Where to Stay in the Dominican Republic: 12 Best Areas & Neighborhoods

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Aerial drone view of Caribbean resort Bavaro, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

When travelers picture the Dominican Republic, they probably think it is the perfect place for an island getaway. They’re certainly not wrong.

White sand beaches lined with dreamy palm trees make up much of visitors’ time in the Dominican Republic. All the same, each part of the country offers something unique.

History buffs will love exploring Santo Domingo and scoping out UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Families will love the water sports in many areas like Punta Cana, Bayahibe, and Puerto Plata.

Beyond that, the simplicity of the all-inclusive resort is easy to come by on the island. No matter your Caribbean dreams, you can probably fulfill them on a trip to the Dominican Republic.

TL;DR

Best Areas to Stay in the Dominican Republic

There is no shortage of white sand beaches wherever you stay in the Dominican Republic. That’s part of the charm of staying on an island.

Still, if you want to see more nature or just lounge on a private beach, you’ll want to pick a place that suits your itinerary. Here is a breakdown of where to stay in the Dominican Republic with what makes each area unique from the rest.

  • Area for first-timers/tourists – Punta Cana
  • Area for budget travelers – Puerto Plata
  • Area for luxury travelers – La Romana
  • Area for families – Samana
  • Area for beaches – Bayahibe
  • Area for adult-only resorts – Las Terrenas
  • Area for nightlife – Sosúa

Where to Stay in the Dominican Republic

1. Punta Cana: Best Area for First-Timers/Tourists

Punta Cana coastline in the Dominican Republic
Nick N A / Shutterstock

It’s hard to place Punta Cana on a list of specific areas to visit when traveling to the Dominican Republic. Being the most popular tourist destination on the island, it’s where you will find tons of all-inclusive resorts all along the coastline.

That’s also why it’s perfect for first-time visitors to the island. You can enjoy so many kinds of tours and excursions here, many more than you can anywhere else in the Dominican Republic.

When you’ve grown tired of relaxing by your hotel’s outdoor swimming pool or the private beach, you can take a day trip to Saoana Island for a change of scenery. Or maybe hop onto an ATV buggy for a scenic tour of the area.

Virtually anything you can imagine for activities you can do in Punta Cana. From renting a private catamaran for a tour around the Dominican Republic, or spending the day at the Indigenous Eyes Ecological Reserve to immersing yourself in the culture of the Dominican Republic, the only limit is your imagination.

Many people who come to the Dominican Republic are looking to meet new people and have a party kind of atmosphere. That is an easy task, especially from Punta Cana. Party boats are frequent tours around the island giving folks a look at the gorgeous scenery with a joyful, exuberant atmosphere.

At the same time, honeymooners flock to the Dominican Republic for romantic hotels, gorgeous ocean views, and activities to enjoy with their new spouse. Why not enjoy a sunset horseback tour along the beach or level your relationship up a notch with some exhilarating parasailing? If the Dominican Republic is your honeymoon destination, definitely consider an all-inclusive resort so all you have to worry about is the fun you’ll have rather than the money you’ll spend on every meal.

Punta Cana is also the best place on the island to stay for golfers! There are ten courses all over the area that lovingly combine the island’s aesthetic with the sport’s thrill. After a round, you don’t have to go far to find fine dining or entertainment for the rest of the day either.

Highlights of the Punta Cana area:

  • Indigenous Eyes Ecological Reserve
  • Scape Park
  • Juanillo Beach
  • La Yola
  • Bavaro Beach
  • Jellyfish Restaurant
  • Saoana Island

Our favorite accommodations in the Punta Cana area:

See Related: Best Beach Vacations in the World

2. Puerto Plata: Best Area for Budget Travelers

The shores at Puerto Plata at sunset
jvphoto.ca / Shutterstock

Generally much cheaper than Punta Cana, Puerto Plata was where tourism was born in the Dominican Republic. What that means is that some of the hotels are a bit older, the area might have fewer tourists now that it’s less trendy, and you’ll save money in the long run.

What makes Puerto Plata significantly different from Punta Cana is the variety of off-site activities travelers can enjoy. While Punta Cana has tons of water-focused activities or ATV tours, Puerto Plata has similar excursions with lots of cultural activities to do on top of nature-focused ones.

