Last updated: 02:28 PM ET, Thu July 07 2016

Beyond Punta Cana

Three emerging Domincan Republic tourist districts are attracting larger numbers of travelers

Agent@Home | Destination & Tourism | Brian Major

Beyond Punta Cana

The Dominican Republic’s beachfront Punta Cana resort district is the primary engine of the country’s robust visitor arrivals. The country led every other Caribbean destination in arrivals in 2015, welcoming 5.6 million travelers. The majority of travelers come to visit Punta Cana’s seemingly endless exotic white-sand beaches, tall and languid coconut palm trees, and its multitude of large-scale all-inclusive resorts offering deluxe accommodations, myriad facilities and services.

The Punta Cana International Airport continues to serve as the main point of entry into the Dominican Republic. “If Punta Cana is doing well the country is doing well,” says Radhames Martinez Aponte, the Dominican Republic’s vice minister of tourism.

Yet, over the past several years other regions of the lush and mountainous Dominican Republic are becoming increasingly more popular with travelers, including the historic capital city of Santo Domingo and such coastal districts as Samana and Puerto Plata.

Government road-building initiatives have connected these areas with Punta Cana, providing travelers with easy access to the various regions. “At the end of this year all of the tourism areas will be interconnected through a road network of the first quality,” says Aponte. “That will allow any tourist who is visiting Punta Cana to go to Santo Domingo or Puerto Plata and visit all of the tourism [regions] the country has to offer.”

Tourism officials have also launched a variety of programs and partnerships designed to support increased visitor access to these emerging tourist regions.


The city is in the midst of tourism resurgence and is fast emerging as one the Caribbean’s premier urban cultural and historic districts. It is the Americas’ oldest continuously inhabited European settlement and the first center of Spanish colonial rule on the continent. It is also home to what are believed to be the Americas’ first university, cathedral, castle, monastery and fortress.

Santo Domingo (pictured above) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site whose Zona Colonial district features numerous 16th-century structures, including palatial mansions, majestic churches, imposing government offices, plus several new boutique hotels set in historic buildings.

Founded in 1498, the colonial city’s grid street pattern became a model for planners in other colonial American cities. Zona Colonial also features quaint cobblestone streets and quiet, leafy courtyards dotted with small art galleries and restaurants. In some areas, visitors will find murals and hand-painted artwork adorning open walls and street posts.

Meanwhile, several new hotels are planned for Santo Domingo’s downtown city center. Next year, the $14 million Homewood Suites by Hilton will begin welcoming guests.

Hard Rock International is partnering with the AIC Hotels Group to launch the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Santo Domingo, a 400-room resort scheduled to open in late 2017 in Santo Domingo’s cosmopolitan downtown district.

When completed, the property will be the city’s tallest structure and feature a 23,000-square-foot casino with two bars, a race and sports book, 400 slot machines and 40 table games, a film-screening room and a nightclub that opens onto the main pool. A private gaming room on a floor will also be available to guests. Additionally, the property be equipped with 33,000 square feet of meeting space, a Rock Star suite and an entire floor of Rock Royalty-level accommodations.

In all, Santo Domingo welcomed 1,013 new hotel rooms in 2014 and 2015, says Simon Suarez, president of Asonahores, the Dominican Republic’s hotel and tourism association.


Located in the country’s northeast region, the Samana district is filled with a series of charming, small-scale resort towns, including Cabarete, Las Terrenas and Sosua, each of which features intimate and upscale properties set among secluded beaches at the edge of lush rainforests.

In 2015 hoteliers debuted 500 rooms across the Samana district. The most recent openings include the Bahia Principe Samana Hotel, a luxury property from the Bahia Principe chain, and the all-inclusive, adults-only Viva Wyndham resort.

Samana also features several outstanding and intimate beach districts. Cayo Levantado is a small island surrounded by beautiful beaches at the center of Samana Bay. Its beach features calm and shallow waters, which are perfect for swimming and snorkeling. Nearby huts serve Dominican cuisine.

Playa Bonita is a large bay in the Las Terrenas district dotted with several boutique hotels, private villas and trendy restaurants. The beach’s western section offers still waters ideal for swimming, while the eastern area is ideally suited for watersports and surfing.


Once a prominent travel hot spot for international travelers, Puerto Plata is experiencing a renaissance. The city is the site of Amber Cove, the new $85 million cruise ship port built in partnership between Carnival Corp. and Grupo B&R, a Dominican port development firm.

The name “Amber Cove” refers to the region’s rich minerals reserves, which produce generous amounts of amber. The city has hosted an average of 5,000 visitors per week since the cruise port’s opening in October. A renovation of the city’s historic center and sites are well underway.

Puerto Plata’s attractions include an amber museum; Fortaleza San Felipe, a 16th-century fortress; and the Caribbean’s only aerial tramway. The tram takes visitors to the summit of Pico Isabel de Torres, a 2,601-foot-high mountain located within the city’s limits.

Puerto Plata recorded an 11.5 percent year-over-year visitor increase in 2015, according to data from Asonahores.

Hoteliers added or renovated 3,841 hotel rooms in Puerto Plata through the end of 2015.


You may use your Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook information, including your name, photo & any other personal data you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on Click here to learn more.

Agent@Home Magazine

A version of this article appears in print in the June 2016 issue of Agent@Home Magazine.