Dominican Republic 2-Week Itinerary
The exhaustion from my red eye flight to New York from California and 4-hour flight to Santo Domingo seemed to diminish the second I laid eyes on the turquoise water outside the window of my Uber.
Even after a long travel day, flight delays, and a language barrier mishap at the airport (I ordered a Diet Coke in Spanish and was given a beer, which shows just how good my Spanish is), the aquamarine, navy, and cobalt shades of blue faded into each other and danced before my eyes.
Driving from the airport into the capital is a friendly welcome to the Caribbean, as the palm tree-lined road follows the south coast of the island.
Oh, and the fact that Uber is available in Santo Domingo is a treat: it’s easy, safe, reliable, and about $20 USD cheaper than taking a regular taxi.
My friend Cristina, who I worked with at the end of last semester at Global Degree Academy, joined me on this trip. I can’t thank her enough for coming up with this 2-week Dominican Republic itinerary!
This was our 2-week itinerary for exploring the Dominican Republic - feel free to follow this for yourself if you’d like!
2 nights in Santo Domingo
3 nights in La Romana with a day trip to Saona Island
4 nights in Punta Cana
3 nights in Las Terrenas
1 night in Santo Domingo, fly home the following day
Note: this brings us to a total of 13 nights, but both of our flights happened to be overnight so our trip in total spanned 14 nights.
After the 45-minute Uber, we made it to the Serrales neighborhood, where we stayed with our first hotel partner, Central Park Tower Apartments. What we loved about CPTA (besides their incredible hospitality), was how it felt like a better version of an Airbnb.
Other than the check-in desk, you’re staying in an apartment that you get to call home. There was a gym, pool, and sauna, and the apartment was clean, fully furnished, and had a kitchen stocked with all the equipment you could think of!
It was nice to see a different side to the large city of Santo Domingo outside the main tourist hotspot, Zona Colonial, but with that said, we definitely wanted to check out Zona Colonial as well!
VISITING SANTO DOMINGO: THINGS TO DO
This is the most popular neighborhood to stay in for tourism in Santo Domingo. This is the historic colonial neighborhood, the oldest European settlement in the Americas, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site!
The very first church in the Americas is in Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial, as well as a number of other sites that are still standing today. You’ll also see colorful buildings lined up with beautiful flowers and trees!
Tres Ojos National Park
Think cenotes are just for Mexico? Think again! In the city of Santo Domingo you’ll find Tres Ojos National Park, a wonder of a place. Walk down the caves to the bright blue and green cenotes.
For the cenote pictured above, you’ll need to pay 25 pesos per person ($0.50 USD) to take a little boat to the other side of the water before you’re able to walk over to it. It’s worth it!
The main purpose of visiting La Romana en route to Punta Cana was to visit Saona Island.
Here’s the kicker…it was rainy and gloomy the second and third day in La Romana, so we didn’t even end up going to Saona Island!
On the other hand, we had probably one of the more unique and interesting hotel experiences overall with my travels in La Romana. Since we were doing a collaboration with Hotel Oasis El Dorado here, we got to know the Italian owner Giovanni and his family pretty well. Giovanni happens to also be an incredible chef, and kindly treated us to authentic Italian pizza one night and spaghetti carbonara the next. I remember thinking how random it was when I read how “good the pizza” was on the reviews prior to staying there, and now I know why. Italians know their food! And the food at this place was definitely the highlight. I hadn’t had such great Italian food outside of Italy in a long time! So yes, it is a very random highlight and something I never expected prior to visiting La Romana.
To be completely honest, I felt that La Romana itself was nothing special. In my opinion, it seemed a little cheaper, a little dirtier, and nothing to really blog about.
Besides the beaches (beautiful water and supposedly great for diving/snorkeling!) and its proximity to Saona Island, it didn’t really pull me to want to return.
I have nothing against La Romana, I just didn’t really vibe with it the way I did Las Terrenas or Punta Cana, for example.
