Whale watching in Samana north in the DR, you might see the regal humpback whales diving like in this stunning photo of a large tail fin heading down into the sea

10 Facts About Dominican Republic For First-Time Visitors (+ 2024 Travel Guide)

There are infinite reasons to visit the Dominican Republic, which has become one of the most sought-after Caribbean destinations with its tropical climate, stunning beaches, and captivating culture and history.

I traveled across the island solo for over one month, and I really loved several of the destinations on the DR; in fact, almost all of them. I can confidently recommend the DR as a good destination for solo female travel.

The Dominican Republic is the second largest Caribbean island after Cuba, and as a first-time visitor, you will be stunned by amazing nature, water sports, charming people, great food, lush all-inclusive resorts, and lots of bachata and merengue dancing.

Here are 10 facts about Dominican Republic, situated on Hispaniola Island (which it shares with Haiti).

Affiliate disclosure: I only recommend tours, services and purchases I know and love on this website.

10 Facts About Dominican Republic!

The stunning Punta Cana beach with white sands, crystal clear blue water with slight white surf on the calm waves under a blue sky
Stunning Punta Cana Beach

The Dominican Republic is a democratic nation that is home to around ten million people.

  1. Some of the world’s best whale-watching tours can be found outside the Samana Peninsula in the DR between December and March.
  2. “All Dominicans” dance the bachata, and if you don’t already know this elegant and fun dance, you can learn it here.
  3. February is carnival month in DR, and every Sunday in February, the city centers turn into colorful carnival parade grounds in Santiago, Puerto Plata, and La Vega.
  4. The Dominican Republic offers some of the best scuba diving sites in the region, including coral reefs, cave diving, and wreck diving.
  5. With its range of terrains and climates, the Dominican Republic’s National Parks and protected areas are ideal homes to over 6,000 different species.
  6. In Santo Domingos Zona Colonial, the historic city, you can explore the oldest continuously inhabited European-established settlement of the Americas, which is on the UNESCO protection list.
  7. There is a myriad of paradisiacal beaches on all sides of the Dominican Republic.
  8. The DR is a great destination for golf enthusiasts, with a variety of renowned golf courses across the island.
  9. The Dominicans call their home country Quisqueya, an affectionate name that means “mother of all lands.”

Want to know more?

Below, you will find a quick destination guide to the Dominican Republic’s most popular destinations. I recommend you put this on your itinerary for your visit.

Dominican Republic Destination Guide

A cute beach bar in Punta Cana with simple, laid-back seating right on the sand, and views of the beach, palm trees and the ocean right in front.
A cute beach bar in Punta Cana

Here is a handy travel guide giving an introduction to the most popular destinations in the Dominican Republic. Whether you travel solo or with friends and family, here is what is special and unique about each one!

If you want to travel between destinations in the DR, you can do that by bus, taxi, private pre-booked transportation, or even Uber!

Hopefully, this guide will help you decide where you want to go and what you want to experience while you are there. Or maybe you would like to visit several DR destinations and do a road trip?

🚗 Research rental cars in the Dominican Republic here!

The 11 Most Popular Destinations In The Dominican Republic

A beautiful rainbow over the dark ocean outside the northern shores of Samana peninsula, from a mansion where you see the pool in the lower frame of the photo under a partly blue sky.
The northern shores of Samana peninsula

We can divide the Dominican Republic into three zones, including the Capital, Santo Domingo. That is the north, the east, and the south (or southwest, towards Haiti).

On the rugged and beautiful northern coast, you find Puerto Plata, Sosua, Cabarete, Las Terrenas, and Samana Peninsula, where the whale-watching tours leave.

Then the soft eastern resort zone with Punta Cana and Cap Cana, and even Bayahibe, which are dream destinations for any travelers looking for sand, palms, soft waves, and a Caribbean breeze.

sunset outside Cap Cana on the eastern side of the island, with stunning white sands, a pale blue sky, and tall palm trees on the beach.
Stunning beach outside Cap Cana

“The south” is what Dominicans call the area west of Santo Domingo along southern shores closer to Haiti. Here you find stunning beaches, but also sometimes crazy waves. This area is home to Barahona, Enriqillos, and Paraiso.

All the way towards the border to Haiti is the secluded paradise beach Bahia de las Aguilas and Pedernales town.

In addition, there are small islets outside the main island that are super popular for day trips and tours, like Isla Catalina and Isla Saona in the southeast and Isla Paraiso in the north.

And lastly, you have the capital, Santo Domingo, and the surrounding areas with popular beaches like Playa Boca Chica. Let us start with the Caribbean paradise to the east.

1. Tropical Beach Heaven Punta Cana In Bavaro

The Punta Cana beach pier stretching from the white sands into the crystal clear ocean on a sunny day with blue skies
Punta Cana beach pier

Experience the beauty of Punta Cana and Cap Cana, marvelous resort towns on the eastern shores of the Dominican Republic, and also its most visited destination.

