A national park and 16th century Mediterranean village
When you're on holidays to the Dominican Republic, in the southeast corner you'll discover the vibrant city of La Romana. It's located on a semi-circular sandy cove surrounded by a lush green forest. Here you'll find top hotels with private beaches and bars that stay open late into the night.
At its centre is the gorgeous 16th-century Altos de Chavon, which is quite a spectacle as this is a village created to look like it's located in the Mediterranean. It's situated above the Chavon River with artists' workshops, galleries, and a 5000-seater Roman amphitheatre to wander around.
La Romana is also the access point to some other remarkable resorts such as Bayahibe. Just 16 kilometres away, it similarly boasts a breathtaking shoreline with a selection of fine hotels. From here you can take a boat cruise to Soana Island where a small indigenous population live surrounded by the seemingly untouched beauty of this place.
Bayahibe is also adjacent to the Parque National del Este. If you're feeling adventurous it's worth a hike. You'll see tropical flora and fauna, exposed coral reefs, as well as 112 species of bird. You can also head inside some of the 400 caves that lie in wait in this 310-square-kilometre semi-humid territory.
Mountains and palm trees on the Samana peninsula
Samana is a destination that feels as French or Italian as it does Dominican. So if you're after the best of both worlds, this is the place to head to. The peninsula is linked by the Samana highway to Santo Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic and the largest metropolitan area in the Caribbean.
Samana, however, is a whole different prospect. Situated on the east coast, its capital Santa Barbara de Samana, or Samana Town is charming. And the hotels – the majority of which are All Inclusive – can boast being in one of the most unspoilt locations of the country. You'll discover waterfalls and lagoons here, while this thin peninsula also boasts incredible sugar-white sandy beaches with swaying palm trees and a sea that shifts from shades of green to blue. It feels like a dream destination and rest assured that the choice of beaches will suit most tastes.
For example, Las Galeras offers a tranquil and beautiful shoreline on the northwest tip of Samana. It's shaped like a horseshoe and offers many secluded beaches, with cliffs serving as a striking backdrop.
Las Terrenas boasts the idyllic and palm-tree strewn Playa Bonita beach as well as Playa Moron, where you can see the remains of an old boat gun. If you're craving a lively social scene on the sand this is the place to come.
Meanwhile, the clear and shallow water at Playa Madama is perfect for seeing colourful tropical fish and other marine life up close. Don't miss the opportunity to watch the humpback whales doing their migratory song and dance during the winter months – mid-January to mid-March.
The resorts of the north coast
From Puerto Plata's international airport it's easy to get to one of the most popular tourist spots, the purpose-built resort of Playa Dorada. This is one of the largest All Inclusive resort complexes in the world and is a gated area that has more than a dozen luxury resorts and hotels.
There are plenty of activities to enjoy at Playa Dorada, such as shopping in a plaza, playing at an 18-hole golf course, horse riding at an equestrian centre, or visiting the cinema, and one of several casinos. It also boasts the Caribbean's largest go-kart centre, which is fun for all the family. Or you could take your pick with the many watersport activities including kayaking, windsurfing and parasailing. If you're planning to make your Dominican Republic holidays All Inclusive, you can't go wrong booking accommodation here.
Just along the coast lies Costa Dorada, which doesn't try to compete with Playa Dorada. Here instead, everything is based around one hotel and the amenities are more modest, though still extensive and include a diving centre and access to the go-kart arena.
The hustle and bustle of city life and more secluded beach areas
The capital city of Puerto Plata in the north gives you a sense of this melting pot of ideas and cultures – American, Spanish and Caribbean. The architecture of the 19th-century colonial centre is intriguing, while the 16th-century San Felipe Fortress by the harbour is the city's most prominent landmark. Take a ride on the cable car to the summit of Mount Isabel de Torres, where a statue of Jesus presides and enjoy panoramic views.
If you want to get away from the crowds, secluded beach areas nearby include gorgeous Cabarete with its red coral reefs containing a quarter of the world's marine life, and Bahia Maimon, which has been ranked by Conde Nast as among the top 10 in the world, with a handful of hotels and beach-side restaurants.
Or try Sosua boasting a kilometre-long beach, with food and drink shacks servicing most palates. At one end of the beach is the El Batey neighbourhood, which is the main area with a nice selection of good restaurants and shops. It's also home to a small synagogue and a Jewish Museum documenting the history of World War Two Jewish refugees who were the original settlers.
UNESCO beaches, a natural mineral pool and great nightlife
50 kilometres of coastline imbued with luxury hotels and resorts make up Punta Cana on the eastern-most tip of the country. Aside from Punta Cana beach, which is for private use of hotel guests, two other local beaches dominate the area, these are Macao and Bavaro. Their white shores are backed by coconut palms and mangroves, and offer the mandatory warm clear water we associate with the Caribbean – except these two beaches are considered to be superior.
UNESCO has sited Macao as being the best for its fine sand and beautiful palm trees. This is a pretty quiet area but you can still have lunch at one of the small seaside eateries or dine at a restaurant atop the cliff at the southern tip of the beach. Dominicans like to come here on the weekends, hinting at its splendour.
Bavaro is a dazzling palm-lined stretch of beach. And it's one of the most popular spots in Punta Cana and as such there are hotels, restaurants and gift shops here, where you can buy local cigars and other craft products. There are also plenty of water-based activities from parasailing, to scuba diving and speed boating.
If you head to the northern end of Punta Cana you will discover Uvero Alto. This beach resort is considered the in-place to be right now and, although more remote and peaceful, there's still lots to do. This area boasts good nightlife and you can enjoy dinner and a spectacular dance show at Coco Bongo, dance the night away at Munga Disco, or lay down a bet at Punta Cana Hard Rock Casino.
Activities around the east
There are many excursions available from the Punta Cana area, including to the nearby rock pools of Hoyo Azul at Scape Park. Surrounded by forest and incredible flora and fauna you will discover a 65-foot cave filled with clear-blue water. The fresh water pool is a sinkhole created by the collapse of limestone bedrock, exposing groundwater underneath. You can go for a swim and experience the sensation of the natural minerals, considered to be healing, left by the limestone. There are many other activities on offer at Scape Park including horse riding and zip wire.
Punta Cana has another attraction – its world class 18-hole golf courses. Punta Espada is regarded as the best golf club in the Caribbean and Mexico. Or try the oceanfront La Cana Golf Club – one of the first established and most frequented clubs in the area.