Dominican Republic: Suggested Itinerary
A Land of Contrasts
Day 1: Fly into Santiago and settle in at your hotel. Head for the Parque Duarte - the main downtown hub of activity. It’s worth taking a look at some of the grand buildings lining the square, notably the Moorish-style Centro de Recreo and the Palacio Consistorial, a gingerbread-style building housing exhibitions. You can also hire a horse-drawn carriage if you fancy travelling in style. As you reach the end of Calle del Sol and approach the Monumento a los Héroes de la Restauración , you’ll certainly have earned a rest and a cold drink. Look out for a couple of bars. When you’ve recovered, visit the massive monument to the dictator Trujillo (later re-branded as a memorial to independence fighters).
Day 2: Set off early from Barahona, taking the paved route via Vicente Noble, Tamayo and Galván to the village of La Descubierta . The road passes Haitian bateyes and dusty villages, and provides stunning views of the Sierra de Neiba. Arrive at the Parque Nacional de Isla Cabritos, the lake’s official access point just outside La Descubierta, as early as possible and enquire if a boat will leave soon.
The boat trip takes half an hour each way, and you can wander around the rocky island looking for the tame iguanas, or wait for the return trip, which normally involves crocodile-spotting. Head back to Postrer Río and look for signs to Las Caritas, a cave filled with Taino carvings that can be reached by a strenuous 10-minute climb. Return to Barahona around the lake’s loop road, passing the border town of Jimaní , Duvergé, and Cabral, getting a good view of the freshwater Laguna Rincón to your left.
Day 3: Leave Samaná after breakfast, heading eastwards along the Carretera 5. On the left are steep hillsides dotted with small farms and rural settlements, on the right the broad vista over the Samaná Bay. Following Playa Las Flechas, a beach named after the arrows that local Taino tribesmen reportedly shot at Christopher Columbus on his first visit, is a small jetty and fishing village called Simi Baez. Here you can either take a ferry to the nearby Cayo Levantado, or spend some time on the beach or another nearby stretch of sand called Anacaona. When you reach Los Cacaos you come across the Victorian elegance of the Gran Bahía resort, surrounded by colorful gardens. From here, turning northwards, the road passes through an unusual landscape of limestone caves, known as the Cuevas de Agua. Aim to arrive in Las Galeras in time for lunch. Try the food at El Marinique , which specializes in steaks and seafood, or at one of the other eateries around. Then it’s time to visit the beach itself, choosing a shady spot – but not one directly under a cluster of coconuts.
Day 4: Leave Santo Domingo after spending an hour admiring the sharks and manatee at the seaside Acuario Nacional. You could have a late breakfast or snack in the aquarium’s cafeteria. A half-hour or so driving along the well-maintained Carretera 3, which passes the airport, brings you to the resort of Boca Chica. Take a look at its famous beach a few blocks to your right, traffic allowing, and have lunch at one of the many beachside shacks selling fish, conch, or shrimps. Press on to La Romana for a quick tour of the old quarter around the Parque Central. Head to Santo Domingo, but drive up to Altos de Chavón first, the replica Tuscan village with designer boutiques and fantastic views over the river valley. Head back towards the capital, allowing a couple of hours before night falls.
Day 5: Half a day is enough to see the main sights of Puerto Plata, though if you wish to visit the Brugal Rum Factory more time will be needed. Start in the morning in the Parque Central where you will see the attractive gazebo and fine Art Deco cathedral. Take a look at some of the restored 19th-century gingerbread-style houses in the old streets around the square. Heading towards the sea, you’ll reach the Malecón , the long water-side boulevard. Turn left from here to reach the promontory where the much patched-up but impressive Fortaleza de San Felipe stands guard over the harbor entrance. After inspecting the small museum, walk back to the Malecón, where there are plenty of bars and stalls selling cold drinks and snacks. From here it’s a fair way to the cable car installation that takes you to the top of the Pico Isabel de Torres, so it is worth taking a taxi. The 20-minute ascent over dense tropical vegetation and the view from the top are breathtaking. At the peak is a pleasant public garden and a cafeteria.
Day 6: Leave Puerto Plata early, heading south towards Santiago on the Carretera 5.
The road comes out at La Sabana. A right from here leads to Luperón. You can stop here for a drink, or pass through town and stop by Puerto Blanco Marina for refreshments. Another 8 miles (13 km) or so along the Carretera de las Américas through dry woodland and flocks of goats, brings you to the pretty seaside village of El Castillo. Just before the village entrance is the turn-off for the Parque Nacional La Isabela. An hour or so is sufficient time to look around. Return to Puerto Plata, go straight to the major junction of Imbert, where the Texaco garage marks the road back.
Day 7: Time to head home, either catch a flight from Santiago or Santo Domingo to do so.