Author: Emily Yanez
Tags : Adventure Trip, Beach, Caribbean, Christmas Holiday, Spring Break, Watersports, Winter Getaway
The Dominican Republic is a top value Caribbean beach getaway marked by rich cultural influences that create a distinctive and fascinating history. Not only do guests have the opportunity to embrace the astounding scenery on eco-vacations, but the Dominican Republic offers world-class resorts, an intriguing variety of eclectic cuisine, artistic and entertaining attractions, and as Christopher Columbus put it, the nation is “a beautiful island paradise” simply like no other.
The Dominican Republic consists of six major regions, each with its own unique charm and beauty. Within the soaring mountains and deep river valleys of the eastern two-thirds of Hispaniola (Haiti occupies the west coast), the "DR" as locals call it, provides a variety of unforgettable experiences for any type of traveler. With an overwhelming amount of authentic attractions to experience, your only dilemma is how to fit them all in one vacation. Here's FTF's guide to a few of the most popular places to visit.
North Coast: Puerto Plata, Cabarete & More
With stretches of flawless beaches and azure waters, this region, considered the DR’s most “versatile playground,” features the popular beach resort towns of Puerto Plata, Cabarete and Sosua.
Barrio Playa Oeste
Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
This exceptional marine theme park emphasizes interaction with the fascinating underwater world of sea life, rather than having guests simply sit and observe. Ocean World offers interactive programs that allow you and your family to swim with dolphins, get up close and personal with sea lions, and wade in a pool inches from an actual shark. But no need to worry, Mom and Dad, your kids will be safe behind a protective glass that separates little ones from these exciting predators. Visitors will also have the opportunity to take a walk on the wild side and frolic through an authentic rainforest surrounded by waterfalls, beaches, lagoons and, of course, captivating wildlife. General Admission is $40 for kids 4-12 and $55 from ages 13 and up. For more information in regards to deals and specials, please visit the website.
Calle Durate 61
Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
This elegant two-story Victorian museum located in Puerto Plata captures the essence of the prehistoric time period. This museum features collections of well-preserved plants, insects and animals that are on display for all guests to discover. Not to mention this resplendent building houses the infamous amber mosquito featured in the box-office hit Jurassic Park. It's also a good place to learn about the gem stone, which is widely sold as jewelry around the island. For schedules and hours visit their website.
Just a few minutes west of Puerto Plata, this breathtaking beach was named after the infamous pirate Captain Roberto Cofresi. Whether you and your family just want to bathe in this beach’s exotic sun, or prefer bodysurfing and boogie boarding in the crystal clear waters, La Playa Cofresi is a wonderful way to spend your day away from the busier city of Puerto Plata.
Playa Grande is another spectacular beach known for its white soft sand and beautiful waters.
Hotel Casa Marina Beach and Reef
Sosua, Dominican Republic
Are you an avid scuba diver, or do you have a family member who has always wanted the thrill of submerging in deep waters and exploring how things look under the sea? Well the Aqua Center, a watersport and diving area, has instructors specially trained to fulfill the needs of all your scuba endeavors. Also, if parents are hesitant about letting their kids swim aimlessly in the sea without supervision, this prestigious organization offers a family package called The Discovery Scuba Program which allows families to explore the underwater world together, while an aqua professional takes momentous pictures to capture this unforgettable experience. Children must be at least 10-years-old to become a certified diver.
Outdoor Activities in Cabarete
Over the past few years, the coastal resort of Cabarete has grown to achieve international fame, especially with a younger audience. The reason may be found on the town's beach, ranked as one of the world's top five kiteboarding and windsurfing destinations. So good are the conditions here, in fact, that Cabarete is regularly a stop in international competitions. Families interested in trying to tackle the sport should visit the above website to learn more about outfitters and schools in the region, and to check on the seasonal weather conditions.
Whether you and your family care to gallop along the tranquil coastline or in the mountainous terrain, this family favorite is offered throughout the entire region. Also, many of the horse ranches offer “Creole horses” that are reputable for their trained tameness specifically to fit any kid’s riding needs.
Whitewater Rafting & Kayaking
Home to the Caribbean’s highest mountains and longest rivers, the DR is a great place to take the family for some intrepid amusement. However, because of the DR’s rainy season, rafting is recommended during the fall and winter. Located near the mountain resort of Jarabacoa, the Rio Yaque is the longest river in the Caribbean and offers both challenging and easy excursions. It includes entertaining features such as "Mike Tyson," a 12-foot vertical drop and "The Cemetery," a great stretch of rocks sticking up like tombstones, but also offers winding curves of calmer water for easy drifting. Colonial Tour Rafting is offered in a variety of locations all over the Dominican Republic. For more information please visit their website or call (809/688-5285). Prices range from day trips for rafting at $95/day, to excursions to see waterfalls at $45/day.
