The Dominican Republic is a dream destination – and it’s not difficult to see why. With over 1,000 miles of picture-postcard powdery-white beaches shaded by coconut palms, it’s a beach-lovers paradise. Understandably, many travellers come to the island for the classic sun-and-sand getaway, and the overwhelming majority choose to stay in Punta Cana. However, with our Dominican Republic guided tours, we like to encourage travellers to go beyond Punta Cana and its glorious Bavaro Beach.
Punta Cana is a fantastic destination in its own right – it’s a beautiful destination full of lavish all-inclusive resorts alongside a pristine coastline. We’d be hard-pressed to think of a better place to spend a week relaxing beachside with a cocktail or two. However, we feel it would be a shame to leave the Dominican Republic without venturing further afield to explore all that this wonderful country has to offer.
We spoke to some of our local travel experts based in the Dominican Republic to hear their recommendations for alternative destinations and experiences not to be missed. For further inspiration, take a look at our Americas brochure to see more of the experiences available with our Dominican Republic guided tours.
A cheaper alternative to Punta Cana lies on the island’s north shore. Puerto Plata, meaning port of silver, earned its name as the last stopping point for the Spanish galleons laden with the new continent’s treasures. This area is more verdant, seeing more rainfall than Punta Cana at the drier southeastern tip. Rain falls suddenly and often in the north of the island but doesn’t stick around for very long. A happy consequence of this is that the landscape retains its greenery, creating a rich area of natural splendour.
As JJ Garcia, our DR Product Manager, explains, the area is his favourite place to explore with its rivers, mountains, lagoons, caves, and waterfalls – all set within lush tropical rainforest bursting with life. This area’s natural heritage is a big draw for visitors, and the wildness continues on the coast. Where Punta Cana lies on the sedate waters of the Caribbean, Puerto Plata faces the unruly Atlantic. As a result, the waters here are often more choppy, making it a base for windsurfing and other associated watersports.
A little east of Puerto Plata is Carbrera, home to Laguna Dudu. This lagoon showcases the northern shore’s natural beauty and is the favourite hangout of our sales supervisor, Jean Carlos Balenciano. Here, Jean enjoys the thrill of jumping the considerable 30ft into the crystal blue waters – though non-adrenaline-seekers can relax here without having to take the leap. The site features two separate lagoons connected to the sea, and brave divers can swim from one lagoon to another. There is a network of caves to explore featuring stalagmites and stalactites, but the highlight here is the fascinating pre-Colombian Taino artwork.
The resorts along Puerto Plata are mainly of the all-inclusive variety, and most travellers opt for hotels within the tourist area of Playa Dorada. The area features all you would expect from a tourist holiday destination: landscaped resorts of villas and condominiums with beachfront access and an assortment of typical resort attractions like boat trips and wildlife excursions. The area is home to a smattering collection of award-winning golf courses too.
However, what makes Puerto Plata a little different is that it retains its urban feel. The area of Punta Cana is essentially purpose-built for tourism, with resorts and complexes springing up out of the wilderness. Puerto Plata, on the other hand, has an economy based on things other than tourism, with a local population with deep roots in the area. As a result, we feel that the Puerto Plata region offers better insights into Dominican culture and heritage, with a little more soul than the very commercial Punta Cana resorts. This is accentuated by an impressive collection of Victorian-era houses, adding a distinct architectural style.
For a specific recommendation, JJ went out of his way to mention La Catalina restaurant, a mountaintop eatery overlooking Bergantin y Sosua beach in Playa Dorada. While the food and service at this restaurant provide typical Dominican warmth and hospitality, the real highlight is the view of the marvellous bay and city below, looking particularly enchanting when basked in the golden glow of the sunset hour.
Caya Paraiso, or Paradise Island, is a tiny desert island off the coast of Puerto Plata. A visit to this island is one of the many excursions available from Puerto Plata’s resorts and is JJ’s number one recommendation as an experience not to miss. With Discova, travellers can explore the island on a full-day trip.
Travellers take a speedboat or catamaran from the shore and zoom out to the island. Highlights include relaxing on the sugar-white beaches, exploring the diverse mangrove forests, and exploring the exotic marine life in these waters with some snorkelling – all while soaking up the warm Caribbean sun. The area boasts the most diverse marine life in the DR, with coral, sponges, and a multitude of colourful fish for travellers to enjoy.
When describing Dominican culture, JJ stresses the delightful mix of three influences. The African flavour, the austere uprightness of the Spanish influence, and the local Taino’s earthy warmth. The combination of all three makes for a beguiling blend offering a rich experience for visitors.
Perhaps the best place to observe and get a feel for the local way of life is in the capital, Santo Domingo.
With many travellers coming for the rejuvenating relaxation of the sunlounger, many skip the capital city. However, we recommend exploring to delve a little deeper into the country’s history and traditions.
Founded in 1496, Santo Domingo served as the first headquarters for Spaniards settling in the new world. However, the story of its earlier inhabitants, the indigenous Taino, is told through several intriguing museums. For those wishing to learn more of its Pre-Hispanic past, take the time to visit the Dominican Man Museum or the Hall of Pre-Hispanic Art – both serving to preserve the traditions and heritage of the indigenous people.
The city centre, known as Ciudad Colonial, or colonial city, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990. It is home to beautiful streets great for walking and admiring the different architectural styles. With a plethora of charming squares and parks, it is easy to contemplate the long colonial history while observing the intimidating fortifications and centuries-old churches and monuments.
Of all the historical strands to Dominican history, the locals themselves are most overtly proud of the independence struggle. Visit the Independence Park, with The Count’s Gate and the Altar de la Patria (Altar of the Homeland), or the Plaza de la Misericordia Square, where Independence was proclaimed. To learn more details of the independence movement and the troubles of that time, visit the Memorial Museum of the Dominican Resistance.
The cultural riches to explore don’t end here – as well as the pre-Hispanic artforms curated in the city’s museums, art lovers can explore the contemporary Dominican art scene in several fascinating exhibitions. The Contemporary Art Museum and the Fine Arts Palace are two such places to see how modern Dominican artists tell the narrative of the country’s progress.
In the evening, travellers can continue their exposure to Dominican culture as the city pulsates to the rhythm of Caribbean music. Travellers won’t find it challenging to find somewhere to dance the night away with many places hosting merengue and bachata nights, with the younger generation enjoying a reggaeton craze too. The merengue is the national dance with a compelling history of its own – emblematic of the nation as a whole in how it mixes different styles. Travellers are sure to enjoy the lively dance, especially if their visit coincides with one of the Dominican calendar’s many vibrant festivities.
At Discova, we have a number of experiences that allow visitors to embrace all that Santo Domingo has to offer on our Dominican Republic guided tours.
Dominican Republic Guided Tours
Covering just an insight into the many different experiences to be had in the Dominican Republic, it’s clear that there is more to the country than its beautiful southern beaches. At Discova, we want to encourage travellers to develop more meaningful connections with the places they visit – and part of that process is simply exploring further with a willingness to go a little off-the-beaten-track. The destinations mentioned here are by no means unknown, just perhaps in the shadow of the more popular Punta Cana.
At Discova, we have a whole range of activities across the country, and our tailor-made team are waiting to craft the perfect itinerary for visitors to the Dominican Republic. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with our teams, and find out more about what we have to offer with our Dominican Republic guided tours.