7 great examples of alternative tourism in the Dominican Republic

Dominican Republic, English

When it comes to the next vacation planning, the Dominican Republic maybe is part of the shortlist. A small island somewhere in the Caribbean with palm trees and mile-long beaches. Isn’t that the country where also all the All-Inclusive-Resorts in Punta Cana are located? I would like to show 7 examples of alternative tourism in the Dominican Republic to make you aware of all the possibilities of the country. Maybe you’ll find out, why the Ministry of Tourism communicates its country as ‘The Dominican Republic has it all’.

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Approximate reading time: 12 minutes

We all expect the Dominican Republic to be a country with a lot of sunshine, beaches and people with a laid-back mentality. I cannot deny this standard imagination of the Dominican Republic, because this type of All-Inclusive-Tourism is a steady characteristic for their national tourism. In that sense, your imagination of a colorful Caribbean country with music, dance, rum, and tropical birds, and exotic fruits is what the country can offer to every visitor.

The Dominican Republic is a pure paradise for alternative travelers

Spending vacations in a hermetically sealed all-inclusive resort might not be the preference for everyone. I was during all my time only twice for a couple of nights in Punta Cana and had soon enough from ‘tourism off the rack’ and impersonalized servicing.

For me, this type of tourism always seems a bit like a supervised vacation in artificial surroundings with organized feeding times. I am more the adventurous type of traveler and don’t really need to have this oversupply of service. It just makes you feel idle and unproductive. The few movements every day only makes you gain weight and sunburn as a souvenir.

The ‘other Dominican Republic’ far away from the All-Inclusive-Resorts in Punta Cana: Lush and green landscape in Tubagua

But the most populous country in the Caribbean has much more to offer than the typical gringo vacations for honeymooners and senior golfers. For me, that’s always the main reason to get curious. What does a tourism destination have to offer apart from the expectable factors?

And the Dominican Republic has many interesting ways for individual tourists who are curious to explore beyond the mass consumption society. Maybe you’ll be surprised about all the thrilling opportunities for an ambitious traveler that the Dominican Republic can fulfill.

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1 – Bird watching in the Dominican Republic

10 insider facts of the Dominican Republic for individual travelers

Dominican Republic, English

Are you looking for some real inspiration for your next big travel adventure? A tropical paradise in a coconut shell? Never considered traveling to the most beautiful and diverse destination of the Caribbean? Maybe the Dominican Republic? I would love to inspire with 10 insider facts of the Dominican Republic for individual travelers.

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes


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If you answer at least one of these questions with a “Yes”, you are eligible to become an individual traveler in the Dominican Republic. As you can imagine, I wouldn’t write this article, if I couldn’t present some reasons to emphasize, that the biggest country in the Caribbean has at the same time plenty of opportunities and hidden gems to visit as an individual tourist.

During Canyoning – An offroad excursion at “Cola de Pato”

The Dominican Republic is the most visited destination in the Caribbean. Yet it has much more to offer than the usual and expectable things. Naming a few…

  • Big holiday resorts
  • All-Inclusive-vacations in Punta Cana
  • Palms along endless beaches

These are standardized imaginations. Probably these are the imaginations most people expect when it comes to this country.

The Dominican Republic is a paradise for individual tourism

What most people don’t know is the versatility of the Dominican Republic. And that it can satisfy the needs of every ambitious traveler type.

Well, let’s say almost every travel type. Winter sports might be a little difficult to realize because of warm and sunny conditions for all year round. For this reason, the climate of the Dominican Republic is also known as an “endless summer.”

But an endless summer in the Caribbean is probably what you already expected. Rather let us focus on some thrilling and unique features of the Dominican Republic which inspire you to travel instantly.

Did you know, that the Dominican Republic…

  • was discovered during Columbus first expedition?
  • is also home of the oldest (capital) city of the entire American continent?
  • has the highest mountain (10,164 feet – 3.098 m) of the Caribbean?

These are only a few of the triggering facts to create curiosity. Yet, the Dominican Republic has much more to offer.

