Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic are travel juggernauts, offering an explosion of different experiences for every type of traveler. But now the (seemingly) impossible question: which one do you choose for your next vacation?

The Dominican Republic is an outdoor wonderland replete with high-octane activities like kitesurfing and whitewater rafting, and it’s also one of the most historically significant locations in the Caribbean.

Puerto Rico may be smaller, but it's a cultural powerhouse and home to some of the most enchanting beaches in the world. Here's how to decide which to pick. 

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Which destination is better for foodies?

The cuisines of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic share many common threads, with some significant exceptions. 

Try mangú and sancocho in the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic’s cuisine makes for good eating no matter the time of day. Fill up on golden mangos, perfectly cooked eggs and fried white cheese and mangú (mashed plantains) in the morning. For lunch, dig into la bandera, a mouthwatering combo of rice, beans and tender stewed chicken.

Enjoy a steaming bowl of sancocho – seven-meat stew – for dinner and wash it down with a refreshing Presidente beer. Don’t miss the Dominican-style arepa, a dense corn cake baked in a dutch oven over coals and served by the slice – choose between sweet or savory versions. Looking for the hottest new restaurants in the country? Head straight to Santo Domingo, the capital, to see what local chefs are cooking up. 

Platter of pork and other food at the lechoneras of Guavate
Restaurant-hop through the Guavate region to try lechón asado © Brandon Rosenblum / Getty Images

In San Juan, a local food movement is transforming the dining scene

Puerto Rico’s culinary scene, on the other hand, features treats like alcapurrias (plantain fritters filled with spice meat), bacalaitos (fried codfish fritters) and empanadas (meat- or cheese-filled turnovers) to satisfy snack cravings, while heartier fare like mofongo (mashed garlicky plantain with pork or seafood) and pastelón (ground beef and cheese casserole layered with sliced plantains) sticks to your ribs.

San Juan's hottest bars for cool cocktails and tropical nights

Carnivores will delight in the Ruta del Lechón, a road trip through the Guavate region; restaurant-hop and try lechón asado, slow-roasted pork that will leave you questioning the legitimacy of every other barbecue you’ve ever had.

The capital city of San Juan is also home to an exciting local food movement, with restaurateurs developing favorites into modern fusions and high-end delicacies. 

Winner: Puerto Rico comes out on top here. Thanks to its cornucopia of island-specific dishes and the inventive culinary energy coming from San Juan, foodies will weep with joy – or at least leave really, really full. 

Which destination is better for adventure?

When it comes to outdoor adventure, both the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico keep even the most adrenaline-seeking travelers from getting restless.

A man jumps off a cliff into a large pool below in a forest in Puerto Rico.
From mountains, rainforests to canyons, Puerto Rico diverse landscape offers loads of adventure © Cavan Images / Getty Images

Waterfall hunting, surfing and bioluminescent light shows in Puerto Rico

Not to be outdone, Puerto Rico is a lush eco-escape complete with mountains, rainforests, surf breaks and canyons, plus of the most stunning rainforests in the region – El Yunque – and some of the brightest bioluminescent bays in the world. 

If you’re heading west from San Juan, go waterfall hunting and cave exploring in the hills of the Arecibo region. Wave shredders: travel west until the land runs out at Rincón, Puerto Rico’s premiere surf destination. Surfing season runs from December to April and attracts professionals from all over the world. 

In the east you’ll find El Yunque, a rainforest that receives 120 inches of rain a year and protects hundreds of unique plant and animal species. Still want more? Grab a boat (or puddle jumper) to the island of Vieques for a spectacular natural light show at Mosquito Bay, a bioluminescent body of water that will spark the wonder of your inner child. 

The Dominican Republic has biodiversity and adventure options galore

One of the most biodiverse countries in the entire Caribbean, home to nine different ecoregions including rainforests, mangroves, mountain ranges and even grasslands and savannahs, the DR's mountainous interior and beachy periphery spoil adventure travelers with options.

Head to the Central Highlands for forest hikes, towering waterfalls and the only whitewater rafting in the Caribbean – plus a break from the tropical heat. 

The north coast is the windsurfing capital of the Americas, and even beginners can catch a wave on a kiteboard. Move east to the scenic Samaná Peninsula to kayak through the mangroves of the otherworldly Los Haitises National Park or embark on a whale-watching excursion.

