When you think of a Caribbean island getaway, what’s the first image that pops into your head? A white sand beach in the shade of a palm tree, a cold fruity beverage in hand and the most stunning aquamarine sea you’ve ever seen? Sounds like you’re looking for the Dominican Republic.
While miles of pristine beaches are waiting to be explored, we suggest you tear yourself away from your beach chair—only temporarily, of course—and sample other unique assets the island offers.
Known for its mangroves, palm tree-fringed beaches and coral reefs, Saona Island is a sparkling example of DR’s preservation efforts. Located just 12 miles off the coast of Bayahibe, this “deserted island” has no resorts or hotels and natural beauty untouched by tourists. Swim in warm, clear waters teeming with Bahama Starfish, visit Mano Juan, the only inhabited area of the island and lounge on Canto de la Playa, one of Saona’s most spectacular beaches.
Take a Cable Car Trip
Located in Puerto Plata, the teleférico takes you to the top of Mt. Isabel de Torres, no less than 2,600 feet above sea level and with a stunning, panoramic view of the island. Stroll through the botanical gardens, see the statue of Christ—similar to the one in Rio de Janeiro—grab a bite at the restaurant and do a little souvenir shopping before heading back down. When you board at the bottom, guides will try to talk you into hiring them, but you really don’t need one—the fare is under $8.
An excursion to Hoyo Azul or, “the Blue Hole,” is an experience you’ll never forget. Nestled in the lush Dominican forest you’ll find a large cenote full of sparkling, crystal-clear water. Ease into the natural swimming hole via the staircase or jump off the platform for an exhilarating entrance. There are two ways to get there: hiking through the forest or ziplining, just be sure to research admission prices as Hoyo Azul is located in Scape Park.
Feed the Monkeys
If you are an animal lover, you can’t afford to miss Monkeyland in Punta Cana, just hold on to your hat, sunglasses and jewelry! Five acres make a home for friendly and adorable squirrel monkeys that sit on your shoulders and arms and eat right from your hands. Have your phones ready, they love posing for pictures and seeing themselves on screen.
Jump Off a Waterfall
You read that right. For a real adrenaline rush and a chance to see some spectacular scenery in the interior of the country, jump off waterfalls in the lush Dominican forest. Head west of Puerto Plata to the Damajaqua Cascades, better known as 27 Waterfalls, where you can climb, slide and jump to your heart’s content. Another gorgeous waterfall (not for jumping) is El Salto de Limón on the Samaná Peninsula. Hike or ride in on horseback, admire the 130-foot waterfall and take a refreshing dip in the natural pool.
Take a Jungle Adventure
Bump and careen through DR’s spectacular scenery with a dune buggy or ATV. Go off-trail and take in the Dominican countryside—farms, mountains, forest—and see how cinnamon, coffee, chocolate and bananas are grown. Many companies offer tours and rentals, so be sure to research and pick the one that suits you best. Regardless of your choice, you’ll get a glimpse of DR outside the typical tourist spots—rugged coastline and all.
Visit a Rum and Sugarcane Museum
Visit Museo del Ron y la Caña in the Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo for the history of DR’s most important exports: rum and sugarcane. Enjoy free admission to this museum housed in a restored 16th-century building and take a short tour packed with history and old artifacts that were once used in the rum-making process. Don’t forget to pick up a bottle or two on your way out!