Read in this article 10 characteristics about the Dominican Republic that might surprise you to create wanderlust and see it with your own eyes.



Columbus landed here in 1492

Christopher Columbus landed during his first voyage first on the Bahamas and later on Hispaniola Island on December 5, 1492. In 1493, the colony of La Isabela was built on the northeast coast on Columbus’ second trip. Even though the Republic itself was founded as a sovereign state much later, Columbus landed on today’s Dominican territory.

La Isabela (Dominican Republic) - Columbus' Landing

Columbus’ Landing in the Dominican Republic

La Isabela was depopulated by 1500 due to a hurricane. Furthermore, the discovery of gold one year earlier in 1499 in the interior of the country made people flee to follow the gold rush. But the footsteps of Christopher Columbus are still present. And even 525 years later, the site of La Isabela can be visited. There are still some relics of the very first European settlement in the Americas.

On the first glance the ruins of Isabella might appear a little disappointing to the visitor.  Before 1986, almost no one was taking care of that place. Unfortunately, a lot of construction material was cleared up by bulldozers in 1952 because of presidential order of the dictator Trujillo. Only the foundation grounds and the reconstructed House of Christopher Columbus are nowadays visible at the excavations of La Isabela.

At second appearance, you can find with a little bit more patience and an informative tour guide a lot of interesting information about the place. Very impressive are the excavations of La Isabela and the items the people from back then were using. They can be seen in the museum. Even recollections from the old Taino people could be found during the excavations. This first European colony was on a very developed state-of-the-art back then, Spanish style.

La Isabela is perfect for a half day trip. And for everyone who would like to follow Columbus’ path seeing the oldest buildings of the first European settlers. Travelers who love to see historical facts with their own eyes will love the colony of La Isabela.

  • Casa del Almirante in La Isabela
  • La Isabela in the Dominican Republic
  • Monument in La Isabela, Dominican Republic
  • Cemetery in La Isabela, Dominican Republic

How much time should I spend here? Not more than 2 – 3 hours

📅 Recommended visit: All year season (Better in the morning hours before it starts to get hot – There is no shade)

💰 Costs: Affordable

  • Admission per person 200 Pesos <-> 3.50 – 4 USD.
  • Spanish speaking local tour guide not more than 500 Pesos <-> 8 – 9 USD)

Suitable for: History lovers, archaeologists



Santo Domingo is the first capital city on the American continent

The colony of Santo Domingo became the first permanent European settlement in the Americas. Consecutive upon that, Santo Domingo is the oldest city in the new world. Also at the same time, it is the first capital city, the first place of a Catholic cathedral out of Europe, and has the first university and hospital in Latin America. You can breathe in centuries-old history in the Dominican Republic.

Some of the original buildings have been restored and can be visited in the charming Colonial City of Santo Domingo. For this reason, a visit to the Dominican Republic should always include a few days Santo Domingo and the Colonial Zone with its picturesque and dainty flair which is worth to discover. Additionally, it attracts yearly thousands of visitors for its festivals. Check out the festival schedule – Maybe you can join the local Carnival, Barbarella and Merengue festivals.

Don’t worry too much about not being safe in the Colonial Zone. This neighborhood is one of the most protected areas in Santo Domingo. Next to that, this part of the city is one of the cleanest – Although it might not seem as it is from the perspective of a visitor from a first world country. But compared to many other neighborhoods, the Colonial Zone is in a quite good and clean condition.

To round up your experience in the oldest city of the American continent, I would like to recommend you to visit two more places which are easy to reach from the Colonial Zone. You’ll need a vehicle though, but would be able to get to the destinations in less than 20 minutes driving time.

Columbus Lighthouse (‘Faro El Colon’) – A mausoleum monument, that contains the remains of Christoph Columbus.

The three Eyes (‘Parque Los Tres Ojos’) – An open-air limestone cave with three lagoons. Check also this dedicated article.

Santo Domingo is perfect to start your vacation as an individual traveler in the Dominican Republic. Urban lifestyle and city travelers will love the metropolitan part of the country.

