Dominican Republic Travel Guide and Sample Itinerary
One of the countries that I didn’t expect to explore in 2018 was Dominican Republic. I have seen photos of it and one of my coworkers told me how he enjoyed his trip there, but all I heard about the country was Punta Cana. So when I got an email of invitation from the Ministry of Tourism, I thought it would be such a nice holiday treat to explore Dominican Republic and experience its culture and indulge in its cuisine before the holiday madness starts.
If you are looking into traveling to Dominican Republic, here’s a sample itinerary and guide for you. But before that, let me give you some interesting facts about the country. Did you know that Dominican Republic is the oldest in the Americas and it was discovered by Christopher Columbus on his first trip in 1492? Also, Santo Domingo is North and South America’s first capital city, the site of the first Catholic cathedral, first university and hospital. Some of the original buildings have been restored and can be visited in Santo Domingo’s Colonial City. It doesn’t get as historic as this. I personally loved our time in Santo Domingo. The country is also known as the breadbasket of the Caribbean because it grows, farms and catches almost everything served for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dominican Republic truly has so much to offer.
WHERE TO STAY
Casa Colonial Beach & Spa – one of the most stylish and luxurious resorts in Dominican Republic. The hotel features beach access and amenities, including the rooftop infinity pool, spa, bar, and concierge service. Their staff and service are phenomenal and make you feel at home.
Sea Horse Ranch Villas – a luxury oceanfront villa resort and hotel in Cabarete on the north coast of Dominican Republic, offering exclusive vacation home rentals and villas for sale in a setting that is among the Caribbean’s best. Although we didn’t stay here, we had the chance to tour two villas in the property. I loved both of them and didn’t want to leave.
In frame: Ashley of @travellushes
Hodelpa Nicolas de Ovando – located in the heart of the remarkable colonial quarter and listed as a World Heritage Site by Unesco, the 3 houses and their gorgeous patios include the original home of the town’s founder, Governor Nicolás de Ovando. The hotel draws all the elements of Dominican Republic’s rich history within its storied walls.
Wearing maxi dress from Fortunate One. Check out the maxi dresses of my dream here.
Casa XVI – a unique collection of houses representing a new concept in fine travel lodging and the only one of its kind in hotels in Santo Domingo. It’s a collection of beautifully restored 16th century houses that were converted into a hotel to give a unique hotel experience. Although we did not stay here, I immediately fell in love with it upon walking inside the properties. There’s something in the ambience and grandeur that transport you back in time.
THINGS TO DO/SEE
Explore downtown Puerto Plata – go around downtown and admire the pretty colorful houses and have some fresh coconut juice. You can also make a stop at Fortress of San Felipe and Amber Museum which houses the famous amber stone with a prehistoric mosquito preserved inside, which can be seen in the box office hit, “Jurassic Park.”
Visit a cigar factory – Dominican Republic has become the world’s largest producer of handmade premium cigars in recent years. Go into a cigar factory and learn how to roll your own cigar. We visited Espigòn Cigar Factory in Puerto Plata and watched the skilled workers as they roll cigars from scratch. We also got to do it ourselves. (Disclaimer: Cigarette smoking is dangerous to your health.)
Ride the Teleferico Puerto Plata – this cable car is the only cable car in the Caribbean. Don’t miss the ten minute cable car ride over the mountainside to the summit of Pico Isabel de Torres. We had a nice weather and we were greeted by amazing views of the mountain, Puerto Plata, the coastline and the ocean. You can also find a large statue of Christ the Redeemer which is similar to the one in Rio de Janeiro on top of the mountain.
Outback Bike Excursion – tour through the countryside and local villages via electric bike with Outback Adventures. I haven’t used an electric bike before (I haven’t biked forever!), so it was pretty challenging and scary. The bike kind of jolts whenever you pedal so it startled me at first. But with 2.5 hrs of using it, you can definitely get used to it. It was actually helpful and doesn’t tire you that much. The bike tour was one of my favorite part of our trip. It was such a fun adventure. We were able to swim in a natural pool and we ended the tour with a delicious Dominican meal.
Visit the Carnival Museum in La Vega – an estimated half a million people goes to the city of La Vega every February to witness Carnaval De La Vega and watch the diablo cojuelos in their colorful costumes and masks. But if you can’t go during the actual carnival celebration, you can also check out the Carnival Museum where there are a lot of costumes and masks displayed as well as the stories in each design.