Learn all about the city and historical elements of Puerto Plata on a half-day tour, a food and drinks tour in Puerto Plata City, or a driving and cable car tour of the city. Spending time in Puerto Playa City can include seeing sights like Mount Isabel de Torres or the rum factory.

Take half a day to explore the waterfalls of Damajagua. Under a canopy of thick rainforest, Damajagua has the highest concentration of waterfalls in one place in the Dominican Republic.

There are 27 of them in this stunning cluster of cascading waters. There are even waterfalls you can slide down like a waterslide among them. Some companies even include other activities like ziplining, canyoning, and rappelling too.

Obviously, there are still plenty of beaches like Paya Dorada to enjoy throughout the area, once the tourist hotspot in the Dominican Republic. However, you can experience all-inclusive stays with cultural excursions even on a budget.

Highlights of the Puerto Plata area:

  • Playa Dorada
  • Fortaleza de San Felipe
  • Puerto Plata Cable Car
  • Damajagua
  • Independence Park
  • Macorix House of Rum
  • Mount Isabel de Torres
  • Green Jack Tar

Our favorite accommodations in the Puerto Plata area:

3. La Romana: Best Area for Luxury Travelers

Lighthouse at sunrise in La Romana Dominican Republic
HT-Pix / Shutterstock

Celebrities like the Kardashians, the Clintons, and Jay Z and Beyoncé flock to La Romana. Specifically, they stay at the luxurious Casa de Campo but La Romana is paradise. Plenty of luxury hotels throughout the area welcome guests who want to indulge in the stunning peaches, the history of the sugar mill industry, and golf.

In La Romana, off-property excursions include Prestige catamaran cruises to Saona or Catalina Islands. The nearby aqua waters provide the perfect location for scuba diving, snorkeling, or other water spot activities. Otherwise, bask in the sun at one of the neighborhood’s beaches, like the tourist favorite Minitas Beach or local favorite Playa El Caletón.

You’ll also find one of the most famous Dominican Republic rum distilleries here. The Ron Barceló factory is in La Romana, where visitors can learn how it’s made from sugar cane to aging. And yes, you get to sample the product, which is always the best part of a distillery tour.

You won’t get as much variety in the accommodations in La Romana as you would in Punta Cana, but what you’ll find here are some of the best luxury hotels on the island. Since it’s not as much of a tourist destination as Punta Cana, it’s also a bit quieter on the nightlife and attraction front.

So if you want a destination where you hardly leave the hotel, La Romana might not be for you. While there are all-inclusive resorts, there are far fewer than in Punta Cana.

The main attraction in La Romana away from the beach has to be Cueva de las Maravillas or the Cave of Wonders. Not only can you explore the cave, but you are also able to see many preserved petroglyphs from the ancient, indigenous Taíno peoples.

There are over 500 such petroglyphs throughout the cave. Getting through the cave tour will take just shy of an hour. Keep in mind photos are not allowed inside the cave.

Highlights of the La Romana area:

  • Cave of Wonders
  • Minitas Beach
  • Altos de Chavón
  • Casa de Campo Resort
  • La Caña Bar and Lounge
  • Playa El Caletón

Our favorite accommodations in the La Romana area:

See Related: Caribbean Islands to Visit

4. Santo Domingo: Best Area for Safety

The historic area in Santo Domingo Dominican Republic
Daniel Andis / Shutterstock

As the capital city of the Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo is also referred to as La Capital. Its nickname is not just a reference to its current political position.

It was also once the capital city of the Hispanic Americas. Because the city represents so much of the country and region’s history, visitors can see how that history is met with modern innovation through the shopping and restaurant experiences throughout the city.

Touring the historic parts of the city, specifically the UNESCO World Heritage Site Colonial City is a significant element of tourism in Santo Domingo. The Colonial City is a neighborhood within Santo Domingo that comprises buildings dating back to the 16th through 20th Centuries.

Visitors can learn more about how this area became the first European settlement of the Americas when the Spanish colonized the Dominican Republic in 1496.

There are even specialty tours dedicated to memorializing the dark side of colonialism. Learn about the devastating reality of slavery in the Dominican Republic after colonizers came to the island on the Santo Domingo: Colonial Legacy – The Slave Route tour.

