Last Updated on November 25, 2023
Planning a trip to the Dominican Republic? Discover below some of the best destinations in the country, as well as incredible things to do you can only experience in the DR. The island is one of the best countries to visit in the Caribbean thanks to its diversity and array of activities.
While many people head to an all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana and spend their vacation on the beach, there are actually quite a lot of unique things to do in the Dominican Republic, either from Punta Cana as a day trip or as part of a broader trip, exploring more of this beautiful country.
The Dominican Republic offers an incredible array of activities and landscapes. Climb mountains and sand dunes, explore secluded beaches, hike to waterfalls through the jungle, or immerse yourself in the local culture, you’ll find there are plenty of unique experiences to be had during your vacation.
For the most popular places (for foreigners), you’ll easily be able to find tours on Viator or you can ask your hotel to arrange it.
However, locations that are mostly popular among locals might be harder to visit, especially if you don’t speak Spanish.
However, things will be easier if you rent a car, I recommend booking a 4-wheeler as, outside of the main roads, the roads are mostly unpaved or in bad condition. You can always find a local guide with the help of your accommodation, just be prepared for communication to be complicated.
HELPFUL WEBSITES TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR TRIP
HELPFUL WEBSITES TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR TRIP
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Swim up the Río Partido
Río Partido is well-known to locals but it’s unlikely you’ll find many foreigners there. It’s a bit hard to reach but it’s well worth the effort. The beautiful crystal-clear river is surrounded by boulders and cliffs, creating stunning scenery.
There are several areas to start from to explore the river. Usually, you’ll need to hike a bit to reach the river, then you can just hang out where you are and go for a swim or follow along the river to reach more remote parts of the river. There’s not always a path so you might have to swim or walk in the river at times.
It definitely requires good fitness skills and being comfortable in the water (you’ll get a life jacket in any case).
The easiest way to visit is to join a tour from Santo Domingo. Otherwise rent a 4-wheeler and head to Salcedo, from there hire a guide for the day (you’ll find several on Instagram). Be ready to drive on extremely bad roads and to struggle if you don’t speak Spanish.
Kitesurf in Cabarete
Cabarete is a heaven for (non-motorized) water sports enthusiasts. Known as the kitesurfing capital of the Dominican Republic, the town is ideal for spending a couple of days enjoying the wind.
The town is pretty popular with many hotels, apartment rentals, restaurants, and a good nightlife. You can pretty much kitesurf and windsurf year-round. Note that it’s not ideal for beginners as it gets crowded. From October to April, there are areas with nice waves for surfing.
Not far from town, you can visit the popular Cabarete Caves at El Choco National Park, a network of several caves that can easily be explored (with a guide). There you can also go for a hike, do mountain biking, and swim in clear-water lagoons. You can join a tour from town or hire a guide at the park’s entrance.
Go Beach Hopping in Samaná
Samaná is a paradise on earth. It’s a beautiful tropical destination and a great vacation spot if you’re not into all-inclusive resorts like in Punta Cana. Laid-back and relaxed, the peninsula offers pristine beaches that you’ll often have all to yourself, lush jungles, and plenty of great activities.
There are 3 places you can base yourself at. Las Terrenas is the main hub, a blend between a fishermen’s village and boutique hotels. El Valle is more remote, with eco-lodges surrounded by jungle and a beautiful beach. Las Galeras is more of a true fishermen village with a couple of foreign-owned businesses.
Wherever you choose to stay, you’ll find stunning beaches. Among the most beautiful ones are Frontón, Rincón, Ermitaño, El Valle, and Cosón. For some, you’ll need to go on a boat tour while others can be reached by road. I recommend renting a car and exploring the peninsula as well as taking a 7 hidden beach boat tour from Las Galeras.
Go Remote in Punta Rucia
Punta Rucia feels like the end of the world. A bumpy road will take you to this remote village where you’ll surprisingly find many really nice vacation homes.
It’s an ideal destination if you’re looking for a peaceful place away from the crowds, with simple restaurants on the beach, a few colmados (small local stores), and not much else. The beach there is beautiful with calm waters that are perfect for swimming.
Take a Boat to Cayo Arena
Located close to Punta Rucía, Cayo Arena is one of the most visited places in the DR by local tourists. This small caye is known for its crystal clear water, white sand, and feel of remoteness.
