The Dominican Republic is best known for its white sand beaches, all year round warm weather and all inclusive resorts. However, unknown to most, the Dominican Republic’s landscape is also characterised by mountain ranges, deserts, and rainforests. Recently I spent a week travelling through the country in search of the Dominican Republic’s lesser known places.
Hidden Gems and Places Off the Beaten Path in The Dominican Republic
Below are 9 of my favourite places off the beaten path in the Dominican Republic. As you can see from the map they are situated in the North and South West regions of the country and so can be visited together depending on where in the Dominican Republic you are staying.
1. Rio Yasica, Espaillat, Jamao al Norte
Just 40 minutes outside the kite surfing town of Cabarete, lies Rio Yasica. This quiet turquoise river is a hub for water-sports including kayaking, tubing, canyoning and paddle boarding. Full and half day excursions to this hidden gem in Jamao al Norte are offered from Cabarete all year round. We joined a 4 hour excursion which included 3 hours on the water followed by a short hike to the home of a local family who had prepared a traditional Dominican lunch for us.
Jamao al Norte truly is off the beaten path in the Dominican Republic, so if you have time I would suggest joining one of the hiking excursions in the area. It’s likely you’ll only come across locals, and might just be the highlight of your trip to the Dominican Republic.
Where to stay in Cabarete
Hotel Villa Taina
Hotel Villa Taina, situated on the beachfront of Cabarete, this resort caters for families, and includes plenty of opportunities for kiteboarding, yoga, paddle boarding, and wind surfing. It is also centrally located on the main street for those who want to enjoy the nightlife and restaurants in the laid back Caribbean beach town.
Natura Cabana Boutique Hotel and Spa
Natura Cabana is a yoga retreat just 3 miles away from the heart of Cabarete. Every room is different, and is perfect for a romantic getaway.
2. Laguna Gri Gri, Dominican Republic
Located not far from Puerto Plata, is Laguna Gri Gri, a fresh water lagoon surrounded by a mangrove forest. Perfect for nature lovers, Laguna Gri Gri is one of the Dominican Republic’s major bird sanctuaries. From Puerto Plata its easy to join a day trip that takes you on a guided boat tour through the area. The visit includes a trip to Cueva de Las Golondrinas (Cave of the Swallows) to see the stalactites and stalagmites and then stop at the magical Playa Caletón. Where you can enjoy a drink and a swim in one of Rio San Juan’s most blissful sandy white beaches. The day tour also includes a stop at the amazing Blue lagoon where you can swim in the crystal clear waters.
3. Playa Grande, Dominican Republic
Golden sands and abundant greenery characterise this mile long stretch of beach between Cabarete and Puerto Plata. Framed by rugged cliffs, Playa Grande is nestled in acres of pristine Caribbean jungle, and is the perfect place to try the Dominican Republics fresher than fresh seafood and tropical fruit juices. This enchanting Caribbean coastline is also perfect for adventurers. Those who want to whale watch, kite surf, windsurf or take part in a sunset sail will love the natural playground of Playa Grande.
Top Tip: The best time to visit Playa Grande is between December and April to avoid the rainy season.
4. Colourful streets of Los Pepines, Santiago de los Caballeros
The centre of the Dominican Republic’s second largest city, Santiago de los Caballeros is full of street art murals and colourful houses. In 2017, the Mayor of Santiago encouraged local artists to work with some of the biggest canvases of their lives—the buildings and walls of the Los Pepines neighbourhood. He brought in talent from across the city, and within a few months the area took on a new life.
The main streets to visit are Calle Cuba and Calle 16 Agosto, and my favourite part was how excited the locals were to have us there taking photos of their neighbourhood. We spent an hour wandering the streets seeing how many of the murals my colourful stripey dress matched with (leave your guesses in the comments!).
Where to stay in Santiago de los Caballeros
Hodelpa Centro Plaza is centrally located with a fitness centre, meeting rooms and a free airport shuttle.
5. Laguna El Dudu, Dominican Republic
This hidden gem is often included in the world’s top 10 natural lagoons. Located on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, Dudú Lagoon is an ecological park open daily to the public. Activities include visiting Taíno cave, swimming in La Cueva cenote, and snorkelling or scuba diving in the main cenote Dudú lagoon.
For thrill seekers, there is a 20 meter high zip line above Dudu Lagoon, which requires the adventurous to jump off into the crystal clear waters of the lagoon. There is a small fee for this, but its a breathtaking experience and well worth it.
