Embarking on a Caribbean getaway in 2024? Prepare to be captivated beyond the sun-kissed beaches.
The Dominican Republic is synonymous with crystal-clear waters and idyllic, white sand beaches.
A day spent lounging beneath swaying coconut trees is the ideal refuge from Europe’s chilly winters, allowing you to return to the office flaunting that enviable sun-kissed tan.
“In the Dominican Republic there are more than 200 beaches – from the famous Playa Bávaro in Punta Cana to Playa Fernanda in Miches,” says Enrique Penson, director of Economic Studies at the country’s Ministry of Tourism.
Yet, the country’s charm goes well beyond its pristine coastlines. Majestic waterfalls, lush national parks, and aromatic cacao plantations await your exploration.
“In 2023 the country hosted 10 million visitors and that is because the Dominican Republic has it all,” says Penson. “Besides stunning beaches, magnificent nature and experiences, the best is the Dominican people’s warmth and hospitality.”
Here’s how to get the best out of your visit to the stunning Caribbean nation.
Explore the cacao trails of San Francisco de Macorís
Foodies should make a beeline for the cacao trails in San Francisco de Macorís, in the northeast Duarte province.
Making up 10 per cent of the Dominican Republic’s lush green expanse, cacao plantations are vital to preserve the island’s natural environment. Renowned as the world’s premier producer of organic cocoa, the island is the perfect place to experience the captivating floral aroma of unprocessed cocoa fruit.
Step into the enchanting ‘haciendas de cacao’, where visitors not only explore plantations and gain insights into the chocolate-making process but also have the opportunity to actively participate in cacao cultivation and harvesting alongside local producers.
Among the most popular cacao trails is that of Finca La Esmeralda. For the ultimate experience, plan your visit during the harvest period, which occurs twice a year from September to December and January to May.
Chase waterfalls in pristine national parks
The picturesque landscape of the Dominican Republic is graced with awe-inspiring waterfalls. Venture into the Samaná Peninsula for the “the perfect blend of beautiful beaches and trekking experiences,” recommends Penson.
Here, you can discover the allure of El Limón Waterfall, which cascades from tropical surroundings. One of the most remarkable experiences in this region involves a horse ride through lush paths, allowing you to immerse yourself in the stunning nature.
The peninsula is also home to the protected Parque Nacional Los Haitises. Its remarkable limestone karsts, sinkholes and mangroves served as the filming location for the iconic ‘Jurassic Park’. Spanning 1,600 km-squared, its ancient rock formations date back 50 million years.
Further northwest, near Puerto Plata, the 27 Charcos de Damajagua awaits – a collection of 27 waterfalls that captivate thrill-seekers. This natural playground invites exploration through hiking and swimming, rewarding visitors with exhilarating cliff jumps and natural slides.
The pinnacle of waterfall grandeur, however, lies in Salto de La Jalda, the Caribbean’s highest waterfall, standing at over 120 metres. Tucked within the National Park of La Jalda in Miches, reaching it can be an adventure in itself. Whether by a scenic two-hour hike or a helicopter excursion, both routes offer a chance to delve into the forest and experience the biodiversity of its flora and fauna first-hand.
Dive into Hoyo Azul, Punta Cana’s magical blue cenote
For a touch of magic, venture into Punta Cana’s Hoyo Azul, a mesmerising blue sinkhole nestled in lush rainforest. This cenote is often referred to as the “Indigenous eye’. You’ll find this hidden oasis discreetly tucked away inside the Scape Park, within the captivating Cap Cana area.
Take a revitalising dip in its natural, cold spring waters, which boast a depth of 14 metres and are embraced by a 75-metre-tall limestone cliff adorned with lush vegetation. To reach Hoyo Azul you have to cross a suspension bridge and meander through an orchid garden.
A must visit for nature enthusiasts, this unique site seamlessly blends adventure, nature and tranquillity in the heart of Punta Cana’s captivating landscapes.
Taste the Dominican Republic’s unique blend of cultures
The Dominican Republic’s cultural fusion shines through its vibrant people, who eagerly share their traditions.
The culinary landscape is a fusion of Taíno, Spanish and African influences. The national dish, La Bandera Dominicana, is a hearty amalgamation of rice, beans, meat (often chicken or beef), and salad. Fresh seafood dishes, like ‘pescado con coco’ (fish in coconut sauce), captivate taste buds with their vibrant flavours.
“Fish from any of our coasts is our main dish – always fresh, savoury, and complemented by our traditional sauces crafted from local ingredients,” says Penson.
Beyond the national dish, start your day with ‘mangú’, a breakfast staple made from mashed plantains, or savour the comforting ‘sancocho’, a stew filled with various meats and vegetables.
For a sweet and savoury experience, indulge in ‘pastelón de plátano maduro’, a dish that layers ripe plantains, meat and cheese. Each bite reflects the diverse cultural influences that have shaped Dominican cuisine, making it an essential part of your travel adventure in this vibrant Caribbean destination.
Sway to the local beat with bachata and merengue
To truly grasp the essence of Dominican culture and their zest for life, learn the steps of merengue and bachata, two vibrant Caribbean dance styles recognised as Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.
“Any Dominican will gladly guide you through the steps of merengue and bachata. We carry the beats of these dances within us, cherishing the joy of dancing, and we love it when foreigners express an interest in learning,” encourages Penson.
Don’t miss the opportunity to attend merengue festivals held in various cities across the Dominican Republic, including the lively celebrations in Santo Domingo and Puerto Plata.