Punta Cana is located at the confluence of the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. It is a privileged area with white sand beaches, palm trees and nature reserves. Here you can enjoy numerous outdoor activities, explore the reefs or simply enjoy the nightlife.
1. A day in Santo Domingo with lunch
This tour focuses on the Zona Colonial, the original core of the capital - a completely pedestrianized area with cafes, stores and restaurants.
Here are concentrated the historic buildings of the capital: the Palacio Consistorial with its elegant clock tower, the Ozama fortress, the ruins of the Monastery of San Francisco and the houses of the Spanish colonists.
An air-conditioned vehicle will pick you up at your hotel in Punta Cana and accompany you to Santo Domingo. Normally, the group consists of a maximum of 49 travelers and includes an expert guide who will explain the history of the capital, with a major emphasis on the following attractions:
- Alcazar de Colon, the first fortified palace in the Americas. It is not dedicated to the more famous Christopher Columbus, but to his son Diego, who served as Viceroy of the Indies between 1511 and 1526
- National Palace, the seat of government. It bears the signature of Italian architect Guido D'Alessandro and was inaugurated in August 1947. This monumental building was commissioned by the former dictator of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Leónidas Trujillo
- Museo de las Casas Reales, the cultural institution that traces the colonial history of the Caribbean country. It housed both the court and the governors' residence. Its various rooms illustrate, among other things, pirate attacks, the history of the sugar industry and paintings of the period.
- Catedral Primada de América, the oldest cathedral in the continent. It was built in the 16th century and is Gothic in style
In the eastern part of the city, a few minutes from the Colonial Zone, is the Columbus Lighthouse, a colossal concrete structure that pays homage to the discoverer of the New World. The project bears the signature of two architects: J. L. Gleave and Teófilo Carbonell. It is vaguely reminiscent of a Mayan pyramid.
- Duration: more than 10 hours
- Price: approximately 100 €
- Recommended for those who want to discover the history of the Dominican Republic.
2. Tour of Santo Domingo with visit to Los Tres Ojos Lake
This route is practically the same as the simple visit to Santo Domingo, but includes the entrance to Los Tres Ojos National Park which is located a few kilometers from the capital.
An air-conditioned bus will pick you up at your hotel in Punta Cana to take you to the Colonial Zone. The name of the first settlement was La Nueva Isabela, but a few years later it was renamed Santo Domingo.
An expert guide will lead you through this pedestrian area that gathers picturesque corners as well as historic buildings, such as the Museo de las Casas Reales and the Alcázar de Colón. After leaving the city behind, the bus will accompany you to Los Tres Ojos, a natural area characterized by three cenotes of crystalline water:
- Lago de las Damas, in the past women and children bathed here
- La Nevera, its waters are colder and darker
- Lago Azufre, in the past it was believed that the white rocks were composed of this element
Actually there is a fourth eye called Los Zaramagullones. It was discovered later, as it is surrounded by dense vegetation. These four lakes were created as a result of a rockslide thousands of years ago.
If you like nature, I recommend reading the post about day trips to Saona Island. It is a postcard destination thanks to its white sand beaches and palm trees that caress the sea. The navigation is done by catamaran and the transfer to the port is usually included.
- Duration: between 10 and 12 hours
- Price: about 100 €
- Recommended for those who want to combine a cultural visit with an activity in nature.
When is the best time to go to the Dominican Republic?
The Dominican Republic is a Caribbean country and therefore, it is necessary to take into account the rainy season. To enjoy pleasant temperatures and avoid hurricanes, it is advisable to travel to the island between December and April. Even so, temperatures are pleasant all year round and big storms do not usually reach Punta Cana.
In case you want to travel to the Caribbean without spending too much, October and November are the best months. There are fewer tourists and hotel prices are more affordable. If you want to go deeper into this topic, I recommend you to read the post about the best time to go to Punta Cana.
Are there hurricanes in Dominican Republic?
