Top 7 highlights of the Dominican Republic

Gorgeous stretches of soft sand, inviting turquoise seas and a surprisingly lush interior, the Dominican Republic is one of the Caribbean's best all-rounder holiday destinations. But there's much more to the island than just beaches and watersports. Don't miss our favourite things to do in the Dominican Republic
Local in the Dominican Republic. Photo: Shutterstock
Local in the Dominican Republic. Photo: Shutterstock

Holidays in the Caribbean don't have to be all beach and no action. There are lots of fun activities you can do to liven up your break. Here are Insight Guides' top highlights for the Dominican Republic

1. Explore the capital city, Santo Domingo

The Dominican Republic's sprawling capital is home to four million people. Head into its historic Zona Colonial, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where you'll find its cathedral, palace, museums and fortress, as well as 16th-century houses. A Zona Colonial Walking Tour takes in most of the main attractions and is a great way to see the best of the city's highlights on foot.

2. Trek in the Cordillera Central

Head into the foothills of the Cordillera Central for a gentle trek. Popular with adventure-seekers, the area (known as the Dominican Alps) has a mild climate perfect for outdoor activities. The town of Jarabacoa is a great base from which to start and hiking, biking or riding, while river watersports are all available here too. Why not try a gentle trek: you'll be rewarded with panoramic views, gushing rivers and waterfalls. Hike to either the picturesque Salto de Jimenoa Uno or the Salto de Baiguate waterfalls. 

Chocolate factoryChocolate factory. Photo: Shutterstock

3. Learn how chocolate is made

In San Francisco de Macorís you can indulge in some chocolate tasting (and even plant your own cacao tree) at the renowned chocolate farm and factory, Hacienda La Esmeralda. A tour of the chocolate factory will teach you all you need to know about how chocolate is made, from its beginnings as a cacao plant through to the finished piece of chocolate. 

4. Go whale watching

January sees the arrival of thousands of humpback whales to the Dominican Republic’s north-east coast for mating season. A boat trip around Samaná Bay offers one of the best whale-watching spots in the world. You may be lucky enough to see newborn calves swimming alongside their mothers and catch sight of the entrancing courtship displays of competing bulls.

5. Visit a coffee plantation

A tour of the Monte Alto coffee plantation and factory in the Cordillera Central region is a must for all coffee lovers. This aromatic tour will teach you all you need to know about how coffee is processed, from bean to cup. After the tour, sit back and enjoy a delicious blend of Monte Alto coffee.

Dominican cigar maker.Dominican cigar maker. Photo: Shutterstock

6. Roll a cigar

Modern, commercial Santiago de los Caballeros is the Dominican Republic's second city and is the place to go to visit a local tobacco factory. Here you can see how cigars are hand-rolled and learn about the processing of locally-grown tobacco from start to finish. You can also purchase cigars to take home after the tour. 

7. Hit the beach

Last but not least, the wonderful beaches are this island's star attraction. For somewhere low-key, try Playa Las Ballenas in the Samaná Peninsula. It is the westernmost and quietest of cosmopolitan Las Terrenas’s three beaches and offers great swimming, windsurfing, kayaking and sailing, as well as some lovely beachfront restaurants. Alternatively, hit the Bacardi beach of Cayo Levantado. It offers an immense sweep of white sand on a dreamy island offshore. Access it from a ferry on the dock or take a tour and enjoy a picnic and a swim.

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