Things to Do in Dominican Republic
The national park-protected Saona Island (or Isla Saona) lies just off the southern coast of the Dominican Republic.
Lovely beaches fringe this remote slice of heaven, with the best swimming at Mano Juan and Punta Gorda. It’s an ideal beach getaway for a day’s excursion by catamaran.
The population numbers little more than 300 lucky souls, and beach and eco-touring activities are the main drawcards, along with the island’s lagoons, caves and offshore snorkeling.
The island measures around 15 miles long by 3 miles wide (25 kilometers by 5 kilometers).
Clear blue waters and white sandy beaches make Macao an ideal spot to experience the real Caribbean. Because it’s public, this beach attracts both far-off travelers and close-to-home locals. Visitors won’t have to worry about aggressive vendors or crowded shores, either, making this an ideal spot for a peaceful morning stroll or an active outdoor afternoon.
Travelers can lounge in the sand, boogie board or learn to surf near Macao Beach’s bigger breakers. And for those who prefer to stay dry on land and keep out of the water, an afternoon horseback ride still offers stunning coastal views and fresh saltwater air, without the hassle of getting wet.
The newest cruise port in the Dominica Republic is Amber Cove, near the northern coast town of Puerta Plata. Built by the Carnival cruise line, Amber Cove opened in November 2015, and it’s a convenient jumping off spot for all kinds of activities, from snorkeling trips to ATV adventures in the nearby mountains. This area of the county is famous as the spot where Christopher Columbus first settled in the New World, and it’s also known for an abundance of amber, a rare orange jewel stone from ancient, petrified tree sap. The cove’s welcome center has myriad shops, bars and restaurants, along with a Sky Bar perched on a 60-foot hill, where visitors can get an overhead view of the port.
If you’re wondering what it was like several centuries ago on the island of the Dominican Republic, then you should head to Altos de Chavón, a recreated 16th-century village built in La Romana near the Chavón River. Sculpted in stone, the site is an impressive example of what a Mediterranean-inspired village would have looked like on the island long ago.
Construction began in 1976 with the goal of having Altos de Chavón serve as a center for Dominican Republic culture. The site was created using the local handiwork of the people of the island; much of the stonework and metal carvings seen here were handcrafted by local artisans, which continues to draw attention to the craftwork that was once so prominent in island life. Much of Altos de Chavón is made of stone, and its coastal location provides a dramatic and inspiring backdrop. Visitors to Altos de Chavón will find restaurants, shops and even a 5,000-seat amphitheater where concerts and other performances are held.
This tiny island just 1.5 miles off the mainland provides a peaceful respite for those looking to escape the hustle of Dominican Republic’s busier city streets. Most hotels offer shuttle buses to boat docks. A reasonable ride delivers passengers to the sand dunes, mangroves and coral reefs that make this island a destination for visitors. Avid divers will enjoy weaving in and out of the numerous reefs that surround Isla Cantina. Stingrays and tropical fish are a near guarantee here. Less experienced water lovers can spend the day snorkeling in some of the clearest waters this country has to offer.
The privately run 1,500 acre (600 hectare) Punta Cana Ecological Park protects coastal and inland habitats. Around 80 species of birds live here, along with more than 500 types of plants. Within the park is the Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park, named for the crystal-clear freshwater lagoons (called ‘eyes’) that run underground to emerge near the sea. Trails lead around the park, or you can take a guided tour. Tours on horseback go through the park and along the coast.
The Caribbean is known for its brilliant colors and vibrant culture. Travelers to Dominican Republic will find this to be especially true amid the lively streets of Santo Domingo, where the country’s urban center is ripe with the smells and sounds of Latin America.
But visitors who venture to Zona Colonial—one of the city’s most historic neighborhoods—will find a tiny enclave filled with traditional European-style architecture, well-kept parks, cobblestone streets and artistic nods to great adventurers.
A mighty bronze statue of Christopher Columbus sits at the center of Parque Colon, and nearby Calle Las Damas is the oldest paved road in the New World. These historic sites, paired with incredible architecture unlike anywhere in Santo Domingo, are just part of what make Zona Colonial a popular destination for travelers looking to escape the hustle of the city, as well as those who want to experience the nation’s capital as it used to be.
Los Tres Ojos—one of Santo Domingo’s most unique attractions—is an open-air limestone cave that’s home to three beautiful lakes. A nearby underground river feeds water to these brilliantly colored ponds that are accessible on foot or by boat. Travelers can explore the blue, green and yellow waters that are rich with indigenous wildlife that were once a source of survival for the first inhabitants of Hispaniola. An impressive network of stalagmites and stalactites surround the lakes, which travelers say makes a visit to Los Tres Ojos feel like stepping into another world.
Like much of this capital city, Faro a Colon, a bold and imposing cross-shaped structure, serves as a tribute to one of the world’s most famous explorers. Built in a style that’s more urban office building than coastal treasure, this mausoleum and museum does have one distinct feature that’s responsible for its namesake. Columbus Lighthouse projects a unique cross-shaped beam with a light so bright it can be seen from the shores of Puerto Rico.
Travelers who venture to this concrete structure can explore a vast collection of Columbian jewelry, an ancient boat from Cuba and what locals say are the remains of Christopher Columbus.
