The Dominican Republic’s capital city, Santo Domingo is also the most modern and dynamic metropolis in the Caribbean. La Capital—as it is affectionately called—epitomizes the pulse of Dominican culture, where the old and the new converge seamlessly from centuries-old architecture and history, to large shopping malls, art galleries, an electric nightlife, and a booming gastronomy scene.
Exploring the Colonial City—the first European settlement of the Americas and a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990—is a recommended experience for all travelers. This historic neighborhood consists of a pedestrian-friendly maze of narrow streets brimming with 16th to early 20th century architectural wonders. They lead toward colonial buildings turned museums, shops, hotels, restaurants, and sidewalk cafés. Hop on the Chu Chu Colonial train for a 45-minute tour of the area, hire a guide who will walk you down the first paved road of the Americas while sharing tales, or rent a bike and meander on your own. For a nature break, picnic on the lawns of the National Botanical Garden, the largest in the Caribbean, or stroll down the Malecón at sunset for sea views, roadside snacks, and people watching.
Blessed with one of the Caribbean region’s longest white sand coastlines–a whopping 48 kilometers (30 miles), punctuated with sky-reaching coconut palms–Punta Cana is the land of rest and relaxation by the sea. Here, where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean, from the northern tip at Uvero Alto to the south at Cap Cana, all-inclusive resorts and boutique hideaways offer all the whims and comforts of modern beachfront living. Families enjoy miniature entertainment centers and water parks for children, while couples-only enclaves boast dream wedding locations, with secluded beachside lodging for an ultra-romantic stay. But it’s not only about fun in the sun, soft sand brushing against your toes, and iridescent, clear water to swim in, go fishing, or dive for underwater life and shipwrecks. Punta Cana is also a golfer’s destination, with 10 courses located all along the strip, a seaside escape with luxurious marinas and fine dining, and a wellness corner home to the country’s top spas, including the only Six Senses in the Caribbean.
Jutting out of the DR’s northeastern shore and basking in the ocean, the nature haven that is the Samaná Peninsula is as coveted today as it was in the 16th century. Pirates hid in its lush, palm-filled forests, isolated beaches, and hidden caves, while European and Haitian troops competed over its deep water, protected bay. Today, Samaná–often abbreviated to refer to the entire peninsula–is well connected by land and air, yet it remains the DR’s secluded, paradisiacal escape of wild beaches, coconut plantations, and rainforests. Its rolling mountains and valleys form the crystalline rivers that feed into the Atlantic, as they cascade toward brilliant white sand beaches stretching hundreds of kilometers all around the peninsula’s rocky coastline. It’s as if the approximately 2,500 humpback whales that visit Samaná Bay every year appreciate this natural splendor as much as visitors do. The giant mammals return every year to this special corner of the DR to mate, birth, and bask in this glorious tropical scenery. Aside from seasonal whale watching boat excursions in Samaná’s scenic bay, more ecotourism adventures are a stone’s throw away: body-boarding and kitesurfing in Las Terrenas; trekking, birding, and caving in Los Haitises National Park; canyoning or horseback riding to reach El Limón waterfall; and boat-hopping to magnificent white sand beaches at the base of 90-meter (300-feet) cliffs, or to offshore Cayo Levantado island.
Overflowing in natural riches—from a poster-worthy Caribbean coastline to world-class golf courses—La Romana is one of the country’s top destination picks. Fields of sugar cane lead to continuous white sand beaches from Dominicus to Bayahíbe. Cave-riddled forests inside Cotubanamá National Park are home to fresh water springs and Taino rock art. Offshore, the islands of Saona, Catalina, and Catalinita are lined with turtle nesting stretches facing pristine coral reefs, while shipwrecks teeming with marine life rest at shallow and extreme depths.
The largest sugar cane mill in the Americas was once headquartered in La Romana, until its owners diversified and ventured into tourism by opening the luxurious Casa de Campo Resort in 1974, a celebrity favorite and renowned destination for its award-winning Pete Dye golf courses. The adjacent 16th century Altos de Chavón followed—a stunning replica of a Mediterranean village towering over the Chavón River, and bustling with entertainment—including an outdoor Grecian amphitheater where Grammy-winning artists perform every year.