Unlike other Caribbean islands, the Dominican Republic has plenty more to offer besides fantastic beaches. You can, of course, just relax and unwind on mile after mile of palm-fringed idyllic sandy beach if you want to.
But bear in mind – there’s also lush rainforest, impressive mountain ranges and interesting colonial history to explore.
There are lots of all-inclusive resorts dotted around the coastline and this can be one of the better value Caribbean destinations. If you enjoy your nightlife, you’ll love the Dominican Republic as the people are incredibly passionate about the sounds of merengue and need little reason to start a party.
Getting there, getting around the Dominican Republic
All flights from London to the Dominican Republic have a connection in America, which can be nice if you fancy a couple of days in New York or Miami.
Once on the island, if you haven’t arranged a transfer to your hotel, there are lots of taxis and local buses. The buses don’t exactly follow a timetable as drivers like to wait until the bus is full before setting off, but they are frequent so you shouldn’t have to wait too long. Car hire is possible, but if you’re looking to head into the mountains and rain forest at any point during your stay, you may need a four-wheel drive vehicle. If you fancy checking out more than one Caribbean island, then there are several airlines operating island-hopping services.
Beaches in the Dominican Republic
There are more than 1,000 miles of beaches in the Dominican Republic, so finding one you like shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Punta Cana is one of the most popular resort areas, mainly due to the fact that you’ll find over 30 miles of beach backed by swaying coconut palms. If you’re looking for undeveloped and secluded beaches, then head for Bayahibe. The sandy stretches here are great for peace and relaxation, and if you’re a golf-lover, then the nearby Casa de Campo course is renowned as one of the best in the world.
If you’re partial to a bit of windsurfing in the UK, then how about trying it Caribbean style i.e. without a wetsuit? Windsurfers head for the world-famous bay at Cabarete. It’s a competition hotspot, so even if you don’t fancy trying it yourself, it’s a great place to sit with a cocktail and watch some world-class windsurfing action. Deep-sea fishing is found at Cabeza de Toro, Boca de Yuma and Montecristi in the north-west.
Sightseeing in the Dominican Republic
It can be hard to tear yourself away from the wonderful beaches, but there is a lot to see elsewhere on the island. The Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo is an absolute must. It’s one of the finest old colonial districts in the world, and the restored Alcazar de Colon is a good place to chill out.
There are 19 national parks, 15 nature reserves and two marine reserves found around the island, so this really is a haven for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. A bird-watchers paradise, you’ll find over 300 species of birdlife and another 300 species of butterfly. Look out for hummingbirds and the zumbadorcito, one of the smallest birds in the world.
Family attractions in the Dominican Republic
Children are sure to receive a warm welcome all over the island, so it’s a great family destination. If your kids are into their wildlife, then book a boat ride on Lago Enriquillo and spot the crocodiles. A visit to Isla Cabritos should also be ojn your family hit-list as it’s home to some amazingly big iguanas.
Santo Domingo zoo is a pleasant place to spend a few hours and the kids will love it. Monster Truck safaris are also on offer and you can climb aboard a 30-person, 8-wheel drive jeep before exploring the stunning countryside. There are stops throughout the day at villages and beauty spots and it’s a great way to get a glimpse of the local way of life.
Day trips in the Dominican Republic
Bahia de Samana on the north-east coast is a top spot for whale-watching, so much so it’s even recommended by the World Wildlife Fund.
The Dominican Republic is home to the Caribbean’s highest mountains and longest rivers, and you could spend days exploring both. Mountain bikes can be rented all over the island and the Cordillera Septentrional range in the north and the Cordillera Central range are popular biking areas. Located near the mountain resort of Jarabacoa, the Rio Yaque is the longest river in the Caribbean and is great for a spot of white water rafting.
Eating out in the Dominican Republic
Dominican cuisine is a savoury blend of African and Spanish ingredients. The proximity to the ocean means that the seafood found in restaurants all over the Dominican Republic is to die for, but they’re also big meat-eaters. The most popular dishes are sancocho (pork roasted on a spit), a rice and bean combination called moro, cassava bread, longaniza (pork sausage), morcilla (blood sausage), goat stew and fish with coconut milk. If you really love your meat, try Sancocho prieto, a combination of seven meats, including goat. If that all sounds a bit too exotic, many of the big resorts cater for international tastes. The fresh fruit is also divine.
You can wash it all down with a cold glass of El Presidente beer or a nice swig of locally produced rum.
Nightlife in the Dominican Republic
Merengue is the island’s favourite beat and national dance and can be found from the beach to the bar and everywhere in between. Dominicans absolutely love to party, and there are merengue festivals in Santo Domingo during July and in Puerta Plata in October. Bachata is another popular style of dance. It’s much slower than merengue and it’s often descreibed as the Caribbean equivalent of country music.
Santa Domingo hosts Carnival twice a year, once in late February and then again in mid-August. The Dominican Republic Jazz Festival is staged at three scenic north coast locations: Cabarete, Sosua and Puerto Plata each October.
Shopping in the Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic is considered one of the best places in the world to buy amber and you’ll find it adorning lovely pieces of jewellery in many shops around the island. Larimar is also popular when it comes to jewellery – it’s a blue stone which is unique to the region. Rum is also a good buy on the island and the varieties found here tend to be sweeter than the others found all over the Caribbean.
And although Cuban cigars are better known, the Dominican Republic is the largest producer of cigars in the world. Merengue fans will have no problem finding cassettes or CDs to take home and the nation’s favourite artists include Juan Luis Guerra, Miriam Cruz and Los Hermanos Rosario.