Best ways to experience the Dominican Republic
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The silver-and-gold sandy beaches that stretch around the paradise island of the Dominican Republic like butter icing on a cake have secured its reputation, even by the high standards of the Caribbean, for its exceptional coastline.
While you're perfectly within your rights to languish on these swathes of sand for your entire stay, the beaches are only one of many ways to experience the Dominican Republic.
The Dominican Republic has generated a loyal following from those keen to make the most of everything the beautiful island has to offer, including its wonderful weather almost all year round. Read on to find out more about the many things you can see and do, be it on, near or away from its signature beaches.
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When describing any 'best of' tour of the Dominican Republic, you simply have to begin with the beaches: they catch your eye from the first moment the island comes into view: a tempting rim of shimmering white and yellow flecked by the emerald of palm trees and kissed by the turquoise of the water in the very embodiment of a Caribbean dream.
The big resorts in the east, like Punta Cana and Bávaro, grab the headlines and sport the drop-dead gorgeous beaches with the facilities to match: together they constitute the largest concentration of all-inclusive hotels in the entire Caribbean.
Just north of here, off the Samaná Peninsula is Punta Cana/Bávaro's very antithesis: the delightful and comparatively crowd-free Cayo Levantado, with few facilities but plenty of quiet, tropical forest-backed beaches.
The north side of the peninsula also secretes (although it's not that secret these days) the beguiling apostrophe of sand known as Playa Rincón, a beach that gets increasing mentions in 'top beaches in the Caribbean' lists and is well-deserving of the compliment.
If being becalmed on a beach is less your thing than scouting out the sands as a potential activity launch pad, then the chilled-out town of Cabarete, on the north coast, should rank amongst your holiday stop-offs. All water sports from surfing to kayaking are possible.
Island capital Santo Domingo was founded only six years after Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World (1498), making it the only 15th-century settlement in the Americas and a blueprint for how almost every other New World city would subsequently be laid out.
The Zona Cultural is UNESCO-listed and well worth a stroll either side of a beach-side cocktail, focused around the oldest cathedral, Santa María la Menor, and the showcase square of Plaza Mayor, the centre for 32 streets' worth of perfectly preserved 500-year-old buildings.
The fact that it is also a lived-in sector of the city, full of apartments, cafés, bars and shops, ensures this is far more than just a museum, and one of the best ways to experience the Dominican Republic's past.
The Dominican Republic throws its own absolutely unique spin on water sports. Just when you thought Cabarete's surf scene was as good as it got, the island conjures up some even more memorable inland water adventures.
First and foremost is the flurry of sublime waterfalls (27 in total) that you can experience at Damajagua near Puerto Plata, a town 35 km west of Cabarete. A guide is mandatory for the half-day adventure that sees you clambering up all 27 of the cerulean cascades in order to jump down them again (the really fun part)!
Further inland near the highland town of Jarabacoa, the Caribbean's longest river awaits in the white water wonder of the Río Yaque del Norte. It's the only navigable river in the entire Caribbean archipelago, and offers Class II, III and IV rapids.
Few flock to the island to tramp its trails, but perhaps they should, as the leafy uplands erupt into some of the Caribbean's most spectacular mountain scenery, including its highest peak, Pico Duarte.
Jarabacoa makes a great base from which to tackle the 46 km, two-day hike from Ciénaga de Manabao to the summit at 3098 m: a spectacular route that sees you gain the summit at sunrise.
The Samaná Peninsula offers some of the most spectacular whale-watching in the world with some 5,000 humpback whales returning annually to breed. January to March is the breeding season when sightings are more or less guaranteed.
The otherwise underwhelming city of La Vega, near Jarabacoa, surges into life during February when the La Vega Carnival, on Sundays during this month, sees locals donning fascinating decorated costumes and masks, and parading around town with a great deal of merry-making. It should be a date for the diary if you are in the area.
A number of scintillating zip line adventures can be had in the Dominican Republic, maximising the use of the steep gradients and the beautiful scenery.
The Samaná Zipline on the Samaná Peninsula south of Playa La Valle, reckoned to be one of the Caribbean's best, whooshes you through upland forests and has a waterfall plunge pool to dunk in afterwards.
Weather in the Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic is more of a year-round destination than you might have thought, with consistently high temperatures. Even in the wetter summer months, showers move on quickly leaving plenty of sunshine.
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Above you can see what the weather is like in the popular resort of Punta Cana, while our complete guide to the Dom Rep's climate will give you more info about other destinations across the island. You can also see when we think is the very best time to go.
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