GETTING TO LA ROMANA FROM SANTO DOMINGO
We took a bus to get from Santo Domingo for $190 pesos each ($3.74 USD). You could also try a taxi or look at something like Caribe Tours, but it would likely be more expensive than a regular bus.
Note: Uber is only available in Santo Domingo. You won’t find Uber in La Romana, Punta Cana, or anywhere else. Taxis and moto taxis (motorcycle taxis) are available and still pretty cheap. The taxi cars themselves can be pretty run-down looking, and moto taxis don’t always have helmets, but we never had any issues.
Before taking a taxi or moto taxi, agree on the price beforehand. We typically paid 300 or so pesos ($5.91 USD) for taxi rides under 15 minutes, and 150 pesos ($2.95) for moto taxis!
VISITING LA ROMANA: THINGS TO DO
This beach is beautiful! It seems like the coastline stretches for miles and the sunset cast the most perfect golden glow.
Most visitors come to this beach for the day as this is a popular cruise ship port. There are many nice restaurants and shops lining the beach, though keep in mind the prices reflect this being a tourist hot spot - some menu items like chicken or fish are upwards of $14-18 USD, which was much higher than what we found for similar dishes outside Bayahibe (typically $4-10 USD or so per meal).
Tip: Ask for the price in pesos. One woman quoted us a price in pesos that was lower than the USD conversion and honored the price for us. The fish and salad we got was amazing, too. You never know if you can score a deal simply by asking in pesos or speaking Spanish in a touristy area!
Cristina and I took a 30-minute mini bus from La Romana to Bayahibe for 140 pesos roundtrip. It was overcrowded (which we found was often the norm) but we had fun interacting with some locals. On the way there we sat near these energetic teens who were just being goofy and dancing to reggaeton and asking us questions in Spanish. If you’re staying closer to Bayahibe, you won’t need to take a bus!
This is something we will have to leave unchecked on the bucket list - for now. Saona Island is a small island that is part of the Dominican Republic, but has a more remote feel - there are few residents and no internet, if that helps paint a picture! In our mind Saona Island was going to be a similar experience to the amazing San Blas Islands in Panama.
Saona Island is part of the East National Park and is only accessible by boat on either side: Bayahibe is the closest, though you can also take a day trip from Punta Cana.
There is one guesthouse/simple hotel we were going to book called Saona Beach House if the weather hadn’t been stormy - it seems like it would be a fun time!
If you end up going to Saona Island, please let me know what you think!
Also! A lot of the photos I looked up on Instagram have people holding up starfish. I learned in Panama that holding starfish out of the water can hurt them and potentially kill them. Our guide in Panama said you could hold the starfish lightly, just keep them completely underwater. Please be gentle with wildlife when you travel!
Nestled on the east coast of the island, Punta Cana is home to many all-inclusive resorts. Drive along the main street and you’ll see one resort after another, each entrance similar to what I’d imagine driving up to a palace would look like.
During my extensive research on things to do in Punta Cana (aka a quick google search of “Things to do in Punta Cana”) I learned that Punta Cana was historically named Punta Borrachón, “Drunkard’s Point” for those of us who are not yet fluent in Spanish (and receiving beers when we meant to order Diet Cokes).
Supposedly when resort owners decided to build resorts in this beautiful area, they renamed it to Punta Cana. “Punta Cana” has a nice ring to it though, don’t you think?
If you’re looking for the ultimate vacation destination, this is your spot. Staying at an all-inclusive is literally permission to relax, sit back, enjoy the beach and water activities, have a drink or two, and completely unplug from “reality” back home. Especially if your reality back home includes snow and cold weather!
Outside of the resorts? There isn’t much to do, but it isn’t completely barren! There is downtown Punta Cana with a few souvenir shops, a mall, and a few restaurants.
They also have Coco Bongo, a Vegas-style show/experience if you’re looking for some nightlife outside your resort!
GETTING TO PUNTA CANA
Airport: Most resorts will include a shuttle service from the Punta Cana airport or can arrange a shuttle or taxi pickup upon request.
