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For many Americans, the Dominican Republic is synonymous with the endless, nameless resorts of Punta Cana. But the country offers so much more than most tourists will ever experience. Here’s a crash course in some of its best hotels, restaurants, and experiences that you’ve (probably) never heard of:
The tourists have gotten wind of Playa Rincon, but this stunning stretch of beach in Samana is still somehow quiet almost every day of the week. Every local will tell you that it’s the best beach in the entire country and it’s indeed routinely ranked among the best beaches in the world.
For something more active, head inland to Pico Duarte. This 10,000-plus foot mountain is the tallest point in the Caribbean. It’s still well under the tourist radar, even for hikers. Informal two- and three-day guided trips are available from the nearby town of La Ciénega, near Jarabacoa. The best guides will even offer mule assistance to carry your essentials. Plan a winter visit when the park service claims less than twenty hikers attempt the summit each month.
Most accommodations in the Dominican Republic center on the all-inclusive resort model. However the country is starting to see a slow, steady growth in the number of upscale boutique hotels.
In Santo Domingo, the Billini Hotel offers five star luxury in the city’s most beautiful and historic district – the Colonial Zone. The former 17th century nunnery retains much of its original architecture and charm while blending cutting edge, contemporary design elements. While unassuming from the outside, in-room amenities include bedside tablets, all-glass bathrooms, and a slick LCD touchscreen that replaces the staid Do Not Disturb door hanger. It rivals any boutique hotel in Manhattan and may well be the city’s most chic accommodations.
Much farther afield in the bustling seaside town of Las Terrenas, Casa La Nouba is a hilltop luxury bed and breakfast unlike any we’ve ever seen. Perched atop the town’s highest point, the property’s four bedrooms overlook an ultra-modern infinity pool. This literal million dollar view provides a sweeping panoramic vista of the Atlantic Ocean and the community below.
Dominican locals know about Las Galeras – a quiet seaside community with one of the most laid back vibes in the country. If you need just one reason to go, it’s to visit El Cabito. This tiny, Spanish-owned eco lodge cum restaurant serves some of the best Spanish food in the country alongside breathtaking views of the Atlantic. They even have a legitimate treehouse available to rent with a stunning vantage point over Rincon Bay.
Samana may not be known for fine dining, which is perhaps why Cafe del Mar stands out even more. This modern, upscale eatery sits squarely on a small peninsula in Puerto Bahia marina, with panoramic ocean views. By day, the restaurant’s oceanfront infinity pool is an ideal spot to relax with a mojito. At night, the glass-enclosed dining room offers some of the best seafood dishes in the area. Go with the catch of the day or simply opt for the area favorite – a light fish filet in tomato and coconut sauce.