If you’re staying in Punta Rucía then you can easily find someone there to take you to the caye. There are also tours leaving from Santo Domingo, usually including a night of wild camping on a nearby beach. You might also be able to join a day trip from Puerto Plata or Cabarete.
Explore Monte Cristi National Park
Located on the northern coast of the country, next to the border with Haiti, Monte Cristi is one of the most unique places to visit in the Dominican Republic. Between lush mangroves, deserted islands, rock formations, and pristine beaches, you’ll find many beautiful places there.
Plan to spend one or two nights in the town of Monte Cristi to get a full day to explore the park.
The best way to visit the national park is by boat. You can ask your accommodation to arrange for a tour. You’ll be taken to a couple of islands, along the coast, and through the mangroves. You’ll have free time to swim and explore a bit.
Visit the Switzerland of the Caribbean
Known as the little Switzerland of the Caribbean, Constanza is the highest-altitude town in the Caribbean region (4,000 feet), it sometimes even snows there! With rolling hills covered with fields and pine trees, Constanza is a great base to explore its surroundings.
Bordered by four large national parks, you’ll find plenty of opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, and birding there. Don’t miss hiking to Aguas Blancas Waterfall, exploring Valle Nuevo National Park and the Tetero Valley, and touring a local farm.
Temperatures can get chilly, especially at night, so be sure to cover up.
Camping at the Presa de Palomino
Also located within the country’s mountain range, the Palomino Press is a sight to behold. Go on a backpacking trip along the Río Blanco, surrounded by the mountains. You’ll feel transported into another world as the landscape is so different from the typical Caribbean beach and jungle vibe.
The closest town is Palmar del Yaque, from there, a 40-minute ride will take you to the start of the trail. Don’t miss going up to the mirador for great views of the surrounding landscape. There are several areas where you can camp along the river.
The easiest way to organize a trip there is to go via a tour unless you want to rent a car and find camping equipment (you can also visit as a day trip and spend the night at a nearby town).
Hiking to Pico Duarte
The highest peak in the Caribbean, hiking to the top of Pico Duarte is one of the most unique things to do in the Dominican Republic. With stunning views along the way, be prepared for the trip of a lifetime.
There are 2 main routes to reach the top, one will take 2 days while the other 3. You’ll need to arrange for a guide and maybe a mule to carry your equipment and food. You have to be fit to do it, be prepared for colder weather, and have experience with multi-day backpacking trips.
You can arrange for a guide at your hotel or hire one at the La Ciénaga campsite (at the entrance of Armando Bermúdez National Park).
Spend Some Time in a Desert
Not far from Santo Domingo lies the beautiful Dunes of Bani (Dunas de Las Calderas Baní). The desert-like landscape is boarded by a beautiful beach and features sand dunes as high as 115 feet.
The park is open from 8 AM to 6 PM. Try to avoid visiting during peak temperatures as there’s no shade there. Pack enough snacks and water, wear closed shoes, and you’re ready to explore the dunes and enjoy the beach.
It’s a great day trip from Santo Domingo or as a stop during a Southern Coast road trip.
Saona Island is a paradise on earth you can easily reach from Punta Cana. You can go on your own and plan to spend a couple of nights there or join a tour from Punta Cana.
The island offers pristine beaches, colorful reefs, quiet waters, and small village vibes. Part of the Cotubanamá National Park, the protected area attracts more tourists than all of the country’s national parks combined!
Most tours include a couple of stops, free time at the beach, snorkeling, and a buffet-style lunch. The town of Bayahíbe is the starting point of the trip to the island is you want to skip the tour.
Cultural Immersion near Punta Cana
By Taylor from Culture Craving Couple
One of the most unique things to do in the Dominican Republic is to go on an organized tour to visit a local school and then learn more about the cacao and sugar cane production on the island.
This allows you to experience what life is like for the locals and connect with them on a personal level, creating deeper and more lasting memories.
Typically, an open-air safari truck will pick you up from where you are staying and take you and a group up into the mountains. You’ll stop at some small Dominican villages and venture into the school while the classes are running so that you can interact with the students.
While they likely won’t be able to understand what you are saying, their smiling faces will be something you remember forever!
From there, you’ll ride the safari truck over to a local sugar cane plantation where they will teach you more about sugar cane production, how it turns into rum, and even let you try it fresh from the plant!
Depending on your tour, you may get to see cacao and learn about its production in the area as well.
