The Dominican Republic is the most popular travel destination in the Caribbean. Every year, over five million travelers from around the world arrive in the tropical island nation. Tourism is one of the most important sources of revenue for the island nation. However, this revenue is not spread out consistently around. Many foreign travelers in the Dominican Republic are often tucked away in one of the ubiquitous resorts of Punta Cana, La Romana, or Puerto Plata, rarely venturing outside the resort’s confines, let alone around the rest of the country. But there is much more to see around this special island. Here is a comprehensive guide of the BEST places to visit in the Dominican Republic!
There is nothing wrong with travelers who happily prefer to stay at a resort during their trips abroad. But if you would like to discover the coolest places in the Dominican Republic, if you are interested in connecting with the local Dominican culture and getting a deeper experience of the country, this is the guide for you!
Is it Safe to Leave the Resort in Punta Cana?
If you’ve already booked your travels to Punta Cana but are now thinking: is it’s safe to leave the resort Punta Cana? The answer is… YES! Absolutely. I have female solo traveled around the Dominican Republic for weeks at a time. It is safe and easy. In fact, it’s often the BEST way to travel to the Dominican Republic. If you’re thinking “but I don’t speak Spanish and I don’t look Dominican!” Well, neither do the thousands of international expats that happily around the entire country. If we can explore and get around the Dominican Republic independently, why can’t you?
If you’d prefer a local guide/DR tour I can connect you to many wonderful guides. Please email: isabelle@dominicanabroad or check out the under construction tours page here.
The Northwestern Dominican Republic
The western region of the Dominican Republic borders the country of Haiti. Therefore, in addition to its unique cultural fusion, the west is home to a special symbiosis of pale blonde, arid desert mountains with emerald green (in the north) and cerulean blue (in the south) beaches.
1) Monte Cristi
Monte Cristi is located in the most northwestern province of the Dominican Republic. This mostly virginal province boasts strong historic ties with Cuba’s independence, Maximo Gomez (Dominican who helped Cuba win its independence) and Jose Marti (Cuba’s national hero). Monte Cristi 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). A few hours in between Puerto Plata and Monte Cristi is also the popular crystal clear island key Cayo Arena. That’s just a few of the many incredible things there are to do in Monte Cristi.
ICheck out my dedicated blog post where I go into more detail on the top cool things to do in Monte Cristi.
Where to stay: Hotel Santa Clara – Affordable, modern, and chic.
2) Buen Hombre
An hour next door to Monte Cristi is the quaint beach town of Buen Hombre – another one of many underrated and beautiful destinations in the Dominican Republic away from resorts. This small beach town is home to what seasoned expats and locals claim to be the best kite surfing in the country. If Kitesurfing isn’t your thing, the local rural sights on the road to Buen Hombre, coupled with the multiple fresh kinds of seafood stands on the beach make it well worth the trip!
The Southwestern Dominican Republic
Like the northwest, the southwestern Dominican Republic is also arid, sunny, and full of surprises that you wouldn’t expect in a Caribbean tropical island. This is the true gem (OK I know we have a lot of true gems) of the Dominican Republic! 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 province! This is one of my FAVORITE parts of the country… but also one of the hardest to get to because there is only one major road that loops around the region. But trust me when I say, if you have the time, it is WORTH IT!
3) Bahia de las Aguilas (Eagle’s Bay)
Bahia de las Aguilas (part of the beach’s coast photographed above before reaching the fine white sand part) 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. Bahia de las Aguilas ranks as my personal favorite beach in the world. Not convinced? OK here’s another picture from my drone below:
Where to Stay: Hostal Dona Chava – 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!
4) Barahona: Hikes, Caves, Beaches, Gemstones & More!
This road through the southwest is one of my personal favorite attractions in the Dominican Republic. There is so much to do on this road trip that you should allocate at least 1-2 nights to make several stops along the way. I fully broke down one of my many road trip adventure around the Southwestern region of the Dominican Republic in this post. The views are breathtaking and you’ll likely want to stop to buy larimar (a gemstone only found in the Dominican Republic), coconuts, and the local mangos!
Barahona is one of the most unique regions of the southwest where you can stop to see:
- La Plaza Hike – This stunning hike takes you through several crystal-clear blue pools surrounded by limestone rocks (NOT for amateurs). This is totally off-the-beaten-path but I can connect you with wonderful locals who would be so happy to guide you through this amazing hiking experience!