From La Romana: You can take a direct bus from La Romana to Punta Cana. If it is sold out (like what happened to us), you can take two buses with a change in Higuey.
From Santo Domingo: Same thing as La Romana - there is a direct bus between Santo Domingo and Punta Cana, but if it is full, you can connect between Santo Domingo and Punta Cana in Higuey.
WHERE TO STAY IN PUNTA CANA: RESORT OR A BUDGET HOTEL?
Cristina and I wanted to experience both sides to Punta Cana: the all-inclusive resort side, and the budget-friendly side. Sometimes it’s nice to experience some luxury, and other times it’s fun to have more of an adventure!
Catalonia was calm, relaxing, and enjoyable. There were families, young people, honeymooners, as well as a few token fratty Americans rounding up groups of whoever was nearby (and willing) to take tequila shots.
It was fun to meet travelers from other parts of the world, chat with the staff (some who knew 3-4+ languages!), and have everything included.
I had never stayed in an all-inclusive, and can I just say…wow. I can definitely see the appeal to stay at a Punta Cana resort when you simply want to truly unplug, relax, and not think about anything!
Punta Cana is absolutely beautiful, and Catalonia was a wonderful place to stay. I’d love to be back there right now!
Capri Beach House was nice considering the low price, though in my opinion the rooms and sheets/towels could be cleaner.
However, their location is literally on the beach, they have a bar/restaurant that serves great food, and sometimes have DJs come and play (keep in mind that you’ll definitely hear the music from your room late at night if a DJ is playing)!
I’ll do a more in-depth post comparing these two sides of Punta Cana, so keep an eye out!
Move your attention to the north of the island, and you’ll see Samaná Peninsula. As you can see, coastline stretches all around the peninsula and in real life the views are breathtaking.
While it’s on the Atlantic side of the Caribbean, the water is still the same turquoise color you know and love when you think “Caribbean.” And it does not disappoint!
Las Terrenas is a small town, but not too small. We took safety precautions as we would anywhere else and felt decently safe. There were other tourists, but a healthy mix of traveler and locals. The tourists seemed more well-traveled in Las Terrenas than in Punta Cana (this is in a very general sense), probably because this is an incredible hidden gem that hasn’t quite been fully discovered.
Parts of town are still developing, but there are some very nice grocery stores, restaurants, and shops all around!
Surfing is popular up north, and you’ll find many surf schools along the beaches. Word on the street says that Cabarete (west of Las Terrenas) is the “main” surf spot, though maybe for those a little more advanced!
I’m not sure what I enjoyed more: staying at the resort in Punta Cana (I enjoyed feeling bougie for a minute) or Las Terrenas.
The chill vibes in Las Terrenas were amazing and I would absolutely return if I had the chance. We stayed at Hotel Alisei, which is an apartment hotel that has a restaurant, spa, and pool. Our 2-bedroom apartment had a fully-stocked kitchen, fresh sheets and towels, a water filter, a furnished patio, and panoramic ocean views from every window!
THINGS TO DO IN LAS TERRENAS
Like I mentioned above, this part of the country is known for surfing! Rent a board or sign up for a lesson!
ATV or Scooter Ride
We saw a lot of people riding ATVs, but we rented a scooter instead! (We asked the moto taxi guy that drove us from the bus station to the hotel if he had a scooter we could rent…and he did!)
El Limon Waterfall
Drive out to the small town village of El Limon and you’ll find the entrance to this waterfall - we actually drove up to the waterfall in the early evening, but realized it would take too long to go there and back. We didn’t end up going because we didn’t want to be driving out on the scooter after dark!
GETTING TO LAS TERRENAS
From Santo Domingo: Take a 2.5-hour bus from Santo Domingo up to Las Terrenas.
From Punta Cana: You can try to find a boat from Punta Cana, though we found boat options were usually day trips. Otherwise you’ll need to take a bus to Santo Domingo and switch to a bus to go north up to Las Terrenas.
