Explore the North Coast of the Dominican Republic
When people think of the Dominican Republic, they often think of enormous all-inclusive resorts or budget travel. At least, that’s what I thought. That has all changed. This past year our family got to experience this Caribbean destination and it surprised us in many ways. Best of all, we loved it! The Dominican Republic offers an unexpectedly large variety of things to see and do. I’m excited to share what we’ve learned and hope you’ll consider it for an upcoming Caribbean destination.
Geography and History
The Dominican Republic shares an island with Haiti and is located in the Greater Antilles between Puerto Rico and Cuba. It is often associated with beautiful beaches, merengue, baseball, and Columbus. The European explorer first spotted the Caribbean island in 1492 on his first voyage, but it wasn’t until 1496 when his younger brother Diego Columbus established the first European colony in the western hemisphere right where the Dominican Republic is located today.
The Dominican Republic also has some hidden gems. For one, a precious blue gemstone called Larimar can only be found in the Dominican Republic and nowhere else on the planet. The highest mountain peak in the Caribbean, Pico Duarte (3,098 m), is located in the Dominican Republic and so is the lowest point in the Caribbean, Lago Enriquillo (45 m below sea level).
The official language is Spanish and the local currency is the Dominican Republic peso. Some say the Dominican Republic experiences an endless summer, due to warm and sunny conditions experienced pretty much everywhere in the country, all year round.
The Dominican Republic is surprisingly large and getting around may take longer than you think. With four major airports, each with numerous flights from the United States each day, it can be hard to know where to begin your vacation. Although we have explored a few areas of the Dominican Republic, this post will be specifically about the north coast area. Fly into Gregorio Luperón International Airport, also known as Puerto Plata (POP). Pick up your rental car and head to the coast, just a short 15-minute drive away.
Where to Stay - Natura Cabana
The north coast of the Dominican Republic is chock-full of cute little beach towns. Our favorite spot is located just a few minutes from the kite surfing mecca of Cabarete and is called Natura Cabana. This eco-friendly resort has it all. Imagine beach bungalows with thatched roofs, privacy, and luxurious amenities.
We loved the two restaurants on property, both serving up creative fare with fresh, local ingredients. Nets, suspended from trees like hammocks, are available on the beach for lounging.
Hammocks on the beach
Breakfast included in rateThere is also a pool, outdoor yoga studio, and spa available on the property. You might just decide to never leave this perfect little beachfront property for your D.R. vacation!
What to Do
While at Natura Cabana, you can enjoy horseback riding from the property and also surfing. Walk 15 minutes along the beach and you’ll come to a popular surfing spot where surfboards are available for rent. The staff at Natura Cabana can also arrange for local excursions depending on what you’re interested in. The most popular thing to do in the area is kitesurfing. In fact, this coastline is world-renowned for it and visitors come from all over the world to experience the perfect conditions. Nearby Cabarete is lined with companies that will provide equipment and lessons for all skill levels.
One of our favorite family-friendly activities nearby is Monkey Jungle. They have a 5-acre grotto with squirrel and capuchin monkeys that you can interact with. After learning about them, guests are invited into the grotto with a guide and given plates of fruit. The monkeys swing in for the treat, standing on hands, heads, and shoulders. What a photo opportunity! Monkey Jungle also has a zipline adventure. What I love most of all, is that they are a nonprofit and all proceeds go toward a medical and dental clinic serving those in need in their community. Don't be put off by the long, bumpy road you have to take to get out to Monkey Jungle. The effort is well worth it. They also have a small gift shop and snacks for sale.
Cabarete is a cute little beach town with plenty of opportunities for souvenir shopping. Another great shopping spot is Sosua Beach. Wooden stalls with local artisans selling their goods line the small streets near the water.
Where to Eat
Besides the restaurants at Natura Cabana (which I highly recommend) here are other spots in the area that we enjoyed:
Ceiba Cafe and Pizzeria – They are located inside the Perla Marina gated community (which also happens to be the same community where Natura Cabana is located). This little pizzeria is owned by a family of Italians. They came for a holiday and never left! Their brick-oven pizzas are fabulous!
Vagamundo Coffee & Waffles
Located in Cabarete, stop in at this little hipster hangout for craft coffee and delicious waffle selections. Whether you’re looking for sweet or savory, you won’t be disappointed with the options.
Located in Cabarete, this is a great option for an upscale dinner. They are located right on the beach and are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Just as the name suggests, a great spot for acai bowls, smoothies and sandwiches. They have several locations, including one right in Cabarete.
Worth a Drive - heading East
Heading toward the Samana Peninsula, stop in at Laguna Dudu, located near Playa La Entrada, for a thrill! For a small fee (cash only), you can enter a beautiful, well-maintained park setting with crystal-clear freshwater swimming. They have a cave system to explore and a 40-foot zipline with a freefall.
Dropping from a 40-foot zipline into a freshwater poolPlaya Entrada is also worth a visit. This beautiful palm-tree-lined beach is perfect for swimming. Little beach shacks provide regional food like braised chicken, plantains, rice and beans.
Worth a Drive - Heading West
There is no shortage of things to do as you head west toward Puerto Plata. With Amber Cove serving as a cruise ship terminal, shore activities are plentiful. If you decide to enjoy any of the following excursions, I suggest checking a cruise ship schedule and avoiding this area on days when ships are in port. The most popular is 27 waterfalls of Damajagua and definitely worth a visit if you and your family like an adventure! This includes hiking from waterfall to waterfall and cliff jumping! There are plenty of tour operators in the area that will make a day of it with a jungle tour and meal included. Check with TripAdvisor for a company with good reviews.
The Teleferico Puerto Plata Cable Car is also a great way to spend an afternoon. Ride the cable car up to the Isabel de Torres mountain for a beautiful view of the coastline. Located at the top is a fortress with a statue of "Christ the Redeemer" (similar to the one in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil).
So what are you waiting for? If you're looking for a great destination in the Caribbean, make it the north coast of the Dominican Republic!
Ten interesting facts we learned on our EDventure in the Dominican Republic:
1. Humpback whales breed in the Bay of Samana and can be seen December through March each year.
2. Their flag is the only one in the world with a Bible on it. It contains the verse from John 8:32, “And the truth shall set you free.”
3. Larimar is a blue gemstone found there and nowhere else in the world.
4. Pico Duarte is the highest mountain peak in the Caribbean and is found in the Dominican Republic.
5. Lago Enriquillo is a freshwater lake and is the lowest point in the Caribbean at 45 m below sea level.
6. Lago Enriquillo is also home to more than 400 American Crocodiles.
7. “Catedral de Santa Maria La Menor” in the Dominican Republic is believed to be the oldest cathedral in the Americas. It dates back to 1540.
8. Santo Domingo is the oldest city in the new world.
9. The Dominican Republic has the second-largest number of Major League Baseball players in the world after the United States.
10. The national bird is the palmchat, a small bird that makes its home in palm trees.
We would like to thank Natura Cabana for hosting us on our second visit. We fell in love with their gorgeous beachfront property and knew we had to return a second time.