Spend a day in Boca Chica – just ten minutes from the airport, you can come to Boca Chica and enjoy a beach day. Its constantly calm and shallow water makes for safe swimming and you will be able to see the locals enjoying their time here especially on the weekends.
Red two-piece beach wear from Poupette St Barth and my cute monokini from Lovekini. Check out the cutest monokini collection here.
Visit the ruins of Hospital San Nicolás de Bari – it is the first hospital in America and was constructed in 1500s by order of Nicolas de Ovando, a Spanish soldier. Over its 350 years of operation it has been attacked by pirates, acted as a military hospital, and witnessed revolution. And even with the combination of old age and earthquake damage, the ruins emanates a beautiful and historical vibe.
Go around the Zona Colonial – Zona Colonial is the oldest permanent European settlement in the New World and the entire area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We spent time going around the colonial zone, finding all the pretty and colorful houses and stores, and appreciating the beauty of the architecture in Santo Domingo.
Buy some local souvenirs – We checked out La Alpargateria which has a small espadrille shop in the front and a super cute cafe in the back. The quality of their espadrille are comparable to the good brands that you can find in the US at a cheaper price. I bought one for my sister for Christmas but I sure wish I got one myself too.
Bonyé – every Sunday night, the ruins of the former San Francisco Cathedral comes to life as locals gather and dance on Dominican music.
WHAT/WHERE TO EAT:
Boca Marina – the location is a very beautiful. You can enjoy lunch while admiring the view.
Casita Azul – it has a great location which is just across the main park so it’s hard to miss. I fell in love with its Victorian-era decor and the food is just as good.
The Beach Club at Sea Horse Ranch – we had a sunset dinner here and it’s easily my favorite restaurant that we tried. The ambience is perfect and the food was phenomenal. We’ve tried a bunch of appetizers like coconut ceviche, fish ceviche, plantains, guacamole and more. And even my mango and shrimp salad did not disappoint.
Buche Perico – the place has a lovely atmosphere and friendly service. I ordered a fish dish and was shocked to realize I actually ordered a whole fish. This is a nice place for some flavorful local cuisine.
Pat’e Palo European Brasserie – we had a nice dinner overlooking the Plaza España, which was all lit up for the holidays. I had the best crab ravioli that night.
TIME Vegetarian Kitchen – after walking around Zona Colonial, I was looking forward for lunch and this place did not disappoint. Every single dish was tasty and beautifully presented. The variety was quite impressive and the ingredients were fresh. My favorite was their coconut shake drink. You have to try it if you go.
Meson de Bari – they offer authentic Dominican food and dubbed as one of the best restaurants in Zona Colonial. I can’t remember how many crab empanadas I had that night.
Paletas Bajo Cero – the best ice cream place in town!
Other must try food:
“los tres golpes”– the Dominican Breakfast: mangú–a typically Dominican dish made of mash of green plantains, topped with red onions simmered in a vinegar sauce–fried cheese, and fried salami. You can add on fried eggs. I was always too late for breakfast but finally made it on our last day and ordered a room service. It was so good! The texture and taste were perfect.
Sancochos – seven different types of meat from four types of animals are mixed with root vegetables and plantain to produce a very rich, thick, meaty stew, unlike anything you’ve tried before
Tostones – made from unripe plantains and served as a side dish to meat and fish dishes, or as part of a larger meal.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC COAST TO COAST SAMPLE ITINERARY
DAY 1: Arrive in Puerto Plata airport and settle in your hotel.
DAY 2: Driving tour of the city in the morning. You can explore downtown Puerto Plata, stop at Fortress of San Felipe, go to Amber Museum, a rum factory, a cigar factory then have lunch at a local restaurant.
In the afternoon, ride the teleferico and enjoy the magnificent views from the top. Take time to take in all the beauty.
DAY 3: Depart for Outback Bike excursion with Outback Adventures.
Plan for a sunset dinner at Beach Club Restaurant .
DAY 4: Drive down from Puerto Plata to Santo Domingo. Enjoy the scenic route and stop by La Vega to visit the Carnival Museum.
Spend the afternoon walking around Zona Colonial and finding hidden gems and beautiful corners.
DAY 5: Go to Boca Chica and enjoy your day at the beach.
DAY 6: Do another walking tour of Ozama Fort, Calle Las Damas, Cathedrals, ruins of Hospital San Nicolas de Bari and museums.
Check out Bonyé in the evening
DAY 7: Get ready o check out of your hotel and head to Santo Domingo airport.