- Cueva de la Virgen – A 1-hour detour from La Plaza Hike, this an open cave with a waterfall that runs through it (pictured above). Lovers of nature, hiking, and water — this is for you! We had the entire cave to ourselves!
- Los Patos Beach – Cerulean blue beach to eat some delicious fried fish and explore the world’s smallest river. You can kayak here, too. It’s a very easy stop on the road if you’re heading to Pedernales / Bahia de las Aguilas.
- 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 larimar stands to buy some of the beautiful gems!
- Larimar Mines – For the bravest souls. Definitely a lifetime experience. You will be a 4×4 SUV. You can do the walk-in cave visits without having to climb down the make-shift ladders.
Where to Stay: Casa Bonita – GORGEOUS 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.
5) Neiba, Las Caritas & Lago Enriquillo
On your way out of the region/Barahona, you can also opt to drive up and around in a circle to see the following:
- Natural swimming pool Las Marias in Neiba/Neyba (photo above)
- The indigenous hieroglyphic site of Las Caritas
- The biggest lake and lowest point in the Caribbean Lago Enriquillo
In Azua check out the gorgeous and luxurious Ocoa Bay Vineyard which has a vineyard for wine tasting and touring, a beautiful outdoor restaurant, a clubhouse with an infinity pool and dozens of sustainable agricultural projects.
You can also check out Playa Blanca, a beach only accessible by boat. The views to and from this beach are stunning as kind of you can see above. The water is clear and you can wander around the coast to see beautiful pink coral rock formations and cactus trees just a few feet from the crystal clear waters.
7) Bani: Sand Dunes, Salt Mines & Centro Cultural Perello Museum
Bani is a small city which you will pass on the way to everything 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 – Modern art museum
The Dominican Alps: Jarabacoa & Constanza
Did you know that the Dominican Republic is home to the Caribbean’s tallest mountain? 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? Constanza and Jarabacoa are the two most popular parts of this region among locals, and one of the Dominican Republic’s hidden gems from tourists.
The mountain town of Jarabacoa is home to astounding cloud-towering sights, waterfalls, treks, paragliding, river rafting, and other nature tours. 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 check out our services here. And here is my FREE online comprehensive guide to hiking Pico Duarte.
Constanza is just 33 miles away from Jarabacoa. At first glance, it seems a little lacking in attractions but there are actually dozens of natural gems scattered around this part of the Dominican Alps. Two scientific reserves are located in Constanza: Ebano Verde (pictured above) and Valle Nuevo/Valle de Dios. There are also plenty of waterfalls in this region too, such as Aguas Blancas, the largest waterfall in the Greater Antilles.
Northern Dominican Republic
The Puerto Plata province is located on the North Coast of the Dominican Republic. It consists of some popular travel destinations: 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 small beach town, it is comprised of dozens of healthy food spots (Vagamundo Coffee pictured above), kitesurfing schools, horseback riding farms, caves, gyms, yoga studios, cafes, and many other businesses and activities to keep you busy for weeks. English and Spanish are spoken widely throughout this town, with some businesses only speaking English.
Check out my post on 15 Cool Things to Do in Cabarete.
11) Playa Caleton
The province of Espaillat is home to dozens of unique natural attractions. Playa Caleton (photo above) is a local favorite and underrated beach just one hour drive from Cabarete downtown. Rio San Juan, Laguna El Dudu and Cola de Pato in the mountains of Jamao al Norte are just a few of the many awe-inspiring attractions in this lush and less traversed region.
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 expat communities in the Dominican Republic who live in Las Terrenas and Las Galeras.
In addition to these top three popular towns, the major attractions to this province include Parque Nacional Los Haitises, whale watching, Salto de Limon (amazing!), Playa Rincon (take the little boat ride down the river), El Monte Azul, Playa Fronton, and Cayo Levantado.
Although the province is becoming very saturated in tourism, there are some places that are well worth the visit to this area: Salto de Limon, Playa Rincon (on a weekday when everyone is working), and Playa Fronton in Las Galeras.
Distrito Nacional: La Capital
13) Santo Domingo
Last, but DEFINITELY not least… The Capital. If you have the chance to fly into or out of Santo Domingo, don’t pass up on it. Our Dominican capital offers insight into the history of the first colonial 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 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).
Due to high volume requests: If you are interested in a guided tour of the Dominican Republic please email me for guided tours! I can connect you with local guides and drivers.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this list and will consider discovering more of the Dominican Republic!
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