In the Central American country, the hurricane season roughly corresponds to the summer. Normally, August and September are the most affected months. However, there are a few factors to take into account:
- Hurricanes do not hit the Dominican Republic every year
- Hotels are prepared to face storms
- Accommodation is much cheaper as it corresponds to the low season
- Minimum temperatures do not usually go below 24º
- Rains last for a short time (less than 10 minutes)
What will I see on this type of excursion?
Santo Domingo is not only the capital of the Dominican Republic, but also the first seat of the Spanish Crown in the New World.
The old town retains traces of the island's colonial past, but that's not all. You will also see more modern constructions such as the Columbus Lighthouse, a tribute to the Genoese navigator.
How many days should I stay in the Dominican Republic?
The Central American country is not very big, but it has a lot to offer, especially in terms of nature. In my opinion, a week is the minimum stay, although 10 days in Punta Cana or two full weeks is ideal.
You will have enough time to go on excursions and enjoy the dreamy beaches of the Dominican Republic.
What are the typical dishes of the Dominican Republic?
Most excursions to Santo Domingo include lunch. At noon, your guide will take you to a local restaurant where you will have the opportunity to taste typical Dominican Republic dishes:
- Mofongo, a side dish with African roots. It is a kind of puree obtained by mashing fried plantains, pork rinds and garlic. It is the perfect accompaniment to meat dishes
- Catibias, fried yucca empanadas stuffed with cheese or meat. In Santo Domingo, chef Anthony Bourdain highlighted the catibias of Mesón De Bari, in the Colonial Zone (Calle Hostos 302)
- Yaniqueques, the most popular street food in the country. It is a crispy fried dish in the shape of a disk. There are sweet and savory versions that can be found in every corner of the capital. According to locals, it was born as an imitation of Johnny Cake, a pancake from Rhode Island, United States
- Pasteles en hoja, the Dominican version of tamales. They are prepared with a plantain dough filled with meat and wrapped in a banana leaf. Traditionally, they are only found at Christmas
- Sancocho, a hearty soup with tubers, legumes, rice, vegetables and meats. In case you are really hungry, I recommend you try the Sancocho 7 carnes with chicken, different cuts of pork, chicken, beef, guinea fowl and goat. In the capital of the Dominican Republic, you can eat a more modern version at Buche de Perico restaurant (Calle El Conde 53)
- Mangú, mashed green plantains with a garnish of red onions. This dish also comes from Africa, specifically the Congo
- Bizcocho Dominicano, a spongy cake with a filling of pineapple, vanilla and orange game. If you want to take a piece back to your hotel, I recommend going to the Fresco del Horno pastry shop (Calle Lorenzo Despradel 20).
What are the advantages of taking a guided tour vs. visiting Santo Domingo on my own?
To travel without worries it is preferable to book a guided tour. You will not have to worry about traffic jams, you will have at your disposal an expert guide as well as some tickets to the attractions of the capital. All this without having to spend an excessive amount of money.
The roads in the Dominican Republic are in good condition (they are fairly new) and the trip from Punta Cana takes about 2.5 hours. However, it is difficult to drive because of heavy traffic and little respect for the rules of the road.
Can I go to Santo Domingo from Punta Cana on my own?
Yes, if you have booked a car at the airport, you can reach the capital by taking the Coral Highway and the Eastern Highway. The trip takes about 2.5 hours and there are tolls.
In Santo Domingo street parking is free but finding a parking space is complicated. In any case, I recommend leaving your car in a paid parking lot.
As an alternative you can opt for a bus. The company Expreso Bávaro guarantees connections between the two locations. In Punta Cana, the vehicles leave from Cruze de Friusa and Cruze de Veron and a one-way trip (without return) costs about 400 Dominican pesos (7.5 €).
However, it is not possible to book in advance and if you want to secure your place, you must be at the station at least 1 hour before the departure of the bus. It is not very comfortable and that is why most tourists choose an organized tour.
Is it advisable to visit Santo Domingo with children?
Yes, being an organized tour you won't have to walk too far and you will see undoubtedly interesting sites. However, the excursions do not touch the places that the kids might like the most, such as Chinatown, the Trampolín Children's Museum or the Iberoamerica Park.
Do you think this activity would be too boring for them? No problem! Thanks to the good temperatures all year round, there is no shortage of options for outdoor activities with your kids. For more ideas I recommend you to read the post about the best things to do in Punta Cana with kids.
