2 awesome Dominican Republic itineraries – with and without Punta Cana

Thinking of a trip to Dominican Republic and don’t know how many days do you need in Dominican Republic or what are the best things to do here? Then read this Dominican Republic travel guide and discover 2 special itineraries.

The first one is a 3-day Dominican Republic itinerary from/to Punta Cana that includes the famous Playa Esmeralda, Los Haitises National Park, La Cueva de las Maravillas, and more which makes it the perfect itinerary for a short trip and for discovering what to do near Punta Cana.

The second one is a 1-week itinerary from/to Santo Domingo featuring the best things to do in the Dominican Republic in one week.

Both Dominican Republic itineraries are presented to you by Chris from Punta Cana Travel Blog. He has extensive knowledge of the country, so you can easily create your Dominican Republic bucket list using these itineraries as they cover the best things to see and do here.

2 awesome Dominican Republic itineraries – with and without Punta Cana

The Dominican Republic is an amazing country, which most people are only associating with Punta Cana. But there is so much more to see than this resort town on the east coast that it would be a pity if you were only staying in your all-inclusive resort.

Therefore, I have 2 awesome itineraries for you, which give you a first glimpse of the diversity and beauty in the Dominican Republic.

One starts in Punta Cana and is designed for travelers who’d like to have a quick getaway while being on vacation in an all-inclusive resort and the other itinerary is for individual travelers, who’d like to have a comprehensive road-trip in the Dominican Republic and don’t care about Punta Cana and its all-inclusive resorts.

Of course, both itineraries can be combined and/or extended and are an excellent source for planning your vacation in the Dominican Republic.

3-day itinerary from/to Punta Cana

Overview 3-day itinerary from/to Punta Cana

This itinerary is designed to see more than just the area of Punta Cana. While you have everything you need in Punta Cana, the authentic Dominican Republic can be best explored in the countryside.

Therefore, this itinerary doesn’t include additional time in Punta Cana, you can explore the beaches and restaurants of this area before or after heading on your road trip. You can check out Punta Cana Travel Blog for all the information you need in terms of your Punta Cana vacation.

This 3-day Punta Cana itinerary will include the following attractions:

  • Montaña Redonda
  • Playa Esmeralda
  • Los Haitises National Park
  • Santo Domingo (Colonial Zone)
  • Los Tres Ojos National Park
  • La Cueva de las Maravillas
  • Cigar Factory La Romana

This Punta Cana itinerary for three days can be done with a rental car or a private driver/taxi.

Day 1: from Punta Cana to Los Haitises National Park

After breakfast, I recommend starting early as you have a full day of exploring ahead. From Punta Cana, you head northwest until you reach Montaña Redonda, your first stop on this day.

Montaña Redonda is a small mountain featuring marvelous views of the entire coastline between Punta Cana and Miches.

The unique things about Montaña Redonda are its unique swings and hammocks on the edge of the mountain which allows for some amazing photos as if you were flying. For the way up, you can decide if you hike (steep trail, approx. 30 to 45 minutes) or take one of the safari trucks (approx. 10-15 minutes).

Montana Redonda should be on your 3-day Punta Cana itinerary
Montana Redonda

Once done, head down and continue your road trip.

Shortly after Montaña Redonda, you can find the turnoff to Playa Esmeralda, one of the most pristine beaches in the entire Dominican Republic and the next stop on the first day of your Punta Cana 3-day itinerary.

Only go here if you left Punta Cana early enough (before 08:30 am) as otherwise, you might arrive too late at your next stop.

Playa Esmeralda is a perfect stop for taking amazing photos of a 2-mile long beach with the finest sand and without any people. You can also have a quick swim in the ocean.

Playa Esmeralda is a must-visit in the Dominican Republic and you should include it on your to/from Punta Cana 3-day itinerary
Playa Esmeralda

From here you continue your journey towards Los Haitises National Park, one of the most diverse eco-systems in the Dominican Republic and one of the best places to visit near Punta Cana.

There is only one property to overnight in the whole park, an amazing eco-lodge surrounded by waterfalls – that’s where I’d highly recommend spending the night.

After lunch, you can go on a boat trip to explore the abundant flora and fauna of the park and admire the historic Taino paintings in the ancient caves of Los Haitises.

Los Haitises Nastional Park is one of the best places to visit near Punta Cana
Los Haitises Nastional Park

At night, you can relax at your accommodation, while listening to the sounds of the surrounding waterfalls.

