Road trips in the Dominican Republic – first-hand experiences and local advice

A road trip in the Dominican Republic might be the best decision you can take in your life (vacation-wise). Most people know the country only for its endless all-inclusive resorts, but the country is a treasure chamber full of stunning beauties, natural wonders and hidden gems, which makes it perfect to explore during a Dominican Republic road trip. To know what you can expect, this article shows you the best regions for your road trip, the most exciting Dominican Republic itineraries and the costs you have to factor in when traveling the Dominican Republic with a rental car on a self-drive tour.

This is a general post about road trips in the Dominican Republic with a lot of helpful information you can use when planning a trip. If you are looking for detailed itineraries, you can check out the following posts:
Dominican Republic 1-week itinerary from/to Punta Cana – beaches, culture and mountains
Samaná 3-day itinerary from/to Punta Cana – the most beautiful region in the Dominican Republic
The ultimate Dominican Republic itinerary for 1 week, 10 days, 2 weeks or more
Furthermore, you can find all important information about renting a car in the Dominican Republic here.

Regions: where to go on a road trip in the Dominican Republic

 When heading on a road trip in the Dominican Republic, there are many different regions you can choose from. Usually, you start in Santo Domingo or Punta Cana and explore the country either clockwise or counterclockwise. To give you a better overview of what’s possible and what to expect when traveling by rental car in the Dominican Republic, let’s have a look at the different regions of the country first.

The East (Punta Cana, Bayahibe & more)

 The east of the Dominican Republic is the tourism epicenter of the Dominican Republic. Particularly Punta Cana receives millions of tourists each year, but also Bayahibe has its fair share of all-inclusive resorts. While you can rent a car in Punta Cana as well, it is not absolutely necessary. However, the east of the Dominican Republic offers also some hidden gems if you want to go on a road trip. Especially some of the eco-lodges around Punta Cana are worth visiting and there are some amazing day trips from Punta Cana you can take with a car rental.

The best things to do in Punta Cana for an unforgettable vacation

TOP 10 Punta Cana Excursions

Isla Saona: Saona Info | Book it*
Dune buggy and ATV excursion: Buggy Info | Book it*
Punta Cana Ziplining: Zipline Info | Book it*
Party boat & booze cruise: Party Boat Info | Book it*
Scape Park Cap Cana & Blue Lagoon: Blue Lagoon Info | Book it*
Los Haitises National Park: Los Haitises Info | Book it*
Santo Domingo: Santo Domingo Info | Book it*
Samaná (Salto El Limón & Cayo Levantado): Samaná Info | Book it*
Helicopter & airplane tours: Helicopter Info | Book it*
Whale watching (Jan-Mar only): Whale watching Info | Book it*

Looking for more inspiration? Check out the 35 best Punta Cana tours!

 Probably the most exciting destination when heading on a road trip in the east of the Dominican Republic is the Los Haitises National Park. It can be reached in two hours driving from Punta Cana and is one of the most fascinating national parks in the Dominican Republic.

Highlight in the East for your Dominican Republic road trip: head to Los Haitises National Park and explore the park away from the crowds
Best road trip accommodation in the east: Paraiso Cano Hondo*

Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo is the cultural melting pot of the country and is home to some of the historically most important sights in the entire Caribbean. The Colonial Zone in Santo Domingo is a must-visit as you can read here. Furthermore, there are a couple of things to do outside of the inner center of Santo Domingo.

Concerning your Dominican Republic road trip, there are two very important steps to consider when planning your trip to Santo Domingo:
– Santo Domingo is an important transport hub and all major highways and national roads are starting from here. It doesn’t matter how you plan your trip in the Dominican Republic, you will always pass Santo Domingo at least once or probably multiple times. 
– You don’t need a rental car in Santo Domingo.

This means two things:

 1) if you booked your car rental starting from Punta Cana (check prices and recommendations here*), book a hotel in Santo Domingo (check recommendations here*) with parking facilities and leave the vehicle there for the entire stay in the city.

 OR

 2) if you only start your Dominican Republic road trip in Santo Domingo anyway, book your rental car just on the day when you leave the city. You won’t need it during your stay in Santo Domingo.