The tour includes seeing wall paintings that tell of the religious-based persecution, how the slaves lived and worked, and a visit to The Rum Museum to see how slavery impacted intersectional industries.

After seeing the Colonial City, be sure to head over to the Museo del Hombre Dominicano, the Museum of the Dominican Man. There is where you’ll learn more about the indigenous Taíno who inhabited the Dominican Republic for thousands of years. Specifically, you’ll learn about how the Taíno lived in the pre-Columbine time and also how the Europeans essentially wiped out an entire people.

See a park within a park at Los Tres Ojos National Park or Three Eyes National Park. The park is a 50-yard open-air limestone cave inside Mirador del Este Park.

Inside the cave are three blue lakes (the three eyes). While swimming isn’t allowed there, visitors can see all the turtles that call the lakes home and marvel at the lakes inside the cave.

Highlights of the Santo Domingo area:

  • El Museo de la Resistencia (The Museum of the Resistence)
  • Three Eyes National Park
  • Museo del Hombre Dominicano
  • Don Pepe
  • Jalao
  • Colonial City

Our favorite accommodations in the Santo Domingo area:

5. Samaná: Best Area for Families

Colorful buildings lining the boardwalk in Samaná Dominican Republic
my.miracle.box / Shutterstock

Those unfamiliar with Samaná might be confused about why this part of the Dominican Republic is perfect for a family vacation. It’s not full of stuff to do like Punta Cana, but what it lacks in obvious amenities like the lines of all-inclusive hotels it makes up for in spades in its natural wonders.

Water sports and adventuring are kings in this part of the country. Exploring the waterways, watching the whales in Samaná Bay, spelunking in caves, or even seeing El Limón Waterfall are just a few ways you can get outdoors in Samaná. Since visitors far less frequent it than other parts of the Dominican Republic, you’ll see many places others have not seen.

Folks interested in learning more about the humpback whales who arrive in the thousands each year can head to the Whale Museum of Samaná. There, they can learn more about the migration and family habits of the majestic creatures.

The best time to go whale watching in the area is between January 14 and the end of March each year. It’s when the seasonal visitors make their way to the bay.

Cayo Levantado, also known as Bacardí Island, is an easy excursion from Samaná. Its nickname stems from a Bacardí commercial filmed on the island in the 1970s. You can get there via commuter boats from the Samaná port and spend the day enjoying the remote island.

There is even a luxury resort on the island where you can stay if you can’t get enough. The Cayo Levantado Resort is an all-inclusive property set on the luscious remote island. You truly get the best of both worlds here.

The brightly colored buildings along Malecon, and the boardwalk along Samaná Bay, have a lot for visitors to enjoy. Like other boardwalk destinations, there are plenty of eateries, shops, and places to enjoy the nearby oceanview. Here is where you’ll find the iconic Cayenas del Mar Beach Club as well which is perfect for a relaxing evening after a stroll along the boardwalk.

Highlights of the Samaná area:

  • Cayo Levantado (the Bacardí Island)
  • Playa Rincón
  • Cayenas del Mar Beach Club
  • Whale Museum of Samaná
  • Las Galeras
  • Malecon (the Samaná boardwalk)

Our favorite accommodations in the Samaná area:

See Related: Tropical Vacation Ideas

6. Bayahíbe: Best Area for Beaches

The ocean and beach in Bayahíbe Dominican Republic
Lena Serditova / Shutterstock

The beach town of Bayahíbe has everything you could want on a beach vacation. Though it’s far more a fishing town than a resort town like Punta Cana, the area is full of stunning beaches, and you don’t have to go far to find another beachfront location.

Unsurprisingly, Bayahíbe’s incredible oceanside proximity makes it the best place for diving in the Dominican Republic. Diving and snorkeling tours are popular here because of the abundant life in the water.

Vibrant tropical fish among the coral reefs in the ocean give a whole other view of life on the islands. You can even dive to find shipwrecks near Bayahíbe.

Spend a day wandering Cotubanamá National Park also referred to as Parque Nacional del Este (East National Park). The park has more explorable caves than any other in the Dominican Republic.

Not just that, but it is also home to over 300 species of birds and more than 500 plant species. There are hiking trails throughout the park with different difficulty levels, and there are places to go snorkeling or diving.