Where to stay: Paraíso Caño Hondo and Altos de Caño Hondo are the only accommodation in the national park

Where to eat: The restaurants in both hotels offer decent food for dinner.

Driving time: 3.5 hours incl. the side-trip to Playa Esmeralda, 2.5 hours if you leave the beach out

Day 2: from Los Haitises National Park to Santo Domingo

On the second day of your Punta Cana 3 days itinerary, after breakfast, you can relax for an hour or two at the property and refresh yourself in the several natural swimming pools.

Afterward, – I recommend starting at the latest around 10:00-10:30 – you head south to the capital of the Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo. It is a 3.5-hour drive, passing several villages, sugar cane plantations, and a small mountain chain.

When arriving in Santo Domingo you might be confronted with some chaotic traffic, but once you reach the Colonial Zone, the historic old town of Santo Domingo, you will feel like in a quiet and peaceful oasis in the middle of a bustling city.

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Check-in into your hotel and explore the Colonial Zone afterward.

The historic center of the city with its ancient cobblestone streets, centuries-old buildings, and creative art scene is a place not to miss in Santo Domingo and one of the top highlights of the Dominican Republic.

For a fun way to explore this area, I recommend a Trikke tour which is kind of a Segway, just with the form of an open triangle. Reserve in advance if you are interested. Alternatively, you can explore the Zona Colonial on foot, as everything is walkable in the area.

It doesn’t matter for which option you decide, you will see a fantastic compilation of historic buildings, colonial courtyards, and ancient ruins. Often the Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo feels like an open-air museum where you can discover endless stories from past centuries. It is definitely one of the best places to visit in the Dominican Republic.

One of th ebest things to see in Santo Dimingo: Colonial Zone. Include it on your Dominican Republic itinerary
Colonial Zone

At night, the Zona Colonial awaits you with various options of bars and restaurants, where you find everything from rustic to elegant, from hole-in-the-wall to fine dining and from ramshackle old bars to hip cosmopolitan dance clubs.

Just go with the flow as the Colonial Zone offers plenty of good spots that could easily fill three or four days and are mainly visited by Dominicans or ex-pats.

Where to stay: The Colonial Zone has hundreds of accommodations. I’d recommend particularly the small guesthouses and colonial hotels as they usually feature a unique historic charm the area is famous for.

Where to eat: There are plenty of options and you can dine wherever you feel comfortable with. For a romantic dinner head to Plaza España, for an allrounder option consider Mercado Colón and the best empanadas can be found at Sicily’s.

Driving time: 3.5 hours

Day 3: from Santo Domingo to Punta Cana

Use the early morning of the final day of this 3-day Dominican Republic itinerary to see some corners and streets of the Colonial Zone you might have missed the day before. Afterward, you head back to Punta Cana, but with a couple of interesting stops on the way.

Zona Colonial Santo Domingo. Discover what to do in 3 days in Dominican Republic
Zona Colonial

Your first stop is located right in Santo Domingo and is a special attraction – a national park right in the city.

The “Parque Nacional Los Tres Ojos” consists of three lagoons fed by underground water and can be explored walking. It is surrounded entirely by the concrete jungle of Santo Domingo which makes it so special and unique.

The “Parque Nacional Los Tres Ojos” is one of the best things to do in Santo Domingo and you must include it on your 3-day Dominican Republic itinerary
The “Parque Nacional Los Tres Ojos”

After visiting the national park, you leave the city and head eastward. Boca Chica and Juan Dolio are the first beach towns east of Santo Domingo and are catering perfectly for a lunch break.

Your next stop is the “Cueva de las Maravillas”, the Cave of Wonders, already half-way between Santo Domingo and Punta Cana, located directly on the highway. This cave is one of the best things to do in the Dominican Republic. 

The main attractions of this large and illuminated cave system are its paintings and engravings on the walls, which are over 500 years old and date back to the Taínos, the native inhabitants of the Dominican Republic.

“Cueva de las Maravillas”, the Cave of Wonders, is one of the best places to visit in the Dominican Republic in 3 days
“Cueva de las Maravillas”, the Cave of Wonders

As all those stops are not lasting longer than an hour, you have time for one more insight into the Dominican Republic – cigars.

Being one of the most important export goods of the country, you can visit a tobacco plantation and cigar factory close to La Romana – again located directly on the highway, which makes it a pleasant stop while driving to Punta Cana.