Is it safe to travel to the Dominican Republic?
Yes, the Dominican Republic is a very safe country. In the capital, pickpockets are less frequent than in other Caribbean and South American cities, but some problems persist, such as tourist scams or petty theft in hotels (although the number is decreasing).
What typical souvenir can I buy in Santo Domingo?
Looking for an original gift or souvenir? Here is a list of the most recommended options:
- Limé Dolls, the symbol of the Dominican Republic. They are colorful dolls with faceless faces and represent the cultural mix of the country. In the capital you can buy them at the Mercado Modelo (Mella Avenue) and in other gift stores in the Colonial Zone
- Coffee, one of the most exported products. It is grown in the northeast of the island and is characterized by its acid and aromatic flavor. You can find good blends at Casa Barista (Calle Victor Garrido Puello)
- Amber and Larimar, two precious stones extracted from the Dominican Republic's subsoil. You can find them in the stores on Calle El Conde
- Ron, another typical product of the island. The most famous brands are Brugal (founded by a Spaniard who settled in Puerto Plata), Bermúdez (the oldest) and Barceló. If you want to taste a good drink before deciding, I recommend you reserve a table at Sugar Cane - La casa del ron ( Calle Arzobispo Meriño 204)
- Chocolate, a crop present in the country since the 16th century. In Santo Domingo, you can buy tablets and treats at Kahkow (Calle Las Damas 102). They also organize guided tours of their farm.
What are the towns I should not miss in Dominican Republic?
The Caribbean country is not only beaches and sea. The green interior is wonderful and also has charming cities. Here are some of the best:
- Altos de Chavón, the replica of a 16th century Mediterranean village. Despite its ancient appearance, it was completed in the 1980s! Its landmarks are the San Estanislao Church, the archeological museum and the amphitheater, which was inaugurated with a performance by Frank Sinatra. If you like golf, I recommend you check out the impressive green at Dye Fore
- Puerto Plata, the first commercial port in the country. It was founded in the 19th century and its old town brings together Victorian and neoclassical buildings. Its landmark is the Fortress of San Felipe, which dates back to the 16th century. A short distance from the town are two very popular natural parks: Ocean World and a capuchin monkey sanctuary. If you are interested in the latter activity, I recommend reading the post on excursions to Monkeyland from Punta Cana
- Santa Barbara de Samana, a town known for its picturesque colorful houses. It is located in a splendid bay and houses an interesting museum dedicated to humpback whales. It is open Monday to Friday from 8:30 am to 3:00 pm and the entrance fee is about 3 € (at the exchange rate). Also worth seeing is La Churcha, a church built by freed slaves
- Barahona, the city of carnival. It is located in the western part of the country, more than 5 hours drive from Punta Cana. However, it is worth the drive to enter the Villa Miriam spa, which consists of natural pools formed by a river
- Santiago de los Caballeros, the second largest city in the country. Nearby, tobacco is grown and therefore, a must-see stop is La Aurora Cigar World, a tobacco company that organizes guided tours - you'll learn all about cigars! Another emblematic point is the Monument to the Heroes of the Restoration, recognizable by its large white tower that reaches 70 meters high.
- Concepción de La Vega, a city founded by Christopher Columbus. It was destroyed by an earthquake, but you can see the ruins of the Vega Vieja, which include the old Fort Concepción.
What should I bring for a vacation in Punta Cana/Santo Domingo?
It depends on what you want to do. In any case, Dominican Republic is a tropical country and the humidity is very high. I recommend you to bring breathable clothes to alleviate the heat sensation. If you travel during the rainy season, a raincoat is essential.
Of course, a swimsuit is a must in your suitcase, as well as flip-flops and a hat to protect you from the sun. If you are planning to do strenuous activities, such as a zip-line experience in Punta Cana, you should bring comfortable sportswear and closed-toe shoes.
In general, I recommend you bring (or buy locally) a good insect repellent. Unfortunately, mosquitoes are a fixed presence near the pools although if you travel in the dry season, their numbers will be lower.