Tourism in the Dominican Republic has been accelerating at a dizzying pace and it’s easy to see why it has become a highly-sought after holiday destination owing to its hundreds of miles of coastline, picturesque views and colonial architecture. The country’s roller-coaster historical journey accounts for the wide diversity of ethnicities which, comes through in the cuisine on offer and the music blasting from the cafes and restaurants of the bustling cities like Santo Domingo to the smallest fishing village.
Punta Cana is located at the easternmost province of the Dominican Republic and is known for its beaches which face both the Atlantic and Caribbean. The area is dotted with upscale hotels and amazing golf courses nestled in a truly romantic setting. There are plenty of all inclusive resorts in Punta Cana, and numerous activities available from reef exploring to catamaran sailing. With average temperatures ranging from the late 20s to early 30s why not just enjoy relaxing on the sands of one of the world’s best beaches.
Samana is an Atlantic-facing stretch of coastline including the beaches of Playa Rincón, La Playita Beach and Cayo Levantado in the northern area of the DR. It was famously discovered by Christopher Columbas in 1492 who was greeted by a barrage of arrows by the locals, thankfully tourists are more welcomed now, with an international airport opening in 2006. Its tropical forests, coconut groves and hundreds of tiny, sandy alcoves are as yet still relatively unexplored by tourist hordes but its unique selling point is that it is the special breeding place of the humpback whale and thousands of them congregate off the coast of Samana from January to March. Surely the national parks, unspoilt bays and peninsulas are only a bonus after watching these gentle giants cavort in the crystal, turquoise waters. For an even more intimate experience, week long live-on-board excursions can be arranged offering the rare opportunity to snorkel alongside the whales.
Parque Nacional del Este
A visit to the ‘Eastern National Park’ is a special treat for any nature enthusiast, as one of the largest marine parks in the Caribbean it has an amazing offshore coral reef system which, offers stunning places to dive and where divers can encounter a myriad of marine life. Those that prefer dry land will not be disappointed with over a hundred different species of birds, remote beaches and tropical forests. All the ingredients for a romantic getaway with a difference! There is also evidence of early Taino activity and visitors are treated to the rare cave drawings that exist along the area, documenting early indigenous life.
Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial
This historic neighbourhood of Santo Domingo is the oldest European settlement of the New World and has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, it’s located on the west bank of the Ozama river and exudes romance with delightful pastel-coloured buildings, colourful hanging baskets, beautifully restored mansions and cobblestone streets. There is a sense of nostalgia as you follow the footsteps of the conquistadors. Among the many tourist attractions of the quarter is the Calle Las Damas is the New World’s oldest paved street, dating from 1502, the 16th century cathedral, 19th century bronzed statue of Christopher Columbas and the fabled home of Herman Cortes. Spend an afternoon steeped in history, meandering through the area, sipping strong coffee in the many roadside cafes or checking out the local craft for sale in the many little shops on street corners.
Although this little isle is part of the national park, it deserves some column inches of its own and is widely considered to be the most popular part of the park. The panorama alternates between idyllic stretches of coastline to acres of mangrove swamp to the tiny fishing hamlet – the only inhabited part of the island. For tourists this tropical paradise island is easily accessible by boat or catamaran and tourism has increased significantly thanks to its desert island setting and its rise to fame as the location for the filming for the Bounty bar advert. Definitely a tranquil haven not to be missed on any trip to the DR.
Bahia de las Aguilas
Literally meaning ‘Eagle Bay’, this 8km stretch of sandy and clear water, is considered to be one of the most beautiful beach in the world by both locals and visitors alike. The main reason for this is that it is completely unspoilt and virtually totally isolated, miles away from the major tourist regions and needs to be accessed by boat or by finding a local tour guide from the tiny fishing village of La Cueva (the cave). Once here a local villager will oblige you by driving you to the isolated sandy stretch for a small fee. Although getting here can be a bit of a mission, it is worth it to lie out on one of the world’s most utopian stretches of coastline.
Paradise Island and The Mangroves
Speedboats take you to this breath-taking deserted island with rolling, white sandy beaches, perfect coral reefs and sparkling turquoise waters. Go snorkelling with a guide and allow the tropical fish eat out of your hand! If snorkelling is not your thing, take a boat ride through the mangrove forests or enjoy lunch in a traditional restaurant in a typical Dominican fishing village. Day trips to the island operate daily and a tour guide will explain the natural history of both, the marine and land life as well as the conservation projects underway.
Damajaqua Cascades (27 Waterfalls)
This is one of the most popular tourist attractions of the DR and is located in Puerto Plata. Following admission to the park, travelers will follow an English-speaking guide for a 25-30 minute trek to the hills of the Northern Corridor where the 27 waterfalls are nestled. Visitors to the park can opt for a different package and visit one or two of the waterfalls, they are offered the chance to climb to the top of each cascade with the help of a guide, the way down? Jump! What could be more exhilarating than splashing into a warm, sparkling pool of clear water at the base of a glistening waterfall? (Don’t worry safety gear is provided for each participant!). Most visitors to the park comment that ‘La Tinjita’ is the most exciting of all the waterfalls as unlike its counterparts, it has raised curved edges either side of the torrent of water resembling a natural water slide. This unique shape ensures tourists get a wild ride down to the pool at the bottom- definitely worth leaving your resort hotel room for.
Mountain vistas in Constanza
Constanza is the perfect place to take shelter from the blistering heat of the DR, the panorama of the central highlands is in stark contrast to the stretching kilometres of coastline that surround the island. This unique micro-climate offers local, hard-working farmers the opportunity to grow produce unavailable in other parts of the Caribbean. With lush green forests, rolling hills and cloud covered peaks, Constanza offers tourists chances to explore the Caribbean’s highest peak, Pico Duarte as well as exciting excursions like, rafting and canyoning. One of the most important natural and cultural monuments of the DR is located here, Piedras Letreadas is a collection of fascinating Indian rock carvings that document the life of a civilisation that lived in this place more than 500 years ago. This is truly a world away from anything you’ve already encountered in the DR and nowhere provides such spectacular sunsets. Remember a sweater though because the temperature does dip.
This salty vestige of an ancient oceanic channel known for its elusive inhabitants of crocodiles and iguanas. In fact, it is one of the few lakes in the world that is home to crocodiles and has been declared a wild reserve offering sanctuary to many species of birds giving visitors a chance to observe many of these captivating creatures in their natural habitat. Tourists check in at the small visitor centre with information about the history of the island and local guided tours offer boat tours of the park that lasts about an hour. Remember to bring suntan lotion (temperatures in summer have been recorded as upwards of 45 degrees) and wear covered shoes, as the odd scorpion abounds.
The Dominican Republic is so much more than just beach resorts, it is one of the most geographically and naturally diverse countries of the Caribbean with stunning scenery, breath-taking sunsets and bustling, evocative colonial cities. Unfortunately, so many visitors spend all their time in their beach resort but following this list of must-sees, there’s so much more to be gained by stepping outside and experiencing the real Dominican Republic.