Content Produced in Partnership with the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism
If you me, you know lazy days at the beach are not my jam. I like to cram as many activities as possible into a vacation to feel like I really get to know a place’s vibe and soul. If sunning and funning are your thing, you certainly can have that kind of vacation in the DR, but you’d be doing yourself a huge disservice if you never left the hotel. In fact, many Dominican Republic vacation spots exist beyond the beachfront, all-inclusive resorts of popular Punta Cana. You just have to know where to look.
Beyond the beaches, things to do in the Dominican Republic are largely unknown. Comprised of 32 providences, it’s the only island in the world that has two separate nations on one piece of land it shares with neighboring Haiti. To fully immerse yourself in the food, history and adventure scene, you need at least a few weeks to get off the beaten path. Instead of soaking up the sun, soak up the culture. I promise you won’t leave disappointed.
Here’s a quick rundown of where to go, see and do.
The walled colonial district of the country’s capital is a little weathered and rough around the edges, but that’s exactly what gives it character. Buildings look like a blend of colorful Cuban-esque facades with subtle European touches – Juliette balconies, cascading flower garlands, and street lamps aplenty, influenced by the original Spanish settlers. It’s a real city in that there’s technically no beach (although you can drive 15-minutes to neighboring Boca Chica), but historic buildings, ruins, and more restaurants than you can count supplement the lack of sand.
Do: Hail an Uber Moto for a motorbike tour of the city, visit Los Tres Ojos National Park, or simply wander the streets snapping photos of the colorful homes. If you’re into architecture, tour the properties of Casas del XVI, a collection of restored 16th-century historic homes appointed by renowned local designer Patricia Reed.
Stay: Hodelpa Nicolas de Ovando is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a fusion of three historic properties, one the former residence of the governor. It is centrally located on “Las Damas” Street, which was famously the first paved road in the New World.
Eat: Jalao, TIME Vegetarian Kitchen, and Mason de Bari offer a good mix of traditional Dominican classics and contemporary fare.
The second largest city in the country, Puerto Plata was the first European settlement in the Americas. A gem on the North Coast, the area looks like the Jungle Book come to life with sprawling lush tropical rainforests and the tallest mountain in the Caribbean.
Do: Wander the main plaza where you’ll be greeted by festive Caribbean tunes and costumed characters. This is also where Christopher Columbus famously landed in 1492. Learn to roll cigars or tour a rum factory. Bike the Malecon. Ride the Teleferico (cable car) up to the Botanic Gardens for sweeping city views (there is also a replica of Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer statue there). Take a speedboat to snorkel the crystal clear waters of “Paradise Island” in Cayo Arena, a small private sand bar that’s only accessible part of the year. You can also boat through the mangrove trees in search of crabs and other sea creatures. If you have time, make the trek to the 27 Falls of Damajagua where you can climb up and rappel down the impressive waterfalls.
Stay: Casa Colonial Beach & Spa is part of the small luxury hotels collection, one of the best boutique properties in the world.
Eat: At the hotel! Seriously, their food and private wine cellar are amazing.
Sosua and Cabarete
Two beach towns with slightly different vibes, the north coast of the Dominican Republic is on the Atlantic Ocean (not the Caribbean) so expect winds and weather ideal for water sports. Sousa was a major hub to welcome Jewish settlers after the Holocaust, so it holds a special place in my heart.
Do: Try windsurfing or kite boarding, the areas most popular adventure sports. Visit the Monkey Jungle where you can zip line and feed the adorable primates as they climb and crawl all over you for an epic selfie. Opt to horseback ride along the beach at sunset or simply relish the sand.
Stay: If you’ve ever dreamed of living the villa life, Sousa Ocean Village’s private residences will have you living the luxe life. Equipped with their own plunge pools, cabanas, outdoor showers, and golf carts, the exquisitely maintained property looks like a gated community straight out of the Real Housewives.
Eat: Make a beach picnic or dine at one of the many oceanfront restaurants along the water.