The Dominican Republic is the most visited travel destination in the Caribbean. Every year, over five million travelers from around the world arrive in the tropical island nation. And for good reason!
Our island is considered a “micro-continent” because it offers a little bit of almost everything from bright blue beaches to cold desert mountains.
However, even with so many amazing places to visit in the Dominican Republic, tourism is not so consistently spread around the island because resorts scare visitors into not venturing out to avoid losing business!
But just like millions of other travelers do, you too can venture out and enjoy our Dominican culture and natural wonders. Here is an insider’s guide on the top 17 best places to visit in the Dominican Republic, from a Dominican-American who has lived/traveled to the Dominican Republic for decades.
Is it Safe to Leave the Resort in the Dominican Republic?
If you’ve already booked your travels to Punta Cana or some all-inclusive hotel but are now wondering: Is it’s safe to leave the resort Punta Cana? The answer is… YES! Absolutely. I have female solo traveled around the Dominican Republic dozens of times. And if you’re now thinking “but I don’t speak Spanish and I don’t look Dominican!” Well, neither do the thousands of international expats that happily travel around the entire country and enjoy all of the best things to do in the Dominican Republic.
So, if we can explore and get around the Dominican Republic independently, why can’t you? If you’d prefer to kick back and hire a local guide/DR tour, we can connect you to many wonderful locals. Email us with which region of the country you’re interested in, your budget, and dates. Or check out some local Dominican Republic tours here.
THE NORTHWEST: Dominican Republic Best Place to Visit for History, National Parks, Beaches & Islands
Let’s start with the most northwestern region of the country which is located along the border of Haiti and offers some of the most unique Dominican Republic points of interest. In addition to a special Haitian-Dominican cultural fusion, the west is home to a rare symbiosis of desert mountains and tropical beaches. Interested in seeing Haiti? We have also covered tours/travel to Haiti from the Dominican Republic.
1. Monte Cristi
The virginal province of Monte Cristi boasts gorgeous natural wonders and a special history; from being the first colonial settlement (La Isabela) to having historic ties with Cuba’s independence thanks to Maximo Gomez and Jose Marti.
But what really makes Monte Cristi one of the very special Dominican Republic things to do is that it is home to a diverse topography of mountains, crystal clear beaches, natural pools surrounded by mangroves, tall mountainous cliffs overlooking emerald-green seas, manatee sanctuaries, and sandy islands (Cayo Siete Hermanos and Isla Cabra).
Those are just a few of the many incredible reasons to visit the Monte Cristi town and province. It is truly one of the most underrated places in the Dominican Republic to visit!
Where to Stay in Monte Cristi
Hotel Santa Clara – Affordable, modern, and chic.
2. Buen Hombre (Very off-the-beaten-path)
Less than an hour from the town of Monte Cristi is the sleepy beach town of Buen Hombre. One of the best places in the world for kite surfing. You can take lessons at the Buen Hombre Kite School. Or just pop into this fishing village for some of the best seafood platters in the region. Just driving through the bucolic scenery (pictured above), was worth the trip here. Keep driving and tou will arrive at the small beach town where dozens of food shacks welcome you as well as the kitesurfing school/rental shop.
In summary, if you love good food, unique beaches, and kite surfing, then put Buen Hombre on your bucket list!
3. Cayo Arena
A few hours in between Puerto Plata and Monte Cristi town is also the popular crystal clear beach and island called Cayo Arena. Or Paradise Island in English. You can take a boat ride from Punta Rucia to enjoy this strip of sand in the middle of the Caribbean sea. Or book a tour like this one or this one which has excellent reviews.
If you go on your own, go during the off-peak hours like 12 PM to avoid the tour buses. Also, remember not to go too late in the day because of the high tides.
THE SOUTHWEST: Best Area to Visit in the Dominican Republic for Desert, Sand Dunes, Swimming Holes & Beaches
The southwestern Dominican Republic is arid, sunny, and full of interesting landscapes wouldn’t expect on a tropical island.
Tall sand dunes, luxury vineyards, world-class beaches, salty lakes, natural pools, stunning caves, lush hikes, Taino pre-colonial history and so much more.. all in one single area to visit in the Dominican Republic!
While this is one of our most prized gems on the island (OK I know, we have a lot of Dominican Republic things to do), it is also one of the hardest places to visit in the Dominican Republic. There is only one major road that loops around the region. But if you have the time, it is WORTH THE VISIT, especially as a Southwest Dominican road trip!
4. Bahia de las Aguilas Beach
Bahia de las Aguilas is the prize at the end of the gorgeous and scenic drive from Barahona to Los Patos to Pedernales. I’ve traveled to over 45 countries in the world and Bahia de las Aguilas ranks as my personal favorite beach in the world.