One of the most popular activities from Bayahíbe is to go to Saona Island. The island is home to the most important turtle nesting sites in the country and has miles of virgin beaches.

There are plenty of ways to have a relaxing time amongst the palm trees on this lovely island. Otherwise, you can also hop aboard a party boat to have a much different kind of excursion.

Lined by resorts, Playa Dominicus or Dominicus Beach is beloved worldwide. Why? Being along the Caribbean Sea, this beach has warm and calm waters. A reef right by the shore and no undertow makes it especially good for families with children.

Although there are a lot of hotels nearby it is still a public beach. You may encounter sections of private beach that are claimed by some of those hotels, just be aware of any signs.

Highlights of the Bayahíbe area:

  • Saona Island
  • Playa Dominicus
  • Mare Nuestro
  • Mamma Mia
  • Cotubanamá National Park (East National Park)
  • Cueva Padre Nuestro

Our favorite accommodations in the Bayahíbe area:

7. Las Terrenas: Best Area for Adult-Only Resorts

The boardwalk in Las Terrenas Dominican Republic
saaton / Shutterstock

Technically a part of Samaná, Las Terrenas is also a beachy town like Bayahíbe but with a twist. It’s equal parts chill beach vibes and the bustle of a larger city area.

It’s not party central necessarily but there are plenty of parties going on across the white sandy beaches. There are lots of shops, restaurants, and bars to fill your days of basking with more to do.

Beyond the beach scene, visitors are near Los Haitises National Park as well. Los Haitises is considered one of the finest parks in the Dominican Republic.

In addition to the stunning rock formations, mangroves, and cave systems, the park is home to the most Taíno petroglyphs and pictographs in the Dominican Republic. Plus, Jurassic Park fans will appreciate being in one of the filming locations!

One reason there isn’t much to do in Las Terrenas is that it is a small resort town. Much of the excursions are found outside of the town itself.

Still, Las Terranas is perfectly located for some incredible day or half-day trips. You could easily go ziplining in El Limón, do a day-long culture tour in Santo Domingo, or just hang out at the beach. There’s nothing wrong with spending your vacation on the beach.

Several parts of the Dominican Republic are full of expats from around the world. Las Terrenas is one of them with a staggering population of French and Italian ex-patriots.

Because of that, there is a diversity in the shops and eateries around the area as well. Some of those unique eateries include La Terrasse for French cuisine, La Dolce Vita for some Italian, or Restaurante Luís which doesn’t have a menu but instead serves a new fresh catch every day.

Highlights of the Las Terrenas area:

  • Los Haitises National Park
  • Playa Punta Popy
  • Grill Chez Sandro
  • Playa Cosón
  • Cayos Las Ballenas

Our favorite accommodations in the Las Terrenas area:

See Related: Best Dutch Caribbean Islands to Visit

8. Santiago de Los Caballeros: Best Area for Seasoned Travelers

Downtown of Santiago de Los Caballeros Dominican republic
Soto.Creativo / Shutterstock

Santiago de Los Caballeros (or Santiago of the Gentleman) doesn’t have the storied history that Santo Domingo does, though it was the country’s first capital. It is a cultural, historical, and entertainment hub in the Dominican Republic that folks tend to overlook. Commonly referred to as Santiago or “the heart city,” there is much to see and do.

In the Dominican Republic, Santiago is also where cigars, rum, and much of agriculture can be found. One way for visitors to get to know the city is to spend time at the Museo del Tabaco (the Cigar Museum), the Fortaleza San Luis (Fort San Luis), and the Museo Folklório Yoryi Morel (Yoryi Morel Folk Museum) to learn about Carnival (a colorful celebration of Dominican culture, identity, and history).

Since this city isn’t focused on tourists, the shopping experiences you’ll find here are so different than elsewhere in the Dominican Republic, especially in areas like Punta Cana. That’s especially true for Mercado Modelo. This market is your best bet for one-of-a-kind souvenirs and keepsakes as well as traditional Dominican botanicas (potions and elixirs).

Centro León is one of the best museums in the country that captures the history of the Dominican Republic and the indigenous Taíno people in a digestible way. In addition to the history of the people on the island, there is also an entire exhibit devoted to the profound cigar industry in the Dominican Republic.