And don’t forget the southwest – pass through the country’s deserts to arrive at Pedernales Peninsula for top-tier wildlife watching.

Winner: Believe us when we say this is a TOUGH call. In the end, we'll give it to the DR by a hair because of its diversity of activities (and ecosystems).

Which destination is better for history?

Both the DR and Puerto Rico sit at the crossroads of Indigenous and colonial history in the Americas. Those interested in the historical significance of these places will find everything from petroglyphs to colonial architecture – reminders of a complicated past that continues to influence the region today. 

Learn about Taíno culture in the DR

Like all Caribbean countries, the Dominican Republic has an extensive Indigenous history. Tours of the Los Haitises National Park stop off at a series of caves used by the Taíno as ceremonial sites, and here you can see carvings and pictographs as vivid as when they were first drawn. 

If you’re looking for a more traditional museum experience, check out Museo Taíno Maguá or the Centro León, one of the country’s most revered art and history museums. 

As Spain’s first settlement in the Americas, Santo Domingo is essentially an open-air museum itself – the well-preserved Colonial City is aesthetically striking, and walking tours through this area deliver an on-the-ground perspective of the cultural and economic impact of the Spanish government during the colonial era.

People walking toward the Museo de las Américas in San Juan, Puerto Rico, a towering, three-story facade with rows of arches
Don’t miss the Museo de las Américas in San Juan, which explores the history of colonization and slavery on the island © William Silver / Shutterstock

Explore Puerto Rico's Afro-Caribbean roots

If you want to learn about Indigenous history in Puerto Rico, you have lots of opportunities to do so. Head to the Cueva del Indio in Arecibo to see one of the most significant Taíno sites on the island, or travel south to the Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Tibes in Ponce, one of the most important archeological sites in the Caribbean and a standing testament to pre-Taíno cultures. 

Don’t miss the Museo de las Américas in San Juan, which explores the history of colonization and slavery on the island; the Museo de Historia de Caguas also delves into the island’s Creole identity on the island, starting with its Indigenous peoples. 

The 5 best museums in San Juan 

San Juan’s candy-colored historic district is a treat for those interested in historic architecture, and the city’s forts – San Felipe del Morro Castle and Castillo de San Cristobal – are compelling visits for anyone savvy in military history.

Winner: If you want to learn more about Indigenous and Afro-Caribbean roots, opt for Puerto Rico. If you’re interested in colonial architecture, Santo Domingo (and the DR by proxy) takes the crown – the Colonial City is a Unesco World Heritage Site for a reason. 

A woman splashes water on a beach in the Dominican Republic. She holding a snorkel mask in her right hand.
The Dominican Republic's stunning beaches have attracted visitors from all over the globe © Fotostorm/Getty Images

Which destination is better for beaches?

Caribbean beaches are among the most beautiful in the world, and the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico really deliver the goods. 

Enjoy variety in the Dominican Republic

The DR offers a diverse set of sands – beach hopping yields distinct experiences at each cove and shoreline. Though quite developed, Punta Cana and Bávaro attract travelers from around the world with their gleaming white sands and turquoise waters, while the beaches along the northeastern side of the island – like those in Las Terrenas and Samaná – offer warm golden shores, a deep emerald ocean and the ultimate relaxed vibes. 

The best time to visit the Dominican Republic 

Looking for a little adventure? Head to the southwest for the remote, rugged dream that is Bahía de las Águilas; only accessible by boat, the journey to this beach features rocky cliff lines and the wind in your hair.

Young men playing ball games on the beach in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is filled with wonderful beaches to enjoy © Getty Images / Image Source

Find a great match in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico shows off when it comes to beaches too. If you’re looking for a lively urban beach, don’t skip Ocean Park in San Juan or Playa Luquillo – both embrace a convivial atmosphere. If peace and quiet are more your jam, cast away to Culebra and Vieques. 

Culebra’s legendary Flamenco Beach is a pristine stretch of clear, calm water that elicits a state of bliss. Sun Bay is a popular sandy crescent on Vieques (though tame by San Juan standards), and the perfect place to munch on sugarcane beneath swaying palms; if you really want to get off the beaten path, head into the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge and make a beeline for Playa La Chiva. Here it’s just you, the peaceful sound of the waves and the wild horses.

Winner: Don’t make us choose – the beaches in both locales are simply too beautiful to pick a favorite. We call this a tie. 

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