Palm-fringed white sandy beaches, turquoise water and unique UNESCO sights – the Dominican Republic has sights to fill any kind of itinerary. Besides being the perfect beach destination, adventure and nature lover, as well as culture enthusiasts, will find plenty of things to get excited about!
Apart from visiting the best beaches in the Dominican Republic, this guide will help you discover the island’s most beautiful colonial towns and UNESCO World Heritage sights as well as top foodie spots! It’s the kind of place where every corner holds a new adventure, whether you’re craving some serious beach time or eager to dive into its rich history.
I recommend a 2-week itinerary for the Dominican Republic to see the famous east coast of Punta Cana but also explore Santo Domingo and the north around Cabarete.
What to Know Before Visiting the Dominican Republic
Dominican Republic: Best Time to Visit
You’re in luck because the Dominican Republic is a year-round destination! But if you want to skip the rainy season and bask in the sunshine, aim for November to April. My experience is based on visiting in January, and it was a glorious time with blue skies, warm but not too hot days of summer bliss.
One of the things that make the Dominican Republic special is its vibrant and diverse culture. Influences from African, Taino indigenous, and Spanish heritage have shaped the country’s traditions, music, and cuisine. It’s this mix that makes the Dominicans known for their warm hospitality and love for music and dance, especially merengue and bachata.
Especially Santo Domingo, the capital city, boasts the first European settlement in the Americas. With its stunning UNESCO-listed colonial architecture and landmarks like the Columbus Lighthouse and Alcazar de Colon, the capital is a must-visit on every Dominican Republic itinerary!
How to Get to the Dominican Republic
Many airlines offer direct flights to the Dominican Republic from major cities worldwide. Depending on your location, you may find direct flights from cities like New York, Miami, Toronto, Frankfurt, Madrid, Paris, and Buenos Aires, among others. Flight durations vary depending on your departure point, but flights from North America typically range from 2 to 5 hours.
Pro Tip: Take Wingo – a local low-cost carrier if you want to continue your Latin America journey to Colombia for example.
How Many Days Are Enough for the Dominican Republic
The island offers a diverse range of experiences and the time spent on the island also depends on your budget. For those seeking a relaxing beach getaway, plan for 7-8 days to soak up the sun and enjoy the luxurious resorts plus a trip to Santo Domingo.
However, if you’re after a more comprehensive island trip, consider extending your stay to at least two weeks. This allows ample time to explore the country’s rich cultural heritage in cities like Santo Domingo, embark on eco-tours and hiking adventures in national parks, and indulge in outdoor activities on the North Coast.
Wifi & Staying Connected
In the Dominican Republic, connectivity options are plentiful, with free Wi-Fi available in many hotels, restaurants, and public areas. However, the quality and reliability of free Wi-Fi can vary, especially in more remote or rural areas. For a more consistent and reliable connection, purchasing a local SIM card or using eSIM services like Airalo can be beneficial – especially the longer you stay!
Explore the Dominican Republic: Itinerary to See the Island’s Gems
The east coast beaches of the Dominican Republic, particularly in Punta Cana, are truly some of the most stunning you’ll ever visit. Renowned for their pristine white sands, and crystal-clear turquoise waters, they also boast gentle waves – ideal for swimming.
Besides offering ideal conditions for snorkeling, and relaxation, these beaches are perfect to explore the abundant marine life and even a few waterfalls!
Punta Cana (1-4 days)
Bavaro Beach in Punta Cana has to be one of the best beaches in the Dominican Republic. Located near some of the best resorts on the island, it’s known for its stunning beauty, with powdery white sands, and crystal-clear turquoise waters – including swaying palm trees lining the shore.
Its calm waters also make it ideal for sports activities such as snorkeling, paddleboarding, kayaking, and jet skiing. Head out at night and you’ll find some fantastic beach bars serving happy hour and a peak into local life.
Bavaro Beach is open to everyone, so it’s not a private beach. While some parts may be connected to resorts, most of the beach is accessible to the public. Plus point for having so many palm trees – you can enjoy the shade without splurging on a sun umbrella!
Playa de Cortesito is a true gem offering a lovely escape from the hustle and bustle of tourist areas. It still features soft white sands, clear turquoise waters, and proper palm tree coverage anywhere you go! This area is less about the All Inclusive Resorts, and more about smaller hotels, Airbnb, or Condos.
