The Dominican Republic, located on the island of Hispaniola (which it shares with Haiti), is a sought-after vacation destination with warm tropical temperatures all year round, beautiful stretches of white sand beaches, incredible surf, world famous golf courses, delicious island cuisine, friendly, relaxed people and a natural beauty all its own. Once you visit this magical place, you’ll never want to leave. If it’s your first time visiting, here are our top things to do in the Dominican Republic.
Discover the city scene in Santo Domingo
This fast-moving metropolis that locals call La Capital is home to over two million people and combines colonial, old world charm with a contemporary, electric energy. One of the oldest cities in the Caribbean, history buffs will be delighted by the country’s capital with its walled, cobblestone center—the Zona Coloniale—a historic zone where buildings date back to the 1500s. Despite this historical side, this city is full of contradictions: it feels both like a seaside resort and a bustling, modern hub: it has sleepy parks where men play dominoes and also sleek new restaurants where people go to see and be seen.
To eat your way through La Capital, check out Lulu’s Tasting Bar for an ever-changing menu of tapas, expertly concocted drinks, a generous wine list and live merengue music, or head to Sofia’s Bar and Grill for a sophisticated gourmet meal, complete with buzzy bar for after dinner drinks. For something more local, try Adrian Tropical, a Dominican institution for sancocho (a meaty stew), mofongo (stuffed mashed plantains), or sopa de pescado (fish soup). Open 24-hours, this is also a club crowd spot for late night eats.
Dive with humpback whales
Perfect water temperatures that linger around 75-82°F (25-29°C) make year-round snorkeling and scuba diving here a dream. And the ultimate experience for those lucky travelers and something you can only do in the Dominican Republic is dive with humpback whales in the Silver Banks area off the North Coast. If this seems too advanced (read: scary), there are plenty other dives to coral heads, reefs, canyons, walls, caves and natural and artificial shipwrecks—some even dating back to the 16th century! Some of the best dive spots on the island can be found in Puerto Plata, Espaillat, and María Trinidad Sánchez provinces, in Samaná on the north coast, and off Boca Chica, Juan Dolio and La Romana on the south coast.
Your best bet is to check out one of the many dive shops on the island—head to your closest resort (you don’t have to be a resort guest to go on their dive excursions) or one of the many beach towns. Lots of these trips are open to both snorkelers and scuba divers so you’ll get to explore the waters and paradise-like beaches that aren’t easily accessed by land.
Ride the waves of Cabarete
Cabarete, located on the northern shore of the island, is a small, laid-back beach village and one of the Caribbean’s best-kept secrets. Those who worship the wind and waves flock here to take advantage of the world-class kiteboarding, windsurfing and huge variety of outdoor activities. Just a 20-minute drive from Puerto Plata International airport, this charming village is at the center of a crescent-shaped strip of gorgeous white sand beach, surrounded by lagoons, hills and lush tropical foliage. It’s not just the natural beauty of this place that creates the allure, but the geographic combination of low-lying hills and offshore reef—two elements that come together to make the ultimate in wind and wave conditions—make this the best spot in the Dominican (and arguably, the Caribbean) for kiteboarding, windsurfing, and surfing.
If you’re looking to brush up on your skills, or simply stand up on that board, the oldest school in the area, Cabarete Surf Camp (also known as Ali’s Surf Camp) is a solid choice to get started. Set up on the El Choco National Park’s lagoon, it offers lessons for both surfers and non-surfers, as well as kiteboarding. Another highly regarded surfing outfit in Cabarete is Bobo’s Surf’s Up Surf School, which can be found on Encuentro beach, a short car ride from the city center. Started by Dominican surfing legend Victor “Bobo” Peralta, this is the perfect place to learn about surfing from scratch or take a couple classes to improve your skills and get some tips from a master.
Bask on the island’s best beaches
With 800-miles of coastline, the Dominican’s beaches are some of the best in the Caribbean and a huge reason why tourists flock here. Will so many to choose from, there’s something for every kind of beachgoer, from a packed party scene to a secluded shoreline. The friendly beaches of Punta Cana are extremely popular due to the 20-mile stretch of soft white sand and crystal clear turquoise waters. If you’re looking for a relaxed vibe, minus the throngs of people, head to Playa Jumilla. With plenty of choice for food and drinks beachside, you can also practice your serve with a game of volleyball, hit the water in a kayak or finally fulfill that lifelong dream of riding down the beach into the sunset on horseback. Or head to Playa Macao’s for its gentle swells that are popular with surfers, body surfers, paddle boarders and especially those who are just testing the waters with these new sports.
Closer to Santo Domingo on the South Coast is Playa Boca Chica, or the capital’s beach, a great choice if you’re traveling with young kids. Its calm waters, protected by a reef, give way to a wide sandy beach perfect for playing on, while the entire beach is backed by a variety of bars and cafes for midday snacks or afternoon breaks. If you’re looking for something more secluded—but totally safe— try Playa Rincon on the Samana Peninsula. Four-wheel-drive is a must for the bumpy roads leading to this harder-to-reach spot, or if you don’t have wheels, hire a boat from nearby Las Galeras. The effort will be well rewarded once you see the gorgeous, uncrowded beach, clear, calm, turquoise water and virgin coconut forest that lies before you.
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