It’s also one of the best beaches in the Dominican Republic so if you love beaches, Bahia de las Aguilas is one of those Dominican Republic tourist attractions that you MUST visit. It’s not easy getting there but trust me, it’s worth it!
Where to Stay Near Bahia de las Aguilas
Hostal Dona Chava in Pedernales is a super cute and cozy bed and breakfast, owned by a wonderful local family of Dominicans. It’s situated in a central part of town where you can walk to the many delicious restaurants or grocery stores in Pedernales town!
Glamping by the beach in La Cueva. Fall asleep hearing the waves on the beach with the scent of a beach bonfire after stargazing. This is the closest accommodation to Bahia de las Aguilas and one of the most unique experiences in the Dominican Republic.
4. Los Pozos de Romeo
Los Pozos: On the way to Bahia de las Aguilas, just on the side of the road are Los Pozos de Romeo (Romeo’s puddles). They are a series of beautiful natural pools formed from underwater/open-air caves. The picture above was taken by the travelers at Ohlavan. Here you can go on a day hike visiting each beautiful pool one by one. Contact Pablo (environmental sciences researcher) for a tour of these beautiful pools at: (829)889-7586 via Whatsapp. He can also do tours of Bahia de las Aguilas.
Barahona: also one of the top hidden gems and one of my personal favorite places to visit in the Dominican Republic. Hands down. YES – the beaches here really are that blue. And YES – the local gemstones mined in Barahona are also that powerfully blue!
Here are the best things to do in Barahona (all pictured above):
- Barahona beaches – They are a cyan-cerulean blue color unlike anywhere else in the world (IMO).
- Los Patos Beach – Cerulean blue beach to eat some delicious fried fish and explore the world’s smallest river. Los Patos is a very easy stop on the road if you’re heading to Pedernales / Bahia de las Aguilas. Make sure to ask for Kathy’s restaurant for the best-fried fish with tostones in town!
- Larimar Stands – Larimar is a blue semi-precious gemstone only found in Barahona and NOWHERE else in the world! Be sure to stop by the many road stands to buy some as you enjoy all of the amazing places to go in the Dominican Republic.
- Larimar Mines – Don’t miss out on this lifetime experience to see how a local collective of miners extract this rare gemstone. You will need a 4×4 SUV. Tours are available for this experience which can be combined with the La Plaza hike.
Where to Stay in Barahona
Casa Bonita – Gorgeous luxury villas overlooking the beautiful valley. This is located perfectly between everything listed above. If you can’t afford to stay here, then at least stop by for a drink! This hotel is also located on the same road as La Plaza Hike / Cueva de la Virgen (listed below).
7. Baoruco River: La Plaza & Cueva
Imagine a cerulean blue river enveloped by a lush forest and tall limestone rocks and caves. Where you can frolic into the woods for a day hike to jump into turquoise clear natural pools and climb up stunning caves. You found it here, along el Rio Baoruco (Baoruco River).
- La Plaza Hike – This stunning hike takes you through several crystal-clear blue pools surrounded by limestone rocks. This is totally off-the-beaten-path but I’m happy to connect you with wonderful locals who would be so happy to guide you through this amazing hike and help you enjoy one of my favorite Dominican Republic things to do.
- Cueva de la Virgen – Take this one hour detour from La Plaza Hike to an open cave with a waterfall that runs through it (pictured above). Lovers of nature, hiking, and water — this is for you!
Please note: La Plaza and Cueva de la Virgen (cave) are a more virginal natural wonder. As such, there are no paved paths. It’ll be an all-natural obstacle course that is fully worth the experience.
8. Azua (Vineyard & Beaches)
Wine lovers should stop in the province of Azua to visit the gorgeous and luxurious Ocoa Bay Vineyard. This vineyard offers wine tastings, guided tours, a beautiful outdoor restaurant, a clubhouse with an infinity pool and dozens of sustainable agricultural projects.
Nearby is Baoruco, a beach only accessible by boat. The views to and from this beach are stunning (pictured above). The water is crystal clear and you can wander around the coast to see the pink coral rock formations and cactus trees along the coastline.
9. Bani: Sand Dunes, Salt Mines & Centro Cultural Perello Museum
Bani is a small city that you will pass on the way to some of the best places to visit in the Dominican Republic in the southwest. In Bani, you can check out:
- Bani Sand Dunes – Unique tall sand dunes adjacent to a beach. You can try sandboarding there by renting boards in the MAYA hotel located across the road.