Mountain biking can be done all over the island, with the majority of rides taking place in the northern mountain range (Cordillera Septentrional) and the central mountain range (Cordillera Central). Trails vary from beginner to challenging with all-day or overnight advanced levels through rolling hills and rugged mountain areas. With its countless unpaved roads and mule trails, the country is a fantastic setting for mountain biking. Biking buffs will find that most of the larger cities in the country have a mountain biking club that welcomes foreigners for participation in their weekly rides. Regardless of the location on the island, a breathtaking setting is guaranteed.
Iguana Mama is one of the best companies providing all of the above daily adventure excursions. Please visit their website for more information or call 809/571-0908. If you’re already in the DR, you can visit their main office that is situated in the main street of Cabarete, opposite Scotiabank towards the Eastern end of town. They are open 7 days a week from 8am to 5pm.
Islabon Jungle River Tour
Located about three miles east of Cabarete, the Islabon Jungle River Tour allows kids to explore the Islabon river area by boat. Plus visitors get to walk through jungle trails to a mini zoo that includes native iguanas, snakes, turtles, ravens and North American crocodiles. The tour includes an informative chat about the nature found in the area.
South Coast: Santo Domingo & More
While the Dominican Republic's luscious coast provides relaxing seaside enjoyment, Santo Domingo and the South Central Region serve as a more contemporary and vibrant location. This diverse area mixes the old with the new; it’s not uncommon to witness modern hotels resting on ancient cobblestone roads, or to walk by a street vendor selling empanadas (a fried snack made of flour filled with cheese and beef), while you enter a chic restaurant that serves traditional gourmet cuisine. With the assortment of eclectic activities to do in this diverse region, you’ll never miss a beat while visiting the heart of the Dominican Republic.
Zona Colonia (Colonial City)
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
The Colonial City is the ideal starting point for visitors to discover Santo Domingo. Here, between Independence Park and the Ozama River, you will find the first city built in the New World by European settlers, including Columbus's brother, Bartholomeo, and his son, Diego Columbus. The first street in the Americas is Calle de Las Damas, the location of numerous historic buildings including the Ozama Fortress, the oldest fortress in the Americas. There is also the house of NicolÃ¡s de Ovando, governor of Santo Domingo in the early 1500's and a ruthless warrior against the Taino Indians. Of great historical interest is the Museo de las Casas Reales (Museum of the Royal Houses), the restored 16th century palace of the Spanish Court, which presents a wonderful glimpse into the past. Nearby is the AlcÃ¡zar de ColÃ³n (Castle of Columbus) built by Diego Columbus and his wife Maria de Toledo, niece of the Spanish King Ferdinand. A few streets over in the center of the walled city, visitors will find the Catedral Basilica Santa Maria la Menor, pronounced the first cathedral in the New World by Pope Paul III in 1542.
Av Boulevard del Faro
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Another site not to be missed is the Faro a ColÃ³n (Columbus Lighthouse) a remarkable structure built in the shape of the cross, towering 688-feet tall. In the center of this massive formation lies a chapel containing the Columbus Tomb that many believe contains the remains of Columbus himself. In addition, there are a number of historical exhibits you and your family can visit while exploring this monumental site and the beautifully manicured grounds. At night, the lighthouse is illuminated by powerful lights visitors can view from the Colonial City. The picturesque, oceanview lighthouse is located in the Mirador del Este Park.
Santo Domingo, Distrito Nacional, Dominican Republic
Opened in 1990, the National Aquarium possesses a contemporary, open-air design and a convenient location overlooking the Caribbean Sea. It offers visitors a thorough look at the country’s different varieties of marine life. Roughly 3,000 live specimens of 250 species occupy the clear waters here. Stroll around under the aquarium’s Plexiglas that surrounds viewers with sealife such as sharks, rays, conger eels and a variety of vibrant hued fish. The aquarium’s team is devoted to the study, promotion, protection and distribution of information on both marine and freshwater flora and fauna. There are lectures and guided tours every day. This educational aquarium is perfect for the entire family because admission is only $2 per person.