Every year, it attracts over 4 million foreign visitors to its gorgeous beaches with azure waters – where else can you feel such an exotic ocean ambiance?

Here, at this easternmost point of Hispaniola Island, two majestic oceans embrace each other: This is where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea, and there are lots of tours and activities to keep you happy.

There are many neighborhoods that comprise Punta Cana. If you’re looking for luxury during your stay, don’t worry; there are lots of upscale hotels and resorts around.

If this isn’t the experience you want or it does not fit within your budget, there’s no shortage of economical venues to choose from, such as hostels, apartments, and boutique hotels.

All offer a unique vibe while remaining affordable.

When the sun goes down in Punta Cana, a world of nightlife opportunities comes alive. Here, you can find some of the best clubs filled with breathtaking bachata and merengue beats that will make your feet move!

Music from all corners of the globe is also featured, so it’s truly an international party experience.

2. Infinite Luxury In Cap Cana

The outdoor lounge area at the Hyatt Zilara at night, with cozy and elegant seating areas, warm lighting, small fires, and blue light from the pools
Elegant Hyatt Zilara lounge area

Cap Cana is situated a few miles south of Punta Cana, a “sister area” that has the most luxurious all-inclusive resorts and vibe in the Dominican Republic.

A world-renowned real estate and hotel destination in the Caribbean, Cap Cana offers only the best.

In Cap Cana, you find many gated areas with high-end apartments and mansions, in addition to the luxury resorts sitting right on the beach.

This is where many of the rich and famous of the world travel for their Dominican Republic holiday.

Not only do you get to enjoy luxurious amenities, but Cap Cana is also known for its hospitable environment.

This vibrant community prides itself on welcoming visitors and residents alike, which makes it truly exceptional compared to other places of similar caliber.

3. Colonial Santo Domingo

A charming cafe in old architecture with flowers, bushes, and a secluded and tranquil atmosphere on a sunny day.
Charming cafe in Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic and home to the captivating ‘Old City’ of Hispaniola, is where you can explore the oldest permanent European settlement in the Western Hemisphere.

Seated at the opening of the Ozama River on the Southeast coast, the Dominican Republic’s capital city is home to one of America’s earliest Roman Catholic archbishoprics!

Established in 1496 by the explorer Columbus, this city carries with it a storied past marked by centuries-old tradition and culture that remains vibrant today. And there are several paradisiacal beaches close to the city.

Santo Domingo is currently home to the largest city population amongst Caribbean metropolitan areas, with over 3,5 million people (larger than Havana, Cuba).

4. Zona Colonial In Santo Domingo
White painted houses with brick details decorated with flowers in Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo on a sunny day
Street in Zona Colonial

In 1990, UNESCO formally recognized the old city, or Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo, as a World Heritage Site and awarded it for being one of the Caribbean’s most beautiful and best-kept old towns.

Those who explore the stunning avenues of the colonial zone will find structures from as early as the 1500s.

You can visit impressive structures like Alcázar de Colón Fortress, Primada Cathedral, and Ozama Fortress, to name just a few.

Old charming brick buildings in Zona Colonial seen from the corner giving the photo a panoramic view against the deep blue sky
Old buildings in Zona Colonial

Meander along the streets of El Conde, Las Damas, or Las Mercedes to experience its cherished tradition firsthand!

If you visit Santo Domingo and want to stay in Zona Colonial, I recommend you stay in the area around Parqeu Fray Bartolome de las Casas. The streets here are beautiful, and you can walk “everywhere!”

Zona Colonial is also a very safe place for tourists, as there is a dedicated Tourist Police here, guarding almost every corner in the city 24/7.

5. Samana Peninsula & El Limon

Red and yellow coffee beans in the forest at Samana Peninsula in the green bushes
Coffee beans in Samana

Samaná, located in the Dominican Republic’s northern Samaná Peninsula, offers a stunning view of the majestic Samaná Bay.

Thousands of humpback whales grace its waters yearly during winter mating season – an incredible sight!

Visit The Whale Museum here and check out their impressive whale skeleton exhibit.

HIking outside El Limon on Samana Peninsula along a path surrounded by dense green forest and bushes on a sunny day.
Hiking in El Limon on Samana Peninsula

For something more laid-back, stroll along the Malecón waterfront promenade, which has plenty of eateries and bars to choose from.

Or catch a boat tour to Cayo Levantado – a tiny island adorned by serene palm-lined beaches perfect for relaxation.

The North Shores Of Dominican Republic

Three towns are located in a row from west to east on the northern shores of the Dominican Republic, around three and a half hour drive from the capital, Santo Domingo.

That is Puerto Plata, Susoa, and Cabarete.