PLANNING YOUR DOMINICAN REPUBLIC ITINERARY:
Fly into Santo Domingo or Punta Cana?
The main two options for flying into the Dominican Republic are Santo Domingo, the capital, or Punta Cana, the main location for all the resorts.
Since we wanted to explore a few locations around the country, we flew into Santo Domingo for a couple of nights to get settled, visit the colonial neighborhood, and have a business meeting.
If you’re simply going to Punta Cana to enjoy an all-inclusive, relax, and sit on the beach all day (a wonderful vacation if you ask me!) then it’ll be much easier to fly into Punta Cana, even if flights are a little higher, because the resorts tend to offer shuttle pick-ups anyways.
If you want to explore Santo Domingo or use it as a launching pad to get up to Las Terrenas, Bayahibe, or another part of the country, then consider flying into Santo Domingo!
Is the Dominican Republic safe to travel to?
I’d say we felt pretty safe during our trip in all the mentioned locations, but we took the safety precautions we would anywhere while at home or traveling: didn’t go out alone at night, didn’t wear flashy jewelry, kept an eye on belongings at all times, didn’t have our phones out in public too often, negotiated taxis and moto taxi pricing before we got in, and listened to our intuition.
At the resort and hotels, I never worried about my safety. Walking around most neighborhoods, I didn’t either. We met so many kind and nice people from the Dominican Republic during this trip!
Like many places at home or abroad, we did find ourselves in some sketchy neighborhoods from time to time. The bus station we were at going to and from Las Terrenas was in a particularly bad neighborhood.
While walking with luggage through mud and trash-lined streets, we had three local men warn us to not walk around with our luggage because it was unsafe. I had ordered an Uber and when it came, the guy saw we had luggage and cancelled the ride because “he didn’t want the extra weight” (we had carry-on bags and a bag of groceries…) Confused that he wouldn’t budge his reasoning, he cancelled and we requested another ride.
Meanwhile, two local women came up and offered to get us a taxi; one of them said her husband was a driver and could be there in 5-10 minutes. We thanked them but said had another Uber coming. They insisted they stand with us until the Uber came to ensure we were safe. It was such a kind gesture. I will never forget this!
Overall, stay alert, don’t get lazy about not wanting to zip up your bag or put your phone away in neighborhoods that aren’t as nice. If you go to the Dominican Republic to stay at a resort/hotel and within the surrounding area, you likely don’t need to worry much. But don’t let that deter you from seeing different parts of the country if that’s what interests you!
What’s the cost of traveling to the Dominican Republic?
This will entirely depend on where you stay and how you travel. There were many 4- and 5-star all-inclusive resorts available for less than $300 USD per night, which I found to be a great deal considering, well, everything is included! There were also some resorts upwards of $1,000 USD per night in Punta Cana.
Outside the resorts, the cost of traveling in the Dominican Republic was really cheap compared to the US dollar or Euro. Bus tickets, taxis, and Ubers between the cities were typically $2.50-8.00 USD and meals at restaurants between $4.00-12.00 or so, depending on the dish!
I recommend checking out budgetyourtrip.com for more advice!
When to travel to the Dominican Republic
The weather in the Dominican Republic is typically sunny and in the 70s-80s year-round. Tropical rain showers or storms may happen so keep an eye on the weather. June-August are popular with North American tourists, so keep in mind that hotels and beaches may feel extra crowded during this time.
Hurricane season technically runs from June to November, though like most islands in the Caribbean, hurricanes hit the hardest between September and October.
I went to the Dominican Republic during the last two weeks of March. We were met with some standard tropical rain as mentioned above, but it wasn’t so bad! It was warm and sunny almost every day of our trip!
Save this for later on Pinterest!
This post includes affiliate links, which mean I may earn a small commission through these links at no extra cost to you. Some of the hotels mentioned were compensated via content/partnership, and opinions are my own. This helps keep the blog up and running so I can continue to provide free content!