Parque ZoolÃ³gico Nacional
Avenida Arroyo Salado
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Established in 1975, the Parque ZoolÃ³gico Nacional, located north of Santo Domingo, is one of largest zoos in the Caribbean. The 320-acre park provides visitors with the opportunity to view a wide variety of both local and imported species of animals. Guests have the option of walking through the steep hilled park by foot or taking a guided tour by train for an additional fee. However, if you opt for the informative and educational tour, make sure you have your Spanish-English dictionary handy as this service is only offered in espanol. There are also a large aviary, serpentarium and a designated children’s area.
East Coast: Punta Cana & More
Punta Cana, part of the newly created Punta Cana-Bavaro county, is considered the major resort area in the Dominican Republic with over 28,000 hotel rooms in the Bavaro hotel zone, world-famous Punta Cana beach resorts (including a very successful Club Med), and other activities fun for the whole family.
Bavaro Runners Safari Adventures
This company does an all-inclusive, guided mountain and beach adventure that begins at 8:15 or 9:15am in a comfortable truck that accommodates up to 26 people. This educational and fascinating tour allows you and your family to explore the complex culture of this region. A few attractions to visit are a Dominican school, the largest sugar cane plantation, and even a typical country home in which you can sample exotic Caribbean fresh fruit, roasted coffee and cacao. Horseback riding through the terrain is also available on this 8-hour adventure. The price is $90 per person; children: US$60 under 12-years of age and includes transportation, all entrance fees, tour guide, lunch, beer, rum, water and soft drinks during the excursion. Also, if you decide to partake in this exclusive excursion, the official travel guides will pick you up directly at your hotel. For more information please visit their website or call 809/455-1135
Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park
Grupo PUNTACANA Ave.
Ãbraham Lincoln No. 960
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
This jungle-like trail features natural attractions any outdoor lover could appreciate. The unchanged prehistoric ferns date back from when this island was discovered almost 40 million years ago. The rock underfoot is calcified coral. The trail is surrounded by royal palms, native almonds, and “castilla elastica,” a tree that actually bleeds latex. It also incorporates 11 clear-water lagoons, refered to as “eyes” by the native Taino Indian tribes who resided on the island before Columbus’ discovery. For more information please visit their website.
Los Tres Ojos
Avenida Las AmÃ©ricas
Santo Domingo, Distrito Nacional
Los Tres Ojos National Park is a unique natural setting of flora in combination with three huge, open-air limestone caves. The three caves are fun to explore and, though difficult to reach, are surrounded by a variety of jungle and lakes. The whole scene is illuminated at night by colored lights. Please visit their website for more information.
Boca Chica Beach
Conveniently located near Santo Domingo's airport, Boca Chica is a resort town filled with exciting attractions. The beach is considered the most popular among the Santo Domingo residents because of its soft fine sand and crystal blue waters. Scattered throughout the beach are a variety of vendors offering genuine Dominican cuisine with tropical fruity beverages, personal tours and souvenirs such as homespun jewelry and artwork. Also, this beach is known for its calm, shallow water which makes it extremely kid-friendly for your children to play at their own leisure.
Located halfway between Santo Domingo and La Romana, Juan Dolio is a perfect relaxing getaway for both couples and families. Like every other part of the Dominican Republic, this charming town provides its own unique culture, shopping, nightlife of course flawless beaches. Juan Dolio has a main boulevard where visitors can safely walk, jog or cycle. Nearby is the San Pedro, hometown of the famous baseball player Sammy Sosa. While you’re in the area, you and your family can check out Kart Bahn, a racetrack on the highway to San Pedro where go-karts can be rented for a fast spin around the track.
A green space along the highway with a popular beach and the Museo de la Caleta, a small building containing the remains of Taino tombs discovered during the construction of the airport. Offshore, La Caleta National Underwater Park is the Dominican Republic's best area for reef and wreck diving and presents scuba divers vacationing in the city of Santo Domingo with an array of options. Small islands off the coast, along with a coral reef, make the beach's waters less rough than in some areas, so underwater sightseeing is especially safe. Plus, two shipwrecks and the myriad of colorful fish draw divers from around the world.
A 2.5-hour drive from Santo Domingo, in the heart of the Cordillera Central mountain range, is a natural hub that appeals to visitors who participate in outdoor sports such kayaking, hiking, climbing and whitewater rafting. These vendors offer tween and teen-friendly adventures.
- ♦ Franz Lang Adventures (809/574-2669), rafting & kayaking $65/day, waterfall $45/day, mountain trek $300/person for three days.
- ♦ Rancho Baiguate (809/574-4940), rafting and kayaking $95/day, waterfall $65/day, mountain trek $400/person for three days.
- ♦ Rancho Jarabacoa (809-574-4815), rafting or kayaking $23/day.