Best ways to experience the Dominican Republic

The silver-and-gold sandy beaches that stretch around the sun-worshippers' paradise of the Dominican Republic like butter icing on a cake garner the island a reputation - even by the high standards of the Caribbean - for its exceptional coastline. While holidaymakers would be perfectly within their rights to languish on these swathes of sand for their entire stay, the beaches are only one of many ways to experience the Dominican Republic.

Best ways to experience the Dominican Republic © Martin Falbisoner - Wikimedia Commons
Best ways to experience the Dominican Republic © Martin Falbisoner - Wikimedia Commons

Best ways to experience the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic has generated a loyal following from those keen to make the most of everything the beautiful island as to offer, including its wonderful weather almost all year round. If you're planning a break to this Caribbean hotspot, consider visiting the Dominican Republic with Thomas Cook, which can whisk you to this tropical haven in around nine hours direct from London Gatwick, Manchester, or Glasgow. Read on to find out more about the many things you can see and do, be it on, near or away from its signature beaches.

Dominican Republic beaches

When describing any 'best-of' tour of the Dominican Republic, you simply have to begin with the beaches: they catch your eye from the first moment the island comes into view: a tempting rim of shimmering white and yellow flecked by the emerald of palm trees and kissed by the turquoise of the water in the very embodiment of a Caribbean dream.

The big resorts in the east, like Punta Cana and Bávaro, grab the headlines and sport the drop-dead gorgeous beaches with the facilities to match: together they constitute the largest concentration of all-inclusive hotels in the entire Caribbean.

Idyllic beach on Saona Island, Dominican Republic © fazeful - Fotolia.com
Idyllic beach on Saona Island, Dominican Republic © fazeful - Fotolia.com

Just north of here, off the Samaná peninsula, is Punta Cana/Bávaro's very antithesis: the delightful and comparatively crowd-free Cayo Levantado, with few facilities but plenty of quiet, tropical forest-backed beaches. The north side of the peninsula also secretes (although it's not that secret these days) the beguiling apostrophe of sand known as Playa Rincón, a beach that gets increasing mentions in 'top beaches in the Caribbean' lists and is well-deserving of the complement.

If being becalmed on a beach is less your thing than scouting out the sands as a potential activity launch pad, then the chilled-out town of Cabarete, on the north coast, should rank amongst your holiday stop-offs. All water sports from surfing to kayaking are possible.

Colonial architecture

Island capital Santo Domingo was founded only six years after Christopher Columbus' arrival in the New World (1498), making it the only 15th-century settlement in the Americas and a blueprint for how almost every other New World city would subsequently be laid out.

The old main street of colonial Santo Domingo © Martin Falbisoner - Wikimedia Commons
The old main street of colonial Santo Domingo © Martin Falbisoner - Wikimedia Commons

The zona cultural is Unesco listed and well worth a stroll either side of a beach-side cocktail, focused around the oldest cathedral, Santa María la Menor, and the showcase square of Plaza Mayor, the centre for 32 streets' worth of perfectly preserved 500 year-old buildings. The fact that it is also a lived-in sector of the city - full of apartments, cafes, bars and shops - ensures this is far more than just a museum, and one of the best ways to experience the Dominican Republic's past.

Water sports in the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic throws its own absolutely unique spin on water sports. Just when you thought Cabarete's surf scene was as good as it got, the island conjures up some even more memorable inland water adventures.

First and foremost is the flurry of sublime waterfalls (27 in total) that you can experience at Damajagua near Puerto Plata, a town 35km west of Cabarete. A guide is mandatory for the half-day adventure that sees you clambering up all 27 of the cerulean cascades in order to jump down them again (the really fun part)!

Climbing the 27 waterfalls of Damajagua © Brent - Flickr Creative Commons
Climbing the 27 waterfalls of Damajagua © Brent - Flickr Creative Commons

Further inland near the highland town of Jarabacoa, the Caribbean's longest river awaits in the white water wonder of the Río Yaque del Norte. It's the only navigable river in the entire Caribbean archipelago, and offers Class II, III and IV rapids.

Hiking

Few flock to the island to tramp its trails, but perhaps they should, as the leafy uplands erupt into some of the Caribbean's most spectacular mountain scenery, including its highest peak, Pico Duarte. Jarabacoa makes a great base from which to tackle the 46km, two-day hike from Ciénaga de Manabao to the summit at 3098 m: a spectacular route that sees you gain the summit at sunrise.

Whale Watching

The Samaná Peninsula offers some of the most spectacular whale watching in the world, with some 5,000 humpback whales returning annually to breed. January to March is breeding season, when sightings are more or less guaranteed.

Inquisitive humpback calf spying on whale watchers © Christopher Michel - Flickr Creative Commons
Inquisitive humpback calf spying on whale watchers © Christopher Michel - Flickr Creative Commons

Festivals

The otherwise underwhelming city of La Vega, near Jarabacoa, surges into life during February when the La Vega carnival, on Sundays during this month, sees locals donning fascinating decorated costumes and masks, and parading around town with a great deal of merry-making. It should be a date for the diary if you are in the area.

Zip lining

A number of scintillating zip line adventures can be had in the Dominican Republic, maximising use of the steep gradients and the beautiful scenery. The Samaná zipline on the Samaná peninsula south of Playa La Valle, reckoned to be one of the Caribbean's best, whooshes you through upland forests, and has a waterfall plunge pool to dunk in afterwards.

If tackling the rapids or flying through the trees on a zip line sounds like your kind of thing, then you will want to get booking! Check out the latest deals from Thomas Cook to the Dominican Republic, and remember - it's not all about winter sun! Check out our weather guide to find out more about the climate so you can see when to go for the best weather and give these tips on the best ways to experience the Dominican Republic a go yourself.

Luke Waterson

Luke Waterson
Posted on Tuesday 16th August 2016 in: Adventure Caribbean Culture

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