 During your time in Santo Domingo, you can use taxis and Ubers to move around. Within the Colonial Zone, where you also shall book your accommodation, everything is walkable hence no transport is needed at all.

Highlight in Santo Domingo for your Dominican Republic road trip: the Colonial Zone is the most important historic center in the entire Caribbean
Best road trip accommodation in Santo Domingo: Hodelpa Nicolas de Ovando*

The Southwest

 The Southwest is one of the most unexplored and rural regions you can find for a Dominican Republic road trip. If you don’t have a lot of experience traveling abroad, maybe it is better to start with another region or keep the Southwest for your next holiday.

 However, in case you decide to explore the Southwest region, plenty of stunning natural attractions are waiting for you. Laguna Oviedo, Bahía de las Águilas, Cueva de la Virgin, Rio La Plaza, Los Patos, Hoyo de Pelempito or the Sierra de Barohuco are just a few of the things to do you can discover when heading on a Dominican Republic road-trip to the Southwest.

Highlight in the Southwest for your Dominican Republic road trip: it is hard to pick just one spot, but Bahía de las Águilas would probably be most people’s favorite.
Best road trip accommodation in the Southwest: Rancho Cueva de las Águilas*

The Cordillera Central

The Cordillera Central, which translates to “Central Mountain Range”, mainly consists of the two mountain cities Constanza and Jarabacoa and a lot of inhabited mountain ranges with peaks as high as 10.000 feet. Here, you can head on a 3-day trek to the Dominican Republic’s highest peak, the Pico Duarte, or participate in adventurous and thrilling activities such as paragliding, river rafting, canyoning or mountain biking. 

 For more of these guided activities, you shall head to Jarabacoa on your self-drive tour through the Dominican Republic. If you prefer to visit some self-guided attractions, Constanza might be the better place to be. For further information on these destinations, you can check out the 1-week Punta Cana itinerary, as Constanza and Jarabacoa are both described there more extensively.

Highlight in the Cordillera Central for your Dominican Republic road-trip: Enjoying the views along the road to Constanza and in Constanza itself
Best road trip accommodation in the Cordillera Central: Rancho Constanza*

The Northwest

 The Northwest is particularly popular among local tourists and features a lot of low-key hidden gems. However, the one place you have to visit in the Northwest during your road trip in the Dominican Republic is Punta Rucia, approximately 1.5 hours away from Puerto Plata. It is not only a small fishing village but also a starting point for the excursions to Cayo Arena, the best snorkeling area in the Dominican Republic and one of the most stunning natural attractions. 

 Besides Punta Rucia, you can also visit Monte Cristi and San José de las Matas, which are very interesting and hardly known destinations in the Northwest, especially if you have 2 weeks or more for your road trip in the Dominican Republic.

Highlight in the Northwest for your Dominican Republic road trip: Cayo Arena is one of the most amazing things to see in the Dominican Republic and shouldn’t be missed
Best road trip accommodation in the Northwest: Punta Rucia Lodge*

The North Coast of the Dominican Republic 

 The North Coast is one of my favorite areas when you want to road-trip the Dominican Republic. It is a great scenic drive with your rental car between Puerto Plata and Samaná with so many points of interest where you can stop, take photos, try local delicacies and continue your journey. The road, actually the only main road along the North Coast, usually winds between mountains on the one side and the ocean with its endless coconut palm groves on the other side, passing occasional fishing villages and sporadic roadside stalls.

For your Dominican Republic vacation

Travel resources

Punta Cana Airport Transfers: Info | Book It*
Santo Domingo Airport Transfers: Info | Book It*
All-Inclusive Resorts: Info | Book It*
Guesthouses & AirBnBs: Info | Book It*
Excursions: Info | Book It*
Rental Car: Info | Book It*
Road-Trips & Self-Drive Tours: Info | Plan It
Travel Insurance (incl. covid-19 coverage): Book it*

 The most important cities and towns along the North Coast are Puerto Plata, Sosua, Cabarete, Rio San Juan and Cabrera. While Puerto Plata is another great option if you are interested in history and culture, Cabarete is your No. 1 spot for surfing, nightlife and a unique international vibe, which is not too touristy yet. If you prefer it quieter, you can also check out Rio San Juan or Cabrera as a place to base yourself.

