13 Best Places to Visit in the Dominican Republic Beyond Punta Cana

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! The country is considered a “micro-continent” because it offers a little bit of almost everything from bright blue beaches to chilly desert mountains. However, with so many amazing places to visit in the Dominican Republic, tourism is not so consistently spread around the island. To encourage others to venture out, here is a local’s comprehensive guide on where to go in the Dominican Republic!

Top Best Places to Visit in the Dominican Republic

Northwestern Dominican Republic

dominican republic tour package

Let’s start with the most northwestern region of the Dominican Republic which borders the country of Haiti. In addition to a unique Haitian-Dominican cultural fusion, the west is home to a special symbiosis of desert mountains and emerald green beaches. Here are the best places you can’t miss up there.

1. Monte Cristi

View of Monte Cristi from Isla Cabra

The virginal province of Monte Cristi boasts a gorgeous nature and a special history. This includes being the first colonial settlement (La Isabela) to having historic ties with Cuba’s independence thanks to Maximo Gomez and Jose Marti. What makes Monte Cristi a really special travel destination 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). 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 reason to visit this Monte Cristi province. It is truly one of the most underrated places in the Dominican Republic to visit!

Where to stay: Hotel Santa Clara – Affordable, modern, and chic.

Check out our dedicated blog post on the top cool things to do in Monte Cristi.

Southwestern Dominican Republic

Like the northwest, the southwestern Dominican Republic is also arid, sunny, and full of surprises that you wouldn’t expect on a Caribbean tropical island. This is one of our most prized gem (OK I know, we have a lot of gems) in 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 area to visit in the Dominican Republic! But it is also one of the hardest to get to because there is only one major road that loops around the region. But if you have the time, it is WORTH THE VISIT!

Related Blog Post: Road Trip Through the Dominican Southwest

2. 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. If you love beaches, Bahia de las Aguilas is a MUST visit experience in DR.

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!

My Related Blog Post: How to Get to Bahia de las Aguilas from Santo Domingo via Public Transportation

3. Barahona

Barahona: also one of the top hidden gems and one of my personal favorite places to visit in the Dominican Republic. Hands down.

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).
  • 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 can connect you with wonderful locals who would be so happy to guide you through this amazing hiking experience!
  • 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!
  • 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!
  • 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. They do not speak English, so email me to connect you with the local guides: isabelle@dominicanabroad.com

Where to Stay: 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.

4. Azua

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 Playa Blanca, 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 coast line.

5. 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

Bonus tip: Do not leave Bani without trying their famous mangos.

The Dominican Alps

The Dominican Alps

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? Welcome to the Dominican Alps — one of the best regions of the Dominican Republic’s to visit for nature, outdoor adventures, and wellness!

6. Jarabacoa

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 our FREE online comprehensive guide to hiking Pico Duarte.

Where to Stay: Jarabacoa Mountain Hostel or Hotel Gran Jimenoa — Both are truly an amazing and relaxing oasis!

My Related Blog Post: Travel Guide to the Top 21 Things to Do in Jarabacoa.

Northern Dominican Republic 

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?! Here are two you can’t miss.

7. Cabarete

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 relaxed beach town, it is also the capital of water sports in the Dominican Republic. Cabarete is also renown 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 keep you having fun for weeks.

English and Spanish are spoken widely throughout this town.

Where to Stay: Hostel Laguna Park ($) or Encuentro Surf Lodge ($$) or Sea Horse Ranch ($$$$$)

Don’t miss our full guide on the top 15 Cool Things to Do in Cabarete.

8. 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.

Samana Peninsula

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 most of whom live in Las Terrenas and Las Galeras. In addition to these two popular expat 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.

9. Samana’s Limon Waterfall & Las Galeras 

salto de limon waterfallAlthough the province is becoming very saturated in tourism, there are some places that are still well worth the visit to this area especially: Salto de Limon, Playa Rincon (on a weekday when everyone is working), and Playa Fronton in Las Galeras.

Santo Domingo aka La Capital

10. Santo Domingo

Last, but DEFINITELY not least… The Capital. This is one of the top best places to visit in the Dominican Republic.