The beach is dotted with beach bars, restaurants, and vendors selling some colourful beach sari and local jewelry. Here you’ll also the some of the best sunrises!
Because of the area, you’ll have some nice options of beach bars, restaurants and even a few supermarkets. Therefore, it feels a bit more authentic and suitable for independent travelers. This could be a great area if you’re on a budget but don’t want to compromise on the best beaches the Dominican Republic has to offer.
Saona Island (1 Day)
Located on the southeastern tip of the Dominican Republic, you’ll find a palm-fringed island with a white sandy beach. The scenery is hands-down like something that’s out of a postcard. The sea has various shades of turquoise, it’s so clear you can see the ground.
I recommend joining a tour to Saona Island for the best experience! The starting point is Bahiya Beach, and you’ll be transported onto a Speedboat or Catamaran for the hour-long journey to Soana Island. There’ll be an open bar and dancing involved – so be prepared.
The first stop happened to be a real-life swimming pool aka a sandbank that’s about one meter deep and gorgeous. Usually, this is where you can find starfish, however we didn’t encounter any. You’ll probably spend around 30-45 minutes there before you’ll continue to Sanoa Island.
Once on the island, you’ll have about 2.30 hours of free time before returning. The full-day tour includes a sumptuous buffet lunch and a dedicated zone with sunbeds and chairs. Below the palm trees, you can relax in a hammock, have another dip in the ocean and more so than not, hide in the shade.
However, seeing this picture-perfect ocean, makes this one of the best beaches in the Dominican Republic any day. It’s one of the most gorgeous tourist sights you’ll see on the island!
If you are spending some time in Punta Cana or La Romana, I’d totally recommend visiting Saona Island.
Best Hotels to Stay in Punta Cana
Lopesan Costa Bavaro Resort Spa & Casino – the 5-star all-inclusive hotel lies on the popular Bavaro Beach and features some incredible amenities. Besides a champagne welcome greeting and having a swim-up suite with large double beds, you can enjoy access to a private beach and your own concierge. The resort is blessed with a multilevel infinity pool, 2 buffet restaurants that overlook the ocean, 6 restaurants to choose from or hop between and even an ice cream shop! This was a sponsored stay and we got upgraded with the UNIQUE – an experience that allows you added benefits during your stay.
Green Coast Boutique Hotel is a fantastic option near Playa Cortecito and great if you’re on a budget. The hotel is conveniently located just off the beach, yet allowing you to have your meals by their beachfront restaurant. The rooms are simple but clean and nice – decent options for the Dominican Republic and the area you’ll be in.
Where to Eat in Punta Cana
If you’re staying in hotels on a half-board basis, don’t worry – there are still some fantastic restaurants to choose from!
Citrus Fusion Cuisine – this new kid on the block was an absolute delight. The gorgeous modern interior, great selection of sushi, and fantastic quality of food make this buzzing restaurant one of my favorite.
Pastrata Mexican Restaurant is a great and affordable place for dinner or lunch. We went back twice to eat the fish tacos and enchiladas. It’s a solid and cheerful place that’s not overpriced and provides a pleasant experience.
Ramon Cafeteria is a lovely coffee place near Corelito Beach and serve some great refreshments. I wouldn’t say it’s the best coffee, but acceptable.
Sunset Drinks at Onno’s Punta Cana is a fantastic cute little beach bar that’s ideal for getting a drink for sunset. Bonus points for seeing a wonderful sunset from the bar!
Santo Domingo (1-3 days)
Santo Domingo is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the Americas, founded by Bartholomew Columbus, brother of Christopher Columbus, in 1496. Its Colonial Zone (Zona Colonial) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, boasting well-preserved Spanish colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, and historic landmarks.
If you’re a lover of Colonial architecture and colorful cute buildings, you’re at the right place! Despite being the capital, the Zona Colonial feels more like a small town and is easy to see and a day or two. However, because it’s such a relaxed place, I spent over 5 days here and still found new corners and gems every time!
Beyond its historical charm, Santo Domingo is a modern city with bustling commercial districts, upscale shopping malls, and contemporary amenities. The cityscape of Downtown is dotted with skyscrapers, luxury hotels, and trendy restaurants and bars. It’s a place that caters to both locals and tourists alike.