In this vast and magnificent, more rugged terrain of ocean, mountains, and fertile valleys together, coffee and cacao production is abundant.

Inside the northern shores, there are also beautiful rivers, jungle trek areas, and numerous beaches, and beneath the surface is a world-renowned source of crystal clear amber.

Puerto Plata province is even known as the Amber Coast because of the copious amounts of amber-hued semiprecious stones found on its grounds.

In the north, there are a plethora of adventure tours to embark on.

6. Puerto Plata Up North
The statue in the fog of Christ on Mount Isabel de Torres
The statue of Christ on Mount Isabel de Torres

Immediately when you arrive in Puerto Plata colonial town, the first impression is that it is super clean (not all places in the Dominican Republic are), well-kept, and super pretty.

Apart from the Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo, Puerto Plata was my favorite city destination in the DR.

Puerto Plata is a historic town known for its spectacular Victorian architecture, but the skyline of this picturesque city is dominated by one particular natural feature, the remarkable Mount Isabel de Torres.

Get the cable car up the mountain 2,656 feet above sea level to Mount Isabel de Torres to enjoy the view, have lunch and refreshments at the restaurant, and walk the stunning gardens up here.

But go early in the day, as afternoon clouds will come floating in, blocking the incredible views of the city and the ocean.

Park walkways on Mount Isabel de Torres amidst beautiful plants and tall trees
Park walkways on Mount Isabel de Torres

Outside the northern coast, from the secluded paradise of Playa Cofresi to the vibrant shores and beaches like Playa Dorada, you have captivating coral reefs and golf courses and an array of golden sandy beaches.

There are a variety of popular dive sites outside Puerto Plata or the calmer waters of Susoa Bay.

Discover local culture by visiting the Amber Museum or doing the Brugal Rum Factory tour (rum is also an important trade commodity in the area).

It can be a good idea to join an organized tour of Puerto Plata with a city guide if you have the time!

Old wooden rum barrels on shelves inside the Museum of Rum in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
Museum of Rum

If you’re looking for an unforgettable adrenaline experience, then Monkey Jungle is a good place to go.

Here, you find adventures like a 4,400-foot zip line course and three suspension bridges, a monkey sanctuary, and cave exploration.

The Monkey Jungle is open seven days a week, and you can just show up there for tickets or join an organized tour where everything is taken care of.

For history nerds (like me), a visit to the San Felipe Fort, the oldest standing structure in the city with its construction in 1477, is an interesting remnant of colonial times.

Old cannons on maroon brick floors in San Felipa Fortress with a view of the sea and the cruise port in Puerto Plata on a sunny day
San Felipa Fortress

The fort was initially built to ward off pirates who sought to plunder coastal areas; however, it later became a prison that held one of the Dominican Republic’s founding fathers: Juan Pablo Duarte.

7. Susoa Town

People from all over the world flock to Sosua, especially for its lively nightlife. With a seemingly endless number of bars and clubs, this small town is perfect for anyone looking to party!

During the daytime, you can venture off to the beautiful Sosua Beach (where I went scuba diving) to relax and find your energy; ideal for water sports or simply lounging in the sun with friends after an evening out.

8. Cabarete Town

Cabarete has been a staple in the party scene of the Dominican Republic “forever”, and its popularity only continues to grow.

Here, you will find an ample selection of restaurants and bars that appeal to young party crowds.

During daytime hours, this area is a more family-friendly hangout spot than later in the evening, as the nights in Cabarete more or less belong to the party animals of the planet.

9. Las Terrenas

Las Terrenas is home to countless breathtaking beaches and a thriving culture of international eateries, boutiques, bars, and small hotels. This is the ultimate destination for you if you are looking for an unforgettable blend of paradise and cosmopolitanism, tropical and urban!

With its captivating waterfront views, Lat Terrenas has become by far the most visited destination around Samaná – making it ideal for anyone seeking a dreamy beach village experience with all the amenities you’d find in a vibrant city.

Soak up some sun and take a dip at the nearby white sand beaches of Las Terrenas, or venture further out to Playa Bonita and Playa Cosón – both will make you very happy.

When night falls, savor the succulent seafood dishes prepared on-site while grooving to an array of bachata beats, R&B numbers, and top hits in Pueblo de Los Pescadores’ row of bars and lounges.

There are a variety of tours available from Las Terrenas to other destinations in the Dominican Republic, where you will be picked up at your hotel and don’t need to think about transport or administration at all!

If Las Terrenas is your primary destination in the Dominican Republic, you can also book a private transfer directly from the airport to Las Terrenas, completely hassle-free!

10. Barahona City

The view from my Airbnb to the charming street in Baharona, with small colorful houses in front of palm trees, around sunset with dotted clouds glowing in the sky
View from my Airbnb in Baharona

The town of Barahona, nicknamed “the Caribbean’s Bride”, was established in 1802 by the Haitian general Toussaint Louverture.

