ITINERARY: Punta Cana/Bavaro → Las Galeras → Bayahibe → Los Haitises → Santo Domingo
Stylish Bavaro Beach Apartment 3 beds WiFi | Avenida Alemania Residencial El Dorado, Apartamento A9, Punta Cana, La Altagracia 23000, Dominican Republic
We didn’t really “do” Punta Cana, but needed to stay for one night before leaving for the rest of our trip. I heard Bavaro was a fun area and we had a pleasant stay. This AirBnB was clean, modern, secure and within walking distance of lots of places to eat & drink (and the beach!). It also had a pool on the property.
Las Galeras was my favorite part of our DR trip. Located on the Semana peninsula on the north coast, it’s about a 5 hour drive from Punta Cana and the road isn’t always smooth (see “Practical Info” at the bottom for details on renting a car and our experience). At the end of the peninsula you will find the small village of Las Galeras, with it’s community of French expats (and French food!), mountain views & pretty beaches. It is also adjacent to Cayo Levantado, which has some of the most gorgeous water I’ve ever seen.
Villa Caribeña - Ocean Front | Las Galeras, Samana 32000, Dominican Republic
Even though you have to drive over some questionable speed bumps, it’s totally worth it! Stefano’s gorgeous villa overlooking the sea is perfect for 2 couples or a family. The backyard is ocean front and beautifully landscaped. You can’t really swim in the water right outside the house because of the rocks, but it is only a 5 minute walk from (in my humble opinion) the best beach in the area. There is a resident very friendly cat named Sam and we had Stefano’s cleaning lady cook us a home made Dominican dinner one night which was excellent. Such a relaxing place, I would definitely stay there again…and probably will!
Le BDM | Calle de Grand Paradise Hotel, Village Centre, Las Gakeras 32000, Dominican Republic
As you will find, there is no shortage of French influenced cuisine in Las Galeras. We went here for breakfast and the crepes were unsurprisingly delicious.
Plaza La Marseillaise| Avenida Principal, Las Galeras, Dominican Republic
Another great spot to grab breakfast - French owned. It’s along the main drag where you will find most of the restaurants. Also sells French products like cookies and cheese.
El Monte Azul | Loma Monte Azul, Las Galeras 32000, Dominican Republic
The crown jewel of dining experiences in Las Galeras, while not easy to get to (sensing a theme here?), is one of the most unique places I’ve ever dined at. You have to basically go up an entire mountain to get there, and if you don’t have an SUV or 4 wheel drive you may have some issues. Once you are at the top though…wow. 360 degree views of the sea and mountains, gorgeous decor and delicious Thai/French fusion cuisine. I had the fresh lobster pad thai and it was out of this world. You can also stay in one of the guest rooms here even spot whales on their migration during the winter months. I would say it’s a 100% must do if you are visiting Las Galeras.
Playita Beach | Calle La Playita, Las Galeras 32000, Dominican Republic
My favorite little beach, within walking distance from the AirBnB where we stayed above. Very chill and not crowded, calm water and beach chairs available to rent. There are also several little bars set up where they make the fresh Coco Loco and Pina Colada drinks as well as food, all you can get served to you on the beach.
A small island off the coast of the peninsula, nicknamed “instagram island”…by me. It was worth the day trip - gorgeous water, pristine beach. It’s only a short drive and a 10 minute boat ride from Las Galeras. There will be lots of people standing along the side of the road trying to entice you to take their boat and I imagine the prices are all similar. You can negotiate a price, we ended up on a smaller boat with about 15 other people. Once you get to the island you can rent a chair for a few dollars and enjoy the views while sipping rum out of a coconut.
Salto de Limon | El Limon, 32000, Dominican Republic
This is a waterfall about a half an hour drive from Las Galeras. When we arrived at the entrance of the path we opted NOT to rent horses to take us to the waterfall based on a recommendation from The Travelling Frenchy. There is honestly no need to ride the horse there and I hate the idea of the horses being over worked like that all day in the heat. It’s about a 45 minute -1hour hike and the most hazardous thing you’ll face by walking there are mud and horse droppings (literally everywhere!). The falls are beautiful though once you arrive and it’s so refreshing to take a dip in the pool below. It was really crowded at first but we hung out there for awhile and the crowd kind of dissipated. It was definitely a cool experience and I was glad we did it - a nice break and something different than the beach.
Bayahibe is located near La Romana, which is a well known tourist area on the south coast of the DR. Here you will find some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in the DR, as well as access to Saona Island, a day trip by boat that is definitely worth doing. Bayahibe village itself had a bustling scene with lots of restaurants and a large Italian expat population. While this destination was nice, I preferred the less developed/somewhat less touristy charm of Las Galeras. However, I am glad that we saw this area and I could definitely recommend it for snorkeling and if you like a more resort-y vibe. La Romana also has a huge luxury golf club hotel if you are into that.
