culture you’ll find in the next spot on our list.
Santo Domingo, the Cultural Center of the Domincan
Aside from that, there are rainforests, dry forests and cave systems to explore, and even a landscape of 20-foot-tall cacti! Likewise, if you want unique wildlife, there are leatherback turtles, various dolphins, Caribbean pelicans, frigatebirds (aptly named), and the Rhinoceros Iguana.
Now that we’ve gotten some of the calmer attractions out of the way, how about a surfboard adventure.
The oldest place in the oldest European settlement in the Americas, Santo Domingo is, without a doubt, its cultural capital. If you’ve had enough nature and ecological adventure and want to see the soul of the Dominican Republic, this should be your next stop.
Due to being a bus hub, it’s easier to get to than some of our other locations, and taxis and high-end publicos abound in its streets. Parking would be hard to find, and the drive is just under three hours.
But, it’s worth it to see things like the Plaza De Cultura.
We’ve used the term “aptly named” a few times, already. If there were a more intense way of saying that, we would apply it, here.
Take the largest mall you’ve ever seen and replace every store with art museums and cultural centers. That will give you some idea of what you’ll find in the Plaza de la Cultura.
It houses the Palace of Fine Arts, the Museum of Modern art, and the National Palace, and that’s just for starters. You could spend days exploring these museums, and we recommend doing so.
If you want more history, try Colonial City.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, coming here is like stepping five-hundred years back in time. You’ll walk on genuine cobblestone streets, see Spanish Colonial architecture, and have your pick of amazing restaurants, top-tier shopping, and live Latin music and dancing. Plus, if you have a religious or architectural kick, you can see the First Cathedral of America, which is exactly what it sounds like. Or, you can try the Alcazar de Colon, built by Christopher Columbus’ son.
To top it all off, everything is in walking distance. Like the Plaza de la Cultura, expect to spend a lot of time, here.
If you want something more modern and exciting, visit the Malecon.
The Malecon begins within the Colonial City. It’s a section of boardwalk full of amazing nightclubs like The Jubilee and Club Murcielago. What’s more, on Sundays, all motorized vehicles are banned and the place is overtaken with pedestrians.
There’s even an outdoor restaurant with dancing called D’Luis Parrillada. If you want some more to eat, then make your way to El Meson de la Cava.
Dominican food is delicious. There’re many dishes there that you’ll find nowhere else, and you can get all of them at El Meson de la Cava…
While eating inside a cavern.
Yes, you read that right. On top of Dominican classics, you’ll find creative, modern dishes that still have that Latin American Flavor to them.
As for the last thing you should do, try something simple.
Yes, it’s a simple idea, but one often overlooked. No-one goes to the Dominican Republic for “a taste of home.” They go to put their finger on the pulse of somewhere alien to them, and Santo Domingo is to the Dominican Republic what New York City is to America. It tells you what kind of place the country is. As such, you should devote a day to simply wandering through the city. Talk to locals, talk to other tourists, and see where your feet lead you. Chances are, it’ll be every bit as exciting as anything else on this list.
Now that we’ve gone over the country’s 15 must-see attractions, let’s cover some travel details. First off, if you’re worried about safety, don’t be.
The DR Is friendly—even for a Caribbean Island
Latin American countries get a bad rap for safety, but the Dominican Republic definitely doesn’t deserve to join in on that. Its people are very aware that tourism is a huge source of income for them, and they’re smart enough to know that making you excited to come back is worth their while. Being swindled or cheated is a possibility, but keeping your head on your shoulders is all it takes to prevent that.
As for other forms of danger?
Well, we’ll just say that, as long as you listen to your guides, walking through New York City is more dangerous than going anywhere in the Domincan Republic. But, what about the police?
Dominican police officers are renowned throughout the Caribbean for their desire to help both locals and tourists, and most will go far out of their way to keep you comfortable.
So, feeling secure? Good, then let’s move on to a bigger concern.
How to Travel in the Dominican Republic
If you’re reading this, you’re probably staying at Villa Costa Norte. You’re not completely isolated up there, but you aren’t right in the middle of an urban hub like Santo Domingo, either.
As we said before, the Dominican Republic is a big place. In fact, it’s the second biggest country in the Caribbean, right next to Cuba. As such, you have a few good travel options.
Buses and Guaguas
Pros: Cheap, social, and a unique experience
Cons: Sometimes inconvenient, time consuming, and uncomfortable
If you’re on a budget (which, I imagine you aren’t) or want the public transit experience, you can use the country’s network of buses, which cover most of the country, and guaguas, which cover the rest. Guagua’s are a unique, if uncomfortable, experience. They’re ramshackle vans that patrol the countryside. They stuff themselves full of passengers (who you’ll immediately begin communicating with) and luggage, and port you around cheaper than any option other than walking. You can use them to get to the bus stations.
On that note, buses are fairly well-maintained in the Dominican Republic. They can be time-consuming, but they’re cheap, they’ll always have room for your luggage, and they can get you nearly anywhere you want to go. You can hop onto one in any half-major town, and the main hubs are in Santiago and Santo Domingo. Just make sure to look at the routes and times ahead of time!
As for how to find your way to your destinations, well… just ask a local! As we said before, locals in the Dominican Republic are very helpful, so expect them to send you on your way with a smile.
But, if you want a little more convenience, try taxis.
Pros: Convenient, no need to find parking
Cons: Can be expensive
There are a lot of taxi services in the Dominican Republic. You can call up any of the dozens near Villa Costa Norte, and you’ll probably want to schedule the taxi a day in advance. Still, it’s much more convenient than taking the bus, and will probably cut your travel time in half. And, unlike your next option, parking will never be an issue.
The taxi drivers will know most every spot on this list, so all you have to do is tell them where you want to go and they’ll take you.
Pros: Extremely convenient, very fast, gives you more freedom
Cons: Can be expensive if you aren’t careful and gas prices are high
Car rental will allow you quite a bit of freedom, but be careful—when you pick up the car, note every dent and scratch in the rental form, as you can be held responsible for up to $25,000 in damages. Likewise, gas is expensive in the DR. Still…
If you plan on roaming around a lot, renting a car can still be cheaper than taking a taxi, and having that much freedom in a country like the Dominican Republic is worth the cost. Finally, these days, google maps could give you more accurate, up-to-date driving directions than we possibly could in this article
There’s too much to do in the Dominican Republic. Plain and simple. These are fifteen of the best things you can do there, but there’s hundreds of other attractions just in the places we’ve already listed.
This guide will get you started, yes, and you should treat it like a checklist, but remember that you can do everything here and still have more to do in the Dominican Republic.
Luckily, by the time you do all of this, you’ll have your own list primed and ready.
Written by Connor Johnson
Connor Johnson is a flexible content and copy writer located in the Boston area. He supplements his writing with in-depth research and general marketing skills. He can be contacted here.