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Exploring a surprising side of the Dominican Republic

Last month I found myself on a trip in the beautiful Dominican Republic. I had been to the Caribbean many times over the last couple of years. However somehow, I had always skipped the Dominican Republic. Honestly? I thought it was going to be too touristy for me. I didn’t want to sit in an all-inclusive resort for 14 days not to see anything of the country. But when the tourism board of the Dominican Republic invited me over, I thought I gave it a try. Spoiler alert: it did not disappoint!

The colorful capital of Santo Domingo

I spent my first days in Santo Domingo, capital of the Dominican Republic. Fun fact: did you know Santo Domingo is officially called Santo Domingo de Guzman? No joke! It’s a large city with over a million inhabitants, but it’s really in the old city centre that you want to be. Santo Domingo is one of the Caribbean’s oldest cities, and the Zona Colonial looks like it hasn’t changed a bit since then, in a good way! I love strolling down on the cobblestone streets and finding new colorful alleyways.

During the nights, Plaza de España is where you want to be for a super delicious local dinner in one of the cozy restaurants. Musicians make the square bulking with atmosphere: you can keep dancing until the sun has long set. I stayed in Hodelpa Nicolas de Ovando, probably the best hotel you can find in the area. It’s located in one of the finest 16th-century buildings right in the heart of the colonial centre!


Colorful houses in the streets of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic


Colorful houses in the streets of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic


Montecristi and El Morro, the quiet north side of the Dominican Republic

The next day I headed north. During the ride I noticed how the landscape changed and became more mountainous. After a quick stop in Santiago to grab some lunch and take a picture of the Monument to the Heroes of the Restoration I finally reached my destination for the day: Montecristi. The town is situated in the northwest of the country and actually not far off the Haitian border. Montecristi is really quiet and there isn’t a tourist in sight! Oh how happy that made me. I didn’t spend 13 hours on a flight to see a fat caucasian men without shirts on mopeds roaming the streets. Luckily most tourists don’t make it this far. Heck, most tourists don’t even make it outside of their hotel. But not me, I wanted to see how people really spend their daily lives in the Dominican Republic.


Monument to the Heroes of the Restoration in Santiago, Dominican Republic


For sunset I headed to the beach behind the mountain, called Playa el Morro. It’s a place where locals hang out with their friends and have a few beers while the sun is setting. Another day well spent! I stayed in El Morro Eco Adventure Hotel. This quiet hotel has a thatch-roof and swimming pool, and is only a minute walk away from the nearest beach.


Playa El Morro, Montecristi, Dominican Republic


El Zapato, Playa El Morro, Montecristi, Dominican Republic


Paradise Island

Okay, so from Montecristi, let’s head a bit more west, shall we, Because the northern coast of the Dominican Republic has so much to offer! Most activities are done on the water. One of my favorites is doing a boat tour in the mangroves. Maybe you will be more lucky than me and can spot a manatee! Another awesome thing to do is taking the boat from Punta Rucia to Cayo Arena. Cayo Arena is often dubbed Paradise Island and it’s not hard to see where this name came from. On this gorgeous little island the views are amazing, you’re literally surrounded by water. Have some rum, rent some snorkels or just enjoy the sun! Tip: go early or late to avoid the crowds. After all, it’s a small place and there can be quite a crowd.


Cayo Arena, Punta Rucia


Playa Grande



From there it was on to Puerto Plata, which is known to be full of all-inclusive resorts. However I stayed in Casa Colonial, a high-end boutique resort outside of town with its own quiet beach and enough room for every guests so it never feels crowded. From Casa Colonial, it’s only half an hour to Cabarete, a spot I really wanted to see on my trip in the Dominican Republic. The calm, warm waters and windy breeze make it a Valhalla for water sport enthusiasts. I’ve been wanting to learn how to kiteboard for a long time, but also on this occasion my time was limited so I sticked to watching how the pros do it.


Kite Beach, Cabarete, Dominican Republic, kitesurfer


Exploring a surprising side of the Dominican Republic 1


The wonderful Samana peninsula

The drive from Puerto Plata to Samana is very scenic. You can add some stops at Laguna el Dudu or the lesser-known Lago Azul. There’s a small entry fee to keep everything nice and clean and to keep the crowds away. Who said the Dominican Republic was overcrowded with tourists! I saw numerous beautiful empty beaches without a single person! Actually my favorite beach in the country is located on the Samana peninsula. Playa Rincon is situated right next to a huge undeveloped area National Park Cabo Cabron. You’ll find thousands if not millions of palm trees right there.


Riding an ATV in Las Galeras, the Dominican Republic


Lago Azul, not far from Laguna el Dudu, Dominican Republic


empty beach in Dominican Republic


Another great thing to do while you’re in the area is to visit the Dominican Tree House Village! It’s an astonishing place and you can rent one of the tree houses to sleep in! On site, there’s also a complex system consisting of 12 ziplines that take you from the top of the hill all the way down to the village.


Dominican Tree House village, one of the best tree house hotels


Dominican Tree House village, one of the best tree house hotels


Whale-watching in Samana Bay

Samana Bay is very well known worldwide as a place to spot the whales. Every year during December and March, two to three thousand whales come to reproduce in the warm waters of Samana Bay. A whale-watching tour is probably the only touristy activity I did in the Dominican Republic, however I think it’s absolutely worth it. I previously went whale-spotting in Saint Lucia and Iceland, but it’s always a new experience. This time I was really lucky, seeing several whale groups, even a mama and her baby accompanied by a male.


whale watching safari in Samana bay, Dominican Republic


Samana, Dominican Republic


Los Haitises National Park

When whale-watching isn’t for you, you can take a boat ride to the other side of Samana Bay, to Los Haitises National Park. This part of the Dominican Republic is extremely remote and unhabited. Although that wasn’t always the case: in the caves you find many cave drawings from the indigenous population that lived here back in the day. They even drew a couple of whale pictures, which proves these magnificent creatures have been coming to Samana Bay for ages!


Los Haitises National Park in the Dominican Republic


Cave in Los Haitises National Park in the Dominican Republic


Los Haitises National Park in the Dominican Republic


All in all I had a wonderful time in the Dominican Republic. I’m happy I finally got to see just how much this country has to offer, and I know there is lots more to do. I hope to inspire you to visit yourself and for me to be back one day to see more of the mountains and waterfalls!