When you look to kick back with a good drink or meal, you don’t have to look far in Santiago. Places like NOAH Restaurant and Lounge or La Locanda Restaurante offer casual experiences.

Saga Restaurant and Cigar Club or Restaurant Pez Dorado will feature a more fine dining experience. In either case, if you drink rum ask for the local stuff. Not only will it be cheaper, but it’ll also be a more authentic experience.

Highlights of the Santiago de Los Caballeros area:

  • Centro León
  • La Locanda Restaurante
  • Mercado Modelo
  • Fortaleza San Luis (Fort San Luis)
  • Museo del Tabaco (The Cigar Museum)

Our favorite accommodations in the Santiago de Los Caballeros area:

9. Cabarete: Best Area for Water Sports

Kite beach in Cabarete Dominican republic
Vallehr / Shutterstock

When catching waves in the Dominican Republic, you’ll find some of the biggest in Cabarete. Though water sports are a favorite pastime anywhere on the island, the wave swell in Cabarete is unlike any you’ll find anywhere else in the Dominican Republic. Surfing is the big thing to do in this area, whether you’re surfing the traditional way, windsurfing, or kite surfing.

In Cabarete, you’ll discover Parque Nacional El Choco or El Choco National Park. It is also referred to as Cabarete National Park as well. Like many other areas of the Dominican Republic, the park is full of caves, hiking trails, and lagoons to explore.

This park is unique, however, because it’s also chock full of cocoa—and coffee trees. Beyond the plentiful flora, over 30 species of bats, lizards, and birds call the park home.

Kite Beach in Cabarete is usually full of kitesurfers. Even if you aren’t familiar with kitesurfing you can take lessons or just enjoy the view from the sand.

Multicolored kites often fill the sky around Kite Beach, which is one of the reasons it’s such a popular spot for visitors and locals alike. Never fear kite newbies; the water near the beach is ideal for beginners since the nearby reefs keep the waves shorter, making for easier surf.

For traditional surfing, Encuentro Beach is going to be your best friend. It’s considered the best surfing beach in the Dominican Republic for similar reasons to Kite Beach’s being ideal for kite surfers.

The waves can be calm enough to provide safer swells for beginners, but advanced surfers also love the water near this beach. You’ll have no problem finding surf lessons here if you’ve always wanted to try it.

Highlights of the Cabarete area:

  • Parque Nacional El Choco (El Choco National Park)
  • Encuentro Beach
  • Mojito Bar
  • Fresh Fresh
  • Kite Beach

Our favorite accommodations in the Cabarete area:

See Related: Best Honeymoon Destinations in the World

10. Jarabacoa: Best Area for Active Adventurers

A waterfall and walkway in Jarabacoa Dominican republic
Matyas Rehak / Shutterstock

This part of the Dominican Republic is far different than the others. The draw is not the golden sand beach or views of the Caribbean Sea.

Jarabacoa is a town found in the Central Mountain Range surrounded by four rivers, which is why the Taínos named it to translate as “land of water sources.” A stay in this town is for a different kind of traveler, specifically, the outdoorsy, adventurous type.

Whitewater rafting enthusiasts will appreciate the numerous opportunities for rafting in the area of four rivers. There are a lot of rafting tours in Jarabacoa for beginners and advanced rafters alike. Whitewater rafting is usually found along the Yaque del Norte River, the longest river not just in the Dominican Republic but in the Caribbean.

Grab an ATV and wander through the terrain to seek out Salto de Baiguate (Baiguate Waterfall). Although the falls can be reached on foot, taking an ATV or buggy tour is one way to experience the agricultural countryside in Jarabacoa. The falls feature a pool beneath that visitors can swim in, with even a wooden staircase leading into the water.

Not all of the water in this area is for adventuring though. La Confluencia or The Confluence is a waterfront park just a stone’s throw away from downtown Jarabacoa.

Here you’ll find water to relax in and grassy patches to picnic on. The park is popular even with kiddos because the pools are calm enough for even the littlest waders.

