The Dominican Republic is one of the Caribbean's most geographically diverse countries, with stunning mountain scenery, desert scrublands, evocative colonial architecture, and beaches galore. Beyond the capital, much of the DR is distinctly rural: driving through the vast fertile interior, you’ll see cows and horses grazing alongside the roads, and trucks and burros loaded down with fresh produce. Further inland you’ll encounter vistas reminiscent of the European Alps, rivers carving their way through lush jungle and stunning waterfalls. Four of the five highest peaks in the Caribbean rise above the fertile lowlands surrounding Santiago, and remote deserts stretch through the southwest, giving the DR a physical and cultural complexity not found on other islands.
Culture & History
The country’s roller-coaster past is writ large in the physical design of its towns and cities. Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial exudes romance with its beautifully restored monasteries and cobblestone streets along which conquistadors once roamed. The crumbling gingerbread homes of Puerto Plata and Santiago remain from more prosperous eras, and scars from decades of misrule are marked by monuments where today people gather to celebrate. New communities have arisen only a few kilometers from the ruins where Christopher Columbus strode and where the indigenous Taíno people left traces of their presence carved onto rock walls.
The social glue of the DR is the all-night merengue that blasts from colmados (combined corner stores and bars), and this is true everywhere from the capital Santo Domingo to crumbling San Pedro de Macorís to Puerto Plata, where waves crash over the Malecón. Dominicans greatly appreciate their downtime and know how to party, as can be seen at Carnival celebrations held throughout the country and at each town's own distinctive fiesta. These events are windows into the culture, so take the chance to join the fun and elaborate feasts.
Dominican cooking is a cultural blend of Taino, Creole, European and African influences in an explosion of flavors rich in colors, condiments, and tastes. It is above all a simple and nourishing cuisine that is not highly spiced.
When it comes to meat, the goat is commonly used in stews - for example, chivo guisado (goat marinated in a mixture of herbs, lime juice, and rum). The goat meat here has a delicious flavor since the goats graze on wild oregano. Beef (res) and pork (cerdo) are also common. While Dominicans love long-simmered dishes, they also adore fried foods like pastelitos (little turnovers stuffed with beef, chicken or cheese...), platanos (plantain banana), and tostones (green plantain banana) always served at lunch, part of "La Bandera" (the flag), the traditional lunch including white rice, red beans (habichuelas) and meat.
On the seafood side, the shrimp, fished mainly in Samana Bay, is succulent. Crab and rock lobster are expensive and mostly reserved for tourists. The most common fishes found on market stalls are mahi-mahi, tuna, marlin, and tazar.
Soups are made even in the poorest households and constitute a unique part of Dominican cooking. You can also discover chicharones, pork rind marinated in the juice of bitter oranges, and cooked in its fat. Stop in at a pica pollo and try fried chicken prepared the local way, served with plantain.
The tiny town of Munoz on the outskirts of Puerto Plata might just be your new favorite destination in the Dominican Republic. Though most visitors to this city end up staying at any of the fancy, all-inclusive resorts that litter the beach-side, Munoz is about fifteen minutes away, and houses one of the best accommodations you’ll come across with some of the friendliest neighbors.
Santo Domingo is usually missed by most tourists as they fly in and out of the capital city of the Dominican Republic, but don’t stop to look around for a little while. Once you make your way out of the airport and into the center of the city, don’t be surprised if you fall in love with this beautiful cultural capital of the Caribbean. The streets are filled with artists, painters, musicians, and locals, all trying to sell their craft and get by; you’ll soon find that most of these painters or musicians are full-time professionals or former professionals.
Food vendors litter the streets alongside Michael Jackson impressionists; young couples courting one another frequently walk by hand-in-hand; old ladies sit around and gossip as the sun comes down and the streetlights turn on. This is easily one of the most magical places in the Dominican Republic, and it’s not on the beach.
Outdoors & Adventure
The north coast resort of Cabarete is known internationally as the windsurfing capital of the Americas and is the venue for the Cabarete Race Week and the Encuentra Classic, both major world competitions. If you’re starting, the scenic beach town Las Salinas along the southern coast has quietly become a center for windsurfing as well, with milder conditions and a small windsurfing club that’s used mostly by wealthy Dominicans.
Mountain resort town Jarabacoa, deep in the heart of the Cordillera Central, is the center for whitewater rafting and kayaking. Several tour operators with experienced guides run daily trips down the turbulent Río Yaque del Norte. You can also spend as long as a week kayaking through the Cordillera Central rivers on excursions from operators Rancho Baiguate and Iguana Mama. Jarabacoa, Cabarete, and Las Terrenas also have terrific opportunities for cascading (descending a rock face on elastic cords) down various waterfalls as high as 75m.
Another tempting outdoor option available is caving in
one of the numerous extensive systems throughout the island, many bearing vast
collections of Taino rock art. The
best hiking can be found along the five separate trails that lead from
disparate parts of the Cordillera Central to Pico Duarte, the highest peak in
Take a look at all the amazing destinations we have selected for you and your group, read our experiences and advice in our blog, and check what’s people saying about us too!