Barahona has some interesting sights to explore, like the Triumphal Arch, built during Rafael Trujillo’s era, the Cathedral of Barahona (1948), Palace City Hall, and the Central Park Clock Tower.

After spending a few days in and around Barahona city, truth be told, this is the destination in the Dominican Republic that I like the least.

First, there are piles of garbage everywhere you go, all around the city. In parks, beaches, on the sidewalks, streets, and creeks – it is flowing everywhere.

There were piles of plastic garbage and rubble everywhere in Barahona town on the southern shores of the DR
Garbage around Barahona

Secondly, everything is very dirty everywhere, and to me, the city just came across as loud and unorganized.

And thirdly, as a solo female traveler, this is probably the worst place I have been in the Caribbean regarding street harassment. It was everywhere, all the time, day and night.

So, for any solo traveling woman, be aware that when you are exploring the city of Baranona on your own, you will be the attraction in the zoo.

A charming food court in Barahona, one of the places I really liked. The ambiance was tranquil, but still with several food stalls where you can taste a variety of cuisines, and have a seat inside the court to enjoy the meal in the shade.
A nice food court in Barahona

Locals claim that the most picturesque beaches and seas can be found outside of Barahona, as the province is home to a stunning cliffside coastline.

I can second that, so if you do go to Baraona, my advice is to use Barahona as a base camp for adventures outside the city limits.

11. Bahia De Las Aguilas

The remote beach in Bahia de las Aquilas where you need a boat to get to, and once there you can enjoy the white soft sands, the incredible beautiful waters all to yourself under the blue sky.
The boat only accessible beach at Bahia de las Aquilas

Bahia de las Aquilas is one of these incredible beaches. I made a day trip here, venturing further southwest in the direction of Haiti to visit this secluded place, which you need a boat to access.

Or, almost without road access, meaning that you can drive a car close to the beach, but you need to walk the last bit, navigating a bit of rugged terrain in the heat to get down to the paradisiacal sands.

Once you arrive, you have miles and miles of pristine beaches, with (almost) no one else around!

The most convenient way to get here is definitely by boat, and you can hail one from the Aguila restaurant, which is the last stop before the “wilderness”.

And this restaurant, by the way, was AMAZING! I possibly had the best mixed seafood and meat platter I have ever had here.

The best seafood platter I had in the Dominican Republic, with tons of delicious seafood on a colorful plate with salad, tomatoes and garniture.
Best seafood platter ever

Places To Stay At Bahia De Las Aguilas

If you want to spend some time out here “off the beaten path,” that is possible. There is a popular glamping site with tents three seconds from the beach right next to the Aguila restaurant, and the beach is also super nice.

There is also a dive center on-site and even a spa!

If you want to go all in on the glamping side while visiting Bahia de las Aguilas, there is another top-rated place called Eco del Mar, a little further along the beach.

Remember, it is still camping, but the tents are built like houses, with curtains as walls, where you can hear the wind and the sea as you fall asleep at night.

I took a day tour to the Bahia de las Aguilas area from Barahona, which was super convenient, and the guides also made sure I got all the information about other interesting sights in the area.

Like making stops to jump into the small but deep cenotes in the dry national park, you need to cross to get here!

Along the coast between Barahona and Bahia de las Aguilas, there are some truly amazing spots, deserted beaches, and the river mouths where the rivers meet the sea.

Where Is The Dominican Republic Situated?

The Dominican Republic is situated on Hispaniola island, east of Cuba. It is on the northern side of the Caribbean Sea, a straight line up from the Dutch Antilles off the shores of Venezuela.

From Miami, a flight to the Dominican Republic will take around two hours. From New York City, just under four, the flight will be around eight hours from most European cities.

Sharing the Hispaniola island with neighboring country Haiti, the Dominican Republic has a tight border as the two countries are very different.

Haiti is still a nation with internal challenges, and currently, the general advice is to avoid tours here.

Wrap-Up 10 Reasons To Visit Dominican Republic

After traveling in the Dominican Republic for over a month, the key takeaway is that it is a stunning, fun, and interesting Caribbean destination.

In addition to the things you find in all Caribbean destinations, you have unique things that are special for just the Dominican Republic.

Like the carnivals in February, the whale watching in the mating season, and the unique culinary experiences that they created here in this small paradise of the region!

After Uber arrived on the island (in a few of the most popular destinations), transportation in these areas has become a breeze. However, to explore freely between destinations on the island, your best options are renting a car, or getting on a bus.

If you want to check out your options, here is an overview of the 14 best Caribbean islands for solo travelers, but they are just as beautiful if you travel with your squad!

Related blog posts:

Incredible Solo Travel Dominican Republic From An Expert

What Is The Dominican Dress Code In The DR?

Dominican Republic National Flower: Bright Pink Bayahibe Rose

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