Dominican Republic, similarly to other islands surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, is famous for its paradise beaches, wedding venues and luxurious hotel resorts. Everything is perfectly true. But there are many beautiful places outside these comfortable “bubbles’’ waiting to be explored and admired by the visitors! In this article I will do my best to convince you that Dominican Republic is worth replacing all-exclusive holiday with an adventurous and a local-like stay. Where to go and what to do? Here is some advice!
Good to know before going
Well, I highly recommend that you rent a car. Many natural monuments and beaches are not accessible by any other way of transport. Good news is that the island is relatively small and has a good net of highways. You can also consider using long-distance buses such as Metro Tours to get from one city to another, however, make sure you book your tickets a few hours before departure (possible by phone only).
You can use Uber when moving around in the main cities (Santo Domingo, Santiago, Puerto Plata) or a motorbike taxi (locally called motoconcho), but mind your head – the majority of drivers don’t provide helmets for their passengers!
Try Airbnb or haunt for some good offers online (e.g. booking.com), unless you prefer going fully local via Couchsurfing. All of these options work well in the country and you can find yourself sleeping at a very low cost in some of the most breathtaking villas overlooking scenic seashores.
Note: do not take Cabañas for real hotels – they are mainly destined for a few hours stays. You might prefer to choose another sleeping facility for a longer stop.
Although many people speak English very well, with no Spanish basics it can be challenging to communicate while travelling inside the country.
Currency: Dominican peso (1 EUR = approx. 57 DOP)
Best time to go: all months are sunny and hot, but December and January tend to be a bit fresher and more pleasant.
Also: it’s not recommended to drink water from the tap.
7 places to visit
1. Extraordinary swing in Montaña Redonda de Miches
This extraordinary swing will literally make you fly away! It’s located in a remote part of the island, but you can easily reach it by car and by one of the taxis available on site. I had a chance to try the pick-up car – it was great fun while going up the hill! The view from the top is absolutely stunning. Tip: Remember to bring your own camera to save USD$75 for a professional photo-session. Brooms, swings and hammocks are included in the entrance ticket (that is taxi and parking cost, around RD$500). Read more here: https://dariasdiaries.eu/2017/08/14/a-place-where-you-can-fly/
2. Cayo Arena: possibly the smallest island on earth
When in Puerto Plata (north), do not miss the trip to Cayo Arena (also known as Paradise Island). It’s a strictly protected natural reservoir which is probably going to disappear in a couple of years. To slow the process down, tourists are only allowed to enter the island barefoot. The organised tours can be purchased online or from local vendors. The tour normally includes transport by bus and speedboat, fresh fruit & drinks at the island, snorkelling equipment, lunch and occasionally a visit to a cigar manufactory. Definitely worth the cost (around USD$100). Tip: while snorkelling, take some banana with you – it will attract fish to come closer!
3. Saltos de Jima: pristine waterfalls near Bonao
This place immediately stole my heart! It’s located in a difficult-to-find area, so don’t count on Google maps – you will get there faster by asking locals for the right way. The route inside the park is 1.8km long and leads through a beautiful old forest overlooking the river. Only 3 out of 23 waterfalls are currently open for tourists (with the third one being reachable by climbing up a few slippery rocks). Bring comfortable shoes and some chocolate to fill up your energy! The entrance if free of charge, but have some cash on you for parking (RD$100) and a guide (optional).
4. Los Tres Ojos: underground lakes near Santo Domingo
I honestly didn’t expect to find such a fabulous land below the ground just next to one of the busiest highways in the country. But there it is, natural caves and transparent lakes surrounded by astonishing, dense vegetation. Do not miss the boat ride to reach the fourth lake! Also, the park is inhabited by an elderly man resembling Tarzan – at an extra cost he can climb up a rocky wall for you and perform a bold jump to the water. The entrance is RD$100, boat ride RD$25. Tip: the humidity can be unbearable so take some refreshment towels with you.
5. Paragliding in Jarabacoa
Looking for something really adventurous? Try paragliding with Flying Tony in a mountainous town of Jarabacoa located in the middle of the country. Stunning views are included in the price! Should the weather make the flying too risky, hiking or having a fabulous dinner (see ‘’restaurants’’ below) could be your back-up plan.
6. Colonial Zone in Santo Domingo
Do you remember learning about Christopher Columbus at your history classes? This is exactly where he arrived when he first reached the land of America. Designed by Spanish colonisers, this particular part of the city might remind you of a Mediterranean town. Colonial Zone offers a variety of cultural activities, including theatre and music events. Do not miss dancing salsa in white with Grupo Bonye on Sunday evening, nor one of the open-air jazz sessions occasionally held on Thursdays (check dates online). Tip: sightsee the place on a rented city bike!
