The second-largest island
in the Caribbean
Get ready for an endless summer
The second-largest island
in the Caribbean
GMT -4 hours
Home to the highest and lowest points in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic is a nature lover’s dream. A quarter of its pristine land remains protected by national parks. While white sandy beaches remain a primary point of interest, particularly in Punta Cana, intrepid explorers also venture to its mountains, valleys and lakes. Don’t forget about the Dom Rep’s cultural contributions, either: merengue, bachata and baseball.
Is your main holiday objective sunning near the tideline? Sit back, sipping local Presidente beer or a Mama Juana cocktail, which pair well with the national dish of stewed meat, beans and rice called ‘La Bandera’. Once properly fuelled, hit the town for an evening of merengue rhythms and bachata beats. If your interest leans towards the historical, visit Santo Domingo’s old town, settled by Christopher Columbus’ brother Bartholomew.
Embark on an eco-adventure for a change of pace. The country’s lush scenery has featured in films, such as ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. You can spy iguanas, crocodiles and flamingos at Lago Enriquillo, the world’s largest salt lake. Meanwhile, humpback whales hang out at the Bay of Samana and shorebirds show up at the salt flats and mangroves of Salinas de Bani. What’s more, you can get wild without wildlife – by diving and sliding over waterfalls into turquoise pools. Book your flights to Dominican Republic and lap up those tropical climes.
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While you may easily be satisfied with sunning on the bounty of Punta Cana’s beautiful beaches, there’s much more to the Dominican Republic. Insert mini excursions into your trip for more depth than a typical ‘flop and drop’ holiday. Who knows, they may even become the highlights of your trip.
1. Trade the ocean waves for water cascades, which tumble over limestone formations into pleasant pools at the 27 waterfalls of Damajagua. Start at the Visitor Center, which serves food and beverages, then walk along the nature trail to the first waterfall. Most visitors book onto organised tours to ascend the first seven falls before jumping and sliding back down (equipped with helmets and life jackets). Touring the entire lot, including ‘The Corkscrew’ and ‘The Cave’, takes about three and a half hours.
2. Although snorkelling is popular in many Caribbean destinations, whale watching is a truly unique experience. You can spy the mammalian ocean behemoths, both adults and newborn calves, during the springtime at Samana Bay. The area has been designated as a marine sanctuary and only whale-watching boats are permitted to enter. You may see male whales’ attempts to woo potential mates with impressive displays, like blowing water and launching into the air.
3. You can never go far awry with a UNESCO World Heritage Site, like the Zona Colonial in the Dominican Republic’s capital. Since its founding in 1502, the historic part of the city has been continuously inhabited – and likened to an open-air museum. Some of the many attractions packed within its walled confines include Alcázar de Colón, a fortified residence belonging to Christopher Columbus’ first son, and Basilica Cathedral of Santa María la Menor – the first cathedral constructed in the Americas.
4. Make way for the mountainous island interior, home to the Caribbean’s highest peak – Pico Duarte. The Cordillera Central mountain range, affectionately known as the ‘Dominican Alps’, are surrounded by green valleys and provide a cooler climate than the coasts. Look out for birds in the lower pine forests before ascending for mountain views, absence of clouds permitting. If you’d rather ride to a mountaintop, consider the cable car up Pico Isabel de Torres in Puerto Plata, instead.
5. Merengue is a lively music style with cultural Taino, West African and European influences. It also has an accompanying partner dance, with males typically taking the lead. You can watch couples dance merengue, and bachata – another music and dance style from the DR – at clubs that cater to the locals. You can drink a Mama Juana for additional courage to try it yourself. But the basic marching footwork is easy, so give it a whirl.
Even if you touch down in a resort area, like Bavaro, and remain there throughout, you can still experience a variety of beaches. Switch up your beach routine daily, alternating between Bavaro Beach, Macao Beach, Juanillo Beach and other sandy stretches of coast during your Punta Cana holiday.
Uvero Alto is another district of Punta Cana, on the north-east coast. Escape to this quieter area to enjoy natural (less-manicured) beaches. You’ll find high-end resorts here, and you can participate in an array of water sports at Uvero Alto Beach.
If you like swimming, you’ll love snorkelling and scuba diving to see the colourful sea life up close. Playa Rincon is just the place, but Boca Chica and Cayo Arena are great options, too. In order to spot mammoth marine mammals, head to Silver Bank – a sanctuary where you’ve got a good chance of glimpsing North Atlantic Humpback whales.
La Romana sits on the south coast with sugar cane fields and lush forests in addition to white sand beaches. It also harkens back to its Roman history with the picturesque Altos de Chavón – a modern model of a 16th Century Mediterranean village – and a historic-looking amphitheatre. If you prefer the real deal, you can visit explorer Juan Ponce de León.
For a complete change of scenery, explore the mountainous terrain surrounding Jarabacoa, including Pico Duarte, the highest peak in the Caribbean. Otherwise, pop into Santo Domingo – its Zona Colonial is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – or ogle larger-than-life street art in the nation’s second largest city, Santiago de los Caballeros.
If the main goal of your Dominican Republic holidays is to catch up on rest and relaxation, head to Excellence El Carmen. The luxury adult-only resort along the Coconut Coast will soothe the soul. Just pop into a pool – there are 23 – or indulge at the many bars and restaurants before catching nightly shows at the outdoor theatre.
The lively entertainment and activities at Breathless Punta Cana Resort & Spa attract a fun-loving adult crowd. You can go-go-go from morning to night, starting with fitness classes and ending with a DJ pool party. When you need a break, you can hang out at the café or treat yourself to a meal at their varied gourmet restaurants.
Families will be delighted at Dreams Royal Beach Punta Cana, whose kids’ club entertains guests ages 3 - 12. Indulgences include poolside waiters and hydromassage tubs in every room – although Master Suites place them outside on the terrace. The newer Dreams Macao Beach Punta Cana is another solid option for Dominican Republic family holidays – with a water park, non-motorised water sports, multiple sports courts and a lavish spa.