Best of Dominican Republic
Earlier this year, Bunny spent 10 weeks travelling around the Dominican Republic. She was very pleasantly surprised by the variety of scenery (everything from rainforests to salt lakes and mangroves) and the experiences available in the country. She visited some of the best beaches in the world, stayed in excellent accommodation of all price ranges and went on wonderful activities around the island.
Check out Bunny’s tips for the best experiences, beaches and accommodation in the Dominican Republic below.
Best Experiences in Dominican Republic (Bunny’s Top 5)
Although most people come to the Dominican Republic to enjoy the sun and the sea and to sip cocktails by the pool, there are actually quite a few interesting adventures to be had on this Caribbean island. Bunny’s favourites included:
The Dominican Republic is one of the best places in the world for whale-watching trips if you visit between mid-January and mid-March. Every year, thousands of humpback whales migrate to the Samana Bay on the northern coast of the island. A number of tour operators organise boat trips to let you see these majestic creatures.
Bunny went with the company with the best reputation, Whale Samana, and had an amazing half-day at sea. She got to marvel at half a dozen humpback whales at close range, saw plenty of breaching (when they leap out of the water), tail slashing, fin slapping and spy hopping (when they poke their head out of the water vertically) and really loved the experience. In fact, Bunny has a whole blog post dedicated just to this subject - check out all the details of Bunny’s whale-watching trip.
Humpback whales are not the only wildlife to see on the island. If you visit during the right time of year and travel to Lake Enriquillo in the southwestern corner of the Dominican Republic, you can have many a close encounter with crocodiles.
The eerily beautiful Lake Enriquillo has the largest population of American crocodiles in the region. Boat rides take you unnervingly close to these beasts as well as the prolific bird life living on and around the lake.
The Lake Enriquillo region is a really unspoiled part of the country, with cute villages, very few tourists and great scenery all around.
Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo
The historical neighbourhood of Santo Domingo, Zona Colonial, is the oldest permanent settlement in the New World. It is a great introduction to the Dominican Republic and its rich history, Bunny says.
This World Heritage Site contains a number of historic buildings and monuments, including Catedral Primada de América, the first cathedral in the Americas. In addition to the great architecture, the Colonial Zone is very atmospheric, with vibrant street life and great cafes and restaurants. It is also relatively compact and easily walkable which is a great bonus.
Santo Domingo sometimes gets a bad rap for safety, but Bunny’s time in Colonial Zone was incident free and she always felt quite safe. Though, she was not out and about too much in the late evening.
Bunny's Book Tip
For excellent insight into the dark times of Trujillo’s Dominican Republic, pick up a copy of The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa. It is a riveting novel with a plot line that will entertain and repulse you in equal measure.
Los Haitises National Park
Los Haitises National Park is a perfect place for a little eco adventure in the Dominican Republic, Bunny says.
The scenery of this protected area is superb. During a day trip to this gem, you can observe high rock formations that jut out to the sea, sinkholes, mangrove forests and a plethora of bird colonies, including pelicans, herons and frigates. Organised tours usually include boat trips and visits to the Taino caves with ancient petroglyphs, followed by fresh coconut drinks on one of the pristine, protected beaches.
El Limon Waterfall
Fancy some horse-riding followed by a refreshing dip in a gorgeous waterfall? Head to El Limon, a 52-metre waterfall surrounded by lush greenery on the Samana peninsula. El Limon is situated deep in the jungle and is reachable only by horseback (or by foot). If you go early in the morning, like Bunny did, you might even get the waterfall all to yourself.
A number of tour companies from Las Terrenas and other nearby towns organise tours to El Limon. Just make sure you pick a company and a tour guide who treat their horses well, Bunny says.
Best Beaches in Dominican Republic (Bunny’s Top 3)
Dominican Republic is all about the beaches! Bunny loved the sands so much that she wrote a separate blog post devoted to the best beaches in the country. There really is something for every taste.
Bunny’s own favourite beaches are usually remote, undeveloped and gorgeous. Her three picks for the Dominican Republic share those criteria, even though they can each be found in completely different parts of the island:
Play Rincon on the Samana peninsula spans more than three miles and has very little development. It is a stunning, coconut tree-lined, white sand beach where you can always find a quiet spot to yourself. The water is clear, turquoise and mostly calm, perfect for swimming. There are no hotels, only a handful of beach bars that sell ice cold beer, barbecued goodies and delicious, locally-baked banana bread.
Isla Saona in the protected Parque Nacional del Este is a popular tourist destination off the southern coast of the Dominican Republic. Despite its popularity among day trippers, Isla Saona remains an undeveloped, car-free paradise. The Caribbean Sea provides calm, turquoise waters and the white sand beaches are soft and powdery. Head to one of the less-visited beaches, bring your own picnic lunch and drinks, and enjoy your very own desert island experience.
Bahia de las Aguilas
Bahia de las Aguilas on the Peninsula de Pedernales, close to the border with Haiti, is often referred to as the most beautiful beach in the Dominican Republic - and it might just be.
There are no services, accommodation, beach bars or shade on the beach. But what you have in abundance more than compensates: unspeakable beauty, peace, quiet, dazzling white sands, calm, mesmerizingly blue waters and roaming iguanas. What else would you need? Well, maybe some cold beer, so bring your own cooler full.
Where to Stay in Dominican Republic (Bunny’s Top 3)
Bunny had the pleasure of staying in more than a dozen different accommodations during her stint in the Dominican Republic. Three of those places were simply exquisite:
Casa El Paraiso
Casa El Paraiso, a remote clifftop eco lodge at the end of the Samana peninsula, is an aptly named paradise. It has beautiful rooms, amazing views, wonderful service, great food and even cute dogs wandering around waiting to be petted.
If you are an introvert looking for a truly amazing place to stay in the Dominican Republic, this is it, Bunny says. Check out Bunny’s short video of El Paraiso below.
If you are planning to do any yoga in the Dominican Republic, Ki-Ra is the place to visit. In fact, Ki-Ra is such a lovely, dreamy and soothing place that you should visit even if you have zero interest in yoga, Bunny says. Ki-Ra is good for your mind, body and soul.
At Ki-Ra Bunny had the best (ayurvedic) food she has ever tasted anywhere and felt totally relaxed and rejuvenated during her 4-night stay. Interested? Check out Bunny’s blog post about Ki-Ra for more details.
Casas del XVI
Casas del XVI is the best luxury hotel in the Dominican Republic. Located in the heart of Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial, this collection of colonial houses from the 16th century has gorgeous rooms and impeccable butler service. The decor and ambiance of the place is simply unparalleled. Here you will be treated like the star (you are), Bunny says.
Fancy an All-Inclusive Hotel in Dominican Republic?
The Dominican Republic is widely known for its beach side all-inclusive behemoths where your every whim is catered for - as long as you wear the right-coloured wristband. Bunny is not a huge fan of the concept (too many people!) but she could not leave the country without testing a couple of the all-inclusive hotels.
She had a great time at the family-friendly Sensatori Resort Punta Cana and Grand Bahia Principe Cayacoa. They both turned out to be excellent options, particularly for family holidays. Try an all-inclusive at least once but be prepared to gain weight and watch out for your poor liver, Bunny says.
Holidaying in the Dominican Republic doesn’t have to be only about the (gorgeous) beaches. Bunny’s best experiences included amazing nature and wildlife encounters in addition to her time on some really spectacular beaches. Bunny also recommends exploring the more remote parts of the country. The island boasts some real gems that you should not miss.