More Things to Do in Dominican Republic
This UNESCO World Heritage site located in Santo Domingo’s Colonial Zone, is the oldest Viceroy residency in all of the Americas. Once the home of the famous Columbus family, the symmetrical structure was built by the famous explorers son is 1515.
This historic site, which is now home to the Museo Alcazar de Diego Colon, was once an architectural constellation of fifty rooms, gardens and courtyards. While this once impressive palace is today approximately half the size, the artifacts, tapestries and documents on display in the museum showcase a rich and colorful history that grants travelers a deeper understanding of the culture and stories of Santo Domingo, as well as one of the world’s most well-known explorers.
Calle de las Damas is one of the Colonial Zone’s most picturesque destinations. The cobblestone street—said to be the first ever in the New World—is lined with classic Spanish-style houses and beautiful European churches that are a nod to the city’s ancient past. Travelers can venture back in time as they wander past Fortaleza Ozama, Calle El Conde and Hoeyl Sofitel—the first solar clock on the continent. While the scenic street is worth checking out, visitors agree that the surrounding shops, quiet restaurants and colonial charm make Calle de las Damas.
Whether it’s hiking up the rugged terrain of Dominican Republic’s tallest falls on foot or riding horseback through the steep mountain passes, a trip to the El Limón waterfall is a quintessential Dominican Republic experience. Crested mountaintops stretch some 2,100 feet into the sky, and tropical plants, like coffee and cocoa, line trails that lead to the impressive cascade. And if picturesque Caribbean landscape isn't enough, a crystal-clear natural pool at the foot of the falls offers tired travelers the perfect place to cool off after a hot mountain hike.
Hidden in a lush jungle, the Damajagua Falls are a series of 27 cascading waterfalls only discovered as recently as the early 1990s. You can climb, jump off and slide down this natural, watery assault course, which can become treacherous after heavy rain.
The best way to see the falls is on a tour. Tour guides will take you as far as the 7th waterfall and will provide you with appropriate safety equipment, such as helmets and life jackets. It is possible to explore further than the 7th waterfall but you will need to arrange your own transport from Puerto Plata and a guide and safety equipment upon arrival at the falls.
Playa Dorada is one of the most popular beaches in the Puerto Plata area. Here you will find a number of the major resorts along its shoreline. The gated community features around a dozen luxury resorts and hotels that border the Amber Coast.
If you are not staying along the bay of Playa Dorada, one of the best ways to experience the area is from the water. Take a catamaran tour along the North Coast from Playa Dorada to the Bay of Sosua. If the idea of spending an afternoon on a boat isn’t appealing, resorts along Playa Dorada rent watersports equipment. Try your hand at windsurfing, kayaking, sailing or parasailing. The waters at Playa Dorada are crystal clear and the shallow, sloping beach makes it a popular spot for families with small children. You can go snorkeling right off the beach with coral reefs only a short swim away.
Fort San Felipe was built in 1564 by order of Philip II of Spain and is Puerto Plata's oldest surviving building. It was a formidable construction, designed to strike fear into any would-be-invader's heart. Its 2m- (7ft) thick walls, squat doorways and moat filled with sharp coral and swords served to keep people out and, when the fort later became a prison, worked just as effectively at keeping people in - including one of its most notable captives - Juan Pablo Duarte, who served time here in 1844.
The tower contains a small museum of wartime artifacts such as guns, artillery shells, and cannonballs. Fort San Felipe's main attraction, however, is its sweeping views across the Atlantic.
Travelers looking to dance the night away while sipping strong tropical cocktails under flashing lights with thumping beats will love the classic island party experience at CoCo Bongo Punta Cana.
This lively disco combines the best of a Las Vegas stage show with the music and dance floor of a contemporary club. Every night feels like Saturday night at CoCo Bongo, and guests can opt for VIP packages that include prime seating and skip-the-line options. Whether it’s the first stop of the night, or the last stop in Dominican Republic, CoCo Bongo guarantees a fun, memorable and entertaining night out!
Housed in a fine Victorian mansion with an interesting history of its own, the Amber Museum (Museo de Ambar Dominicano) is worth a visit to see some rare and fascinating amber pieces and to understand more about this semi-precious gem.
Formed out of the fossilized resin of ancient trees some 25 to 40 million years ago, the resin (that in its pressed form becomes amber) perfectly preserved whatever it covered. Amber-covered fossils, such as insects and plant remains are still being discovered today.
There are thousands of specimens at the Amber Museum, but one of its finest has to be a perfectly conserved 40cm (15.8in) lizard encased in a 42.5cm (16.7in) length of amber.
The entire collection has good bi-lingual signage and English and Spanish-speaking guides are available to take you through the museum and relay the story of the Bentz family, the original owners of the mansion.
In a diverse city with streets that vary from colonial cobblestone to well-worn dirt paths, the bustling square of Columbus Park proves iconic, with an energy that unifies old world Santo Domingo with contemporary Dominican Republic.
Once known as Plaza Mayor, the square was renamed after its towering sculpture of Christopher Columbus in the late 1800s. The historic park is a popular gathering place for travelers looking to people watch and locals looking for a bit of relaxation come mid-afternoon. Columbus Park’s close proximity to landmarks like the Catedral de Santa Maria la Menor, the Municipal Palace and the old commercial district known as Calle del Conde, make it the perfect place to kick off a day in the city’s old Colonial Zone.
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