9 Amazing Things to Do in the Dominican Republic
From the beaches of Puerto Plata to the ancient architecture of Santo Domingo, here are nine places you absolutely have to visit in the Dominican Republic.
The Zona Colonial is the historic heart of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. This square mile of pretty streets and shady squares contains some of the oldest colonial buildings in the Western Hemisphere, including the cathedral. To walk along the Calle de las Damas is to retrace the steps of the first Spanish conquistadors, who used Santo Domingo as a base for the conquest of Latin America. Yet this district is no museum piece. It’s dotted with shops, restaurants and cafes, many housed in colonial-era buildings. It is also a real neighbourhood, where families sit outside their homes enjoying the cool of the evening.
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Costa del Coco
The “Coconut Coast,” with its reef-protected white beaches and placid waters, is the country’s undisputed tourist mecca. Some 64 kilometres of uninterrupted beach sweeps up the southeastern tip of the country, the endless vistas of sea, sand and coconut trees broken only by clusters of low-level hotels and villas. Since the 1980s, a bonanza of construction has seen huge self-contained tourist cities rise up along the water’s edge, their varied attractions and facilities cut off from the rest of the world. It is possible, should you wish, to escape the luxury of the hotel enclave and to explore the dramatic beaches—some calm, others wild—that stretch as far as the eye can see.
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Beyond the Zona Colonial is a fast-moving metropolis of over two million people, where upmarket suburbs rub shoulders with bleak-looking shantytowns and where quiet parks and museums provide a respite from the capital’s frenetic traffic. The city radiates inland from the river and coastline, moving from compact 19th-century barrios to the spread-out commercial districts of the modern uptown. Spanish and Caribbean influences, expressed in wrought iron balconies and ornate gingerbread-style woodcarving, give way to functional concrete office blocks and suburbs.
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Constanza & “The Dominican Alps”
The cool uplands of the country’s interior are a world apart, barely 80 kilometres away from the tropical heat of Santo Domingo. Dominated by the towering Cordillera Central, the mountain range that forms the island’s spine, the central region is a nature-lover’s paradise of protected national parks, streams and valleys. The gentle climate encourages crops such as strawberries, and at high-altitudes frosts are not uncommon. The green meadows and pine forests are far from the usual image of the Caribbean, and Pico Duarte, the highest mountain in the Caribbean, dominates the scene.
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Santiago de los Caballeros (Santiago of the Gentlemen) is the Dominican Republic’s second-largest city. From its founding in 1495 by the 30 Spanish noblemen (caballeros), this busy metropolis has considered itself wealthier and harder-working than the capital. Set in the fertile Cibao Valley, Santiago has historically been the hub of the country’s agricultural riches, and its millionaire families largely owe their fortunes to the sugar and tobacco grown nearby. The city is calmer than Santo Domingo, but lively enough in Calle del Sol and around the landmark Monument to the Heroes.
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The “Silver Port” lies between the glittering Atlantic Ocean and the imposing bulk of the Pico Isabel de Torres. Its roots go back to 1495, but it was during the 1970s that this once-sleepy provincial back-water was rejuvenated by the advent of mass tourism. The nearby resorts of Playa Dorado and Sosua attract legions of visitors each year, but a tour of Puerto Plata’s colourful centre, complete with Victorian-era architecture, galleries, and restaurants should not be missed. A tight grid of central streets dates to the brief tobacco boom in the 19th century. This is the best place to soak up the atmosphere of a bygone golden age.
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La Isabela Bay
Set among some of the country’s most rugged countryside and bordered by magnificent beaches, La Isabela breathes history at the site of the first permanent colonial settlements in the Americas. The bay protects a placid expanse of ocean, while a pristine white beach looks much as it must have done in 1493 when Christopher Columbus decided to establish a town on this spot, named in honour of the Spanish Queen. The excavated ruins of La Isabela give powerful impression of that decisive moment, but it is the situation as much as the archeological display that makes this place special. An adventurous trek through remote terrain is rewarded by an unforgettable insight into how the course of history was changed.
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A tiny ramshackle fishing village only 30 years ago, Las Terrenas has developed into one of the Domincan Republic’s most sought-after tourist centres. An influx of expatriates from North America and Europe has brought a wide array of guesthouses and restaurants, tailored to the independent traveller. But development has not ruined this welcoming seaside community’s relaxed atmosphere. Lying on the North Coast of the Samana Peninsula, a lush strip of land pushing out into the Atlantic, the town is blessed by the proximity of some of the country’s most beautiful beaches and by spectacular countryside around. Extensive groves of coconut trees fringe expanses of white sand which slope gently and invitingly into clear warm water.
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“King Sugar” still reigns in the southern port city of La Romana, a place dedicated to cutting, milling and exporting sugar since 1917. The huge sugar mill, though damaged by 1998’s Hurricane Georges, still dominates the town, and you are likely to see cane-filled trains trundling through the surrounding countryside. Tourism rather than sugar is now the town’s main lifeblood, and its pride and joy is the nearby Casa de Campo resort. This tropical playground of beach, sports facilities and exquisite gardens offers the most sophisticated choices of activities.
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