My friends and I have finally saved up enough to visit the Dominican Republic in the summer! I know it's a super hot destination right now, but I don't really know what part(s) I should see. Can anyone help me figure this out? I heard that transportation is fairly cheap and easy, so I can just hop around. Generally I like to try to see both town and country on my trips. Where should I start?
Where you go in the Dominican Republic depends on what you most feel like doing. If you prefer to lounge at the beach most of the time, I'd recommend doing the All-Inclusive options in either Punta Cana or Puerto Plata. Both destinations have affordable beach-front All-Inclusive resorts. Keep in mind that when you stay at these resorts, not much is nearby so you're spending most of your time at the resorts. If you want to just relax and feel comfortable, then a resort is a good option. There are excursions that you can do (e.g. snorkeling, boating, fishing, scuba diving, hiking, etc.). Between the two, I prefer Punta Cana because there are more white sand beaches and you can do an excursion to the beautiful Isla Saona, Rep.Dominicana, which is a gorgeous beach with a natural swimming pool. Puerto Plata is generally cheaper than Punta Cana but the trade-off is that there is a red-light scene there.
Of course, you have Santo Domingo, the capital of Dominican Republic and full of culture. There are lots of street shops and great restaurants if you know your way around. It's doable for tourists to rent cars and drive themselves as traffic laws are followed, in most cases. There are many historic museums to discover in Old Town, including the Christopher Columbus House where he stayed when he was making his voyage. If you want really good chicharones, lechon and empanadas, then Santo Domingo is where you can find the best. Unfortunately, many shops are unmarked but Dominicans are some of the friendliest people on Earth. Ask and they will go out of their way to help. The best beach closest to Santo Domingo is Barrera, about 1.5 hour-drive west of Santo Domingo. There, you will find an amazing beach and solid blue lagoon that you can swim and dive off of.
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I stayed in an all inclusive hotel in Punta Cana and left twice. The first time I took transportation with the hotel to a marina and went on a boat and was kind of uncomfortable, but I enjoyed the experience. The second was with a water taxi that took me to a local market. I am simply warning you of the vulgarity towards tourists, not violence they aren't dangerous at all, just very overwhelming because everyone is fighting over the dollar in your pocket. Just be careful and stick with transportation with your hotel.