A typical lunch of rice, beans, meat, salad, plantains, and dessert is usually included as well and is delicious!
However, if you are being picked up early, make sure you eat breakfast first so that you can enjoy the morning without being hungry until lunch! The full-day excursion lasts 6-8 hours and is something you want to organize with a reputable tour agency as it would be nearly impossible to DIY.
Visit Cayo Levantado
By Carley of Explorers Away
Nestled along the shorelines of the laid-back, beachy province of Samaná, Cayo Levantado is a pristine, white-sand island that boasts some of the best beaches in the Dominican Republic. While the name Cayo Levantado refers to an uprising that occurred on the island decades ago, it’s also popularly called Bacardí Island after the rum brand filmed commercials here in years past.
Due to its pristine beaches and crystal clear waters, Cayo Levantado is a popular day trip destination for travelers.
Travelers will find organized day trips departing from destinations like Santo Domingo and Punta Cana (like this well-rated tour that also includes a stop at the beautiful El Limon Waterfall), in addition to numerous transportation options from the nearby town of Samaná.
For a day of sailing, snorkeling, and enjoying the natural beauty of the Dominican Republic, there’s no better destination.
Or, spend the night at Cayo Levantado Resort, the newly reopened luxury resort that occupies the majority of the island. Await transportation to the island from the resort’s jetty, Simi Baez, in Samaná – it’s the easiest way to get to the island.
Multiple pools, private beaches, and incredible dining options await as guests experience the island in a way that no day trip allows. The resort’s new wellness program sets it apart from other resorts in the Caribbean.
Explore Los Haitises National Park
By Carley of Explorers Away
Nestled along the western coastline of the Dominican Republic, Los Haitises National Park is one of the country’s natural gems, hiding everything from stunning beaches and endemic species to mangrove forests and towering island “mountains.”
While the park occupies a significant chunk of Dominican territory to the south of the Samaná peninsula, its dense, unpopulated forest and remote location make areas of it nearly impenetrable. Most visitors explore the park via coastal access points.
Given the expanses of the park and coastal access points, nearly all visitors travel as part of a small group excursion from nearby destinations like Santo Domingo, Punta Cana, or Samaná. Travel times vary, but cruising across the waters of Samaná Bay on the way to and from the park is another highlight of a visit.
Los Haitises National Park is also known as being home to a number of unique, age-old carvings left behind by the indigenous Taino populations that first inhabited the region.
The area’s caves represented an important part of indigenous beliefs and worship practices and thus are filled with carvings of everything from shamans and spirits to things in the natural world like whales, fish, and crabs.
Guides will point them out as you tour the caves, explaining their meaning and significance to native people.
One of the best parts of a trip to Los Haitises National Park is stopping at some of the hidden beaches throughout the park. Many guided tours include stops at nearby Punta Arena beach, though some skip the beaches within the park entirely and head towards the beaches at nearby Cayo Levantdo, which are considered among the best on the island.
Dune Buggy Excursion in Punta Cana
By V of Travel Addicted Unicorn
A Dune Buggy Excursion in Punta Cana offers a great adventure through the countryside of the Dominican Republic. The Dune Buggies provide a thrilling experience as you drive through scenic trails, beaches, and off-the-beaten-path locations.
The excursion often includes visits to local villages, stops at natural attractions like cenotes or caves, and opportunities for a refreshing swim. It’s a fantastic way to explore the natural beauty and culture of Punta Cana while enjoying the excitement of dune buggy driving.
Keep in mind that as fun as this excursion is, you will get extremely dirty and covered in mud. A tip for doing this excursion is to wear something that is easy to clean or something you don’t care about that you can throw out after.
For shoes, you should opt-in for flip-flops or swimming shoes as if you wear running shoes they will get covered in mud as well.
Also, a good idea is to bring a plastic bag for your phone and belongings because otherwise they will get dirty.
The easiest way to do a Dune Buggy Excursion is to do an organized trip where they take care of everything and you can just enjoy the experience. The excursion takes about 2-3 hours so it is a half-day tour.
The buggies are not difficult to drive, they have a steering wheel, gas and brake pedals, and there are no gears to change. Some of the buggies could fit two people only and some of them four people. Overall, a Dune Buggy Excursion in Punta Cana is an interesting and unique experience, however, it will be a very messy one.
