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Things to Do in Dominican Republic

There’s far more to the Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic than sandy beaches and rum bars. Simultaneously Caribbean, colonial, and cultural, the country also boasts a diverse array of natural landscapes, with scenery that oscillates between fertile farmland, forest-shrouded waterfalls, and majestic mountains. Punta Cana, the country’s easternmost tip, entices travelers with idyllic beaches and luxury resorts. It’s also an ideal launching point for a handful of adventurous day trips, and active travelers will love the variety of recreation-based tours available. Explore off-road terrain in a dune buggy, take a catamaran cruise to Saona Island, go for a swim at El Limon Waterfall, or careen through the treetops on one of the longest ziplining circuits in the Caribbean. Tours to Catalina Island, where you can snorkel above a pristine coral reef, depart from Punta Cana, too. The island capital of Santo Domingo, home to a colonial Old Town that’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is just two hours from Punta Cana. Sightseeing tours that include transportation allow visitors to hit many of its top attractions such as Calle de las Damas, Columbus Lighthouse, and Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor (Catedral Primada de América) in one day. Santo Domingo is also a logical gateway to Lago Enriquillo and Isla Cabritos National Park (inhabited by crocodiles, flamingos, and iguanas), and tours that combine both mean you don’t have to choose between them.
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Saona Island (Isla Saona)
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Saona Island (Isla Saona) is the Dominican Republic's largest coastal island, clocking in at 15 miles (25 kilometers) long and three miles (5 kilometers) wide, with a population of little more than 300. Part of the National Park of the East, the island features plenty of photo-worthy white sands, swaying palm trees, and turquoise waters.

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Damajagua Falls (27 Charcos)
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Hidden in a lush Dominican Republic jungle, Damajagua Falls—otherwise known as the 27 Waterfalls of Rio Damajagua or 27 Charcos—are a series of 27 cascading waterfalls that were discovered in the 1990s. Located in the midst of sugarcane fields in the Northern Corridor mountain range, the hidden falls are a true off-the-beaten-path experience.

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El Limón Waterfall (Cascada El Limón)
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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 (Cascada El Limón) 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.

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Columbus Lighthouse (Faro a Colón)
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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.

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Macao Beach (Playa Macao)
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Macao Beach (Playa Macao) is one of the Punta Cana region’s least-crowded public beaches, set away from most resort hotels. A favorite among locals, this stretch of white sand is considered one of the Dominican Republic’s most beautiful coastal escapes, with clear blue waters and a beach break known for its surf-friendly waves.

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Los Tres Ojos National Park
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Los Tres OjosNational Park—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.

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Los Haitises National Park
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Los Haitises National Park is a hidden gem full of fascinating caverns, unspoiled beaches, and mangrove forests. Visit to enjoy hiking, kayaking, and caving, as well as some of the Dominican Republic’s best bird watching. The park is also home to caves full of carvings made by indigenous Taíno Indians.

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Ciudad Colonial (Zona Colonial)
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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 Ciudad Colonial (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.

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Alcázar de Colón (Columbus Palace)
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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.

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Samaná Bay
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Samaná Bay is the heart of the Samana region in the far northeast of the Dominica Republic. Along its shores, you’ll find the famed Los Haitises National Park, protected tropical forest where you can explore caverns adorned with native Taino petroglyphs, spectacular tree covered islets, and idyllic mangrove lagoons. The bay itself is also a popular attraction for divers and snorkelers, and during the winter months it becomes a gathering point for migrating humpback whales, which come here from cooler climes to mate and birth their calves. During this time, whale watching tours practically guarantee sightings of these massive marine mammals as the jump and play at the water’s surface.

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More Things to Do in Dominican Republic

Amber Cove

Amber Cove

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Amber Cove is one of the newest cruise ports in the Caribbean, but its nearby attractions are far from rookie. Built by Carnival Cruise Lines for the use of their cruise ships along with other large-capacity liners and located on the Dominican Republic’s so-called Amber Coast, Amber Cove is the gateway to Puerto Plata, a popular Dominican Republic vacation destination.

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Hoyo Azul Lagoon

Hoyo Azul Lagoon

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Don’t let the name fool you, because Hoyo Azul Lagoon has more to offer than its simple moniker belies. This famous turquoise-water cenote (natural pool) in Punta Cana—the unexpected existence of which at the base of a 200-foot (61-meter) cliff surprises and delights visitors—is one of the Dominican Republic’s top destinations for the swimming, ziplining, nature tours, and other nearby activities.

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Bavaro Beach (Playa Bavaro)

Bavaro Beach (Playa Bavaro)

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In Punta Cana, an idyllic resort town on the Dominican Republic’s east coast, all roads lead to Bavaro Beach (Playa Bavaro). Visitors flock to this beach not just for its aquamarine waters, white-sand strip, and coconut palm forest, but also for its abundance of fun—from water activities to watering holes.

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Dorada Beach (Playa Dorada)

Dorada Beach (Playa Dorada)

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Dorada Beach (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 Dorada Beach (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.