Alcázar de Colón
Built in the early 16th century, this grand palace was once the residence of Diego Columbus, son of Christopher Columbus, and his family. Today, it serves as a museum showcasing period furnishings, artwork, and artifacts, offering insight into the colonial era. Its sheer size makes it quite an impressive sight to see and has to be included in this Dominican Republic Itinerary!
The Ruins of the Hospital of San Nicolás de Bari
The Hospital of San Nicolás de Bari is often regarded as the first hospital established in the New World – dating back to the early 16th century. Built by Spanish colonialists, these ruins offer a glimpse into the city’s rich history and architectural heritage. Today, you can explore the site’s stone walls and archways, surrounded by lush greenery in the heart of the Colonial Zone.
Keen to learn more about its history? This half-day tour is ideal for culture lovers!
Catedral Primada de América (First Cathedral of the Americas)
This impressive cathedral, dating back to the early 16th century, is the oldest in the Americas. Its Gothic and Plateresque architectural styles make it a stunning sight both inside and out. I’d encourage you to look closer at its intricate facade, grand interior, and historic artifacts.
To make the most out of your time in Santo Domingo, check out this full-day tour covering the Zona Colonial, Tres Ojos and the Alcazar Colon.
Parque Colón (Columbus Park)
Located in the heart of the Colonial Zone, this bustling square is named after Christopher Columbus and features a statue of the explorer at its center. Surrounding the park are historic buildings, sidewalk cafes, and vendors selling local crafts, creating a lively atmosphere day and night. Furthermore, here you’ll find street artists playing music and some of the more touristy restaurants.
Fortaleza Ozama (Ozama Fortress)
Perched on a bluff overlooking the Ozama River, this imposing fortress dates back to the early 16th century. The Ozama Fortress played a crucial role in protecting the city from pirate attacks back in the days. Now, you can freely explore its massive stone walls, battlements, and dungeons while enjoying panoramic views of the surrounding area.
Plaza de España (Spain Square)
The picturesque Plaza de España is bordered by elegant colonial buildings and offers views of the Caribbean Sea. It’s a popular spot for locals and tourists alike to relax, people-watch, and soak up the ambiance of the Colonial Zone.
Nearby you’ll find a bunch of upscale restaurants and outdoor seating and a lively vibe in the afternoon.
Los Tres Ojos (The Three Eyes National Park)
Tres Ojos, meaning “Three Eyes,” is a captivating natural wonder located near Santo Domingo’s Colonial Zone. It was on my bucket list for a while and it has to be part of every travellers Dominican Republic itinerary. It comprises interconnected limestone caves with three main lakes, adorned with stalactites and stalagmites.
You can easily take a taxi out there or better, book a tour to check off various sights. If you don’t have an eSIM to call an Uber, getting back to the city is difficult and pricy. The impressive sight offers a glimpse into its geological and historical significance, including its use by the indigenous Taino people. The crystal-clear turquoise water makes this a unique natural sight, that is so close to Santo Domingo.
The Kahkow Experience in Santo Domingo shows you everything about the chocolate-making process, from cacao cultivation to chocolate creation. I’d recommend you book a tour to learn about cacao’s cultural significance and participate in hands-on workshops. This is the most fun part, making your chocolate! You’ll choose your preferred chocolate (milk, dark or white) and continue decorating it with all kinds of toppings. If that’s not your thing, you can still purchase artisanal chocolate products at the on-site boutique.
It’s a fun afternoon activity for all chocolate lovers – ideal to get a glimpse into the rich heritage of Dominican cacao.
Museum of the Royal Houses
It’s one of the most notable museums in Santo Domingo, located in the Colonial Zone. It showcases the history and culture of the Dominican Republic, particularly focusing on the colonial period. The museum is housed in a building that once served as the Spanish Court’s administrative center during colonial times. Inside, you can explore exhibits featuring artifacts, documents, and artwork related to the country’s colonial past.
Santo Domingo Best Hotels
Casas del XVI is a unique collection of Colonial houses boasting unique interiors, details and a hard-to-beat experience. Equipped with your personal concierge, you have access to a WhatsApp group that makes your stay so much more pleasant. From pre-ordering some of the most delicious breakfasts to getting advice on where to go – the hotel is impeccable. No room is the same and depending on the house, you’ll have a lovely garden area & pool – ideal to unwind from a day in town. My top recommendation for your Dominican Republic itinerary!
