Who wouldn’t want to spend a week in the Dominican Republic lying on the sand with a rum-soaked drink in their hand?

After all, the crystalline waters and skin-tingling sun are enough to lull even the most stressed traveler into a state of peaceful bliss. While this Caribbean island has more than enough picturesque shores to fill any beach bingo card, the DR is also filled with an array of adventurous activities across the country’s 31 provinces. 

Whether it’s diving beneath the ocean waves for a face-to-face experience with colorful fish, hiking to a waterfall and jumping into a cavernous pool, or getting your fill of traditional regional dishes like sancocho (beef stew) and mangu (mashed plantains), here are 10 can’t-miss experiences in the Dominican Republic. 

Groups of people relax at tables, while others stroll on the cobble stone streets of Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo, DR.
Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo is 11 blocks of charming cobblestone streets and stone archways © De Simone Lorenzo/Universal Images Group via Getty

Take a stroll around Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial

The capital of the Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo is where the country’s industrial, financial and retail businesses cluster. Yet within this bustling modern city lie 11 blocks of charming cobblestone streets and stone archways called the Zona Colonial

The area dates back to Christopher Columbus’ arrival on the island in 1492; several buildings were first constructed in the 1500s, including the Ozama Fortress, the Primada Cathedral and the Casa Colón – the first castle residence in the Americas. 

“La Zona” is also a favorite among locals thanks to its busy parks, vibrant cafe scene, live music venues and restaurants serving Dominican staples like mangu, fried fish and empanadas. 

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Watch the high rollers in Punta Cana

Along with some of the most scenic beaches in the country, Punta Cana also plays host to the island’s biggest hotels and all-inclusive resorts. The scene is touristy to be sure – but if you’re looking to live the life of a high roller for a few hours (or just watch a few in action), the casinos here are some of the best you’ll find in the Caribbean. 

The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino has one of the biggest (and flashiest) gaming floors in the area, with over 500 slots and 28 game tables. Meanwhile, the casino at the Barcelo Bavaro Palace keeps the lights running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

Best places to visit in the Dominican Republic 

A man swimming in the bright blue waters of the pool by the Saltos de la Damajagua
A dip in a cool pool is your reward after a hike along the 27 Damajagua Waterfalls © Matt Munro / Lonely Planet

Swim the 27 waterfalls of Damajagua

Tucked into the hilly terrain of the Dominican Republic’s Northern Corridor mountain range, the 27 waterfalls of Damajagua offer pristine pools formed by limestone and pressure from relentless torrents of water. With the help of a guide, you’ll trek through some dense forest to find your way, with the reward a day spent jumping from the falls (up to 26ft/8m) into the cool water below, where you can swim through smooth canyons before climbing a series of ladders and ropes to do it all over again. 

See whales off the coast of Samaná Bay

The best time to head to Samaná Bay is between the months of December and March, when thousands of humpback whales descend upon the eastern side of the island to mate and give birth in the warm waters. Catch a tour with a marine biologist from the neighboring city of Samaná to spend the day contemplating the lives of these large aquatic mammals.

The areas surrounding Samaná contain sleepy, laid-back townships that lend themselves more to cozy European cafe culture than the splashy, towering resorts in Punta Cana. After your day on the water, linger a while.

Do I need a visa to visit the Dominican Republic? 

Go kiteboarding in Cabarete

A day trip from Puerto Plata, Cabarete is a bustling beach town with some of the spiciest waves and gustiest winds on the island. This makes it a hotbed for adrenaline junkies looking to catch some air while kiteboarding or windsurfing. Cabarete is also a popular spot with surfers, who head to the town’s main strip at the end of the day for some Dominican food at one of the local restaurants and bars like Bliss, Gordito’s Fresh Mex or La Casita de Papi

Shop for souvenirs in a 16th-century-style village

Evoking a 16th-century Italian-Spanish village, Altos de Chavon in La Romana looks authentic enough to be...the set of a movie. Indeed, in 1976 a Hollywood producer designed the square to look just like a medieval European town using stone from a nearby blasted mountain. A scene from the movie Apocalypse Now was filmed here. 

Spend the day exploring the church, museum and 5000-seat amphitheater that make up the village while stopping into some of the artisan shops for locally made souvenirs. 

A cable car tours above a forest area in Puerto Plata
It’s a long way up Pico Isabel de Torres – luckily, the teleférico will get you there with ease (and with gorgeous views, too) © lemontune.com / Shutterstock

Take a cable car up to Pico Isabel de Torres

Since it’s a 2625ft trip (800m) to the top of Pico Isabel de Torres, thank goodness you’ll have a teleférico (cable car) to help get you up there. The flat-topped mountain offers unobstructed views of the northern region of the Dominican Republic. Just be sure to head up early, as clouds tend to form around the mountain as the day wears on. 

After taking in the views, a nearby botanical garden invites a leisurely afternoon stroll. Don’t forget to catch a glimpse of the monumental Christ the Redeemer statue before you go.

Ride an ATV through jungle terrain

Water sports get a lot of the main billing in the Dominican Republic, and with good reason. That’s no reason not to seek out land adventures here as well – such as the ATV and buggy tours offered outside of Punta Cana, for example. 

Several tour operators in the area organize excursions (you can expect to spend anywhere from $50 to $120 for the experience) that let you rip through lush jungle terrain and bumpy slopes for a hair-raising several hours. 

Try to keep an eye out for some of the wildlife that inhabits the area – though if you’re in it mostly for the adrenaline rush, the buggies won’t disappoint. 

The 12 best beaches in the Dominican Republic 

A palm tree bends and casts a shadow on a sparsely peopled beach in Saona Island, Dominican Republic
Wonderful snorkeling lies just off the white-sand beaches of Saona Island © De Simone Lorenzo / AGF / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Snorkel around Saona Island

While Saona Island is a nationally protected park, much of the coral around the area has sadly been damaged by boats and tourists.

Still, the powdery white sand, postcard-perfect palms and crystal clear waters here remain dreamy, making it easy for novice snorkelers to get a glimpse of the abundant marine life below. A sandbank near the shore is a popular spot to post up for a rum cocktail, served up by local Dominicans wading through the shallow waters. 

Swing off the side of a mountain

Depending on your viewing angle, the swings on the side of Montaña Redonda might give you pause. After all, there appears to be a considerable drop to the lush valleys, lakes and streams below. But that’s only an illusion: there’s soft grass right below your feet should you take a tumble.

Situated between Punta Cana and Miches, this coastal mountain offers 360-degree views of the eastern part of the island. It’s a 40-minute walk up to the top (you can also opt to catch a ride with one of the tour buses or jeeps, for a fee) – and once you’re there, the aforementioned swings, hammocks and zip lines make for some of the best photo ops in the country.

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