This is a two-week itinerary for the Dominican Republic, including visits to Cabarete, Samana, Jarabacoa, and Santo Domingo.
North AmericaDominican Republic14 days / January 2017
Highs & Lows
Tubing down the Rio Yaque del Norte
Tours in Ciudad Colonial were not inclusive of African and Indigenous history
For two weeks in January 2017, I decided to travel to the most popular responsible tourism destinations in the Dominican Republic. After landing in the capital of Santo Domingo, I spent a day wandering through the historic neighborhood of Ciudad Colonial. Ciudad Colonial is a great place to spend an afternoon walking among colonial buildings, pleasant parks, and lively restaurants.
From Santo Domingo I took a shared car to the scenic mountain town Jarabacoa. Famous for its cool temperature, pine forests, coffee plantations, and extensive river systems, Jarabacoa is known locally as the town of “eternal spring”. Here I decided to tube down the Rio Yaque del Norte and swim in the region’s natural wading pools.
From Jarabacoa I headed to Cabarete, the adventure sport capital of the Dominican Republic.
I spent time in Cabarete snorkelling by an extensive coral reef shelf and exploring caves in El Choco National Park. The breezy beach is also a great place to take windsurfing lessons with a local guide.
Finally, I ended my two week stay in Samana, a charming town surrounded by some of the country’s most beautiful natural landscapes. I finished my two week trip by swimming in the picturesque waterfall of El Limon and whale watching with local biologists. Overall, a wonderful experience!
Located on the Northern shore of the Dominican Republic, Cabarete is the adventure-sport capital of the country. Tourists come from around the world to go windsurfing, kiteboarding, and surfing on Cabarete’s breezy beaches.
Although once a quiet fishing village, Cabarete has been transformed into a global tourist hub over the past 40 years. The nearby international airport of Puerto Plata has made the area increasingly accessible to foreign travellers. As a result, Cabarete now consists predominantly of large resorts, beach clubs, and restaurants.
For travellers seeking a quieter vacation there are many wonderful ecotourism experiences in the area. Cabarete Bay is surrounded by an extensive coral reef shelf, which is perfect for scuba diving and snorkeling enthusiasts. Advanced scuba divers also have the option to explore various sea walls and shipwrecks. Tourists can expect to see a wide variety of marine life including barracudas, swordfish, blacktip sharks, snappers, parrot fish, and scorpion fish. One of the most spectacular sites is Cabarete’s “Tropical Garden”, which is composed of brightly coloured patch reefs.
Another great ecotourism activity close to Cabarete is an underground cave network located in El Choco National Park. Tourists can choose to purchase hiking tours in town or opt for a private guide once inside of the park. Once inside the caves tour guests are brought through a series of connected pathways that eventually lead to an underground lake. The crystal clear water is perfect for swimming and cooling down after a long day of spelunking. If caves are not your thing, El Choco National Park also offers zip lining and bike tours.
A historic neighborhood in the heart of Santo Domingo, Ciudad Colonial is a great place to spend an afternoon walking among colonial buildings, pleasant parks, and lively restaurants. Designated a UNESCO world heritage site, Santo Domingo was initially built as a walled city to defend the Spanish from other European powers, including the British. Today, Ciudad Colonial is a main tourism attraction for tourists visiting Santo Domingo.
There are a number of historic landmarks in Ciudad Colonial. Some of the most popular include Catedral Primada de America, Museo de las Casas Reales, Panteon Nacional, Monasterio de San Francisco, and Plaza Espana. I recommend a small open air sightseeing train called “Chu Chu Colonial” which allows visitors to view key landmarks from the comfort of a shaded seat. After sightseeing, head to the pedestrian street of Calle El Conde which is lined with cafes, restaurants, and boutique shops.
For those interested in photography, there are some side streets in Ciudad Colonial that offer colourful backdrops and interesting views. The north end of Calle Hostos and Callejon Macoris near Parque Duarte are some of the most “instagrammable” locations.
Located in the Dominican Republic's central range, Jarabacoa is a scenic mountain town. Famous for its cool temperature, pine forests, coffee plantations, and extensive river systems, Jarabacoa is known locally as the town of “eternal spring”. The area is a popular weekend destination for visitors from Santo Domingo, thanks to its proximity to the city and respite from the tropical climate. Travellers can choose from many different eco-lodges, boutique hotels, and fantastic restaurants in this area.
One of Jarabacoa’s biggest draws is the Pico Duarte, the tallest mountain in the Caribbean standing at 3,087 meters. Adventure seekers from around the world come to Armando Bermudez and Jose del Carmen Ramirez national parks to participate in the multi-day climb through the region’s cloud forests. Depending on fitness level and length of stay, hikers can choose from three different trails that lead to the peak.
Jarabacoa is also home to the longest running river in all of the Dominican Republic named Rio Yaque del Norte, along with six other tributaries. These rivers are perfect for outdoor adventures from tubing and white water rafting to canyoning and mountain biking. After a long day, opt for a refreshing swim in recreational wading pools of La Cortina and La Confidencia.
Located on the Dominican Republic’s Atlantic coast, Samana is a charming town surrounded by some of the country’s most beautiful natural landscapes. Travellers are often drawn to Samana thanks to the region’s ecotourism activities and quiet atmosphere. In town, visitors can also enjoy a walk along Samana’s waterfront promenade, which is filled with colourful homes, restaurants, and bars.
One of the most popular attractions in Samana, Cascada El Limon is the Dominican Republic’s tallest waterfall. Tourists can traverse the mountainous landscape leading to the waterfall on foot or by horseback. Hiking trails along the way are lined with tropical plants, including staples such as cacao and coffee. After arriving at the waterfalls after a long hike, travellers can swim, relax, and cool down in the aqua-marine wading pools. One of the most interesting aspects of this hike is that tourists have the opportunity to see parts of the Dominican Republic that are not often advertised, such as the rugged mountainous terrain and thick tropical jungle.
Another fantastic ecotourism experience in the area is whale watching. Samana Bay is one of the most popular mating and calving grounds for humpback whales in all of the Caribbean. For this reason, tour guests have the opportunity to see lively whale activity such as breaching. When choosing a tour provider make sure to select a company that adheres to local regulations, has a clearly stated animal welfare policy, and employs specialists in the field. After a tour, head to Samana’s Whale Museum, which is used to foster a greater appreciation for the delicate marine ecosystem in the area.
Q & A
What would you have changed?I would have enjoyed spending more time in Samana and less time in Cabarete. Samana offered a much quieter and eco-conscious tourism experience. Although Cabarete is a fun place with lots of nightlife, it is starting to show signs of over tourism and pollution.
Restaurant recommendations?Food varied widely throughout the trip depending on price point and location. For inexpensive meals, traditional rice, beans, and fish (near the coast) was a popular option. Restaurants in Jarabacoa were focused on fine dining and offered a variety of European and fusion cuisine.
Packing tips?In most areas of the Dominican Republic the weather is hot and humid. I wore loose dresses for the majority of my trip. In Jarabacoa I would recommend multiple layers, as the weather is quite chilly at night and when hiking at a high altitude.
Any surprises?Although I enjoyed walking around Ciudad Colonial in Santo Domingo, I was disappointed that museums, landmarks, and other tourist attractions focused only on European history in the country. I would have liked to learn more about the indigenous populations that lived on the island prior to Spaniard arrival, as well as the inclusion of African descendants, who have played a tremendous role in shaping the identity of the Dominican Republic today.
Booking details?I chose to stay at boutique hotels in Cabarete, Santo Domingo, and Samana which I found through booking.com. In Jarabacoa I stayed at an ecolodge which was recommended to me by a friend.