Hiking to Salto de la Jalda
By Chris of Punta Cana Travel Blog
Hiking to Salto de la Jalda is one of the most unique things to do in the Dominican Republic if you’re looking for an adventurous trip out of your comfort zone. It is the highest waterfall in the Dominican Republic and only receives very few visitors – very often you have the waterfall (and the entire 7-mile trail) completely on your own. This is pretty hard to believe considering the billion-dollar resort industry of Punta Cana with millions of visitors each year is just 2 hours away.
The last fact mentioned is one of the reasons why Salto de la Jalda is still a widely unknown thing to do in the Dominican Republic. For most people, this hike is too long, even though it is pretty flat and not overly strenuous. If you’re able to walk 14 miles return you will make it to Salto de la Jalda and enjoy this gigantic 400-foot waterfall, which is located in the east of the Dominican Republic between Miches and Sabana de la Mar. The trailhead is around 2 hours away from Punta Cana and 3.5 hours from Santo Domingo.
If you’d like to visit Salto de la Jalda, you can either book a fully-guided excursion from Punta Cana or head there on your own.
The trailhead is located in the little community of Magua, from where the 7-mile hike through many cocoa plantations starts, often through or along the river bed.
The total incline is very moderate, but the trail is not marked, which is why a GPS, a downloaded GPX trail and hiking experience are definitely needed in case you decide to go without a guide.
There are no snack shops or other infrastructure options on the way, hence you need to bring all your drinks and snacks, including at least 1 gallon of drinking water – it gets very hot in the Dominican Republic, particularly during the summer months.
If you’re not staying in Punta Cana you can book a local guesthouse in Miches, a quiet town only half an hour away from the trailhead. Like this, you can have a relaxed start in the morning and don’t have to get up in the wee hours of the day.
Explore the Colonial Streets of Puerto Plata
Eleanor of Elevate Your Escapes
Puerto Plata is a beautiful area located on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic. Puerto Plata offers a small, walkable city, in addition to many historical and natural sights. It is a popular Virgin Voyages cruise port destination and has a delightful port area at Taino Bay with a large lazy river and numerous restaurants, bars, and shops.
From the port, the town is only about a 10-minute walk. The Cathedral of San Felipe is the icon of the town and a good marker to follow, as it towers above the other buildings. In front of the cathedral, is the town square. You can find colorful buildings and decor, like umbrellas above the streets. Additionally, one of the town’s highlights is the Amber Museum, with a unique collection of amber fossils.
For history enthusiasts, a visit to the Fort of San Felipe is a must-do! Built in the 16th century, this well-preserved fort offers panoramic views of the town and the ocean. You can walk around this area and get some great photos along the waterfront. The fort is also very walkable from town and the port.
Puerto Plata is also known for outdoor adventures. You can take a scenic cable car ride up to the Pico Isabel de Torres, a mountain that offers awesome views of the town and the greenery. Also, you can also visit the 27 Charcos de Damajagua, a series of waterfalls and natural pools. There, you can hike and swim. Finally, ziplining is popular in the area, too.
The Dominican Republic is known for its beaches. Playa Dorada is the most popular beach in the area, with sun beds and water sports. The water is beautiful here! You can easily take a taxi from town.
Three Eyes National Park
By Monica of This Rare Earth
Located in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Three Eyes National Park is a must-visit destination for those looking to explore the lesser-known natural sights of the country.
This park is only a few kilometers from the city center and opens every day from 9 in the morning until 5 pm. The most unique part of visiting is that the park’s highlights are completely underground.
A series of interconnected lagoons, or “eyes”, are the highlight and the namesake. They are a stunning blue color and are beautifully clear, offering visitors a chance to see down to the bottom of the cave.
While not a large park, it is worth spending at least an hour here, exploring the three main lagoons and ducking into the dark cave corners. Additionally, there is a fourth lagoon, accessible by a short, paid boat ride, that showcases colorful plant life. It is the only open-air lagoon on site.
It is recommended that visitors come here early to avoid the heat and humidity that can build up in the cave and make it uncomfortable later in the day. And, up above, there is a large grassy stretch of land where families can picnic or relax after their visit.
Upon arrival, visitors will need to navigate down a long set of stairs to reach the cave floor, which unfortunately means it is not wheelchair accessible for those with mobility issues.
However, for those who can make the journey, Three Eyes National Park is an incredible experience. Overall, Three Eyes National Park is a fantastic destination for anyone looking to experience the natural beauty of the Dominican Republic.
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