Hostal Gato Colonial is a fantastic option for budget and solo travelers. It’s located to the north of the Zona Colonial and still ideally located to walk around. It features are charming living room and common area, a kitchen and is quiet.
Santo Domingo Best Places to Eat and Drink
Maraca – this gem of a restaurant has some of the most elaborate dishes and drinks paired with incredible interior design. The place is always buzzing, and one of these unique restaurants that make you want to eat anything on the menu. Try to order as many small dishes as possible and try to Chocolate dessert.
Corner Cafe is situated near a wonderful church and colonial building, making it a relaxed place for coffee and cake.
Cabarete, situated on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, is a vibrant coastal town renowned for its stunning beaches, water sports, and lively atmosphere. Besides being the ‘Kiresurf Capital of the World’ it also is the area where most 5-star luxury resorts like Aman or Ani Private Resort are.
If you have an extra few days, I’d recommend including Cabarete in your Dominican Republic itinerary. From there you can even explore Puerto Plata more!
For all beach lovers, I recommend booking this full-day private beach tour to the region’s best-kept spots!
Cabarete boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean, with soft golden sands and crystal-clear turquoise waters. The main beach, Playa Cabarete, is a haven for sunbathers and water sports enthusiasts alike, offering ideal conditions for activities like windsurfing, kitesurfing, and stand-up paddleboarding. Expect it to be a bit more windy with bigger waves and less tropical vibes.
Known as the “Kiteboarding Capital of the World,” Cabarete attracts water sports enthusiasts from around the globe. The consistent trade winds and shallow waters make it an ideal spot for kiteboarding and windsurfing. Hence, this spot is perfect if you’re a beginner wanting to learn as well as advanced surfers.
This secluded beach offers a tranquil escape with crystal-clear turquoise waters, scenic cliffs, and golden sands. Because of its shape and location, it’s your best bet for a tranquil swim without the big waves! It’s truly a place that locals would frequent, especially in the afternoon. I loved it because it had this authentic vibe to it, lots of shade, and some of the tastiest pina coladas, served in a pineapple! There’s also a rustic beachfront restaurant that serves fresh seafood. This beach really is a must on any Dominican Republic itinerary!
The ride from Cabarete to Playa Caleton is about 1 hour more or less. If you go by public transport, you need to change buses in Rio San Juan and tell the driver where to drop you off. The walk from the road is about 15 minutes.
Known for its expansive stretch of soft white sand and pristine waters, Playa Grande is a paradise for beach lovers. The beach is surrounded by lush tropical vegetation and offers excellent swimming and surfing conditions. Here, you’ll find some simple but good restaurants offering fresh seafood and snacks. At the entrance is also a great bar that mixes some amazing pina coladas!
Go on a little walk to the nearby Playa Preciosa which is even more remote and unspoiled!
The ride from Cabarete to Playa Grande takes about 1.5 hours and you have to change buses in Rio San Juan. Hope on the next one towards Cabrera.
Best Places to Eat in Cabarete
Vagamundo Coffee & Waffles offers some of the most delicious waffle creations and epic coffee. It’s also the ideal place to work and enjoy an afternoon.
Gorditos Fresh Mex is your best bet for affordable, tasty burritos and Mexican food, with grand portions!
To see a wonderful sunset, head to Mojito Bar for – you guesses it – some of Cabarete’s best mojitos. It’s a lively beach bar and has fantastic vibes.
Best Hotel to Stay in Cabarete
Cita del Sol Apartments is a fantastic option if you plan to stay only a few days or a few weeks. The apartments are incredibly spacious, with fully stocked kitchen, living room and big bedroom. The staff helps with organizing a water bottle of 10L and is directly located in the center of Cabarete. A true gem I can highly recommend!
Presidential Suites Cabarete is the best luxury hotel you can find in town. Picture this: spacious suites with amazing ocean views, top-notch amenities, and the most comfortable vibes ever. Plus, they’ve got beachfront dining that’ll make for the best dinners!
I hope you get to experience the beauty of the island to it’s fullest and found this Dominican Republic itinerary helpful. It’s now been my 3rd time on the island, and I hope it won’t be the last!
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Things I Never Travel Without
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Travel Money Card
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