The Dominican Republic is arguably one of the best destinations if you’re looking for a beach holiday. After all, it has year-round sun, accommodation for all budgets and crystalline Caribbean waters.
But if you visited the country and spent the whole time in an all-inclusive resort, you’d be missing out on so much! The DR has a lot more to offer than just beautiful beaches, including majestic mountains, delicious cuisine, friendly locals and lively music!
Because of its vicinity to the United States, flights to the DR are usually reasonably priced, making it a great option for a vacation that won’t bust your budget. Here we’ve rounded up 11 Dominican Republic tourist attractions to love. When you return, you’ll surely have your own favorites to add to the list!
Parque Nacional Los Haitises
Not many travelers ever make it to this remote national park located on Samana Bay, which is one of the top ecotourism attractions in the country.
Visitor numbers are kept low to limit tourism’s impact on the environment, so make sure you arrange your visit ahead.
The park contains mangroves, a rainforest, a karst plateau complete with caves and sinkholes, and stunning San Lorenzo Bay (which has many picturesque islets).
Did you know that Santo Domingo, the nation’s capital, was the first permanent settlement built by Westerners in the New World? And that it was a Spanish base for centuries?
If you’re interested in colonial history, there’s a lot to discover in the DR. Santo Domingo’s Ciudad Colonial is a great place to begin, but you’ll find myriad colonial churches and buildings scattered all over the country.
Dominican cuisine combines traditional Caribbean flavors with Middle Eastern, African, and Spanish influences. The result? Just YUM.
Staples of the Dominican diet include bandera (rice and beans with a side of meat), and mashed or fried plantains and cassava.
Two of the most interesting local dishes are quibe (a variant of Middle-Eastern kippeh, which is made with bulgur and meat) and casabe (grilled tortillas made with grated yucca that are believed to date back to the Taino, the island’s indigenous inhabitants).
If you’re staying near La Romana, make sure you visit Catalina Island. Not only because of its beaches, but also because it’s one of the few places in the world where you can snorkel around a sunken galleon. Need I say more?
From January to March every year, humpback whales visit the waters around the Samana Bay in great numbers to give birth and mate.
This is the largest gathering of whales in the Atlantic. So, if you love whales try to visit at this time of year! Just don’t forget to pack seasickness pills, as the open seas may be rough.
The interior of the Dominican Republic is quickly emerging as a burgeoning ecotourism destination, thanks in part to its many beautiful waterfalls.
The 27 Waterfalls of Damajagua (near Puerto Plata) can be visited on a day tour with a guide. It’s an affordable outing and incredible fun as you jump, climb and slide from one waterfall to another. The daring final leap is over 20 feet high!
If you’re after something less touristy, head to Jarabacoa for rafting and more waterfalls.
In the Dominican Republic, there’s no shortage of underwater marvels.
Catalina Island is a great diving hotspot, and there are several great sites (including shipwrecks) located not far from Punta Cana.
If you’re after something less commercial, the country’s northern coast is your oyster. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a humpback whale on your dive there.
If you’ve ever been to the Caribbean, you’ll know that music will be a big part of your journey.
In the Dominican Republic you’ll be accompanied by tunes anywhere you go, from bars, restaurant and taxis to even the smallest shop in the tiniest village in the interior of the country.
The DR is also the birthplace of merengue. Dancing courses are available at almost every resort, and even if you’re not staying at one you’ll have no problem finding someone to teach you the basic moves. If you consider yourself a good dancer, practice your merengue and bachata before hopping on the plane, as the locals will surely put you to the test!
Did you know that Pico Duarte, the highest mountain in the Dominican Republic, is over 3000 meters high? And that you can find hikes to rival the Alps in the heart of this Caribbean country?
If you’d like to balance your hiking and beach time, this is the place for you. The base for most mountain hikes is the town of Constanza, which has Alpine-style huts and strawberries for dessert.
Lake Enriquillo National Park
This national park is another sort of place that I bet you didn’t know you could find in the heart of the Caribbean!
Its main attraction is a saltwater lake located near the border with Haiti, situated 40 meters below sea level but surrounded by peaks over 200 meters high.
Lake Enriquillo is home to a diverse array of wildlife, including crocodiles, iguanas and flamingos. Many tours are on offer here, including visits to the lake’s three islands.
Arguably among the most beloved Dominican Republic tourist attractions, Dominicans are some of the friendliest and most hospitable people we’ve encountered during our travels.
They’re always ready to help tourists in need, whether with directions or advice on how to enjoy their country, and may even invite you back to their place. If you do receive an invitation, don’t worry: Chances are their hospitality will be genuine, and you’ll have a great time together.
Most Dominicans in and around tourist areas speak some English. More likely than not, they’ll have some family in the U.S., Spain or Italy. Moving away from the coast, you’ll need to know some Spanish in order to communicate effectively. But just learn a few sentences and you won’t regret it! –Margherita Ragg
BIO: Margherita Ragg is a freelance writer and English teacher from Milan, Italy. She’s passionate about wildlife, ecotourism and outdoor activities, and runs The Crowded Planet travel blog with her Australian photographer husband, Nick Burns. Margherita has an MA in Travel and Nature Writing from Bath Spa University, and was runner-up to the 2012 Guardian Travel Writer of the Year competition. Follow Margherita on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.