How much time should I spend here? Not more than 2 nights

📅 Recommended visit: All year season

💰Costs: Affordable

  • Discovering the Colonial Zone is of course free. But with a local tour guide much more informative and worth it. Should be available between 25 – 35 USD.
  • Admission for Columbus’ Lighthouse is 200 Pesos <-> 3.50 – 4 USD
  • Entrance for “The three eyes” is 250 Pesos <-> 4.50 – 5 USD

Suitable for: Urban travelers, history lovers



The highest peak of the Caribbean

Contrary to sandy and pristine beaches, the Dominican Republic has the highest mountain of all Caribbean islands. ‘Pico Duarte’ is 10,164 feet (3.098 m) high and was named in appreciation of Juan Pablo Duarte, one of the Dominican Republics’ founding fathers.

The mountainous area offers challenging ascents for hikers. Its peak welcomes yearly approximately 3,000 climbers who like to experience its incredible beauty. That’s less than 10 people every day! As a result of this a real insider tip for everyone who likes to discover nature and be all alone on top of a mountain. And who can claim to have made it to the highest point of a geographic area? If you consider visiting the Dominican Republic, you hopefully have now an additional motivation to hike to Pico Duarte and be on top of the Caribbean!

View from Pico Duarte (10,164 feet - 3.098 m)
Pico Duarte is the highest elevation of the Caribbean with 10,164 feet – 3.098 m
(© Ministerio de Turismo de República Dominicana)

There are several routes with varying difficulty levels from Jarabacoa that lead to Pico Duarte. Depending on your physical condition, you know which routes and which difficult level are best for you. Only experienced ascensionists should consider to do it alone without a tour guide. It’s recommended to climb up the mountain accompanied by pack animals and tour guides with a good knowledge of the area.

Another little recommendation to maximize your individual experience would be to visit it off the high season. You know now, that approximately 3,000 travelers approach Pico Duarte yearly. But almost the half does it only in January and during the Easter holidays! Try to avoid these peak times and reach the peak of the mountain for the rest of the year.

Pico Duarte is the ideal assignment for mountaineers, adventurers and everyone who seeks for an individual challenge.

How much time should I spend here? You should expect 4 days for the standard route. Starting ideally from Jarabacoa in the mountains.

📅 Recommended visit: NOT during January and Easter. Evade the peak times and go in low season

💰Costs: Moderate

Suitable for: Mountaineers, adventurers, nature lovers



Lowest elevation of the Caribbean

Conversely to everything that was written before about the highest peak of the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic possesses the exact geographic opposite.

Located in the southwestern region of the country, Lake Enriquillo is the largest lake and the lowest elevation in the whole Caribbean. It covers an area of 145 square miles and the lake level is approximately 140 feet below sea level. Although it can appear seasonable as hypersaline, Enriquillo Lake offers habitat conditions to the largest population of American crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus) in the Caribbean.

Lago Enriquillo in the southwestern part of the Dominican Republic

Very unusual as well as the flooding trend: Since 2004 the lake has grown by almost 130% due to increased rainfall and reduced evaporation caused by milder temperatures. This, on the other hand, helps some endangered species who are living in the lake to keep their habitat protected.

Have you ever seen wild flamingos in their natural habitat? At Lake Enriquillo, you’ll have the chance to! You’re a bird watching expert and need some elaborated challenges? As a hint, you should remain patient and wait for the reason number 8 for individual tourism in the Dominican Republic.

If you’re not interested in birds at all, you can also find an endemic iguana species at Lago Enriquillo. The Rhinoceros Iguana (Cyclura cornuta) has its habitat there and welcomes you with its majestic appearance. Insiders’ tip: Bring some fresh fruits and feed them, they love cherries!

Lake Enriquillo is a very suitable destination for wildlife watching and nature exploration. And everyone who wants to see pink flamingos needs to see Lago Enriquillo.

How much time should I spend here? 1 day

📅 Recommended visit: All year season

💰Costs: Affordable

Suitable for: Adventurers, bird watchers, nature lovers



You can defy gravity in Polo

Now to a very magic characteristic of the Dominican Republic that became over the last years more and more a viral trend. Close to Barahona in the southwestern part of the country, a tiny town called Polo can be found. Here you have one of the few opportunities in the world to trick scientific laws and challenge gravity at the Magnetic Pole (El Polo Magnético).

