TOP ACTIVITIES DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
So you want to go on vacation to the Dominican Republic; an island jam-packed full of beautiful beaches and azure-colored water.
A SUPERB HOLIDAY DESTINATION FOR ALL
You may not realise though that the Dominican Republic has a landscape which lends itself to some of the most beautiful and exciting activities on offer, not just in the Caribbean region, but on the entire planet.
There’s a good reason why some parts of the movie Jurassic Park were filmed on location on the island. Famed for its prehistoric Amber stone, coffee and cacao, the Dominican Republic is a gem of an island, offering so many activities to choose from, you won’t be able to fit them all in during a week-long stay.
ACCOMMODATION CHOISES IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
With regards to accommodation in the Dominican Republic, you’ve certainly got some good choices of where to stay on this huge island. Perhaps you are thinking to stay in a place like Punta Cana, where the majority of accommodation is in large all-inclusive hotels with organised tours, but not much in the way of local life outside of your hotel, or are you going to be more adventurous/independent and head for ‘real’ towns like Cabarete or La Terrenas? Either way, the Dominican Republic is vast and beautiful, with a friendly population who love to share the adventures of their island with you.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC ALL INCLUSIVE HOTELS
Many people staying in an all-inclusive are led to believe that it’s not safe to leave a resort, but this could not be further from the truth. This advice is given by all-inclusive hotels who have a clear motive; if you go out and about by yourself, they miss out on huge commissions from all the tours they would otherwise sell you, so it’s more profitable to keep you inside. Better still, steer clear of the all-inclusives hotels altogether and choose a smaller, privately owned hotel or guest house to stay in, with an owner who can share their extensive local knowledge with you on where to eat great food and visit fun places.
TOP ACTIVITIES DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Rest assured, from someone who lived in the Dominican Republic (in Cabarete) for 12 years, getting out and about in the Dominican Republic will be rewarding, safe and fun, so think about organising a vacation around two or three different areas of the island.
How about combining a few days of surfing or kiteboarding in a sporty, vibrant town like Cabarete, with a few days in the oh-so-peaceful La Terrenas, and even a couple of days in the Zona Colonial for some culture in the capital city, Santo Domingo? Or perhaps a hiking tour up Pico Duarte, followed by a truly relaxing few days on a deserted beach like Punta Rucia. Whatever you plan, be sure to get the very best out of this interesting, beautiful and diverse country.
This article deals mainly with sports and adventure tours in the Dominican Republic, but if you are also interested in the culture, carnivals and festivals on offer on the island, have a look at page.
Here we have given you the top 20 must-do activities in the Dominican Republic, listing the sports activities and adventures on offer alphabetically. Hopefully, it will give you an idea or two when you are planning your vacation to the Dominican Republic.
Top 20 activities in the Dominican Republic
1. ATV TOURS
Several Dominican companies run these fun ATV tours around various parts of the island. You will find one close to any tourist area like Puerto Plata, Punta Cana, Samana, etc. Many combine the fun of driving these 4×4 open vehicles with a little local culture, such as driving through the sugar cane fields or visiting local coffee growers.
Safety can be a concern as rigid rules on health and safety are rarely adhered to, but in fairness, this can often add to the fun! Duration of tours is generally 3 to 4 hours, but check with local operators.
The Dominican Republic is a huge island (it takes 7 hours to drive east/west). Right across the centre of the island mass are mountain ranges (with the highest peak in the Caribbean, Pico Duarte at 3098m). With mountains come canyons and rivers and the Dominican Republic has more than its fair share of both.
If you are relatively fit and a little bit brave, these tours are not to be missed. With iconic names like The Big Bastard (about sums it up), The Magic Mushroom (a geological marvel) and Ciaguapa Falls, to name some, canyoning trips involve hiking (upwards) for a few hours and jumping, sliding and repelling all the way back down again.
Trips generally last the whole day and you will need non-slip shoes which can get wet. Your reputable tour operator will provide proper safety gear, including wet suits (the water from the mountains is cold), harnesses and helmets.
The best tours are in the Cordillera Septentrional, Puerto Plata region, so base yourself in the cool surf town of Cabarete to get the very best of the canyoning trips in the Dominican Republic.
3. CATAMARAN TOURS
Again, several providers based across the island offer catamaran tours of local waters. Some double-up as fishing adventures and others are more of a sunbathing and swimming cruise, often involving drinks and food. Notable operators are Tip Top or Freestyle Tours in Puerto Plata and too many to mention in Punta Cana. Your hotel will have local leisure cruise, fishing and booze-cruise information.