Penthouse 2 bedrooms & 2 bathrooms & Access to Club| La Altagracia, Dominican Republic
This place was comfortable and is located in the village of Playa Dominicus (about 10-15 minutes outside of the Bayihibe village). It’s right next door to a luxury beach club/pool which we had access to for our stay. There was also a small pool at the apartment complex that we didn’t end up using. It was clean and secure. No direct beach access - we had to drive to the beaches (see below for my recommendations). It was good for 2 couples but only one bedroom had AC so you’ll have to draw straws!
Kuki & Cece | Av Eladia, Dominicus 23000, Dominican Republic
Right down the road from our AirBnB in Dominicus, this Italian owned cafe had great pizza, pasta and seafood. Nice outdoor patio dining and a resident cat.
Mare Nuestro | Juan Brito 1, Playa de Bayahibe, Bayahibe, Dominican Republic
This was a nice Italian place within the village of Bayahibe, right by the water. The food was decent and the service was good. Also had a resident cat :).
Tracadero Beach Club | Calle Los Corales, Bayahibe, Dominican Republic
This was the beach club adjacent to the apartment where we stayed and was somewhat luxurious with nice pools, spa services and a restaurant. There was also a little pier where you could jump into the sea and swim, as well as natural sea water pools. A fine place to grab a nice breakfast or cocktails for sunset. I’m not sure how much access costs though - like I mentioned our passes were included with our AirBnB rental.
Saona Island: Mariposa Tours | Av Eladia, Dominicus 23000, Bayahibe
This company’s office was located conveniently in the Dominicus Village and the tours leave in the morning. It’s run by an Italian family but they also do the tour in English as well (and I imagine other languages if needed). It includes boat transport to a “natural swimming pool”, a shallow part of the sea where it is super clear and you can see the giant starfish, then on to Saona Island to a beach that is private for the tour group. After enjoying the beach (they provide snorkels too), they take you back on the boat to a little fishing village called Mano Juan where they take you on a small tour, show you baby sea turtles (eee!) and feed you a pretty substantial lunch (rum is also provided throughout the day!) They also take you through the mangroves and explain about the eco system in the area. I can’t remember exactly how much it was but I want to say around $70 per person, maybe less. Just make sure you are able to pay in cash, as they don’t take cards.
The public beaches were a bit crowded, but if you drive all the way down the road past where you turn for Dominicus Village to the end, you can access the parking lot of Parque Nacional Del Este. You can park there and walk onto a nice beach, which seemed to technically part of the Cadaques Caribe Resort & Villas but we were able to sit there and swim with no issue. There are also men there renting snorkel equipment and they watched our stuff while we snorkeled there - TONS of awesome fish and coral.
We had a few extra days in between our stay in Bayihibe and our last night in Santo Domingo, so I was searching for an area we could squeeze in. We were kind of sick of the resort-y beach area and wanted to connect more with nature and do something unique. Enter…Los Haitises National Park! Visiting this beautiful National Park was by far the most unique part of our trip (and maybe the hardest yet to get to!). Driving on the North Coast from Punta Cana, the roads are okay until you reach the long gravel/dirt road that leads to the Paraiso Cano Hondo resort where we stayed (details below). It was beautiful and off the beaten path from the “normal” tourist track. I was so glad we used our extra few days at the end of the trip to check it out.
Paraiso Cano Hondo | Carretera Los Haitises, Sabana de la Mar 25000, Dominican Republic
This place had me with it’s description of “waterfall swimming pools”, in which a local river was re-routed through the property to create natural pools for guests to swim in. Originally I tried to book online and it had no availability, but when I called there was plenty of space, so just keep that in mind. They will most likely direct you to message them on WhatsApp and you can arrange your stay that way. We stayed in a room that was high up (lots of stairs) but had an AMAZING balcony with a view of the property, mountains and sea. The room had a rustic woodsy feel but was surprisingly modern electric fans, wifi, comfortable sheets and shampoo/conditioner in the shower. I would ask for a room up top like we had because the view was so awesome, just keep in mind you will have to walk up a lot of stairs with your baggage.
EAT & DRINK
Once you manage to get out here, everything you need to eat and drink will be at the property. They have a full service restaurant - breakfast is included but other meals are a la carte. They also have alcohol, beer & wine as long as the restaurant is open. Anything else you may want though, for example toiletries, extra snacks and alcohol, you will want to bring with you.