7. Altos de Chavón near Romana
A truly fascinating place to visit! Its unique architecture and cobblestone streets will transfer you directly to a Mediterranean village from 16th Century. Whether you’re looking for a bit of luxury, live music or leisure activities such as shooting or golf, Casa de Campo Resort and Villas will surely satisfy your needs! Tip: make sure you book your tickets for one of the live music shows in the village’s amphitheatre!
5 beaches to go
1. Playa Blanca in Punta Cana
A picturesque beach with typically bended palm tress and soft white sand where you can enjoy comfortable deckchairs and delicious cocktails at the restaurant. You will be asked to register as a visitor at the main entrance to the resort.
2. Playa Macao in Miches
Best to visit on your way back from Montaña Redonda. It’s a truly paradise beach with white sand, turquoise water and plenty of palm trees. Very photogenic, so don’t forget to bring your camera along (together with towels and snacks).
3. Bocana in Boca Chica
Famous for its local vendors offering everything from sunglasses to relaxing massages. One of my favourite beaches to relax in water – the sea is flat and shallow. You might be asked to pay for the parking at the restaurant’s entrance (no deckchairs provided).
4. Playa Alicia in Sosua
Have you ever heard about this miracle beach? Miracle, because it appeared overnight only 14 years ago! Worth visiting during a stay in Puerto Plata. Fantastic place to rest – fewer vendors and fewer tourists than in the nearby Playa Sosua beach.
5. Hemingway in Juan Dolio
Although it might not seem as edenic as its neighbour beaches, it has enchanted me with the sound of rough waves and a truly magical sunset. Thanks to the nearby high housing, the beach is sometimes compared to the Miami’s coast. Take your own towels and snacks.
5 foods & drinks to try
Plátano, also known as plantain or vegetable banana, is a true symbol of Dominican Republic. Everybody knows someone who has a plantain tree in their garden. Many national snacks and dishes have plantain as the main ingredient. Most popular are:
- mangú – mashed plantains eaten for breakfast
- tostones – double-fried chips served as side dish
- plátano maduro – ripe plantain, usually boiled
A traditional meet and vegetable stew. Absolutely delicious!
3. Cassava (Yuca in Spanish)
Cassava is a long tuberous starchy root, similar to the potato. You can find it mashed, fried or baked. My favourite serving version is called Casabe – mini flat round galettes. You can buy them in any supermarket (light and healthy!).
4. Moro de Habichuelas: white rice with beans
One of the most popular dishes among Dominicans. It’s similar to other Latin America’s traditional meals. A mixture of rice, vegetables and different beans. Not my favourite, but definitely worth trying!
5. Morir Soñando
Literal translation: die dreaming. A popular beverage made of orange juice, condensed milk, cane sugar and ice. Terribly sweet, but very tasty!
6. Mama Juana
Typical Dominican drink concocted by allowing rum, red wine, and honey to soak in a bottle with tree bark and herbs. The taste is similar to port wine and the color is a deep red.
4 Amazing restaurants
1. La Piazzetta in Altos de Chavón (Italian)
As mentioned above, Altos de Chavón offers a genuine Mediterranean climate. This Italian restaurant La Piazzetta located in the village couldn’t be different! As a frequent visitor to Italy I can guarantee that both the food and ambience won’t let you down. I had some typical Italian appetisers, beef carpaccio & bruschettas with green pesto and a seafood risotto with asparagus. Each course far exceeded my expectations. Definitely a must!
2. El Meson De La Cava in Santo Domingo (Caribbean/Latin/Seafood)
Have you ever dined in a cave? If not, then this might be the right time to try! El Meson De La Cava is a one-of-kind restaurant located in Santo Domingo’s underground caves, once covered by the sea. I really enjoyed the fancy decor and good service. A bit pricey, but worth the cost.
3. El Conuco in Santo Domingo (Dominican)
This place will teach you something about Dominican culture and lifestyle. Not only thanks to the food, but also music and interior design. Put some comfortable shoes on before leaving home – you are likely to dance with the staff! Perfect place to try plantain dishes.
4. Aroma de la Montaña in Jarabacoa (Caribbean/Latin/International)
If you’re hungry for some unforgettable views while dining, add Aroma de la Montaña restaurant to your list. Located on a hill, it makes a 360-degree turn while you’re enjoying your food. It’s an amazing visual experience!
Have you got any specific questions? Leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer!
Enjoy your trip!