4. DEEP SEA FISHING
Both Puerto Plata and Punta Cana have deep sea fishing tours and charters on offer. High Z and Mahi Mahi Tours are the best on offer in Puerto Plata whilst Punta Cana tends to have more expensive private charters for hire.
5. SCUBA DIVING
Being a Caribbean island, bordered both by the Atlantic (North Coast) and the Caribbean Sea (East and South coast), the Dominican Republic enjoys some beautiful, turquoise water, abundant with fish and corals.
There are many scuba dive schools operating on the island. Our pick of the bunch would be Merlin Dive school in Sosua (close to Cabarete) and Dressel dive school operating in Punta Cana and Puerto Plata. We chose these companies because of their European-style professionalism in operating; scuba diving needs to be taken seriously. More info at https://www.divecenter-merlin.com
6. EL LIMON WATERFALL
In the Samana region, about half an hour from Las Terrenas, you will find El Limón waterfall. This trip is less extreme than the canyoning mentioned previously, or the 27 waterfalls (27 Charcos) we will mention later in this article.
El Limón is quite a spectacular waterfall, standing at a whopping 52m high. Getting to the waterfall involves a horseback ride of roughly 45 minutes, where you will get wet as your horse negotiates several river crossing points to reach the base of this magnificent waterfall. You’ll be offered this tour from locals whilst walking around the charming town of Las Terrenas but it’s worth sticking to the more established tour operators like Santi or Parada La Manzana as they have better guides and well-cared for horses. Walking is also possible, but add an hour or so to the trek.
7. HIKING PICO DUARTE
We’ve already mentioned that the Dominican Republic is home to Pico Duarte, the tallest mountain in the Caribbean at 3098m high. If you are a fit and regular walker, this is a great choice to see the magnificent interior of the island.
Tours generally are 2 to 3 days and start at Jarabacoa. Tours are not cheap, but accommodation, meals and guides are included and generally break down to around $150 USD per person, per day.
It’s a fact that for many people, a beach holiday is not complete without a pony trek along the sand, or if you are a more accomplished rider, a canter through the shore-break. All tourist regions offer horse-back riding tours from several sources.
Riding on the beach can be exhilarating, but we strongly recommend that you take a tour which goes inland and rides through some local towns and villages, along with river crossings through some beautiful valley scenery. Rancho Louisa y Tommy is one such company, based in Sabaneta de Yasica, close to Cabarete on the north coast. You can contact them on their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Rancho-Luisa-y-Tommy-430058250408145/
Cabarete, on the North coast of the Dominican Republic is widely thought to be the kiteboarding capital of the world. Side-on steady winds and warm water combine to provide perfect kiteboarding conditions. The waters of Cabarete Bay are full of the beautiful multi-coloured kites as they glide effortlessly through the water.
Kiteboarding might look difficult, but actually, it’s much easier than it appears. A good kiteboarding school, such as LEK Cabarete, Kite Club Cabarete or Kite Club Punta Cana, will teach you in a one-on-one lesson with an IKO qualified kiteboarding instructor. Learning is not cheap, but it shouldn’t be as each kite equipment set used in lessons is valued at around $3000 USD and is easily damaged (kite crashing to the beach) during lessons. Don’t be tempted to cut costs in a kite lesson; it’s not worth the safety risk.
Poor instruction in a kite lesson can lead to very serious injury; the kites wield enormous power and it’s easy to get launched high in the air if you don’t move the kite in the correct way. With good instruction, it’s exhilarating and quick to learn; you can make great progress in 6 to 8 hours of lessons. A good kite boarding school will charge between $69 and $72 USD per person per hour of instruction.
10. LAGUNA DUDU & LUGANU GRI GRI
These two truly stunning azure lagoons of water are close to each other, on either of Cabrera along the North coast. You could combine a trip to them both in one day.
Gri Gri is formed from a natural spring, but after an earthquake in 1952, the subterranean water rose up and formed a lagoon. Named after the Gri-Gri tree which grows in abundance in the surrounding mangrove forrest, tours go by boat through the lagoon, taking in the caves where thousands of Swallows nest. The boats often have glass bottoms, so you can really appreciate the quite incredible colour of the water beneath you.
El Dudu offers the same stunningly beautiful azure water (both Gri Gri and El Dudu look as though the water has been dyed, such is the vibrancy of the colour), but it’s more of a small lagoon for jumping into, with a zip line and ladders to aid a fast or slow decent into this most spectacular pool of water.