You can take a tour to learn everything about the tobacco plant, see how cigars are getting rolled, and of course also buy some to take home for your loved ones.

From here it’s less than an hour to go until you reach Punta Cana, where you head back to your hotel to relax from that highlight-packed itinerary with a lot of amazing experiences.

Where to eat: For a beachfront lunch, I recommend the beach town of Juan Dolio, where Casa Hemingway is a popular option.

Driving time: 3 hours

This 3-day Dominican Republic itinerary to/from Punta Cana allows you to see many wonderful Dominican Republic attractions near Punta Cana.

The next itinerary covers one week in the Dominican Republic and, if you have the time, it will give you the chance to visit the Dominican Republic more in-depth.

1-week itinerary from/to Santo Domingo

Overview 1-week itinerary from/to Santo Domingo

If you love road-trips and to venture out off-the-beaten-track, this is your itinerary to explore the Dominican Republic the authentic way.

Rural fishing villages, pristine beaches, majestic mountains and a vibrant Dominican culture are just a few things you can experience on this trip. The highlights of this 7 days in the Dominican Republic itinerary are:

  • the Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo
  • the city of eternal spring, Jarabacoa
  • waterfall Salto Jimenoa I
  • the fishing village Punta Rucia
  • the sandbar Cayo Arena
  • Puerto Plata and its various attractions
  • Cabarete with its unlimited beach bars and outdoor activities
  • Playa Grande and Laguna Dudu along the north coast
  • the Samaná peninsula with its natural attractions

This is a 1-week itinerary for Dominican Republic, but it can be extended if you have more time available, 2 weeks are easily possible.

The best is to fly in and out to Santo Domingo, but if flights to Punta Cana are cheaper, this itinerary can be adjusted.

This Dominican Republic itinerary can also be combined with the 3-day itinerary from/to Punta Cana presented above.

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For this 1-week itinerary from/to Santo Domingo, it is highly recommended to rent a car.

Day 1: Explore Santo Domingo

You can dedicate the first day of your trip to the Dominican Republic completely to the colonial city of Santo Domingo. Refer to my recommendations above for what to do and where to go. Depending on your arrival time, you can easily spend two days in the city, as there is so much to explore. Check out this blog post for further information.

Where to stay: The Colonial Zone has hundreds of accommodations. I’d recommend particularly the small guesthouses and colonial hotels as they usually feature a unique historic charm the area is famous for.

Where to eat: There are plenty of options and you can dine wherever you feel comfortable with. For a romantic dinner, head to Plaza España, for an allrounder option consider Mercado Colón and the best empanadas can be found at Sicily’s.

The Colonial Zone in Santo Domingo should be on your list for your trip to the Dominican Republic. Discover more attractions in the Dominican Republic from this 1-week itinerary for the Dominican Republic
The Colonial Zone at night

Day 2: From Santo Domingo to Jarabacoa

In the morning of the second day of your 1-week trip to the Dominican Republic you are going to leave Santo Domingo and head towards Jarabacoa.

The city is located in the foothills of the Central Mountain Range at an altitude of 600 meters and is therefore called the “city of eternal spring”, due to its slightly milder climate.

Once there, my recommendation is to visit Salto Jimenoa I, a beautiful waterfall a few kilometers outside of Jarabacoa.

You will have marvelous views of the surrounding mountains during the journey. The hike to the waterfall is quite steep but well-marked, so it is one of the easier hiking options in the Dominican Republic.

If you are in decent shape, count with 30 minutes for each way plus time to relax and swim at the natural swimming pool of the waterfall.

Salto Jimenoa I is one of the highlights of the Dominican Republic. Here's what to do in one week in the Dominican Republic
Salto Jimenoa I

Where to stay: There are guesthouses and smaller hotels in Jarabacoa. My favorite options are the Jarabacoa River Club, the Gran Jimenoa and Rancho Baiguate. Jarabacoa Mountain Hostel is also worth a look.

Where to eat: There are several local dining options in the small town, although nothing fancy. Alternatively, you can dine at your hotel.

Driving time: 3 hours

Day 3: From Jarabacoa to Punta Rucia

After enjoying the mountain views of Jarabacoa, it’s time to head back towards the ocean. Punta Rucia is your destination for today, a small and quiet fishing town with the charm of a seaside village like 30 years ago.

Time seems to have forgotten this place which makes it one of the best tourist attractions in the Dominican Republic.