If you are going to stop your car in neutral gear in the downhill section, your car will roll up! You don’t believe it? Please drive to Polo and check out the gravity hill. Your car rolling up is caused by an optical illusion due to the condition of the road and the landscape itself. Still, a nice and unique experience. Don’t forget to take enough convincing photos or even illusory videos as a memory. Most importantly: No entrance fees are charged and you can discover it for free! For this purpose, it might be a good idea to include the magnetic pole into your road trip.

Apart from that, there is not much to see and do in Polo. But you can use this stop in your road trip as a nice stopover to continue to the unknown southwest of the country.

The Polo Magnético is ideal for everyone who wants a self-drive tour across the Dominican Republic. And for those who want to trick laws of nature.

How much time should I spend here? 30 minutes

📅 Recommended time: All year season

💰Costs: Free of charge

Suitable for: Nerds, You-Tubers



You will be able to play presidential Golf at ‘Teeth of a dog’

Did you know, that even former US-presidents are coming to the island to play golf? Furthermore, the Dominican Republic ranks with more than 30 beautiful golf courses among the best golf destinations in Latin America. Swing and no miss in the Dominican Republic! Most were designed by famous designers like Jack Nicklaus, Robert Trent, Bobby Jones, Nick Faldo and Peter Dye.

The ‘Teeth of the Dog’ course is the most prestigious Golf course in the Dominican Republic. Feel welcome to spend unforgettable golf holidays in the Caribbean. Nine of the Dominican golf courses are mentioned amongst the “Top 50” in the listing of the magazine Golfweek. Many sports champions, enthusiasts and celebrities from around the world came to the Dominican Republic to play Golf. To emphasize some of them: Former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush came to play at the Dominican designer golf courses.

The famous golf course ‘Teeth of the Dog’ in the Dominican Republic
(© Ministerio de Turismo de República Dominicana)

To emphasize the countries status in the golf world: Members of the Global Golf Tourism Organization, IAGTO have voted Dominican Republic as the “2019 Golf Destination of the Year for Latin America and the Caribbean. Not only, but especially these international recognized awards have helped Dominican Republic to maintain its status as the Golf Capital of the Caribbean.

Teeth of the Dog golf course is for everyone who would like to bring his or her own pair of clubs. And for those who prefer having a luxury holiday in a Caribbean destination.

How much time should I spend here? Depends on your budget

📅 Recommended visit: All year season

💰Costs: Expensive

Suitable for: Golfers



Merengue has its cultural origin in the Dominican Republic

Sugar, coffee, and tobacco are the most important economic export products of the Dominican Republic. But it’s the typical Merengue music and dances who made the country internationally popular and famous in cultural aspects.

Don’t miss the following article, that will show you more Merengue dances.

Fast-paced rhythmic music from hand-made instruments in combination with close and graceful dancing moves – nowhere else can the Dominican lifestyle be better observed as during the evenings when the Merengue music is played. The good thing is, that you will find it everywhere in the whole country. Merengue is not only the music and not only the dance, it is a cultural Dominican expression!

In July and August there are several Merengue festivals in Santo Domingo that wait to be discovered from you. They take place around the Malecón and the music beats keep pumping all night. A very special insiders’ tip is the visit of the restaurant ‘El Conuco’. It is one of the most typical Dominican restaurants of the city with traditional decoration, staff in folkloric clothing and typical Dominican dishes. I haven’t seen before anyone dancing as wild but controlled as these two people ON a bottle of rum. Yes, ON a bottle, not with a bottle!

Recently, the UNESCO has declared traditional Dominican merengue music and dance an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. A recognition of the beloved cultural value that is part of Dominican identity.

‘Festival de Merengue’ is for cultural explorers, active dancers and such who want to move their hips to Caribbean music.