Highlights of the Jarabacoa area:

  • La Confluencia
  • Baiguate Waterfall
  • Yaque del Norte
  • Jamaca de Dios Restaurant
  • Ribera Country Club

Our favorite accommodations in the Jarabacoa area:

11. Sosúa: Best Area for Nightlife

A beach near Sosúa Dominican Republic
Mehdi Kasumov / Shutterstock

A haven of all-inclusive resorts, stunning beach views, and vibrant nightlife, Sosúa gives Punta Cana a run for its money. Many nightclubs and bars make this a destination for singles or anyone who enjoys a party atmosphere. It should be noted that Sosúa is also a sex tourism destination, so yeah, keep that in mind when people approach you.

Because the ocean in this part of the Dominican Republic is so vibrant, scuba diving is a huge draw for visitors. When folks aren’t partying on the mainland, they can often be found snorkeling or diving to see those underwater sights. Some of those sights include a sunken boat known as the Zingara Wreck, vast coral reefs known as the Coral Gardens and Coral Wall, and Airport Wall, a maze of submarine tunnels.

Sosúa’s most bizarre attraction is known as Castillo Mundo King. Built by German artist Rolf Schulz, the abstract castle is a mass of shapes and structures. The artist even lived in the castle from when he started building it until he died in 2018.

It’s home to many alien-themed artworks, spaceships, and even the artist’s collection of Haitian sculptures. Throughout the five floors of the castle, you can see hundreds upon hundreds of odd and fascinating artworks by Schulz or other artists.

Nightlife is a big enough deal in Sosúa; nighttime means the main street gets shut down for cars. Pedestrians roam Pedro Clisante Street all night long, visiting the many bars and lounges that live off the road.

You’re bound to find live music all over, too. Popular hotspots include The Starfish Club, The Cat House, Blue Moon, and The Bamboo Bar.

Highlights of the Sosúa area:

  • Castillo Mundo King
  • Blue Moon
  • Zingara Wreck
  • Sosúa Beach
  • Paradise Beach
  • The Bamboo Bar

Our favorite accommodations in the Sosúa area:

See Related: Best Family Vacation Spots in the World

12. Best area for Photographs: Las Galeras

Beach in Las Galeras Dominican republic
Jakob Fischer / Shutterstock

It’s clear by now that the Dominican Republic has a stunning coastline with picture-perfect, beautiful beach scenes. White sand beach locales are made for the ideal romantic getaway. That could be no clearer in a place like Las Galeras. This remote fishing village along the Samaná Peninsula is home to some of the most stunning beaches in the Dominican Republicöwhich includes the world-famous Playa Rincón or Rincón Beach.

Capture incredible images of the Caribbean Sea from Las Galeras beaches, or wait for the perfect scene of a humpback whale breaching out of the ocean. Photographers could capture numerous breathtaking images around the Dominican Republic, though the scenes from Las Galeras are different.

That’s partly because this area of the country is a little less tourist-populated. So, capturing nature without strangers lurking in the corner is easier.

Go island hopping from Las Galeras to see what vistas each area offers that differ from the others. The beauty of doing an island hopping tour is that you can relax on multiple beaches in one day. It’s perfect for travelers who can’t stay in one place all day but still want a beach day.

As far as small towns go, Las Galeras is a laid-back beach scene with one unique feature – many expat Americans and Europeans live there. Not only does that change the town’s aesthetic, but it also increases the variety of shops and restaurants for travelers to visit.

Some of those spots include El Pescador (a Spanish, Basque, and Creole fusion restaurant), L’Aventura de John (a wood-fired pizza, pasta, and burgers joint), and Chez Denise (specializing in French cuisine).

Highlights of the Las Galeras area:

  • Playa Rincón (Rincón Beach)
  • El Pescador
  • Playa Madama
  • L’Aventura de John
  • Playa Frontón

Our favorite accommodations in the Las Galeras area:

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Amanda Finn
WRITTEN BY

Amanda Finn

Amanda (she/they) is a Chicago-based queer travel, arts, and lifestyle writer who is passionate about exploring the world. Their work has been featured in Newcity Stage, The Chicago Reader, Huffington Post, and Yahoo, as well as the November 2022 book, "Chicago Like a Local" and other travel journals available on Amazon. Amanda's favorite destinations include Costa Rica, Prague, Dublin, Hong Kong, and every Disney park they've visited.

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