After you’ve enjoyed the water, you can relax at the restaurant or in one of the many hammocks found dotted around the ecological park.
TOP TIP: Scuba divers need to plan at least three days in advance to explore the underground caves.
Laguna El Dudu Visitor information
Entrance fee: 150RD$
Zip line fee: 25RD$
Opening hours: Open daily from 9.30am to 5.30pm
Address: Carretera Nagua Cabrera, La Entrada, Cabrera, Dominican Republic
Phone number: (809) 697-5534 or (809) 713-3745 or (829) 355-8935
6. Bahia de las Aguilas, Dominican Republic
One of the Dominican Republic’s best kept secrets is Bahia de las Aguilas (Eagles Bay). Located in the south west of the country, close to the border of Haiti, Bahia de las Aguilas is found in Jaragua National Park. The area is deserted, devoid of any hotels, restaurants, shops and even a proper road. The journey from Santo Domingo takes around 8 hours, but be prepared for a bumpy ride for the last hour or so through the desert like landscape.
Often dubbed one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Bahia de las Aguilas is a five-mile white sand beach with turquoise clear waters and a rocky coastline covered in cacti. The landscape is unique, and the best way to explore it is by taking a boat tour and sailing along the coast. If you want to make the day extra special why not take an airplane day tour to Bahia de las Aguilas from Punta Cana, Bavaro or Bayahibe.
Where to stay in Bahia de las Aguilas
We only spent one night in Bahia de las Aguilas but I would suggest staying atleast two or three nights to make the journey to this off the beaten track area worth it. Accommodation is limited in Jaragua National Park but we found a glamping eco lodge called Rancho Tipico. We stayed in large tents on the beach fitted with double beds and had outdoor eco showers powered by solar energy. Note there is electricity by generator only, meaning no WiFi but if you really want to go off the grid, I can’t think of a better place for it.
7. Laguna de Oviedo, Jaragua National Park
Laguna de Oviedo (Oviedo Lagoon) is the off the beaten path destination in the Dominican Republic that surprised me the most. Located in the Jaragua National Park, this 27 square-kilometre lagoon, is the largest in the country, and has three times the salt content of the sea.
Laguna de Oviedo is a prime bird watching area, and includes 60 aquatic bird species, crabs, iguanas, herons, flamingoes, pelicans, parrots and seagulls and even 11 different species of bats. The area’s most noteworthy animals are the rhinoceros iguana and Ricord’s iguana, both endemic and endangered.
The best way to visit is by taking a boat tour of the lagoon. Just remember to take a hat as there is no shade on the boat! This tour is also excellent as it includes pickup from your hotel, and it combines Laguna Oviedo with my visit my next hidden gem, Los Patos!
8. Los Patos, Barahona
One of the Dominican Republic’s hidden treasures is the small fishing village of Los Patos in the Barahona Province. Located less than two hours away from Bahia de las Aguilas, a trip to Los Patos can be combined with a stay in the nearby city of Paraiso. The area is known for being home to Los Patos river, which at 61 meters in length (depending on the tide) is the shortest river in the Dominican Republic and one of the shortest rivers in the world. Swimming in this chilly river is a must for an visitors to the area. Other things to do in Los Patos include surfing on Playa Los Patos and trying some of the fresh fish at the waterside restaurant.
Top Tip: During the weekends, Los Patos is full of locals, but during the week there are hardly any visitors so it’s easy to have the place to yourself.
9. Playa San Rafael, Barahona
Located right off the Barahona Enriquillo Coastal Highway is Playa San Rafael. Here, the sparkling turquoise Caribbean Sea, meets the white pebble stone beaches and majestic mountains of Barahona. This postcard perfect location of Playa San Rafael is great for surfers and the area includes plenty of food and drink vendors for visitors.
If you want to explore more of the region join a half day trekking tour around the area. The San Rafael Coast tour is recommended as it includes hiking off the beaten track as well as snorkelling and visiting one of the most pristine beaches in Barahona. All in 4.5 hours and the cost is only 1000RD$ without food, or 1350 RD$ if you want to stop at a traditional restaurant for the local fisherman’s catch of the day.
Where to stay in Playa San Rafael
Has this list inspired you to go off the beaten path in the Dominican Republic on your next trip and explore some hidden gems?
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Disclaimer: My trip to the Dominican Republic was sponsored by the Ministry of Tourism but as always opinions are my own.