The Dominican Republic is paradise.
While the all-inclusive resorts and palm tree covered beaches of Punta Cana may have been the first thing that came to mind when you read the above sentence, I actually wrote it about the Southwest region of the country.
During my week long trip with the Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Tourism, our adventures included discovering secret waterfalls, remote beaches, exotic wildlife, Caribbean wine, and so much more. I truly was blown away by the beauty and excitement waiting behind every corner!
So to help you plan your next venture to the Southwest Dominican Republic, here are the Top 9 Things To Do.
San Rafael Lookout
Driving along the coast in Barahona, you will come across a view worthy of a postcard. San Rafael lookout is located high on the cliffs and offers stunning views of San Rafael Beach, where the mountains meet the sea. It is an infamous landmark in the Dominican Republic and should not be missed!
Directions: Take the main highway along the coast (the 44) and pull over between Casa Bonita and Los Patos. There are some signs along the way so keep your eyes open!
Hike to La Plaza
As always, I found some adventure!
You’ll find it too if you hike to La Plaza in the Barahona mountains. This hike will lead you to three tiers of waterfalls and crystal clear pools of the Bahoruco River. However, the trick is getting there.
The trail is off the beaten path, so you will need some help finding the trailhead as well as a 4×4. The best thing you can do is book a guide through Casa Bonita to take you to La Plaza.
Since you will be trekking through the forest, climbing over boulders, and crossing the river, I highly suggest you wear waterproof hiking shoes or comfortable water shoes at the least. You will be walking for about 1-2 hours (depending on your speed and fitness level), so proper footwear is a must! Unfortunately, our group of 10 was not prepared for the water crossings so it took us 2 hours to reach the falls.
Tip: Once you reach the first pool and waterfall, be sure to keep going. You can either climb around the rocks or up the waterfall itself. After hiking for about 5-10 minutes you will reach a second and third pool and waterfall (which were my personal favorites).
Stop By Playa De Los Patos
If you’re driving along the coast and are looking for a place to stop for lunch, check out Playa de Los Patos aka ‘The Ducks Beach”.
This beautiful pebble beach is a hot spot for fishing and dining by the locals. At the restaurant, be sure to try the fish! You won’t find fresher food in the country!
There is even a river that runs down to the ocean near the restaurant, so while you wait for your food, you can escape the heat by taking a dip in the crystal clear water.
Nature Watch at Lago de Oviedo
Located in the extreme southwest of the Dominican Republic lies 530 square miles of the largest protected area in the Caribbean region, known as Jaragua National Park.
Within this park is the hypersaline lake, Lago de Oviedo.
What you’ll first notice about this body of water is its bright green color! This is caused by limestone sediments that are dragged into the lake by underground water flow.
What makes Lago de Oviedo special are the 70 different species of animals and fish that make this lake their home due to its hypersalinity. Of course, my personal favorite animal we discovered was the Rhinoceros Iguanas!
On small islands made up of dead coral, you can find and feed these iguanas. You all by now know my affinity for these dino-looking creatures, but I’ll be honest, these ones looked a lot more intimidating and were far more aggressive about their food compared to the ones I encountered in Exuma, Bahamas. They are still perfectly safe to feed, but don’t expect to pet them.
Lago de Oviedo is perfect for anyone curious about seeing wildlife in the Dominican Republic up close.
TIP: Bring bug spray! This was my biggest mistake. If you are planning on exploring some of the small islands around the lake, then you must spray yourself head to toe with bug spray. I didn’t do this and after walking around for only 10 minutes, I had about 30 mosquito bites.
Sunset at Bahia de las Aguilas
My absolute favorite part about the trip to the Dominican Republic was visiting Bahia de las Aguilas!
Located in Jaragua National Park and only a couple miles from the Hatian boarder, this untouched beach offers white sand, turquoise waters, and privacy. Due to its isolation, the only way you can access this beach is by boat or 4×4. If you go by boat, you will get some awesome views of the coastal cliffs and open ocean.
We spent the afternoon playing in the warm Caribbean Sea, laying on the beach, and watching one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever witnessed.
Tip: Bring bug spray and sunblock! The heat and humidity create a perfect environment for mosquitos so be cautious. And of course, with the lack of vegetation on the shore and direct sunlight, protect your skin with some strong sunblock.
Stay at Rancho Platón Eco Lodge
Hidden in the the Baoruco Mountains, which stretches from Haiti into the Southwest Dominican Republic, is Rancho Platón Eco Lodge.
This unique ranch is located along a mountain river with cabins and tree houses. Inside each room are wooden panel walls and decorations that seamlessly meld with the surrounding landscape.
TIP: Stay in the Tree House Room!!!! It is the nicest room with the best views and accommodations!
My favorite part about Rancho Platón is how they utilize the river on the property to create a waterslide and pool! In the pool, they have a contraption in the middle that allows you to swing around like Tarzan and jump into the water, plus there are jets that spray water high into the air so it feels as if it is raining (see photos below)! Both the slide and pool are perfect for groups of all ages, especially children!
Some other activities you can do on and around the property are horseback riding, tubing down the river, waterfall climbing, and hiking.
You will need a 4×4 vehicle to access the ranch, however, the staff is more than happy to send out a van to the main road to pick up those who do not have the appropriate car and take them to the lodge.
Because Rancho Platón is off the beaten track, it is the perfect place to get away from many of touristy places in the Dominican Republic.
Wine Tasting At Ocoa Bay
Attention all wine lovers! There is now a winery in the Caribbean!
Yep, you heard that right! At Ocoa Bay Vineyard, you can sip on some delicious Colombard wine while gazing outward toward to beautiful vineyards and the turquoise sea.
Most people are shocked to discover wine can grow in the Caribbean, but in reality, the tropical climate provides the perfect condition for growing grapes. The 16th-century Spanish explorers new this. In fact, they planted the first vineyard in the New World here! How incredible is that????
At the moment, the property features beautiful vineyards, a luxury pool, and a restaurant. In the next few years, Ocao Bay plans to expand their property to create an eco-luxury hotel with many rooms and several villas. We were shown these future plans, and let me tell you, it looks seriously insane!! I’ll definitely be back to stay!
Escape Civilization at Playa Blanca
Across Ocao Bay, you will find another uninhabited beach only accessible by boat or a 4×4. I personally found the boat ride to be enjoyable as you’ll have incredible views of the bay and distant mountain range.
Once you arrive, your boat will anchor about 20 feet offshore! This is where you jump into that Caribbean blue sea and swim to the white sand beach of Playa Blanca. Now I am definitely someone who is afraid of sharks, but have no fear! The water is shallow and I was assured more than once that there were no sharks in the area.
Shop The Local Stands and Stores
Driving along the roads, you will pass many stands ran by the locals. They sell fresh fruits, juice, souvenirs and other various items at these shops. I definitely recommend stopping by not only to fill up on snacks but to have a chat with some of the friendliest people. Better pull out your old Spanish school books to brush up on the language!
The southwest of the Dominican Republic is a hidden gem that is just waiting to be explored. From quiet beaches to jungle waterfalls, the Southwest has everything for your adventurous soul. I promise you will be swept away by the beauty of this Caribbean island and find yourself never wanting to leave.
If you want to read more from my trip to the Dominican Republic, check out my blog post “The 10 Most Insta-Worthy Sites In The Heart Of Zona Colonial, Santo Domingo“.
Thank you so much to the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism for inviting me to explore your beautiful country. As always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.