Depending on your preferences, you can either arrive early to Punta Rucia and enjoy the afternoon at the beautiful and empty beaches while sipping on a rum and coke with more rum than coke – that’s how they prepare it in the Dominican Republic if you are in local areas. 😉

Punta Rucia is one of the best tourist attractions in the Dominican Republic. Discover the best things to do in the Dominican Republic in one week
Punta Rucia

Alternatively, you can stop along the way to Punta Rucia and either visit a chocolate farm, the fun-filled canyoning experience of the 27 waterfalls, or the city of Santiago with its famous monument, the Monumento a los Héroes de la Restauración, which also features a good view of the city.

Where to stay: The best hotel in the village is Punta Rucia Lodge. Alternatively, you can book one of the smaller guesthouses.

Where to eat: Restaurant options in Punta Rucia are erratic. The best is to dine at your hotel.

Driving time: 3 hours

Day 4: From Punta Rucia to Cabarete

Punta Rucia is also home to one of the most scenic attractions in the Dominican Republic called Cayo Arena. This is a sandbar in the open ocean with a fantastic reef to snorkel and amazing views for unique and gorgeous photos and it should be on your 7-days Dominican Republic itinerary.

Cayo Arena can be reached by boat from Punta Rucia. It is absolutely recommendable to go early morning so that you can enjoy the island on your own.

Cayo Arena is one of the most scenic attractions in the Dominican Republic and it should be on your 7-days Dominican Republic itinerary
Cayo Arena

Once back on the mainland, you head eastward towards Puerto Plata and Cabarete, the heart of the north coast.

Puerto Plata

Puerto Plata counts for several attractions, among them the historic old town, the cable car leading up to the Isabel de Torres mountain or the distillery of the nationwide popular rum brand Brugal.

Puerto Plata Teleferico is one of the best attractions in Puerto Plata. Make sure you include Puerto Plata on your one-week in the Dominican Republic itinerary
Puerto Plata Teleferico

In the afternoon, you arrive in Cabarete, where you can relax on its famous stretch of bars and restaurants right at the beach, where you get food and drinks for very affordable prices.

It’s worth to spend at least one evening here and barhop a bit, even you will most likely come back every night.

Cabarete at night is one of the top spots in the Dominican Republic. Discover the best places to visit in the Dominican Republic in one week from this itinerary
Cabarete at night

Where to stay: Cabarete has tons of accommodation options, just check the booking platform of your choice.

Where to eat: the restaurant strip right at the beach doesn’t offer the most memorable culinary experience, but thanks to its location and the vibe, it will be an evening to remember.

Driving time: 2.5 hours

Day 5: Exploring Cabarete, Puerto Plata and beyond

Cabarete is not only famous for its bars, restaurants and surfer vibe, it also features plenty of outdoor activities and can, therefore, be called the outdoor sports capital of the Dominican Republic.

Besides (kite- and wind-)surfing, Cabarete counts with perfect conditions for hiking, mountain biking, yoga, waterfall chasing, rappelling, caving, canyoning, SUP, kayaking, and much more. Pick your favorite and enjoy the fantastic nature of the north coast.

There are many outdoor activities in Cabarete you'll love. Discover how to spend one week in the Dominican Republic
Cabarete outdoor

If you want to have a more relaxed stay, you can head back to Puerto Plata (just a 45-minute drive) and explore the further options there or visit Sosua, a popular beach town with a small art scene.

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Day 6: From Cabarete to Samaná

Still wondering how to spend one week in the Dominican Republic? Day 6 is another perfect road-trip day, as you are going to drive along the north coast and can visit several beautiful spots.

One particularly recommendable place is Laguna Dudu, a freshwater lagoon between Cabrera and Nagua, which is spanned by a zipline.

To make it exciting, it’s a one-way zipline – once you are heading off, there is no way back, the only option is to fly until the middle of the lagoon and let yourself fall – approx. 25 feet into the water. It’s a super exciting activity and so much fun for everyone, it doesn’t matter if you jump or just watch.

Laguna Dudu is one of the best activities in the Dominican Republic. Discover the top highlights of the Dominican Republic in one week
Laguna Dudu

Furthermore, you can have several stops at local and hardly visited beaches, especially if it’s during the week.

The most popular beach along the north coast between Cabarete and Samaná is Playa Grande, which is famous for its 0.7-mile stretch of finest sand and the fresh fish they sell here to eat right at the beach.

