The island offers travelers a little of everything, from beachfront feasts to centuries-old cathedrals, meditative cenote sessions, and epic waterfall treks.
Tucked between Puerto Rico and Cuba, the Dominican Republic shares several characteristics with other Caribbean islands: beautiful beaches, a tropical climate, a vibrant culture, and plenty of eco-friendly adventure. But its blend of Spanish, African, and Indigenous Taíno heritage, plus its mix of rain forests, mountains, and dual coastlines – the Atlantic Ocean in the north and the Caribbean Sea in the south – makes it one of the region’s most distinct destinations.
From the Caribbean’s highest peak (10,174-foot Pico Duarte) down to the island’s delightful beachfront towns, the Dominican Republic caters to every type of traveler. The best time to visit is between December and April, when the chance of large storms is minimal and coastal breezes keep temps comfortable. As you get ready to explore the second-largest island in the Caribbean, bookmark these must-see Dominican Republic places and experiences.
Cascada Limón on the Samaná Peninsula.
A Fiesta for the Palate in Samaná
Away from the island’s buzzy tourist areas, the Samaná Peninsula’s northeastern perch reveals a rugged landscape of craggy cliffs, coconut groves, and scenic beaches – one highlight is Cascada Limón, a gorgeous waterfall that travelers can access afoot or on horseback.
Formerly quiet fishing villages, Las Terrenas and Las Galeras have become bustling beach towns filled with waterside restaurants where the food is simple but delicious, and guitar-heavy bachata music is always playing nearby. Given their prime coastal location, fresh seafood features prominently on the towns’ chalkboard menus, and it’s not uncommon to see locals dancing barefoot on the beach.
Travelers can’t go wrong with a meal of la bandera, the island’s national dish. Bandera, which means “flag,” is a nod to its kidney beans, white rice, and meat, which represent the red, white, and blue of the Dominican flag. The dish is most often served with a simple salad and can be accompanied by tostones (fried, mashed plantains) or sliced avocado. Pro tip: Wash the classic plate down with a cold Presidente beer.
Across Samaná, the influence of thriving French and Italian expat communities has broadened the palates of locals and visitors. In Las Terrenas, Restaurante Plaza Delfin is a favorite for fresh pasta and seafood. Unassuming and right on the beach next to the town’s morning fish market, La Plage serves a blend of French, Italian, and local cuisines, including tender filets and savory shrimp scampi, with rustic fishing boats bobbing in the distance.
Watch parasailers glide above the turquoise water at beachfront Candelita, which serves fried capitán (hogfish) under thatched-roof umbrellas. El Cabito is an off-the-grid palapa whose paella – and stunning cliffside views over the Atlantic – make it worth trekking up a dirt road to get there. For quick homemade snacks such as ceviche and empanadas, try family-owned Empanadas y Mas.
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Calle las Damas, or “Street of the Ladies."
Santo Domingo’s Best Cultural Pursuits
Santo Domingo, the island’s capital city, is the oldest continuously inhabited, European-established settlement in the Americas. Its well-preserved colonial district, the Zona Colonial, is a UNESCO World Heritage site where ruins still remain from the 1400s.
Start with a stroll on the Calle las Damas, or “Street of the Ladies,” where Spanish aristocrats used to parade, then visit Capilla de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, a sixteenth-century Gothic chapel. Don’t miss the jewels and other treasures pulled from wrecked Spanish galleons at the Museo de las Atarazanas Reales. Peek inside the Americas’ oldest cathedral, the Catedral Primada de América, completed in 1540, before exploring the open-air Mercado Modelo, where local artisans sell everything from amber jewelry to handmade wood carvings.
Punta Cana’s Wellness Resorts
On the island’s easternmost tip, Punta Cana is famous for its swaying palm trees and clear blue waters. Some of the Caribbean’s finest resorts can be found here – travelers often flock to Punta Cana to recharge, and wellness experiences are easily incorporated into overnight stays.
At the 65-room Eden Roc Cap Cana, guests can take a yoga class in an oceanfront garden or join a meditation guide inside the resort’s private tropical cenote, a natural sinkhole that resembles a cave pool from prehistoric times. And over at the Six Senses Spa at the 30-room Tortuga Bay Puntacana Resort & Club, treatments feature the healing properties of the island’s coconuts. A yoga program offers private classes, a yogic cleanse, guided meditations, and an opportunity to try ever-popular aerial yoga.
El Teleférico, the country's only aerial cable car.
Adventure Abounds in Puerto Plata
The Dominican Republic is home to some of the world’s oldest and clearest amber, mined in Puerto Plata, where the beaches are collectively known as the “Amber Coast.” From paragliding over the jewel-toned shoreline to making waves on a Jet Ski or bobbing atop a banana boat as it skims the sea, water sports are one of the main draws of this north shore stretch.
Golfers can tee off at the Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed Playa Dorada Golf Course or the Playa Grande Course, where ten holes border the Atlantic Ocean, many of them atop cliffs that overlook the massive waves at Playa Grande. Travelers can see both courses, as well as the island’s famous statue of Christ the Redeemer, from the Dominican Republic’s only cable car, El Teleférico. Spy dolphins and sea lions at the Ocean World Adventure Park, or reach new heights during a jungle immersion to Puerto Plata’s 27 waterfalls, known collectively as Damajagua. Daredevils should ask their Virtuoso travel advisor to set them up with an eco-tour guide who will help them tackle the trek up the cliffsides to slide or jump from the series of cascades.