The Dominican Republic is renowned as an affordable beach destination brimming with package tourists and enticing all-inclusive resorts. But the country is also a captivating blend of culture, history, and stunning natural beauty. The main tourist magnets are the areas around Puerto Plata, Punta Cana, La Romana, and Samaná. However, the country’s cultural jewel is the capital, Santo Domingo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In addition to well-developed beach resorts and world-class golf courses, the Dominican Republic is home to vast coral reefs, waterfalls, jungles, secluded islands, pine forests, and the highest peaks in the Caribbean. Thanks to these diverse ecosystems, recreational opportunities abound. Adventure seekers head to the mountains to raft the white waters of the Río Yaque del Norte. The rugged alpine terrain also lures hikers and bikers with its many mountain trails. Along the coast, water lovers can snorkel, dive, kayak, kite board, sail, and surf. Blessed with this abundance of attractions and activities, no wonder visitors flock here from around the world.
Santo Domingo, the oldest city in the New World, lovingly preserves the jewels of its rich history and culture. Top on the list of the city’s treasures is the historic Colonial City (Zona Colonial), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with cobblestone streets, stunning Spanish Colonial architecture, and excellent restaurants. Perhaps the most significant site here is the First Cathedral of America, the oldest existing cathedral in the Americas. Also worthwhile is the Museum of the Royal Houses and the early 16th century Alcazar De Colón, built by the son of Christopher Columbus. The Plaza de la Cultura is museum central. Here visitors will find the Palace of Fine Arts, Museum of Modern Art, and the National Palace to name a few. Other highlights of the city include the Columbus Palace, Ozama Fort, National Botanical Gardens, and the Malecón, a picturesque seaside promenade.
Eastern National Park
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Eastern National Park (Parque Nacional del Este) is a prime habitat for hundreds of species of plants and animals, including 112 species of birds. The reserve also encompasses one of the Caribbean’s largest marine parks with an immense coral reef system. Four species of sea turtles as well as manatees, bottlenose dolphins, and numerous species of fish live in its tropical waters. In addition to this wealth of biodiversity, the park is the habitat for the rare paloma coronita (crowned, or white-headed dove) and the rhinoceros iguana. Besides the excellent diving and snorkeling, visitors to the park can view examples of pre-Columbian art in its system of caves, or relax on some of the park’s remote beaches. The sandy beaches of Saona Island (Isla Saona) are a popular side trip for visitors to the region.
Punta Cana, on the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic, is one of the most popular tourist areas on the island. Packed with resorts, this large town is known for its beautiful beaches (palm-lined Bavaro is a favorite) and world-class golf courses. Nearby Scape Park offers a zipline tour, dune buggies, and a visit to the cool waters of Hoyo Azul Lagoon. Those seeking a slower pace can head north to the quaint fishing village of El Macao. Its public beach is a popular surfing spot. An airstrip with regular flights and charters flies pleasure-seekers to Punta Cana from around the world.
Minutes from the center of Puerto Plata, Playa Dorada is one of the most popular beach destinations on the Dominican Republic’s north coast. This massive resort complex lies on a picturesque stretch of replenished beach dotted with deck chairs and coconut palms. Known as the country’s first tourism destination, the area is packed with amenities, including dozens of restaurants, a shopping center, and a Robert Trent Jones golf course.
La Romana, on the southeast coast of the Dominican Republic, is home to the charming Altos de Chavón, a replica of a 16th century artisans’ village and one of the island’s best spots to shop for crafts. Visitors will also find the luxurious Casa de Campo resort here encompassing several hotels, beautifully landscaped gardens, a riding school, polo ground, and tennis courts. Dominican designer, Oscar de la Renta, helped decorate the rooms. Casa de Campo also boasts one of the top golf courses in the Caribbean, Teeth of the Dog, which dazzles golfers with spectacular ocean views. Isla Catalina, a cruise-ship port-of-call, south of La Romana, draws thousands of visitors a day.
Samaná Peninsula & Samaná Bay
Studded with islets and fringed by palm-lined beaches, the waters of the humid Samaná Bay (Bahía Samaná) are a haven for marine animals. One of the biggest draws here are the humpback whales that calve here during January and February. This lush peninsula also encompasses popular Parque Nacional Los Haïtises, an ecological wonderland of jungle-covered islands, translucent waters, and thick mangrove forests. Also in the park are unique rock formations (mogotes) emerging from the sea, bird-filled caves like the Cueva del Angel, and pre-Columbian pictographs. The Salto El Limón waterfall is also worth a visit as well as the postcard-worthy Playa Rincon, one of the most picturesque beaches in the country. Horse riding, hiking, biking, and birding are popular pursuits in the region.
An emerging eco-tourism destination, Jarabacoa lies in the spectacular Cordillera Central, (Central Mountains) a landscape of sweeping pine forests, rivers, waterfalls, and the highest peaks in the Caribbean. The Dominican Republic’s only whitewater river, Río Yaque del Norte, offers gentle rapids for rafters. Visitors here appreciate the milder alpine climate, and the region’s rugged terrain, with many trails, is excellent for mountain biking, hiking, and rock climbing.
Bahia de Las Aguilas and Jaragua National Park
On the Dominican Republic’s southwestern coast, near Pedernales, remote Bahía de Las Águilas is one of the country’s most magnificent beaches. This six-mile-long stretch of powder-soft sand lies in the protected Jaragua National Park and is best accessed by boat from the small village of La Cueva. The shallow, turquoise waters teem with marine life and the bay harbors many species of birds. Due to its remote location in the national park, the beach remains completely undeveloped and unspoiled.
Lake Enriquillo (Lago Enriquillo) is the lowest point and largest saltwater lake in the Antilles. Flamingos and iguanas are found in abundance here, and an island in the center of Lago Enriquillo, Parque Nacional Isla Cabritos, has one of the largest wild reserves of American Crocodiles. The park is home to over 106 species of flora and 62 species of bird ranging from the Hispaniolan Parrot to the White-crowned Pigeon.
Basilica of Our Lady
The modern Basilica de Nuestra Senora de la Altagracia is one of Latin America’s finest examples of modern religious architecture and a leading pilgrimage center in Latin America. Annually, on January 21, a pilgrimage from across the country attends Mass at the church.