How much time should I spend here? One day

📅 Recommended visit: Takes place usually late July – early August

💰Costs: Free of charge

Suitable for: Cultural interested people, dancers



Most bird species of the Caribbean have their habitat in the Dominican Republic

You remember the little hint I gave the bird watching experts in chapter 4? Now your time has come to discover why!

Bird watchers have been considered lately with a decent interest from travel destinations. Hence, the Dominican Republic is a pure paradise for bird watchers. Especially Los Haitises National Park, Sierra de Bahoruco and Cordillera Septentrional offer stunning opportunities to observe the winging Dominican wildlife. Amongst tropical trees and many other animals, some threatened, endangered and even endemic species can be seen. Under those circumstances, the Dominican Republic is a pure paradise for ornithologists.

The diversity of bird species in the Dominican Republic is a consequence of Hispaniola’s complex geologic history with various microclimatic zones. In the Caribbean, the island is geographically the most diverse and enables the habitat conditions. As a result, it offers a habitat for 320 birds whereof 32 are endemic bird species.

And the Dominican birds are worth to glass. You should observe them with your own eyes – or your own field glasses. The unknown southwest offers many opportunities for bird watchers and such who want to become it.

📅 Recommended visit: All year season

💰Costs: Expensive

Suitable for: Nature lovers, bird watchers



Neither 99% of the local population nor Trip Advisor know the highest waterfall of the Caribbean

Whenever it comes to really secret insider tips, the following Dominican destination shouldn’t be missed in any anecdotes. Totally disregarded by all guide books and excursions in the country, there is one of these secret insider tips. A waterfall with a single-drop of 390 feet (119 m) can be found in the middle of a green area.

We’re talking about the waterfall ‘Salto de La Jalda’. Truly a travel destination, which is unknown to most of the locals and not even listed on Trip Advisor. A trip to this secret waterfall will take you about 4.5 hours by foot or 2.5 hours on horseback. Don’t forget to pack your swimsuit before you go. Chilled water will refresh your mind once you arrive there.

As it can be still considered as an absolute hidden gem, you shouldn’t hesitate too long to go there. See it with your own eyes, before standardized package tour operators will bring thousands of tourists here. Furthermore, this stunning beauty is beside its long hike easy to reach. In detail, it’s just 1.5 hours distance away from Punta Cana and 2 hours from Santo Domingo. For this reason, it would be the ideal destination for an adventurous day trip. 

The top-secret waterfall Salto de La Jalda is perfect for explorers, nature lovers and adventurous travel pioneers.

How much time should I spend here? 1 full day

📅 Recommended visit: All year season

💰 Costs: Moderate

Suitable for: Nature lovers, hikers



Giant humpback whales are born in the Dominican Republic

Especially nature lovers who want to enjoy the diversity of animals will get one’s money’s worth in the Dominican Republic. Each year, approximately 2,000 – 3,000 giant humpback whales arrive in the bay of the peninsula Samaná.

They are migrating seasonally from the Northern Atlantic to the milder Dominican waters for calving and breeding. Their newborns don’t have enough fat reserves to be able to survive the cold winter waters in the northern waters, that’s why they come here to the Dominican Republic. In late March, they are returning to North America, Greenland, and Iceland to their feeding sites to prepare for the next season.

Whale watching in the Dominican Republic

In a wider sense, giant humpback whales are native Dominicans who live abroad for the summer and come back home for winter. Of course, they visit their homeland (or better: “homewater”) every year. How cool is that?

The Samaná Peninsula is ideal for whale watchers, animal lovers and everyone who wants to see whales with their own eyes.

How much time should I spend here? 1 full day

📅 Recommended visit: From January till mid of March

💰 Costs: Moderate

Suitable for: Nature lovers, hikers


Did you like these 10 thrilling and unique features about the Dominican Republic? Do you feel inspired to plan your next dream holidays there?

As described before, the Dominican Republic has many interesting characteristics that every individual traveler would cherish. If you need more recommendations for your Caribbean dream holiday and some more insiders’ tips, be forearmed for other articles on this blog. You’ll read about some destinations that are hard to find and possibly not even communicated elsewhere in the internet.

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