A boat trip on the Laguna Gri Gri lasts around an hour or so and you can spend as long as you like hanging out at El Dudu. A taxi from Cabarete to Cabrera will cost around $80 to $100 USD for a return trip, even if there are several people in the vehicle. Cheaper gua gua’s and carritos also go for a few pesos each, but expect a very crowded journey.
11. MONKEY JUNGLE
Just outside of Cabarete, you will find the Monkey Jungle & Zipline adventures. Opened as a way to fund urgent free medical care for Haitians and Dominicans who previously had no access to any medical care, the Monkey Jungle is now a firm favorite on the North coast (base yourself in Cabarete or Sosua for this adventure).
Sadly Chuck and Candy, the founders of the project lost their lives in a small ‘plane in 2016, whilst returning from a humanitarian mission to deliver much needed supplies to Haiti. Their legacy lives on in the form of a really fun afternoon feeding the Squirrel Monkeys and racing down the ziplines. It’s great to know that while you enjoy yourself, the money you have paid to do so is going to such a great cause.
12. MOUNTAIN BIKING
We’ve already written of the expansive mountain ranges of the Dominican Republic, so of course, mountain biking is readily available through the Cordillera Central. In fact, cycling generally is huge in the Dominican Republic, with regular road races happening both within the major cities and between them most Sundays.
Bike Map have several rides listed here on https://www.bikemap.net/en/l/3508796/
SEE WHAT CABARETE IS ALL ABOUT
(There’s a reason it’s called the adventure capital of the Caribbean)
13. PLAYA GRANDE BEACH & GOLD COURSE
Playa Grande is thought to be one of the most beautiful beaches on the North coast of the Dominican Republic and well worth a trip if you are staying in the region. Traditionally a popular beach for locals every Sunday, this stunning beach is bordered by fisherman’s huts/restaurants. As soon as you arrive, you’ll be offered a simple table and chairs beneath the palm trees and delicious, BBQ’d fresh catch of the day.
Beware the shore break on some days, it can be quite heavy, but generally, kids who are good swimmers will love playing in the waves whilst you lie on the golden sand.
The renowned golf course designer, Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed two golf courses on the North coast. Playa Dorada and Playa Grande. Playa Dorada (just outside of Puerto Plata) is a nice, quaint little course but Playa Grande is the masterpiece; a links golf course with stunning holes atop the cliffs, all overlooking the magnificently blue Atlantic ocean.
Whilst on the subject of golf in the Dominican Republic, there are enough great courses on the island to plan a multi-centre golf vacation, including the world-famous Teeth of the Dog golf course in Casa De Campo (south coast). There are no less than 26 golf courses to choose from in the Dominican Republic, making it the best Caribbean island choice for a golf vacation!
Several locations on the island are great for snorkeling. Sosua, the next town to Cabarete, has a stunning bay and snorkelling trips are leaving from the bay for a short trip to the reefs in front of the beach. Merlin dive centre are one of the companies who will organise a local boat to take you into the bay to where you will be able to swim with and feed the fish. If you are staying in Puerto Plata or in Punta Cana, your resort hotel will have a list of the companies they use for their snorkelling trips.
15. SUP (STAND UP PADDLE BOARDING).
This popular sport is available in several locations. Las Terrenas and Punta Cana both have flat water so if you like to paddle around without waves, you will be very likely to be able to rent an SUP at your local beach.
The North coast is where the majority of the waves are, so if you are able to surf waves with an SUP, head for Cabarete where you can find some great waves on the reef in the town’s main bay. There’s also flat water in the bay of Cabarete. Bear in mind that SUP boards are banned at the surf beach of Encuentro for safety reasons.
Sup’ing (or kayaking) down the rivers in the Sabaneta de Yasica area, close to Cabarete, is very popular. Check with Kayak River Adventures for more details.
Bearing in mind the fact that the Dominican Republic is bordered by two different oceans (the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean) there is a distinct location for good surfing and that is on the Atlantic side of the North coast. The Caribbean side (Punta Cana, Casa de Campo, etc) is flat pretty much year-round, so if you are coming to the Dominican Republic to surf, you must head to the North. In this regard, if you are a surfer, fly to Puerto Plata (POP) and not to Punta Cana (PUJ) as it takes 6 hours to drive north from PUJ.
Encuentro is the main surf beach of the North coast. Situated about 10 minutes drive from Cabarete, it has several different surf peaks to suit all levels of surfing. The best surf for expert surfers is to be found between November and April, with the summer months May to October, being better for smaller waves.
