After being away for more than 15 years, I felt uncertain about what to expect upon arriving in the Dominican Republic. Well, other than bad food and high crime. If you know me at all, I never believe what I read or hear when it comes to a destination; I have to experience it for myself. The allure of Punta Cana's splendid beaches and the promise of merengue rhythms were more than enough for me to scoop up my best friend and spend a week exploring the island of the Dominican Republic.
While this was a 'Momcation', I always travel with my guests in mind. And with so many families back home in the Sea-to-Sky corridor, eagerly searching for new places to take their children on holiday, I wanted to collect as much information as I possibly could to ensure the Dominican Republic was a solid option for a family vacation.
So, why would you want to bring your family to the Dominican Republic?
Beautiful Beaches and Crystal-Clear Waters
The Dominican Republic boasts some of the most stunning beaches in the Caribbean. I know, what a cliché, right? I travelled to the Mayan Riviera twice in 2021, and as beautiful as the beaches can be, they don't hold a candle to those in resort areas like Punta Cana. Imagine your family strolling along the powdery white sands, with warm turquoise waters gently lapping at your feet. Popular beach destinations such as Punta Cana, Puerto Plata, and Bavaro offer a variety of family-friendly resorts, ensuring everyone's needs are catered to. Fun-filled water activities like snorkeling, swimming, or building sandcastles, are plentiful, and with constant breezes and plenty of palm-fringed shade, the Dominican will easily become a new family favourite.
Ecotourism and Breathtaking Natural Wonders Repeat after me: I will get off the resort! I don't want to be cavalier about travel advisories or warnings, but I also don't want my Storied Landers living in fear. Please dig deep and channel your inner explorer because, beyond its picturesque beaches, the Dominican Republic is blessed with an abundance of natural beauty. Explore the mesmerizing landscapes of the Samaná Peninsula, where lush forests, cascading waterfalls, and pristine beaches converge. Take a boat tour to witness the incredible humpback whales that migrate to the Bay of Samaná each winter. Venture into the stunning Los Haitises National Park, home to mangroves, limestone formations, and numerous species of birds and marine life. And be sure to visit Los Tres Ojos (Three Eyes Cave) near Santa Domingo, a major highlight of my last trip to the island. The Dominican's diverse ecosystems provide ample opportunities for educational and immersive experiences that will leave your family in awe.
Rich History and Culture
The Dominican Republic's history is rich and captivating, offering numerous educational opportunities for your family. Visit Santo Domingo, the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the Americas, and explore the Colonial Zone, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Wander through ancient cobblestone streets, visit historical sites such as the Alcázar de Colón and the Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, and gain a deeper understanding of the island's colonial past. Immerse yourselves in the vibrant local culture by attending live music and dance performances, sampling traditional Dominican cuisine, and interacting with friendly locals who are proud to share their heritage.
For families seeking adventure and excitement, the Dominican Republic has plenty to offer. Go zip-lining through lush rainforests, take an ATV ride along rugged terrains, or go horseback riding on the beach or in hill country overlooking coffee plantations. Explore the underwater world by snorkeling or scuba diving in the vibrant coral reefs teeming with colorful marine life. Older children and teenagers can try their hand at kiteboarding or windsurfing, while the whole family can enjoy thrilling water park attractions. With a wide range of adventure activities available, there's never a dull moment in the Dominican Republic.
Family-friendly Accommodations and Amenities
I chose to stay at the Riu Palace Punta Cana for a few reasons. I wanted to stay at a resort that was both family-friendly, but also had options for adults who wanted a break from the kiddos. I'll write a full (and honest) review of our stay there, but at first blush, the Riu brand has excellent options for families, including this fantastic waterpark mere steps from the Riu Palace.
On the whole, the Dominican Republic is well-equipped to cater to families, ensuring a comfortable and stress-free vacation experience. Numerous resorts and hotels offer dedicated kids' clubs, where children can engage in age-appropriate activities and make new friends, giving parents some well-deserved relaxation time. Many resorts also provide all-inclusive packages, making it easier to plan and budget for your family vacation. Furthermore, the warm, welcoming, family-oriented nature of the Dominican people extends to their hospitality, ensuring that your family feels safe and well taken care of throughout your stay.
Now to address the proverbial elephant in the room: What's the Food Like in the Dominican Republic?
In all honesty, I did not hear great things about the food scene in the Dominican. If you look at reviews on websites like TripAdvisor, it's hit or miss. Even my own clients have been split down the middle about the quality and flavour profiles of Dominican food. But Dominican food has a rich history, with African, Indigenous (Taino), and European influences. I was determined to find amazing food somewhere on the island.