- Las Salinas Salt Mine – If you get there during harvest time the water is super bright pink
- Centro Cultural Perello Museum – Modern art museum
Bonus tip: Do not leave Bani without trying their famous mangos.
THE DOMINICAN ALPS: Best Area to Visit in the Dominican Republic for Mountains, Waterfalls & the Outdoors
Did you know that the Dominican Republic is home to the Caribbean’s tallest mountain? El Pico Duarte! Did you know that in this tropical Caribbean island there are towns where the temperature drops below freezing? Or that there are tall, cooler mountainous regions where you can grow strawberries, apples, and other cold-weather fruits/vegetables?
Welcome to the Dominican Alps — one of the best places to visit in the Dominican Republic for nature, outdoor adventures, and wellness!
Hands down, one of the best places to visit in the Dominican Republic. Where else in the Caribbean can you find pine trees, tall mountains, fresh chilly nights, and a special Japanese influence? Jarabacoa is also home to some of the best waterfalls in the Dominican Republic.
The best place to base yourself in the Dominican Alps is the mountain town of Jarabacoa. Here you can enjoy cloud-towering sights, waterfalls, treks, paragliding, river rafting, and a zillion other things to do in the Jarabacoa region.
Where to Stay in Jarabacoa
11. Pico Duarte (the Tallest Mountain in the Caribbean)
Jarabacoa is also less than an hour away from the José Armando Bermúdez National Park which is home to the tallest mountain in the Caribbean, Pico Duarte (pictured above).
If you’re interested in a guided hike tour to Pico Duarte – book hiking tour services here. And here is a FREE online comprehensive guide to hiking Pico Duarte.
12. Valle Nuevo & Constanza
Can you believe there exists a place in the tropical Caribbean where the weather drops below zero at night sometimes? Where you can wake up to ice covering the grass and pine trees? Welcome to the magical region of Valle Nuevo.
Valle Nuevo National Park: This national park is unique. Here you can find the pyramids.
Salto de Aguas Blancas Waterfall: Pictured above – one of the tallest waterfalls in the Dominican Republic. It is 83 meters high and is located 1,680 meters above sea level. And yes, the water is cold!
Aguas Blancas Natural Pool Cliff: Pictured above.
Where to Stay in Valle Nuevo
Villa Pajon Mountain Lodge: This adorable cabin in the middle of the national park is a must-do for outdoor lovers. It is beloved by both local Dominican travels and tourists for its spacious cabins with fireplaces, unique location, and beautiful property. The perfect retreat from sunburns and crowds.
NORTH COAST: Best Places to Visit in the Dominican Republic for wellness, water sports, and community
The Dominican North Coast is famous for its resorts and luxury hotels, but did you know there are wellness communities, kite/surfing schools, local beaches, and other off-the-beaten-path places to visit in the Dominican Republic?! Here are two you can’t miss.
The Puerto Plata province is located on the North Coast of the Dominican Republic. It consists of some popular Dominican Republic tourist destinations like Puerto Plata, Sosua, and Cabarete.
The first two have become oversaturated with mass tourism. Skip them. BUT Cabarete remains the underrated gem of the north coast. This active and international kite-surfing town is mostly populated by local Dominicans, Capitaleños (Dominicans from Santo Domingo), and expats from around the world.
Though a relaxed beach town, it is also the capital of water sports in the Dominican Republic. Cabarete is also renowned for its dozens of healthy food spots (Vagamundo Coffee pictured above), sports schools, horseback riding farms, caves, gyms, yoga studios, cafes, and many other things to do in Cabarete to keep you having fun for weeks.
English and Spanish are spoken widely throughout this town.
Where to Stay in Cabarete
14. Playa Caleton & Playa Grande
The province of Espaillat is home to dozens of unique natural attractions. There are several beaches to choose from in the area. But Playa Caleton (photo above) is a local favorite and hidden gem beach just one hour drive from Cabarete downtown.
After Playa Caleton, the beach of Playa Grande is where you want to go for food. This beach is bigger and with more food stalls and market stands to choose from. While the beach here is gorgeous, it has more strong waves than Caleton. So go swimming at Caleton and then come to Playa Grande for food and shopping. Try the lobster or the fried fish with a pina colada or fresh coconut.
15. Rejoya Guided Waterfall Hike through the Countryside
This waterfall hiking tour experience is a must for outdoor lovers! It was one of the highlights of our Cabarete trip. You can get picked up for this anywhere between Puerto Plata and Cabarete. We drove deep into the Dominican countryside with Jorge (our local guide and driver) to a lush and verdant jungle. From there, we hiked through the wilderness, passing rivers and thickly forested trails.