If you want to experience more than a day on the beach, Dorada Beach (Playa Dorada) has a number of options to keep you busy. Go shopping at the plaza, which features boutiques, restaurants and a cinema. There is also an 18-hole golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones. Other non-beach activities include an equestrian center and several casinos. Playa Dorada is also home to the Caribbean’s biggest go-kart center, complete with three tracks.

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National Palace

National Palace

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The city of Santo Domingo is one of the oldest in the Caribbean, however the National Palace isn’t a colonial-era structure. Instead it harkens to a different, more recent period of the Dominican Republics history. The National Palace was built in the 1940s during the reign of the DR’s famously brutal dictator Rafael Trujillo. The National Palace is still in use as the seat of the DR’s government and the offices of the president, so it is not generally open to the public. However, visitors can explore the outside and take photos of the building’s impressive architecture.

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Calle Las Damas

Calle Las Damas

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Calle 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 Las Damas.

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Sosua Beach (Playa Sosua)

Sosua Beach (Playa Sosua)

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Located between Puerto Plata’s resorts and the surf town of Cabarete in the Dominican Republic, Sosúa Beach(Playa Sosua) is a pristine stretch of sand famous for excellent diving and snorkeling. With white sand fringed with trees and calm waters ideal for swimming, it’s a relaxing spot popular with families and day-trippers.

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Cayo Levantado (Bacardi Island)

Cayo Levantado (Bacardi Island)

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Travelers looking for a true piece of paradise will love the remote tropical island of Cayo Levantado (Bacardi Island). Home to a beautiful luxury hotel, white sandy beaches, lush rainforest and incredible snorkeling and diving, Cayo Levantado is a true Caribbean experience.

Sip tall tropical drinks beachside or dance the night away to one of the energetic local salsa bands. Wander the hillsides for epic views of the surrounding ocean, then comb through local gift shops for interesting finds to commemorate a trip to one of Dominican Republic’s most

incredible islands. Later, relax in one of the handmade hammocks while the ocean breeze lulls you to sleep.

While the island is a perfect escape from the hustle of the Dominican Republic’s more urban cities, there’s still plenty to do, see and experience. Outdoor enthusiasts can kayak, snorkel, rent pedal

boats and even get up close with friendly sea lions.

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Catalina Island (Isla Catalina)

Catalina Island (Isla Catalina)

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Tiny Catalina Island (Isla Catalina), just 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) off the Dominican Republic’s mainland, is an idyllic sandy speck in the turquoise Caribbean waters. Known for its well-populated coral reefs, Catalina is a peaceful respite for those looking to escape bustling Punta Cana and La Romana.

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Santiago de los Caballeros

Santiago de los Caballeros

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Santiago de los Caballeros, or simply Santiago, is located in the Cibao Valley, and with nearly 1 million residents, it’s the second-largest city in the Dominican Republic. Santiago’s origins date back to 1495, when Christopher Columbus built a fort on the banks of the Yaque del Norte River. Santiago was once named Santiago de los Treinta Caballeros (Saint James of the 30 Knights), a nod to the 30 Spanish aristocrats who helped form the original community.

Many people refer to Santiago as the “heart city,” as it’s located at the center of what was once Hispaniola. Santiago has a large arts and culture scene. Do not miss the Museo del Tabaco (Cigar Museum), where visitors can learn about the art of making cigars and purchase some of the most famous brands. Other museums of note include Museo Folklórico Yoryi Morel, which features exhibits related to Santiago’s Carnival, and Museo Histórtico Fortaleza San Luis, which once served as a municipal prison.

Sports are also a popular aspect of life in Santiago. Baseball and basketball are the most popular sports in the city. A number of notable Major League Baseball players are originally from the Dominican Republic. Fertile lands in the region support Santiago. Items like cigarettes, rum, furniture, soaps, leather goods and pharmaceuticals are produced in this region. Foods like cacao, dairy, coffee and milled rice are also staples in Santiago. While not typically a tourist destination, the city is seeing a slight increase in tourism.

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Fort San Felipe (Fortaleza San Felipe)

Fort San Felipe (Fortaleza San Felipe)

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Built under the orders of King Philip II of Spain, Fort San Felipe(Fortaleza San Felipe) has been guarding the waters off Puerto Plata for more than 450 years. It was designed to protect the town from pirates as well as European invaders and later served as a prison. Today visitors come to tour the ruins and to enjoy the sweeping sea views from its ramparts.

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Coco Bongo Punta Cana

Coco Bongo Punta Cana

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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!

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Columbus Park (Parque Colon)

Columbus Park (Parque Colon)

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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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Amber Museum (Museo Del Ámbar)

Amber Museum (Museo Del Ámbar)

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Dominican amber is considered to be some of the finest and clearest in the world. Housed in a Victorian-era mansion that once belonged to a wealthy local family, Puerto Plata’s Amber Museum (Museo Del Ámbar) has an extensive collection of the semi-precious gemstone.

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