There are more things to do in the Dominican Republic than relaxing on white sand beaches and diving in the deep blue
Venture beyond this Caribbean nation’s rightly famous white sand beaches and you’ll discover the historic heart of the New World. Santo Domingo, the first permanent European settlement in the Americas, was established soon after Christopher Columbus landed here in 1492. Today, the Unesco-protected relics of Spanish rule in the capital sit sun-baked and proud amid the chaotic throb of traffic, the sound of merengue music and the chatter of men playing dominoes in the street. Occupying more than half the island of Hispaniola, with Haiti to the west, the Dominican Republic has become the most visited destination in the Caribbean. Home to lush tropical forests, pristine waterfalls and soaring mountains, there are so many things to do in the Dominican Republic and so much to discover beyond the resorts that occupy the east coast.
Best things to do in the Dominican Republic
1. Zona Colonial
Where is it: Santo Domingo
What is it: This near-perfectly intact, walled central neighbourhood of Santo Domingo is where the New World began. Unesco-protected and home to several important landmarks – including the Alcázar de Colón palace, Fortaleza Ozama fort and Catedral Primada de America – you haven’t really experienced the Dominican Republic until you’ve walked its bustling streets.
Why go: Come for the history, but stay for the vibe. Galleries, cafés, and chic restaurants abound, while the architecture ranges from stately 15th-century townhouses to art deco abodes. Walking tours are available if you’re looking to learn more about the city, but you can’t beat just wandering the streets yourself. Stop in the shadow of a church for a coffee, beside locals playing dominoes.
2. Whale Watching, Península de Samaná
Where is it: Península de Samaná
What is it: This spit of land in the north-east of the country is home to colourful towns such as Las Terrenas, and picturesque fishing villages such as Las Galeras, but it’s all eyes on the ocean during whale-watching season.
Why go: From mid-January to mid-March, the North Atlantic humpbacks put on a show. As part of their annual migration, males attempt to woo a mate with their song, while mothers nurse their babies in Samaná Bay. Full day tours include lunch on the picturesque Cayo Levantado island.
Where is it: Santo Domingo
What is it: Haiti may be neighbours with the Dominican Republic, but the culinary style is distinctly different and utterly delicious. Soundtracked by kompa music, and packed with authentic artworks, Maison Kreyol is a slice of Haiti sat in the middle of Santo Domingo’s historic heart.
Why go: Highly spiced and seasoned, Haitian flavors are unreservedly bold. Maison Kreyol imports much of its produce and ingredients from Haiti to ensure that signature taste. Go for typical dishes such as the chicken with cashew nuts, the fried pork, or the creole fish, with rice and fried plantain. And don’t forget to order a bottle of Prestige, Haiti’s lager of choice. (…)