I felt refreshed and rejuvenated before we even got to the prize gem: a waterfall waiting for us, pristinely tucked away, all to ourselves. This waterfall area also offers a rare blue clay, which we got to soothe our skins with. Bonus! Moreover, you’ll pass all sorts of fruit trees and medicinal plants that Jorge has a deep knowledge of.
SAMANA PENINSULA: Best Places to Visit in the Dominican Republic for Lush Jungle, Busy Towns, Beaches & Waterfalls
The Samana peninsula is a little harder to get to due to its distance from the more popular airports (POP, SDO, PUJ, STI). So if you cannot find a flight to its international airport (AZS), you will have to drive 3 to 5 hours to get to Samana.
It is also home to one of the biggest French ex-pat communities in the Dominican Republic most of whom live in Las Terrenas and Las Galeras. In addition to these two popular ex-pat towns, the major attractions to this province include Parque Nacional Los Haitises, whale watching, Salto de Limon (pictured below), Playa Rincon, El Monte Azul, Playa Fronton, and Cayo Levantado— to name a few of many things to do/see.
16. Samana’s Limon Waterfall
Although the Samana province is popular with tourists, there are still many places that are still well worth the visit to this area especially: Salto de Limon. This waterfall is located in a lush jungle that you must either hike through or reach on horseback.
For tours – I strongly recommend doing the horseback coffee trail with Santi who leads high-quality tours and offers a delicious lunch at the end of your excursion in his restaurant space. There are many different trails, some not as nice, so remember to clarify that you want the COFFEE trail which Santi offers. Prices start at $20/per rider.
17. Las Galeras & Playa Fronton
At the end of the Samana peninsula, you can find some of the finest beaches in the Dominican Republic such as Las Galeras which you can take a boat from to reach the secluded Playa Fronton. Please note that this beach is not accessible when the waters are choppy.
18. Playa Rincon
Once a secret beach where a local fisherman family lived perched on the hill, Playa Rincon has now become a popular beach destination for locals and tourists alike. And today, you can find several local restaurant stands by the beach where you can order plates of fresh seafood while admiring the beautiful ocean views. But what really makes this beach special? Is that it begins where a crystal clear blue river ends. From here you can hire a canoe captain to take you through the lush river or rent a kayak and go exploring on your own. This river alone is a treat and a quiet respite from the lively beach on a weekend! Avoid holidays unless you love the lively holiday buzz of many families and visitors.
SANTO DOMINGO: The Best Place to Visit in the Dominican Republic for Culture, Food & History
19. Santo Domingo
Last, but DEFINITELY not least… The Capital. Santo Domingo is FULL of things to do as it is one of the top best places to visit in the Dominican Republic.
Our Dominican capital offers insight into the history of the first colonized city in the Americas as well as art museums, mouth-watering restaurants, hip bars, local hotspots, open caves (Tres Ojos National Park), and the famous Colonial City (UNESCO World Heritage Site)– just to name a few things.
Allocate at least 2 days from your Dominican Republic itinerary to tour the city by foot or bike, pop into a few local events (Casa de Teatro), and try the local cuisine especially the contemporary fusions (Sushi Bamban). So if you have the chance to fly into or out of Santo Domingo, don’t pass on it.
Where to Stay in Santo Domingo
SANTIAGO: The Second Biggest City in the Dominican Republic
Welcome to the beautiful and vibrant city of Santiago de los Caballeros, the second-largest in the Dominican Republic. Famously nicknamed “La Ciudad Corazón” (the heartland city) and historically known as the first “Santiago” of the Western Hemisphere (there are so many).
Today, Santiago is a major cultural, political, industrial, and financial hub, located in the center of the Cibao Valley; an area known for its agricultural development and exportation of Dominican cigars, rum, and textiles. As such, Santiago’s rich background offers an array of things to do and places to see.
20. Santiago’s Centro de Leon
A visit to el Cultural Center Eduardo León Jimenes (“Centro Leon“) should be at the top of your Santiago bucket list. This is probably the best museum in the Caribbean. It has various exhibitions, some permanent and others are temporary. The first is called Sign of Identity which highlights Dominican history, heritage, anthropology. The second permanent exhbition is Genesis: which feature breathtaking Dominican art that illustrates our culture, politics, history, and more. Lastly, there is an outdoor space for the history of the center. The fourth exhibition is usually temporary but to give you an example, the last one was by the fashion design, Oscar de la Renta!
Follow my adventures on Instagram: @DominicanAbroad. I hope you’ve enjoyed this list of the best places to visit in the Dominican Republic and will consider discovering more of this stunning country!