The best things to do in the Dominican Republic range from taking in the natural splendor of the country and its idyllic beaches to tracing the footsteps of Columbus. The historical center of its capital is a great place to start. And when you’ve caught up with the country’s Spanish colonial history, there are plenty of pristine spots and nature parks to escape to.

    For a change in scenery, inland highlights include magnificent cave systems with subterranean lagoons as well as lakes where flamingos and crocs thrive. An island-hop and a boat out can treat you to more paradisiacal shores apart from those on the mainland. Check out all the great options for your next visit to this vibrant Caribbean country below.

    What are the best things to do in the Dominican Republic?

    1

    Zona Colonial

    Santo Domingo’s historic district

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    Zona Colonial, also known as Ciudad Colonial or The Zone, is the neighbourhood in Santo Domingo that’s home to hundreds of significant historical sites. Some landmarks in this important section of the Dominican capital date back to when Christopher Columbus’ younger brother, Bartholomew, founded the first settlement on the east bank of the Ozama River in the late 15th century.

    Zona Colonial is the only UNESCO World Heritage site in the Dominican Republic. There are well over 300 historical sites, ranging from monuments, forts, and old buildings to see. These include the fortified palace, Alcázar de Colón, where 3 generations of the Columbus family resided. Other sites with “first in the Americas” status are Santa María la Menor – the oldest cathedral, Fortaleza Ozama – the oldest fortress, and Monasterio de San Francisco – the oldest monastery.

    Location: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

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    2

    Explore the many beaches of the Dominican Republic

    Beautiful stretches of white sand, each with a different character

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    The great beaches in the Dominican Republic are what draw most visitors to this beautiful country that’s girt by the waters of the Caribbean and the Atlantic. Among the most popular is the mile-long Boca Chica Beach on the southern coast, with its sheltered bay hosting a variety of thrills and water sports. There’s also the wide coast of Macao Beach in the northeast that attracts wave riders to its exciting surf.

    Other Dominican beaches offer tranquil getaways. Among them is the small sandy crescent of Sosua Beach on the northern coast that’s sheltered by low-lying forested hills. For a sense of local fishing village life, there’s Guayacanes Beach with seafood restaurants offering Dominican dishes using the freshest catches of the day. For a true getaway, ferry out to Cayo Levantado Beach on the northwestern tip of a tiny cay in Samana Bay, a perfect spot to sip an iced rum and coke under swaying palm trees.

    3

    27 Waterfalls

    The Dominican Republic’s waterfall complex for wet thrills

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    The 27 Waterfalls complex is among the best things to do in the Dominican Republic for those seeking action and adventure in unique natural settings. It combines the thrills of hiking, discovery, and canyoning with its collection of 27 varying cascades that either trickle or gush into various pools.

    The complex is about a 45-minute ride by jeep west of Puerto Plata, following the Damajaqua River. The series of lower falls is fairly easy to get to, but the upper section is where it starts to get interesting – you must climb rock faces and there are boulders you can jump off as well as natural slides that lead you plunging into the pools below. Don’t forget your water shoes and waterproof cameras.

    Location: Damajagua 57000, Dominican Republic

    Open: Monday–Saturday from 8 am to 3 pm, Sunday from 8 am to 10 am

    Phone: +1 809-250-4200

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    photo by Francisco Becerro (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified

    4

    Saona Island

    A popular day-trip destination part of a nature reserve

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    Saona Island (Isla Saona) lies off the southeasternmost tip of the Dominican Republic, known for its idyllic tropical beaches and laidback fishing villages. Part of Cotubanamá National Park, the island is home to a small but great collection of palm-fringed shores, some of which are turtle nesting sites.

    Sandy and isolated beaches like Playa Canto de la Playa are popular haunts for daytrippers. A quieter alternate is Playa Bonita on the island’s west coast that has shallow turquoise waters great for bathing and snorkeling – there’s plenty of starfish to see under the surface. Mano Juan is where most of the island’s population resides and it’s also home to a sanctuary for hawksbill turtles.

    Location: 23000, Dominican Republic

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    5

    National Zoological Park

    A fun-filled, family-friendly zoo in Santo Domingo

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    National Zoological Park (Parque Zoológico Nacional) is a great spot to take the kids to in the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo. The zoo is just a short drive north of the city centre. You’ll have plenty of colorful birds and exotic animals to snap for Instagram, with everything from flocks of pink flamingos in lush lagoons to African lions and Bengal tigers. Also in the zoo’s collection are ultra-rare species like the endemic Hispaniolan solenodon.