Other best destinations in the Dominican Republic and alternatives in the area include Playa Diamante, Playa Magante or Playa Arroyo Salado – all local beaches with a very authentic vibe.

Playa Magante is one of the best destinations in the Dominican Republic. Here are the best places to visit in the Dominican Republic in 7 days.
Playa Magante

Your destination for today is the Samaná peninsula, one of the most beautiful regions in the Dominican Republic. I

t’s bestrewed with thousands of virgin coconut palm groves and dozens of pristine beaches – the perfect place to enjoy the unspoiled nature of the Dominican Republic.

Where to stay: Samaná has two main villages, Las Terrenas and Las Galeras. Las Terrenas is the more popular one, with plenty of accommodation options of all types and budgets – guesthouses, hotels, villas, and many more.

Las Galeras counts with more low-key options – smaller hotels and family-owned guesthouses.

Where to eat: there are tons of eating options in Las Terrenas and a few selected ones in Las Galeras – but there is something for every taste.

Driving time: 3.5 hours

Day 7: Exploring Samaná

The final day of your one week trip to the Dominican Republic allows you to explore the Samaná peninsula and the decision might be hard considering the various choices.

The best is – the same goes for the area around Cabarete – to add a few extra days to properly explore the area and to enjoy the one or other beach day.

When exploring the peninsula of Samaná, the decision of your activities depends on your preferences. If you love to explore beaches, you should go to Playa Rincón and Playa Frontón, two of the most beautiful beaches in the country.

Waterfall lovers have to go to Salto El Limón, one of the most picturesque waterfalls in the Dominican Republic. Arrive early to avoid the crowds of the tour groups.

If you want to do an excursion on the ocean, you can either go whale-watching (January to March) or do a boat trip to the national park Los Haitises (year-round).

The bay of Samaná also has two interesting snorkeling spots, which can be reached by boat and if you’d like to visit another island, Cayo Levantado is your choice to go.

Samaná Beach is one of the best attractions in the Dominican Republic. Here's the perfect itinerary for the Dominican Republic
Samaná Beach

As you can see, there are multiple options in Samaná and those are just the main ideas.

There are a lot of other hidden secrets at this peninsula so it’s worth adding some extra days, especially as Las Terrenas and Las Galeras are counting with a laid-back beach vibe.

Day 8: From Samaná to Santo Domingo

Today is your day to head back to the airport. Samaná is connected to the airport of Santo Domingo and Punta Cana via a well-maintained highway, so it’s just a mere 2-hour drive to the Santo Domingo Airport and a 4-hour drive to the Punta Cana Airport.

If your flight is leaving late in the afternoon or at night, enjoy the morning to explore more of the several options Samaná has to offer.

Driving time: 2 hours until Santo Domingo Airport

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about these itineraries or if you would like to have a personalized version. I am also happy to extend these itineraries for you to make your stay in the Dominican Republic unforgettable.

These are the perfect Dominican Republic itineraries that will allow you to make the most of your trip to the Dominican Republic.

So, if you’re thinking of visiting the Dominican Republic, use these two itineraries for your trip. Make sure to add time for the visiting Punta Cana as well.

About the author:

If you’d like to know more about Chris and his second home country, the Dominican Republic, check out his website Punta Cana Travel Blog. After traveling through all parts of the world, he is living in this beautiful and underrated country since 2015 – mostly in Santo Domingo and Punta Cana. Chris knows all the pristine beaches and secluded waterfalls you can explore in Punta Cana and the entire country and loves it if visitors leave their all-inclusive resort to discover the beauty, diversity, Caribbean smiles and Latin vibes the Dominican Republic has to offer. On his blog, you can find all the useful information and personal recommendations for a unique holiday in Punta Cana & beyond. Chris also offers travel coaching and can set up a personalized itinerary for your vacation in the Dominican Republic. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

2 Awesome Dominican Republic itineraries – with and without Punta Cana. Discover the best things to do in the Dominican Republic in one week and the top places to visit near Punta Cana in 3 days. #dominicanrepublic #travelitineraries #traveldestinations #dominicanrepublicitinerary #earthsattractions #northamerica

1 week in the Dominican Republic itinerary. Discover the perfect 7-day itinerary for the Dominican Republic that includes the best destinations in the Dominican Republic, fantastic outdoor activities, wonderful beaches, splendid cities, and more. #dominicanrepublic #travelitineraries #traveldestinations #dominicanrepublicitinerary #earthsattractions #northamerica

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