Besides relaxing by the beautiful and refreshing waterfall pools, the thing to do here is a boat excursion - these are organized through the hotel. Make sure to ask at the front desk and sign up - they will give you the information on when you need to meet in the lobby area. You are transported in a truck to the river where you embark on a half day journey, through the mangroves where you learn lots about the local flora and fauna. You stop at a few different islands where they take you into caves with ancient artwork - it’s really cool!
Chic Apartment by Mirador Sur Park w/Ocean View | Calle Primera, Santo Domingo, Distrito Nacional, Dominican Republic
While I do love experiencing nature and little villages, I am a city girl at heart and love to see the culture and vibes of the big metropolis of the country I’m visiting. This apartment was perfect for a couple or a solo traveler visiting Santa Domingo. It’s in a safe doorman building with parking and is small (basically a studio hotel room size with a tiny kitchenette) but clean and has an awesome rooftop patio with amazing views of the city and the sea. While the area is pretty residential and you aren’t able to walk to the Colonial Zone (which is definitely where you want to go if you only have a short time like we did), it’s only a 15 minute Uber or cab there.
EAT & DRINK
Alpargateria | Salome Urena #59, La Zona Colonial, Domican Republic
I saw this in Lonely Planet and I had to go because it’s a shoe store in the front with a cafe and bar the the back. There is a quaint outdoor patio where you can enjoy tasty cocktails and snacks, then spend your leftover money on espadrilles.
Lulu Tasting Bar | Parque Billini, Ciudad Colonial, Santo Domingo 10210, Dominican Republic
This place was really swanky with a lovely courtyard setting and also had delicious cocktails. We also just got appetizers here (which were very good) and so we weren’t particularly hungry for dinner after!
Sightseeing | Zona Colonial
Honestly the best thing to do in the Colonial Zone is walk around and admire the sights, sounds & colonial architecture. There are plenty of great photo ops and lots of stores with vendors dying to sell you locally made goods & souvenirs. Make sure to bargain!
Santo Domingo is actually the oldest city in the Americas, so there are plaques everywhere telling you about the historical significance of buildings or places.
Right outside of Santo Domingo in Boca Chica, you can find training camp facilities for many major league baseball teams! While we weren’t able to get inside them, it’s pretty cool to drive around and see, especially if you are a fan of a particular team with a center there.
RENTING A CAR
If you are visiting multiple destinations in the DR like we did, it makes sense to rent a car. The process seems pretty simple online, you can reserve one on Kayak or something similar for pick up at the airport in Punta Cana for a reasonable price. The problem comes in upon arrival, or at least it did for us. We had reserved an SUV (which I would 100% recommend in hindsight) but the did not have a small one available for us, even though we had reserved. Instead of giving us a larger one at the same price, they said they were going to charge us more for a larger vehicle or we would have to accept a smaller vehicle, non SUV. After going back and forth for quite awhile, we finally agreed to take the non-SUV as we didn’t want to pay exorbitantly for a large SUV. In addition, they force you to pay for all the extra insurance that they recommend, even if you'r credit card company covers it. Bottom Line: just go into it knowing it’s going to be a bit of a hassle, and more than the price online. We payed around $485 total for 11 days (online we were quoted around $250).
Sorting out the cell phones was actually quite easy, especially compared to the car situation! We drove about 5 minutes from the Punta Cana airport to the Blue Mall (you’ll see signs everywhere for it) where we found a Claro cell phone store. We were able to buy SIM cards with data plans pretty quickly. Of course, go figure, my data ran out within days, but you can stop at the little lottery kiosks that say “BANCA” you pass along the road and “top up”, for unlimited service for 3 or 5 days. A lot of places have WIFI but it doesn’t always work great, so having cell service with data is nice, and the signal is actually pretty good.
The DR is one of the most "modern” places I’ve visited in Latin America in terms of access to familiar products, food, etc. There are large grocery stores near the airport in Punta Cana where you can stock up on everything you need food and toiletry wise.
Overall I felt very safe in the DR walking around, etc. Granted, we spent most of our time in rural and/or touristy areas. We did have the rather unsettling experience of being pulled over by the police on the outskirts of Santo Domingo (my husband had his foot up on side pocket protruding from the inside of the front door, which they claimed was illegal.) After a lengthy exchange with the police, they ended up accepting $50 to not issue a ticket that would “prevent us from leaving the country.” I was very skeptical that they were even enforcing an actual law, and when my husband came back to the car to get the cash to essentially bribe them, he told me to hide the rest we had which I’m sure they would have taken, and luckily they accepted $50. I’m not sure what you could do to prevent this, especially if they can make up arbitrary laws, but certainly always make sure you are driving the speed limit and not drawing attention to yourself on the road.