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). So if you have the chance to fly into or out of Santo Domingo, don’t pass on it.

Where to Stay: Island Life Hostel ($), Hodelpa Nicolas Oveido ($$$), Casas XVI ($$$$)

Don’t Miss: My FULL guide to the top 23 Fun & Cool Things to Do in Santo Domingo.

Is it Safe to Leave the Resort in Punta Cana?

Flor de Cafe Santo Domingo

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 dozens of times. 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 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 of our tours here.

Follow my adventures on Instagram: @DominicanAbroad. I hope you’ve enjoyed this list and will consider discovering more of the Dominican Republic!

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21 thoughts on “13 Best Places to Visit in the Dominican Republic Beyond Punta Cana

  1. Max | Dame Cacao says:

    These are gorgeous photos, and some great ideas! I’m headed back to the DR in the next year or two, and you’re making the decision of how long to stay there quite a hard one. Also, don’t forget to mention all the cacao plantations, particularly in the north– they WERW the main reason I was returning to the Caribbean!

    • Isabelle says:

      Thank you, Max! My family has cacao plantations so I take them for granted. But you’re right and I would love to focus on them. Do you know where there is the Criollo cacao?

  2. Alissa says:

    Thank you for sharing this post! The Dominican Republic looks so so gorgeous – I have been wanting to go for a while (mostly to dance a lot of bachata :D) and I am definitely not looking to stay in a resort. Thank you for taking the time to put together this guide, I will keep it in mind if I ever make it there 🙂

  3. Erika says:

    Whoa why haven’t I visited DR yet?! It says a lot that your favorite beach is there but that it has wineries, mountains and endless outdoor beauty and accompanying activities (even kite-surfing) is amazing! I’m sold. I love your colorful descriptions and gorgeous photos – great read!

  4. Caroline says:

    Thank you for sharing these spots, they looks amazing! I’be only been to the resorts in the Dominican Republic and really regretting not getting out and exploring beyond it. Really wanting to make a trip back to explore some of these places!

  5. Ruth says:

    You have showed lot of gorgeous places in here. The islands of the Caribbean are pure gems. Each one if unique and full of surprises. I am from Puerto Rico and have been to the Dominican Republic only once. It is a dream of mine to get to know the island better and get to now family I have there. Now that I live in California, I feel the itch to see more of the area I come from (go figure!).

  6. Susanna says:

    Your photos are lovely. It’s great to have an insider’s tips for the DR. Going to a destination and only seeing resorts is not the best way to travel by any means! I think the southwest area looks like the best option for me!

  7. Petra says:

    Hi Isabelle,

    I have been to DR 2 times now, never in a resort! I just love the country but I found it incredible difficult to travel around 🙁 Some places are OK by bus but you almost need a car to rent what I do not want to do. I find that the most challenging. I want to go back again but need to find a cost/time efficient way to travel.

  8. Dagney says:

    Honestly never really considered going to DR, but this article might have sold me! Your photos are beautiful 🙂 Where is that spot with the little heads along the water? It’s got me very intrigued!

  9. Jyoti says:

    After reading your article, I totally want to visit Dominican Republic! Amazing pictures and such detailed description. I’ll shoot for this December break.

  10. elizabeth says:

    Thank you for this! We prefer to travel outside resorts, so super excited to read this as I begin my research. How easy is it to get from place to place? We have been told not to rent a car. It will be me and my 18 year old daughter exploring. Top two spots if we are flying into Santiago?

    • Isabelle says:

      There’s a lot around there it depends on your preferences on what to do and see. You can rent a car but avoid driving it within the cities…. if you must on your way in or out…. avoid rush hour

  11. Gary says:

    Hi. I am soon to be an expat in the DR with big goals and ambitious of opening a bar in a non touristy spot. Kinda a place you wanna take a break have a drink and continue your excursions. I was thinking of neighborhood bar like the ones we have in the US. This is just low investments to test the waters and see if the profit margin is feasible. Any advice? Or has someone already beat me to it? Thanks…

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