Pick the best hotel for your family so you can explore the luscious history and tropical sunny weather of one of the world’s most beautiful islands.
The Dominican Republic offers 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 also get to know the culture at world-class hotels and resorts offering an intriguing variety of cuisines, artistic and entertaining attractions and, as Christopher Columbus put it, “a beautiful island paradise” simply like no other.
The Dominican Republic is divided into six major regions within the soaring mountains and deep river valleys of the eastern two-thirds of Hispaniola (Haiti occupies the west coast). With geographic and scenic diversity, the DR, as locals call it, provides a variety of unforgettable experiences for any type of traveler. Here’s FTF’s guide to a few of the most popular family beach getaway destinations around Puerto Plata, Punta Cana and Santo Domingo.
Northcoast DR: Puerto Plata & Cabarete
With stretches of flawless beaches and azure waters, this region, considered the DR’s most “versatile playground,” features the popular towns of Puerto Plata, the wind-surfing and kiteboarding center at Cabarete. If you’re staying at a beach hotel in this region, consider a full day’s outing to the popular Jasmine Spa and Wellness Holistic Health Center (located at Tubagua, near Puerto Plata; phone 829/252-5272) for a mother-daughter, father-son or friend-friend spa day. For outdoor relaxation, try the beach treatments at the Canrejo Beach complete with a sand scrub, seaweed wrap and ocean dip before a shower and coconut oil massage. Facials, massages, shiatsu, hot stone massage and more round out the spa menu. Rates start at $149 during the low season on up to $249.
ClubHotel Riu Mambo
Bahia de Maimon
Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
$ – $$
The Riu Mambo offers 463 guestrooms and suites decorated with mahogany-colored furniture, tile floors and granite bathroom vanities. No matter the weather, you can regulate your room with wood-paddle ceiling fans and supplemental air conditioning. This family-friendly hotel also provides each room with a balcony or ground floor terrace furnished with chairs and cocktail tables, so parents can relax while watching kids play on the grounds. Some of the all-inclusive hotel’s complimentary features are buffet-style breakfast, lunch and dinner and unlimited domestic-brand cocktails at the hotel’s tavern.
Once you and your family fill your bellies, you can work off those homemade waffles with water sport activities and recreational equipment such as kayaks, wind-surfers and an introductory scuba diving lesson. On land, the hotel has tennis courts, beach soccer and volleyball, and a fitness center to satisfy your exercise needs. For kids, the Riu Mambo provides a variety of supervised activities and entertainment at the RiuLand’s Kids’ Club for children ages 4 to 12. The fun takes place over sports, games, arts and crafts and group dancing (evenings on a theater stage). If you and your spouse care to explore the nightlife within the area there is a childcare center for an additional cost. Some of the hotel’s late night entertainment includes Spanish style dancing lessons, an onsite casino and an air-conditioned disco where you can relive the 70s.
Sam’s Bar & Grill(809/586-7267), located in the Castilla Hotel at Calle Jose del Carmen Ariza 34, Puerto Plata is a family favorite. The All-American style restaurant is perfect for a casual breakfast, lunch or dinner. You and your family can begin your day by forking a hearty helping of fluffy pancakes, or digging into a plateful of bacon and eggs. This laid-back establishment accommodates to American tastes and offers entrees such as mama’s meatloaf and steak and eggs. Sam’s is ideal for the conservative eater and spender. If you come back for lunch or dinner the chef usually prepares more extravagant dishes such as chicken cordon bleu and a filet of beefsteak.
Over the past few years 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.
Casa del Pescador (809/571/0760) is another popular place for a dress up evening. Since 1988, it has served sophisticated entrees in an interactive and trendy environment located right on the beach! A few of the chef’s signature dishes are the fish consommÃ© and creative variety of shrimp concoctions. On a hot day, the seafood salads drizzled with spicy Creole sauce and fresh lobster sauce are refreshingly savory.
Read more for an in-depth look at Puerto Plata attractions and the kite-boarding scene in Cabarete.
DR around Santo Domingo
While the Dominican Republic’s luscious coast provides relaxing seaside enjoyment, Santo Domingo and the South Central region serve as a more contemporary, energetic getaway for island residents and budget visitors. A a mix of the old and 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, chicken, or beef) outside a gourmet, expense-account restaurant.
