Buffets and banana boats. If asked to recall my first visit to the Dominican Republic, my answer is not flattering. I had traveled to the Dominican Republic last year expecting to discover the country and instead spent the next few days rotating on my beach towel like a rotisserie chicken.
While staying at an all-inclusive is not my usual mode of travel; when an opportunity to dodge an impending November snow storms comes across your inbox, you tend to overlook details like accommodations. My assignment in the DR had afforded me little time to explore beyond the walls of the resort and so that first visit left me with only two impressions: buffets and banana boats.
Flash forward to present day. I find myself back in the Dominican Republic with an entirely different impression. Having ventured beyond the walls of the all-inclusive resort, I am able to learn about the culture, explore the cities and even head into the jungle.
In a country where travelers tend to flock to isolated hotels, there is much to be seen beyond the tourist trail. After a week of adventures in the Dominican Republic, the last words to come to mind now are banana boats and buffets. Here are the five adventures that should not be missed when visiting the DR!
1. Playing with Squirrel Monkeys
Monkey Jungle was founded by an expat who created a safe haven for squirrel monkeys. Monkeys are provided with care, food and water in an open enclosure where they have the freedom to come and go as they please. What sets Monkey Jungle apart is its outstanding contribution to the local community in the form of medical and dental clinics. Proceeds from the Monkey Jungle and its neighboring zip lines go towards funding healthcare and the upkeep of the clinics. Unlike other animal attractions that can prioritize profit over animal welfare, Monkey Jungle is an organization you can feel good about supporting.
2. Riding ATVs in the Dominican Republic Jungle
The bounce of the jungle road, the wind whipping through your hair, the clouds of red-orange dust enveloping your skin; riding ATVs is nothing short of liberating. While in Puerto Plata, I visited Outback Adventures for a day spent navigating the backroads of the Dominican jungle. I had never ridden an ATV before (being a New Yorker, I admittedly haven’t driven a car in years) so found the whole experience to be breathlessly exciting. For 3 hours, I drove my ATV past rolling fields and lush jungle, past hidden lagoon and rustic homes. By the time it was over, I was covered in red dust, wet from my lagoon swim and deliriously happy from the adventure.
3. A Trip on the Only Cable Car in the Caribbean
Built more than 40 years ago, The Teleferico is the only cable car in the Caribbean. On this ride, you’ll zip above jungle tree tops until you reach the top of Mount Isabel de Torres. Crowned by a fortress and the Dominican Republic’s very own version of “Christ the Redeemer,” you’ll be greeted with an unbeatable view of the island and Puerto Plata below. Beyond the novelty of gliding effortlessly above the jungle; the view from the top of Mount Isabel de Torres is perhaps the best view to be found in all of the Dominican Republic.
4. Jumping off Waterfalls at the Damajagua Cascades
I’m standing on the edge of yet another waterfall psyching myself up for a jump. The water below me is murky, offering no reassurance I won’t be greeted by rocks on my fall. The only comfort I have (besides the helmet on my head) is knowing that my trip mates below made this same jump mere seconds ago and survived. Before I can second guess my self, I launch myself off the rock. I am suspended in midair for no more than 3 seconds before I plunge into the water. I survive but this is only waterfall #3, I have 24 left to go.
One of the must-try adventures in Puerto Plata is the Iguana Mama waterfalls trek down the Damajagua River. Insider tip? Avoid taking this course during the weekend when it becomes extremely popular with the locals and can get crowded.
5. Surf Lessons in Puerto Plata
The basics of surfing essentially seem to come down to three moves: paddle, arch your back up and then pop up quickly. While the 3-step process seems easy enough to master on land, learning to pop up while riding a wave is another thing entirely. As it ends up, a lot more factors come into play when out on the water. Lean too far forward on your board? The wave will send you flying like a Looney Tunes cartoon character. Train your eyes down while jumping up? You’ll fall to the side in underwater cartwheels, looking like you were thrown into a washing machine. In the Dominican Republic, learning how to surf is a must-try activity and the 321 Takeoff Surf School is where to do it.
The bottom line is this, dear reader: there are plenty of adventures to be had in the Dominican Republic! Have you tried any of these activities before? Share your favorite adventures below.
Disclaimer: I was invited to the Dominican Republic by the tourism board. As always, all opinions and thoughts expressed on The Pin the Map Project are my own.