What to See and What to Skip in the Dominican Republic

Smell the Flowers, Not the Sunscreen

Trade the scent of suntan lotion for the waft of native flora. The National Botanical Garden in Santo Domingo takes up just one square mile but is replete with trails that lead you to many of the plants indigenous to the Dominican Republic, such as orchids, palms and aquatic flowers. There's also a lovely Japanese garden.

Go Underground, Visit a Cave

Its lush tropical topography affords the Dominican Republic myriad parks that can range from natural habitats to zoological reserves; many are home to ancient caves. At Caberete, a resort town near Puerto Plata, you can ride a horse through El Choco National Park and then swim inside its many caves. West of La Romana, the Maravillas National Park houses the "Cave of Miracles," which holds old Taino paintings. Nearby, the caves at Fun Fun Cave – the largest in the Caribbean – lure adventurers with their dark corridors and the four-mile underground river that runs through them. And don't miss Los Tres Ojos, near Santo Domingo, named for the three lakes nestled inside three caves; bats and turtles abound, and you'll find a series of stalagmites.

Go for Fine Dining, Skip the Resort Food

Your all-inclusive might tempt you to stay put; there's plenty to fill your plate. But because many resort towns are at the epicenter of the country's burgeoning cuisine scene, that other hotel down the beach might be serving up something worth exploring. Take Punta Cana, where destination eateries include the Blue Marlin inside the Secrets Sanctuary Cap Cana Resort; this eatery exudes South Pacific charm and runs its own fleet of fishing boats to nab the freshest catch of the day. The quiet, upscale Sivory Resort is home to three distinguished eateries; Gourmand Restaurant gets marks for quintessential French fare and an awesome wine list. Captain Cook Restaurant is not in a resort; it's got a prime setting right on the beach. But this casual eatery is worth mentioning for the high marks it gets. It draws diners with a value price point and wows with the Creole-style langostinos.

Skip the Crowds, See the Peninsula

The Saona Peninsula misses out on the crowds that flock, instead, to spots like Punta Cana and La Romana. So this can be a real haven, with its towering mangroves, sandy beaches and intense biodiversity. The Los Haitises National Park is here, with its Taino petroglyphs, lush rain forest and plethora of parrots. The village of Las Terrenas is home to many European descendants, and several quality pastry shops. And the shores of the town of Samana offer prime viewing, especially January through March, when humpback whales come here by the pod-loads to mate.

Gabe Saglie is senior editor for Travelzoo, which features hotel, airfare and a bevy of local deals in the Dominican Republic.

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