There are many other surf breaks along the North coast; you can find more information on surfing in the Dominican Republic on this page
Down at Encuentro beach there are a number of local surf schools who will give you surf lessons but if you want to take a more intense surf course, then stay somewhere like Swell surf camp, where you can be immersed in a complete surf camp experience, with lessons, airport pickups, meals and a vibe with other surfers to enjoy.
Macao Beach, just north of Punta Cana, does have some rather limited shore breaks at certain times of the year. You will find surf schools located on the beach there when the surf is up.
17. 27 CHARCOS WATERFALLS
We’ve already spoke about the canyoning trips, but there’s another amazing waterfall experience close to Puerto Plata on the North coast. The 27 Waterwalls (local name, 27 Charcos), is a breathtakingly beautiful hike, walking up no less than 27 linking waterfalls and then descending by sliding and jumping.
Historically, this trip did not enjoy good safety standards and very sadly, after the deaths of 3 people at the waterfalls some years ago during heavy rains, a rapid revision was made of safety standards. Guides were properly trained and new regulations put into place about when the waterfalls should be open or closed (too much rain now results in closure). These days, the trip is much better organised, but do bear in mind, it is a strenuous hike and you should not attempt it if you don’t enjoy a decent level of fitness. Do not go during periods of prolonged rain and remember that sometimes, even when the sun is shining on the beach, it can be raining up at the falls, such is the nature of local weather patterns. Check with the operator who is planning to take you, whether the conditions at the falls are favorable.
You can choose to do less than the full 27 waterfalls and most of the trips from all-inclusive hotels will not attempt the full hike. Instead, you will normally hike the first 1/3 of the 27 waterfalls.
Cabarete, on the North coast of the Dominican Republic is one of the world’s best spots for wind-sports. Long before kitesurfing became popular, Cabarete attracted many good windsurfers who enjoy this bay’s perfect wind direction (side-on), warm water and great waves on the reef for launching slick tricks like the Shifty 720.
There are some good windsurf schools on the bay of Cabarete who will give you a beginner lesson in this king of water-sports. Quality gear rentals are also available from these schools, so if you windsurf already, there’s no need to be carrying your heavy windsurf gear to the Dominican Republic.
Flat water windsurfing is available at other resort towns like Puerto Plata and Punta Cana.
On the North-East peninsula of the Dominican Republic, off the coast of Samana, from mid-December to mid-March, humpback whales will congregate for their annual migration. It is one of the most densely populated areas in the world for whales during these months and you are pretty much guaranteed to see them.
In fact, if you stay anywhere on the North coast, whales will be visible to the naked eye from the shore during the whale mating season, especially during January and February, as they pass by on their way to Samana.
If you want to get close to the whales, there are many companies in and around Las Terrenas and Samana who will organise a boat trip for you to travel into the breeding grounds. A note of caution; after many years of zero regulation, it is now illegal to to harass the whales. Strict regulations have been introduced to reduce the impact of these tours on the whale’s breeding ground. Now only 3 boats are allowed to be relatively close to a pod so there is often a lot of waiting around for your boat to have a ‘turn’ getting close to these majestic creatures. Boats are also restricted to 45 minutes in the vicinity of a pod of whales. Do not accept a ‘whale-watching tour’ from any ‘regular’ fishing boat as only boats holding a license from the Ministry of the Environment are allowed into the humpback whales’ breeding ground. We strongly recommend that you go with a company like that run by Kim Beddall http://www.whalesamana.com/ who stringently follow these vitally important regulations, not just for your own safety, but for the protection of these crucial breeding areas.
With more than 20 million people regularly taking part in Yoga in the United States alone, Yoga is firmly established as an important element of people’s daily or weekly lives and that continues, even on vacation.
You will find many Yoga studios in the Dominican Republic. Cabarete has 3 or 4 different venues for Yoga, including a 3x weekly Ashtanga Yoga class at Swell surf camp (you’ll have to be staying at Swell though to take their classes).
Las Terrenas, Samana, Puerto Plata, Punta Cana, La Romana, Santiago and Santo Domingo will all have Yoga classes you can take part in. Check with your accommodation host or hotel to see where and when your nearest Yoga class will be: They should also be able to tell you about the type of Yoga being held.
We really hope that this article has given you some ideas of what to do on vacation in the Dominican Republic; it really is an amazing place!
“The Dominican Republic has it all”
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GETTING TO THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Here is our updated 2019 info page on how to get to the Dominican Republic, and how to get around the island
SEE WHAT THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC AND SWELL IS ALL ABOUT