Juan Dolio, Dominican Republic
$ – $$
One of the Spanish-owned Barcelo all-inclusives, this is one of the Dominican Republic’s most prominent hotels known for its waterfront view, economical offers and quality of service. Visitors of all ages can take advantage of the hotel’s nightly entertainment, extensive lineup of watersports, fitness and recreation programs, massage services, kids club and other amenities to ensure an enjoyable stay. For picky eaters and restless kids, the resort offers two restauants, three bars, three swimming pools, children’s park, sports tracks, and nightclub.
Quality Hotel Real Aeropuerto Santo Domingo
Avenida Tiradentes, esquina Presidente Gonzalez
NACO, Santo Domingo
A branch of the Clarion chain, this budget-conscious choice is located on the cusp of the commercial and financial districts of Santo Domingo and is centrally situated close to many local attractions. located across from Las Americas Duty Free Business Park and next to the Institute of Technology of Santo Domingo. Hotel amenities include complimentary breakfast and outdoor pool. Rooms with two queen beds can accommodate a family of four. Ask for a room with a view of the Caribbean.
From a base in Santo. Domingo, many families like to use a rental car to visit other island beaches. Conveniently located near Santo Domingo’s airport, Boca Chica is a resort town whose beach is most popular among residents because of its soft fine sand and crystal blue waters. Scattered around the beach are a variety of vendors offering genuine Dominican cuisine, 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 young children to play on their own.
Located halfway between Santo Domingo and La Romana, Juan Dolio is a relaxing getaway for both couples and families. As elsewhere in the DR, this town has its own unique culture, shopping, nightlife and, of course, flawless beaches. On Juan Dolio’s main boulevard, visitors can safely walk, jog or cycle, then head to 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.
La Caleta is a green space with a popular beach and the Museo de la Caleta, a small building containing the remains of Taino tombs discovered during 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 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.
Dining around Santo Domingo
With Sto. Domingo being a commercial center for the Caribbean and Latin America, fine restaurants are in demand. La Residence, located in the Hostal Nicolas De Ovando, is a historic restaurant that was once a mansion dating from 1502. It’s one of the few upscale restaurants within the area that offer a continental menu; sample the spit roasted lamb rubbed with authentic spices and served with bacon, garlic and vinegar sauce, or rabbit stuffed with bacon and mushrooms. A few Dominican dishes like roast lobster with wok-fried vegetables, pork chops with local spices and braised “Dominican-style” red snapper will please fussy kids.
Pat’e Palo’s charming location is reason enough to try this eclectic eatery. The restaurant, located at the Zona Colonial, overlooks the elegant cloisters of the Alcazar de Colon, where affable Dominicans flock together every night at dusk. The tables, topped with heavy wood, are either situated outside on the patio or within the historic walls of the dim interior. Aside from the splendid structure, the food is some of the best in the capital. Popular dishes include sauteed shrimp in coconut-curry sauce, or a brochette of meats that have been marinated in fresh spices and herbs, skillfully set ablaze at your table. At this sociable and appealing bistro, guitarists and musicians performs weekend evenings.
Vesuvio I (1/809/221-3333), located along the seafront Malecon promenade, is considered the most famous Italian restaurant in DR. The Bonarelli family have worked since 1954 to master and expand their menu. Specialties include Dominican crayfish a la Vesuvio (topped with garlic and bacon), pappardelle al Bosque (noodles with porcini mushrooms, rosemary, and garlic), and black tallarini a la crema.
DR’s East Coast – Punta Cana Resorts
Bavaro Palace Hotel
Punta Cana/Bavaro Beach, Dominican Republic
The five-star, all-inclusive Bavaro Palace Palace welcomes families to the clear, calm waters and pristine beaches of Playa Bavaro on the eastern coast of DR. A more upscale choice than the Capella in Juan Dolio, this one’s about 12 miles from Punta Cana International Airport in the purpose-built Bavara hotel zone. Let your kids roam free as you lounge in the embracing sunshine on two miles of soft, white sand beach. Punta Cana’s water is an exquisite cerulean color.
Whether you are or are not a a guest of the Bavaro Palace Palace, try their excellent Chez Palace a la carte restaurant, where reservations are a must. The contemporary Spanish style decor is classy yet trendy, and the formally dressed staff serves fabulous dishes, dinner only.
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
The Caribbean’s first Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, features the largest casino in the Dominican Republic with a 45,000-square-feet gaming space. The huge, beachfront vacation complex has 1,790 well appointed rooms done in a contemporary style, with double rooms with two double beds that most families choose. Enjoy 12 expansive pools, 4 swim-up bars, and 3 kids pool with flume waterslides. There’s also a Rock Spa and Hard Rock Golf to keep parents and older kids busy beyond the pool and casino.
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