    The Zoological Park is rather compact compared to full-fledged zoos, but it has dedicated play neighborhoods and a cafeteria. The little ones can get up close to some animals and even ride ponies. Most will find it hard to resist hopping on the zoo train for a ride to see the animals (note that the conductor/guide speaks in Spanish).

    Location: Avenida de la Vega Real, Arroyo Hondo Distrito Nacional, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

    Open: Tuesday–Sunday from 9 am to 3 pm (closed on Mondays)

    Phone: +1 809-378-2149

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    6

    Lake Enriquillo

    The largest lake in the Caribbean boasts wild beauty

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    Lake Enriquillo is the largest lake in the Dominican Republic and the whole Caribbean. It lies 44 meters below sea level and is saltier than seawater. It’s a great destination for nature enthusiasts, who’ll especially appreciate Goat Island (Isla Cabritos) in the middle, which brims with exotic wildlife and birds.

    On boat trips, you can often spot pink flamingos and the pre-historic-looking rhinoceros iguana. The lake also fascinatingly has the largest population of American crocodiles in the Caribbean. After all the wild encounters, you can unwind in the soothing natural pools of Neyba, a town on the lake’s eastern shore.

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    7

    Puerto Plata Cable Automobile

    Scenic mountain views from the Caribbean’s only aerial tramway

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    The Puerto Plata Cable Automobile (Teleférico de Puerto Plata) offers magnificent views on rides up the side of the Isabel de Torres mountain on the Dominican Republic’s north coast. As you reach the peak at an altitude of almost 800 meters, you’ll find a replica of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer on top of a large dome with jewelry and souvenir shops inside.

    Besides the magnificent views over the lush mountain and ocean afar, from the peak, you can also roam the botanical garden and admire the variety of plants – some of which are endemic to the island of Hispaniola.

    Location: C. del Teleférico, Puerto Plata 57000, Dominican Republic

    Open: Monday–Saturday from 8.30 am to 3 pm, Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 809-970-0501

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    8

    The Three Eyes National Park

    A lush park with underground caverns, lagoons, and wildlife

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    The Three Eyes National Park (Parque Nacional Los Tres Ojos) is a tranquil nature park that features a unique series of limestone caverns and subterranean lagoons. Just a 10-minute drive across the Ozama River from the Dominican capital, it’s a refreshing break for when you’ve had enough of the landmarks and sightseeing in the historic center of Zona Colonial.

    The crystal-clear and somewhat turquoise lagoons of this open-air, otherworldy limestone cave system do resemble bright “eyes”. The 3 eyes are named Aguas Azufradas, La Nevera, and Las Damas. You can spare time to see the 4th eye, Los Zaramagullones, reachable by boat.

    Location: C. Marginal Las Americas Este, Santo Domingo Este 11604, Dominican Republic

    Open: Daily from 8.30 am to 5.30 pm

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    9

    Samana Bay

    Beautiful seascapes with spectacular whale breachings

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    Samana Bay (Bahía de Samaná) is a scenic waterway on the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic that’s best known as a rendezvous spot for humpback whales. The bay is part of the so-called Sanctuary for Marine Mammals of the Dominican Republic, which was established back in 1996.

    The highest likelihood of seeing these magnificent cetaceans breaching the surface off Samana is during the winter mating season, from December to March. Besides going on a whale-spotting tour, some of the other coastal towns from where you can often see them breach include Punta Balandra with its Observatorio de Ballenas outlook and Las Galeras on the opposite north of the peninsula.

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    10

    Mercado Modelo

    Santo Domingo’s longstanding market

    Shopping at Mercado Modelo in Santo Domingo is a feast for the eyes as various stalls present an array of colorful souvenirs, local crafts, and jewelry. The indoor market is also known as the Dominican capital’s largest – you’ll likely spend hours treasure-hunting inside. There are also plenty of stalls selling food and refreshments for when you need a pause after a hard bargain.

    You might remember the opening scene from Jurassic Park (1993) depicting a prehistoric mosquito stuck in amber. That’s one of the most sought-after jewelry items in the country – simply known as Dominican amber. This is a great starting point to find this unique, beautiful, and precious fossilized resin – either combined with gold and silver or in its pure form.

    Location: Av. Mella, Santo Domingo 10211, Dominican Republic

    Open: Monday–Friday from 9 am to 6 pm, Sunday from 7 am to 1 pm (closed on Saturdays)

    Phone: +1 809-750-0000

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    Ari Gunadi | Compulsive Traveler

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