Tourism plays an important part of the Dominican Republic’s economy, and over the years, a number of resort towns have sprung up in different parts of the country. Catering to various clientele and budget levels and with different types of activity on offer, each of these towns deserves a visit. Or three.
- Punta Cana
Famed for its crystal-clear waters and beaches with fine, powdery sand, Punta Cana is the perfect vacation spot for families and high-end tourists. Served by an international airport with direct flights to North America, Europe and Latin America, Punta Cana welcomes the lion’s share of the 5 million tourists who visit the country. Known as a golfer’s paradise, Punta Cana has 11 courses located in its vicinity, including the world famous Punta Espada with its spectacular ocean views.
Most visitors to Punta Cana spend most of their time inside all-inclusive resorts, which range in scale from 5-star luxury resorts to more modest affairs suited to families with young children. In addition to sun and surf, visitors can enjoy a variety of indoor and outdoor activities in the resorts such as tennis, spa and even casino games. Excursions to tourist-oriented facilities such as theme parks, ziplines and monkey sanctuaries can also be arranged, but those looking to experience authentic Dominican Republic life and culture may have to look elsewhere.
- La Romana
A short drive away from the capitol city of Santo Domingo and served by its own international airport, La Romana is home to the famous Casa de Campo Resort, a 7,000-acre luxury facility that has hosted the likes of the Kardashians, Michael Jordan and Justin Bieber. The resort features three 18-hole golf courses and various outdoor activities such as horse riding and sailing, plus several top-notch restaurants serving various cuisines as well as spas and even night clubs. In addition to Casa de Campo, there are also a large number of hotels, resorts and holiday rentals in La Romana to suit different budget requirements.
The town of La Romana boasts a replica of a 16th-century European village, complete with an amphitheater and an archeological museum, which also serves as an artisan village where one can purchase paintings and local handicrafts. The nearby National Park of the East, with its picturesque hiking trails and pristine beaches, is another major attraction.
- Boca Chica
Only a 5-minute drive away from Las Américas International Airport, Boca Chica is famed for its white sandy beach and turquoise waters. Coral reefs surround the bay, and the waters are so shallow that one can walk across to the nearby island of La Matica. Because of its shallow waters, this area has been the site of many ship wrecks, some of which are on display at the La Caleta Underwater Park. Visitors to the park and can also snorkel among the colorful marine life that inhabits the coral reefs.
3 Eyes National Park, situated less than a half hour’s drive from downtown Boca Chica, is a haven for nature lovers. Its three gorgeous lakes, each with their own distinct color from turquoise, blue to yellow, is a sight to behold, as are the limestone caves containing marvelous stalactites and stalagmites.
Boca Chica’s other attraction is its boisterous night life. Every evening, the streets near the beach bustle with life, and merengue and mariachi music can be heard in many restaurants and bars. Because of its proximity to the capitol city of Santo Domingo, many locals come down to Boca Chica to party into the wee hours, providing a good opportunity for tourists and locals to intermix.
- Puerto Plata
Puerto Plata owes its name to Christopher Columbus, who envisioned this “port of silver” to be the main commercial and maritime port of the island. However, the town subsequently went into a period of decline due to piracy, and only in the mid-19th century did Puerto Plata regain some importance as a commercial and cultural centre. In the 1980s, Puerto Plata experienced a tourist boom as scores of resorts sprung up around Playa Dorada and Costa Dorada, and today it has over 100,000 hotel beds on offer.
In contrast with Punta Cana, tourists in Puerto Plata frequently venture outside the confines of the resorts to visit the many attractions in the surrounding region, such as the 16th century Fort of San Felipe, the theme park Ocean World and the Museum of Amber. The city of Puerto Plata itself, with its Victorian-era architecture, is also worth checking out, if only to witness a side of Dominican Republic life not immediately connected with tourism.
East of Punta Cana are two other resort towns that are less touristy. Sosua is the site of a former Jewish settlement, but in recent years, it is better known for its vibrant nightlife. Cabarete has a hip reputation among younger tourists, and its calm waters and steady winds has made it a kitesurfer and windsurfer paradise.
Every year, during the winter months from December to March, hundreds of humpback whales descend upon the north-eastern coast of the Dominican Republic to mate and give birth. A cottage industry has sprung up to offer whale-watching cruises, centered around the Samaná Bay area in the north-eastern part of the country. Tourists get the opportunity to catch a sight these majestic creatures as they break through the surface of the water to breathe and even interact with their offspring. The Dominican government has declared this area a whale sanctuary and enacted strict laws for the protection of whales, thus ensuring that tourists and locals can enjoy their company for a long time to come.
Outside of whale-watching season, visitors to Samaná can tour Los Haitises National Park Preserve and Cayo Levantado to enjoy hiking, boating and horse- back riding through idyllic natural landscapes of mangrove forests, seaside caves and sandy beaches. Of the resort towns mentioned here, Samaná is the most unspoilt and least touristy, and one can only hope that it stays this way.
From all-inclusive resorts to holiday rentals and budget hostels, from boisterous nightlife to tranquil nature, the Dominican Republic has a wide range of tourist destinations to offer. Whether your idea of a good holiday is fun and games, learn from other cultures or experience nature, one or more of the resort destinations listed above will be right for you.
Written by Simon Chung
Simon Chung is a digital nomad based in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He specializes in research and writing for companies, organizations and academic institutions. He can be contacted here.