There is so much to do along the North Coast, especially when staying in Puerto Plata or Cabarete, it would be worth an entire blog post about the activities and things to do around this area in the Dominican Republic. In the meantime, you can check out the ultimate Dominican Republic itinerary, where you can find plenty of options about what to do in Cabarete, Puerto Plata & Co. 

Highlight along the North Coast for your Dominican Republic road-trip: Enjoying Cabaretes international and not too commercialized vibe along with several stunning outdoor activities
Best road trip accommodation along the North Coast: Playa Magante Bungalows*

Samaná

Samaná is the region No. 1 you have to visit on your Dominican Republic road trip and a perfect destination for exploring several days.

You can find all the information on what to do in Samaná in our 3-day Samaná itinerary, which can be easily extended to 4 or 5 days or even more.

Samaná is perfect to explore with your Dominican Republic rental car as distances are pretty short, but the density of the attractions there is pretty high. Furthermore, there are so many pristine beaches in Samaná that can be best reached with your rental car. 

 As mentioned, check out the Samaná road-trip itinerary and you will find a lot of further information about the peninsula. Samaná is also the perfect destination in the Dominican Republic if you want to plan your trip with just 1 or 2 regions, as it is easily accessible through well-maintained highways from Santo Domingo and Punta Cana.

Highlight in Samaná for your Dominican Republic road trip: the beaches in Samaná are simply gorgeous, pristine and seem to be from another world. Check out Playa Lanza del Norte, Playa Las Canas and Playa Ermitaño for some adventure, or Playa Rincón and Playa Cosón for a relaxed beach day.
Best road trip accommodation in Samaná: Takuma Boutik Hotel*

Where to rent a car in the Dominican Republic for a road trip

 Now you know where to go during your Dominican Republic vacation with a rental car, now let’s check where you can get your car rental in Punta Cana or Santo Domingo.

 The best sources to book your Punta Cana rental car according to the Punta Cana travel Blog price comparison are Expedia*, Discover Cars* and Auto Europe*. All three of those work together with some of the best rental car companies in Punta Cana and Santo Domingo.

 Wondering why these three are the best websites to rent a car? Check out the extensive post about the question of whether you shall rent a car in Punta Cana, which also includes a price and service comparison of different companies.

 The most important thing is to always rent your car with full insurance and free cancellation. Particularly with Discover Cars* and Auto Europe*, you will find exactly this: best prices, full insurance and entire flexibility.

 Once you have booked your car, you can explore the country on a self-drive tour in the Dominican Republic.

The best Dominican Republic road trip itineraries

 After reading about the different regions for your road trip in the Dominican Republic, you might wonder what is the best way to combine these destinations into one itinerary. Punta Cana Travel Blog has you covered! So far we have published three different super-comprehensive Dominican Republic road-trip itineraries:

 1 week Punta Cana itinerary: an itinerary starting from Punta Cana, combining beaches, nature and culture. After a couple of days exploring Punta Cana, you head to the Central Mountain Range to see the stunning nature, before exploring the culture and nightlife of Santo Domingo.

3-day Samaná itinerary: this road-trip itinerary is particularly suitable if you’d only like to explore the fascinating Samaná peninsula – either as a side-trip from Punta Cana or as your sole destination for your Dominican Republic holiday. It includes the most amazing eco-lodges in Samaná, the best things to do and can also easily be extended by more days.

 Ultimate Dominican Republic itinerary (1 week, 10 days, 2 weeks or more): this itinerary is your ultimate source if you’d like to explore the Dominican Republic by rental car. It covers most of the road-trip regions presented above and is easily adjustable according to the time you have available for your Dominican Republic vacation. It is the must-read resource for every road trip in the Dominican Republic.

The best road-trips for different types of travelers

 Most of the road trips presented here cater to most kinds of travelers – adventurers, nature lovers, beach enthusiasts or other travel-related interests. All of the Dominican Republic itineraries also include different accommodation recommendations for every budget, starting from backpacker-style hostels or guesthouses up to the best luxury hotels in the Dominican Republic.

