10 best things to do in the Dominican Republic
You can, of course, laze on a lovely beach in Bavaro. But in the Dom Rep there's so much more to do - explore the Cascades, go to Catalina Island, try street food in Sosua. It's all within a few hours drive on this lively little island.
1. Snorkel with humpback whales
From January to April, north-east Samaná Bay becomes a whale soup. Several thousand humpbacks gather here and pilot whales and dolphins frolic too. Boats trips – the best ones accompanied by marine biologists and song-detecting hydrophones – get you close. Better, though, are week-long 'liveaboard' trips with Conscious Breath Adventures, which sail further out to Silver Bank and allow you to jump, sensitively, in the water with the whales.
2. See San Francisco Monastery concerts for free
The ruins of this early 16th century monastery in Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial are free to wander at any time. But they’re best on Sunday nights, when the old stones reverb with son, bachata and merengue music. Grupo Bonyé perform from 5.30-10pm; traditional dancers start things off - you can pull up a plastic chair and watch, or get up to twirl yourself.
3. Sleep at Natura Cabana
The thatched beachside bungalows of Natura Cabana strike an appealing balance between value and eco-luxe. Set amid palm and almond groves, they are cool, literally: there’s no air-con but a Caribbean breeze wafts over the verandas and through the shutters. Each cabin is a thoughtful construction of local materials, with bamboo furniture and shower curtains woven from sea shells, while the open-air restaurant serves a fine ceviche. With doubles costing from US$180 [£120], it’s Crusoe-chic for a reasonable price.
4. Ecotour at Laguna Oviedo
While most people obsess over the Dom Rep’s beaches, its most interesting waters are arguably here. But what super-salty Laguna Oviedo lacks in tourists it makes up for in wildlife. Ibis, pelicans, storks and spoonbills wade in the milky-green waters, and oversize iguanas maraud on the cayos (small islands). Most flamboyant are the flamingos, which gather in greatest numbers in winter. A boat tour with EcoTour Barahona is the best way to get close.
5. Laze on Bahía de las Águilas
Ah, you can’t beat a beach that’s a devil to get to. Especially one located in Dom Rep’s already barely-visited south-west extremity. It’s a butt-bashing 4x4 drive or – better – glorious fishing-boat ride from remote Las Cuevas to get to Bahía de las Águilas. The prize: 10km of mostly deserted sand, and little else. Pack snorkelling gear, to acquaint yourself with the fishes, and a tent, so you can stay in paradise for the night.
6. Watch baseball at Estadio Quisqueya
The rules might be a mystery. The game might seem to go on forever. But, really, there’s no better way to get the measure of the locals than by watching them watching their favourite sport. The action on the diamond is good too – Dom Rep produces talented players, and US scouts frequent Santo Domingo’s Estadio Quisqueya on the lookout for MLB stars of the future.
7. Hike Pico Duarte
Which hiker can resist a ‘highest’? Dom Rep’s 3,098m Pico Duarte is the tallest peak in the Caribbean, a tough, sometimes sweaty, sometimes rainy but ultimately spectacular trek, doable in two or three days with a guide and mule. En route lie river crossings, forests of Hispaniolan pine and drops down to lush valley bottoms; up top there’s a bronze bust of Juan Pablo Duarte – one of the country’s founding fathers – and views across the Caribbean.
8. Eat at El Monte Azul
The fusion food created by the French/Laotian owners of El Monte Azul – running from tuna tartare and pepper steak to pad thai and pineapple-chocolate fondue – wins high praise. But it’s not quite as delicious as the view. This place is less restaurant than eyrie. Perched on a hill above Las Galeras, it’s an open-sided, palm-thatched, 360-degree lookout; eat while gazing over mountains and the Bay of Rincon – where you might even see a whale pass by.
9. Windsurf in Cabarete
You don’t come to lively Cabarete looking for solitude. You come for wind. Thanks to a reef in the bay’s upwind side, its water is shielded from waves and currents. The result: a vast expanse of shallow stillness. In the morning, when breezes are light, it’s perfect for beginners; come afternoon, when there’s more of a blow, it’s the pros time to have a go – retreat to one of Cabarete’s bars to watch the experts flip and spin.
10. Golf: Teeth of the Dog
Often voted best course in the Caribbean, Casa De Campo’s Pete Dye-designed golf course is named for its 16th hole: a 194-yard par three that teeters on a rock shaped like the gnashers of a canine fury, frothing with the spume of the sea. Indeed, many of the holes here are ocean-side, negotiating natural water hazards, outcrops and pounding surf, and exposed to the trade winds’ whims.