The food at our particular resort, the Riu Palace Punta Cana was good, but lacked consistency at times. In saying that, there were plenty of dishes that were delicious; the various seafood options, rice dishes, fresh fruit, and some of the more traditional dishes. And the specialty restaurants were especially good. My overall complaint about the resort food was that it lacked spice. But please, please remember, food preferences are subjective!!! Food is the most personal aspect of anyone's holiday, so just because I didn't love something doesn't mean that you won't!
Like almost all places in the Caribbean, getting off the resort is often where you'll find the best food. It's not produced en masse, there's more creativity, and there are ingredients that you may not see at your resort. Here are some fantastic Dominican dishes to sink your teeth into:
La Bandera: The national dish of the Dominican Republic, La Bandera, is made up of rice, beans, and meat (usually chicken or beef), served with a side of salad.
Sancocho: This hearty stew is made with a variety of meats (such as beef, pork, and chicken), root vegetables, and plantains.
Mofongo: A dish made from mashed plantains mixed with garlic, olive oil, and pork cracklings, then shaped into a ball and stuffed with meat, seafood, or vegetables. If you've travelled to Puerto Rico, you've likely tried this delicious dish!
Chicharrón: Fried pork rinds that are crispy and crunchy, often served with yucca or plantain chips.
Empanadas: A savory pastry filled with meat, cheese, or vegetables, and fried until golden brown.
Tostones: Fried green plantains that are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, often served as a side dish or snack.
Arroz con leche: A sweet and creamy rice pudding made with cinnamon and condensed milk.
Just a heads-up for vegetarians, vegans, and those with food allergies; not all food programs are created equally! We found the labelling to be hit or miss and I often had to ask the staff which dishes were vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free. However, the staff was excellent at sourcing diet-friendly options for me. And remember, not all resorts are the same. There are plenty offering a better-equipped menu, more in line with those who have dietary sensitivities.
When is the Best Time to Travel to The Dominican Republic?
The best time to go to the Dominican Republic is during the dry season, which runs from December to April. During this time, the weather is sunny and warm with low humidity, making it a great time to enjoy the beaches and outdoor activities. However, this is also the busiest tourist season, so prices may be higher and crowds may be larger.
If you're looking for a quieter and more affordable time to visit, the shoulder seasons of May-June and November are also good options. The weather is still warm, but there may be occasional rain showers.
The rainy season runs from May to October, with the highest rainfall occurring in September and October. This can make some outdoor activities challenging, but it's still possible to have a great time in the Dominican Republic during this time of year. Additionally, the rainy season is also the best time for surfing and the landscape is lush and green.
A quick note: We travelled at the beginning of May and had perfect, blue-sky days for a week straight. We did have some Sargasso role in on the second to last day, but we didn't see a drop of rain!
It's worth noting that the Dominican Republic can be impacted by hurricanes between June and November, so if you're planning to visit during this time, it's important to stay informed about weather updates and always, ALWAYS cover yourself by purchasing travel insurance.
What Are the Main Resort Areas I Can Stay at in the Dominican Republic?
The Dominican Republic has several main resort regions that are popular among tourists. These regions offer a variety of accommodation options, beautiful beaches, and a range of amenities. Here are some of the main resort areas to consider:
Punta Cana: Punta Cana is one of the most well-known resort regions in the Dominican Republic. It features a long stretch of beautiful beaches, luxurious all-inclusive resorts, and championship golf courses. Punta Cana is known for its upscale and modern atmosphere, making it a popular choice for travelers seeking a luxurious beach vacation.
Puerto Plata: Located on the country's north coast, Puerto Plata is another popular resort region. It offers a mix of all-inclusive resorts, budget-friendly accommodations, and beautiful beaches. Puerto Plata is known for its vibrant nightlife, water sports activities, and nearby attractions like the historic Fort of San Felipe and the cable car ride to the top of Mount Isabel de Torres.
Samana: Samana is a picturesque and less-developed resort region on the northeastern coast of the Dominican Republic. It is known for its pristine beaches, lush landscapes, and charming small towns. Samana offers a more laid-back and authentic experience, with eco-lodges, boutique hotels, and opportunities for whale watching, exploring waterfalls, and enjoying the natural beauty of the region.
La Romana and Bayahibe: Located on the country's southeast coast, La Romana and Bayahibe are resort regions known for their stunning beaches, championship golf courses, and upscale resorts. The region is also home to the famous Casa de Campo resort, which offers a range of amenities including a marina, shopping, dining, and a private beach.
Hopefully, these descriptions will help you decide where you and your family might like to stay on the island, and what environment would suit you best.
Whew! That was a long post - If you made it to the end, BRAVO! I know I've just thrown a lot of information at you, but fear not, I'm here to make sense of it all. More importantly, I'm here to help you craft that perfect family vacation to the Dominican Republic. And with the fall season not far off, now is the time to start putting plans in place - Let's give you and your family a Caribbean vacation to look forward to!