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. Thus, tourism is one of the most important sources of revenue for the island nation. However, this revenue is not spread out consistently around. Many tourists are often tucked away in one of the resorts, rarely venturing outside; completely missing out on the best parts of the Dominican Republic! To encourage others to venture out, here is a comprehensive guide of the top BEST places to visit in the Dominican Republic!
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 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 a local guide/DR tour, we can connect you to many wonderful locals. Check out the tours page here.
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 beaches.
Monte Cristi is 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. And it one of the most underrated places in the Dominican Republic to visit!
Check 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.
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! 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!
Driving through the southwest is a highlight experience in the Dominican Republic. There is so much to do on this Dominican road trip that you should allocate at least 2 nights to make several stops along the way.
Bahia de las Aguilas Beach
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!
Barahona is one of the top off-the-beaten-path hidden gems in the Dominican Republic!
Here are the best things to do in Barahona:
Barahona beaches – check out the beaches in Barahona. They are a cyan-cerulean blue that you probably will never anywhere else in the world.
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. 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 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.
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.
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
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? Jarabacoa is the most popular mountain town of the Dominican Alps to visit among locals, and one of the best parts of the Dominican Republic’s the visit for adventure and wellness!
Check out my guide to the top 21 things to do in 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 my FREE online comprehensive guide to hiking Pico Duarte.
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 things to keep you having fun for weeks.
English and Spanish are spoken widely throughout this town.
Check out my guide on the top 15 Cool Things to Do in Cabarete.
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.
Santo Domingo (Distrito Nacional: La Capital
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.
Due to high volume requests: If you are interested in a guided tour of the Dominican Republic please contact us for guided tours!
Hope you’ve enjoyed this list and will consider discovering more of the Dominican Republic!
Pin me for later on Pinterest: