With pristine beaches, rich history, and a lively cultural scene, the Dominican Republic has endless charm to offer its visitors. Most people who travel there, however, don't venture outside of their resort properties. Whether you're staying in the city, at a rainforest resort, or on the beach, make time to immerse yourself in some of the country's best authentic locales.
Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, is not only the oldest city in the New World (and a UNESCO world heritage site), but also one of the most populated in the Caribbean. The city is an intriguing mix of old world appeal and a modern, urban aesthetic that is rarely seen on other large Caribbean islands. This contrast is visible not only in its architecture (old ruins standing proudly next to new, sleek buildings, and narrow stone streets dotted with a mix of small bright-colored houses and imposing Colonial fortresses), but in the city’s everyday culture and nightlife as well. With a lively Latin panache that throbs like a drum throughout each historic plaza, Santo Domingo has a true Latin beat to it—it may very well be the beat of the Merengue or the Bachata, the island’s most popular dances.
Where to Stay: Casas Del XVI, a new boutique hotel nestled in Santo Domingo's Ciudad Colonial, has taken historic, colonial homes that date back to the Spanish settlement of Hispaniola and renovated them into beautifully unique accommodations with chic rooms and decorations that perfectly reflect the city’s tropical flair and contrast of Old World and new. The small details of each room and villa are what make this hotel so captivating. One villa has a romantic cigar bar and relaxing outdoor courtyard, while another has a stunning pool perfect for a quiet afternoon dip. With such intimate and distinctive touches, this historic gem offers each guest a personalized and unique experience.
Where to Eat: Don’t be fooled by the simple two-story façade of Mesón D'Bari, a Santo Domingo staple. This local hangout is the place to see and be seen throughout the day. Enjoy the no-fuss atmosphere and the casual Caribbean vibe, as well as some delicious Creole-inspired local cuisine. Grab a cold Presidente and catch a game or two of football (soccer) on the downstairs TV.
What to Do: Explore Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial and feel as if you’re wandering through Hispaniola the way it looked when the Spaniards colonized it centuries ago (and when Columbus himself walked these same streets!). Explore Calle de Las Damas—the New World's first street—and marvel at the 15th and 16th century architecture. On Sunday evenings, stop at Ruinas de San Francisco to hear live bands playing Merengue and Bachata and watch the locals dance the night away. And a trip to Santo Domingo is not complete without indulging in a Dominican cigar or rum tasting.
The southwestern coast of the Dominican Republic is a relatively tourist-free spot, and that’s why this stunning area is, at least for now, somewhat of a hidden treasure. With spectacular, relatively isolated beaches, dense rainforests and true local flavor, this is the place to go to experience a side of the Dominican Republic that many people don't know about yet.
Where to Stay: Perched high up in the canopy of the lush Barahona rainforest and surrounded by the Sierra Barahuco Mountains and Riosito River, Casa Bonita Tropical Lodge is truly situated amid a jungle paradise. The island's leading eco-tourism offering, this luxury boutique eco-hotel features an organic garden, a river spa, and a stunning infinity pool overlooking the dense rainforest, and beyond, the expansive sea.
What to See and Do: With such adventurous activities to choose from like horseback riding, hiking, and a thrilling ten-platform zip line canopy tour through the rainforest, plus a relaxing restaurant and bar, you won't find much reason to wander off Casa Bonita's extensive property, but it's worth it to explore the area's truly remarkable unspoiled beaches and national parks, or to peruse the local stands selling Larimar jewelry, made from a blue-colored stone found only in the Dominican Republic.
Insider Tip: Pull yourself out of bed at dawn, grab a freshly-made green juice from the restaurant, and head out to the infinity pool to watch possibly one of the most beautiful sunrises the Caribbean has to offer.
Home to the country's most spectacular beaches and lush, mountainous landscape, the Samaná Peninsula is considered by both locals and visitors to be the most beautiful part of the Dominican Republic. Refreshingly quiet and relatively isolated in comparison to other much more developed areas of the island, this region is a popular destination for vacationers looking to truly relax.
Where to Stay: Sublime Samana Hotel & Residences is an exclusive collection of private suites and 'casitas' on an immaculately kept property that leads from a luxurious, interconnected pool directly down to one of the most magnificent beaches in the Caribbean. The large, modern rooms and casitas are perfect for couples as well as families or large groups. The hotel boasts a natural spa located on the beach just steps away from the calming surf, two unique restaurants, and beachside cooking courses and trips to the local fish market with the hotel's chef.
What to See and Do: What was once a simple bucolic fishing village is now the charming, lively sea-side town of Las Terrenas, just a cab ride away from Sublime Samana. Well worth a day trip (perhaps on an ATV, one of the most popular modes of transport in this area) or even just a visit for dinner at one of the chic beachside restaurants, this town is densely populated with both tourists and expats—it makes for a unique experience and some very active nightlife in an otherwise quiet and tranquil area of the island.