The Dominican Republic is a paradise often visited by couples looking for a romantic retreat or families enjoying all-inclusive resorts. But if you think you’ve seen everything this island has to offer, you’ve got a lot of exploring to do! The southwest Dominican Republic is a vast region varying in landscapes and hidden sites. From undiscovered waterfalls to untouched beaches to the region’s first vineyard, the DR as you know it is long gone.
For the ultimate trip off the beaten path, fly into the Colonial City of Santo Domingo and drive west for about 5 hours. Your journey will begin in the Pedernales Province and will continue eastward until you arrive back in Santo Domingo. Expect limited wifi in this uncharted part of the DR, but doesn’t that just make your journey that much more adventurous?
Visit the Untouched Beaches of Bahía de las Águilas
Approximately 45 minutes east from the Haitian border lies Bahía de las Águilas, a beautifully unspoiled beach hidden from most tourists. This white sand beach is accessible by car through the Parque Nacional Jaragua entrance, but it’s much more mesmerizing to take a speedboat there.
As you wind in and out of the coves of the coast, you’ll truly feel as though you’ve found a stranded island (though not from the mosquitos, unfortunately). With no shops or people nearby, be sure to bring some towels, floaties and cocktails as you enjoy the sun gently set over the water.
Play with Wild Things at Parque Nacional Jaragua
Within the extreme southwest Dominican Republic lies the Jaragua National Park or “Parque Nacional Jaragua.” The 530 square miles of vast terrain sits at the furthest point south as a flint-shaped peninsula, touching the Caribbean Sea. From dry forests, mangroves, beaches, lakes, and islands, there are plenty of plants and creatures that inhabit this lush park.
There are several animals to visit here like flamingos, various fish and even baby turtles! But my favorite has to be the iguanas. In the middle of Jaragua, hundreds of iguanas live on a deserted island made of dead coral. The best part of the experience is feeding them pieces of passionfruit. They writhe and scuddle their way up to you so fast, they look like dinosaurs out of the corner of your eye!
Hike Bahoruco River and Witness the Waterfalls of La Plaza
If you’re looking for a real adventure, then a hike amidst the wild forests of the southwest Dominican Republic must be added to your bucket list. With the help of a local guide (or in our case, a guide from the Casa Bonita Lodge), you drive through the forest in Barahona and start your adventure at the base of the Bahoruco River.
Depending on your hiking gear and your level of physical fitness, this hiking time can vary. As we wandered over fallen boulders, crossed the river and hiked steep terrain, the time started to pass. It had taken us about 2 hours for our group (ranging in fitness levels) to reach La Plaza. But how worth it to see crystal blue waters completely untouched by man!
(Tip: you’ll see a crystal blue bowl of water that makes you think you have reached the end. If you feel like hiking 5 more minutes, you’ll see even more impressive cascading waterfalls at the very top of the riverbed like the ones pictured below.)
Hang with the Locals at Los Patos
Along the Patos River (one of the shortest rivers in the world) lies the village of Los Patos, or “the ducks”. We arrived to find several locals dotted along the beach, strapping on their flippers and snorkeling gear, jumping in the crystal blue water, and looking for what we could only guess as lunch. Come to find that the area contains hundreds of fish and is known for its fishing.
Be sure to visit Playa de Los Patos and you’ll find one of the best restaurants around! This spot is the local watering hold (quite literally). Patos River runs through the center of the restaurant/meeting area and connects to the warm ocean. Locals jump into this river after they dine on the famous fried chicken or snapper fish and use the incredibly strong wifi.
Explore the Baoruco Mountain Range
It’s hard to imagine that this tiny island split by two countries contains such an impressive mountain range. The Baoruco Mountain Range (or “Sierra de Baoruco” in Spanish) is a large mountain range that stretches from Haiti into the southwest Dominican Republic. Protected by the Sierra de Bahoruco National Park, these mountains contain the natural gemstone of larimar. It is believed that larimar contains metaphysical healing powers and can help heal broken hearts, deep resentment, and fear.
If a mountain hike seems a little too strenuous, enjoy staying at the Rancho Platón Eco Lodge. The property contains several lodges and even tree houses for you to kickback and enjoy the misty mountains.
Enjoy the View at San Rafael Lookout
If you’ve seen pictures of the Dominican Republic, odds are you’ve seen two famous sceneries: the beaches of Punta Cana and the San Rafael Beach. This lookout point is located high over beachside cliffs with the perfect view of San Rafael. To get here, take the main road (the 44) and pull over between Casa Bonita and Los Patos. You will not regret it!
Sip Some Wine and Enjoy the View at Ocoa Bay Vineyard
Did you know there’s a winery in the Dominican Republic? Not only is Ocoa Bay Vineyard the first wine vineyard in the country, but in the entire Caribbean! The microclimate in the Azua province is surprisingly dry, making the region perfect for wine. Ocoa’s grapes include moscato, tempranillo and French colombard. But my personal favorite was their experimental blend of mango and passionfruit; it basically tasted like candy!
In addition to the vineyard, the property has a beautiful tasting room, club house, restaurant, beach club, amphitheater and spa. This location is off the radar now, but you can bet it will be the go-to spot in the south in a couple of years!
Get Away from it all at Playa Blanca
Across Bahia de Ocoa lies one of the most uninhabited and tranquil beaches you’ll find in the southwest Dominican Republic. Playa Blanca, named after its white sandy beaches, can be accessed by car, but once again this trip is much more fun by boat. Don’t expect a port or harbor here, simply jump in the blue water and swim to shore! (You might want to leave your belongings on the boat. A beer in hand is all you need!)