With 1,000 miles of coastline and 250 miles of palm-shaded silky sand beaches, the Dominican Republic has an easy-going rhythm of life dictated by the sea. This second-largest Caribbean nation also encompasses explorable mountains, dunes, jungle canopy, coffee plantations and mangrove lagoons, making it a spectacular playground to indulge in adventure, relaxation and pampering self-care.
Life’s a beach
Wellbeing aficionados describe the Caribbean as “the largest spa in the world”, thanks to the warm waters that surround the islands, lapping white-sand beaches with a heavenly sea breeze. Add in a super-relaxed cultural vibe and it’s hard to resist the simple appeal of relaxing on a beach with a book and coco loco cocktail.
The Dominican Republic’s blissful beaches have a long tradition in providing restorative winter sun, from the crystal waves of Punta Cana and the mesmerising azure waters at Bahía de las Águilas to the deep blues of the Atlantic nudging the golden sands on Samaná Peninsula. However engrossing your book or delicious your cocktail, you’ll be tempted to snorkel, sail, take a dip or a boat trip. For al fresco relaxation of mind, body and soul, think yoga on the beach and massage in a waterfront cabana.
Spectacular beaches play a big part of a Caribbean escape. For exciting water sports and outdoor spa therapies, speedboat experiences and tranquil eco-tours, there’s always a beach to provide an idyllic backdrop. Playa Rincón, in a sheltered location at the tip of the Samaná Peninsula, is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the Dominican Republic courtesy of its soft sand, turquoise sea and a freshwater stream emerging from a mangrove forest (great for a dip at the end of your beach visit). Stalls serve seafood and rent beach chairs, making this a great place to spend a day snorkelling, sunbathing and strolling among coconut and almond trees.
Punta Cana, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea from the northern tip at Uvero Alto to the southern at Cap Cana, is the go-to place to seek tropical seaside vitality. Bavaro Beach ranks as one of the best unspoilt strips in the entire Caribbean. Stay in the family-friendly, all-inclusive Iberostar resorts and enjoy direct access to this iconic beach; spa treatments include a lulling panorama of blue sky, palm fronds and sparkling sea. Uvero Alto, probably the least known beach of the Punta Cana region, is a delightfully peaceful retreat. The golden sandy beach is largely undeveloped bar a few souvenir shops and a well-hidden surf school, and it has a coral reef close to the shoreline.
The calmer Caribbean seas of La Romana make it a magnet for families. Great beaches include Playa El Caleton, which provides umbrellas, sun loungers, fresh food and chill drinks; Playa Caleta, an off-the-beaten-track haven; and the water-sports paradise of Playa La Minitas.
Where the sea is the focus, beaches are the key to healthy activity in many forms. There are so many ways to enjoy this sand-between-the-toes paradise: scuba diving, windsurfing, banana boats and catamaran cruises. The contemplative can head out towards the horizon to try deep-sea fishing, thrill-seekers can go shark-spotting while nature lovers can swim with dolphins or snorkel among stingrays.
Wish upon a spa
A spa experience is the cornerstone of a relaxing holiday whether you simply appreciate a de-stressing massage on arrival or crave a more immersive programme of rejuvenating treatments. The Iberostar group of five-star Punta Cana resorts boasts a host of destination spas each with a relaxing indoor-seashore dynamic that makes them truly natural wellness oases. On this stretch of the Costa del Coco, on the Dominican Republic’s eastern side, you find coconut palms, warm waters, exotic flora and fauna, and tasty Creole cuisine. For some, a spa is all about the pursuit of beauty; for others, it’s about boosting fitness in the gym or the pool, on the golf course or tennis court. What you find here is stimulation in the art of living well – easy to practise in such an idyllic setting.
The Greco-Roman-inspired architecture of the adult-only Iberostar Grand Bávaro Spa Sensations wellness centre calls to mind the historic origins of bath rituals and water cures. In its serene environs you can choose from a lavish treatment menu to relieve tension, release stress, detox your body and revive your skin with the latest cell-renewal expertise. On the pampering front, there’s nothing like a body wrap, scrub and soak to help you unwind or a facial to leave you radiant.
Nestled in a fertile subtropical garden complex, also right on the beachfront, the Iberostar Punta Cana is another all-inclusive hotel complex within walking distance from Playa Bávaro, and one that welcomes families. The combination of beach, pool, magnificent spa and excellent gym adds up to a holistic provision of relaxation facilities. With a variety of fine and fun dining options, as well as entertainment facilities, it ticks all the boxes marked indulgent and revivifying.
Iberostar Selection Bavaro welcomes guests in traditional Caribbean style. You will want to soak in as much sun as possible, and this family-friendly resort hosts plenty of beach activities. The seemingly endless Playa Bávaro is surrounded by coral reefs, which you can explore by snorkelling and diving with the Padi-certificated Scuba Centre. With year-round sunshine, kayaking, windsurfing, and volleyball are always an option. And the spa? From hot stone massages that alleviate tense muscles to citrus-based masks for energising, all you are required to do is relax.
Back to nature
Away from oceanside attractions, the Dominican Republic has an interior of mountains and mangrove networks which are rewarding to explore. A generation before eco-tourism gained mainstream status, this Caribbean nation was offering visitors glimpses of its fascinating ecology and cultural history. Navigable only by boat, Los Haitises National Park in the remote northeast is a showcase of geological phenomena – caverns, conical hills, stalagmites and sinkholes – dotted with colonies of pelicans and herons. On a tour of the myriad jagged islets eroded by salt, wind and rain, you can jump ashore to see the carvings and pictographs left inside ceremonial caves by the Taíno people.
There are plenty of land-based excursions to capture the imagination: dune-buggy safaris, equestrian trail rides and intrepid waterfall climbs. On the Samaná Peninsula, you can travel inland by quad bike or on horseback to reach the Cascada El Limón, a picturesque waterfall with an exceptional swimming hole. To the northwest, local guides can take you to the 27 waterfalls at Damajagua, where you slide down rushing waters into amazing blue-green natural pools. High up in the central highlands, stop off at Jarabacoa and Constanza for stunning views of green hills and flower farms or book to go whitewater rafting or canyoning down the Río Yaque del Norte.
The green hills are also prime tobacco growing terrain. Cigar tours in the areas around Santiago de los Caballeros take visitor to factories to see how the hand-rolled cigar has become an art form. More traditional arts are celebrated in Altos de Chavón, a remarkable replica 16th century Mediterranean village in the heart of the countryside designed by Dominican architect Jose Antonio Caro and Italian cinematographer Roberto Coppa. Studios for potters, weavers and silk-screen printers line cobblestone streets alongside craft boutiques. Other sites include an archaeological museum, the St Stanislaus Church and a 5,000-seat amphitheatre.
And golf? The Dominican Republic is famous for excellent golf courses in beautiful surroundings. The 18-hole Championship “Teeth of the Dog” course at the Hard Rock Hotel Punta Cana is ranked number one in the Caribbean and provides a challenge for every skill level. Its name, of course, is inspired by its glorious natural setting: the signature hole, a par three, is nestled in a rock cove on the ocean’s edge shaped like the snapping jaws of a dog.