However, there are certain twists you can refine your road trip with to adjust it fully to your needs. Check out the following proposals and road-trip ideas for the Dominican Republic in case you fit into one of those categories.

The best Dominican Republic road trips for backpackers

If you are backpacking the Dominican Republic, a car hire in Punta Cana or Santo Domingo might not be the best option particularly as rental car prices in 2022 are not as cheap as before the Covid-19 pandemic. However, if you are traveling the Dominican Republic on a budget, you can easily adjust the ultimate Dominican Republic itinerary and tackle most of the regions by public bus. As a consequence, a backpacking road trip in the Dominican Republic by public bus could look like the following option: Punta Cana – Santo Domingo – Puerto Plata – Cabarete – Samaná – Punta Cana. 

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 There are not many hostels in the Dominican Republic, but those which are existing offer a great backpacking vibe and perfect conditions to explore the surrounding. My accommodation recommendations for your backpacking trip in the Dominican Republic are the following places:
– Punta Cana: GAVA Hostel*
– Santo Domingo: Island Life Hostel*
– Cabarete: Laguna Park Hostel*
– Las Terrenas: Mantys Guesthouse*

 You can also check out my post about how to travel Punta Cana on a budget for more backpacking and budget tips.

The best Dominican Republic road trips with a private driver

 Are you wondering if a Dominican Republic self-drive tour is the right thing for you? Check out this article first about if you shall rent a car in the Dominican Republic.

 If you decide that driving in the Dominican Republic would be too stressful for you or if you simply feel uncomfortable booking a Punta Cana car rental but still want to head on a Dominican Republic road trip, you can opt to hire a private driver. 

Road-Trip through the west of the Dominican Republic with views on the Sierra de Neyba

 In this case, the ultimate Dominican Republic itinerary is also your best choice. For a private driver, you can contact me and I am happy to put you in contact with a local tour operator who has many years of experience organizing self-drive tours with and without a driver in the Dominican Republic.

Road-trips with the best eco-lodges in the Dominican Republic

 Eco-Lodges in the Dominican Republic are an incredible way to combine the comfort of a decent accommodation with the stunning beauty nature has to offer. Luckily, the Dominican Republic offers an amazing array of eco-lodges in nearly all kinds of regions. 

 To design a road-trip with the best eco-lodges in the Dominican Republic, you can again use the ultimate Dominican Republic itinerary (or the Samaná itinerary if you are just interested in the Samaná eco-lodges) or plan a trip on your own according to the regions outlined in the first section of this road-trip guide.

 To find the best eco-lodges in the Dominican Republic in each region, you can use the following recommendations:
– The East of the Dominican Republic: Paraiso Caño Hondo*
– Southwest of the Dominican Republic: Rancho Platon Eco-Lodge*
– Cordillera Central: Villa Pajon Eco-Lodge*
– The Northwest: El Morro Eco-Lodge*
– North Coast: Tubagua Plantation Eco-Lodge* oder Green Land Bubble Glamping*
– Samaná: Dominican Tree House*, El Valle Lodge* or Samaná Eco-Lodge*

The best Dominican Republic road trips for families

There is not a single perfect road trip for families as each family has different requirements and preferences. Some like it more relaxed with fewer accommodation changes, others prefer to still go on every adventure they can. In general, for families, I would recommend the following road trip ideas for your Dominican Republic holiday.

The Splash Water Park in Punta Cana at Royalton

Bayahibe: Bayahibe is a perfect destination to start your Dominican Republic road trip. The water is super clear and shallow, the kids will love to splash around in the ocean. They can also have their first attempts at snorkeling here.

North Coast: When traveling the Dominican Republic on a self-drive tour, the North Coast is an area you have to visit due to its diversity regarding activities, beaches and nature. You can either base yourself in Cabarete (which still has a lot of family-friendly accommodation) or explore the North Coast road-trip style with varying accommodation. To find the best activities along the North Coast, check out the Cabarete days at the ultimate Dominican Republic itinerary.

Samaná: Samaná is not without a reason one of the most popular destinations among individual travelers in the Dominican Republic – and this also applies to families. The never-ending and usually pristine beaches in Samaná, decent and easy hikes to waterfalls or a zip lining adventure are just some of the family-friendly activities on the peninsula. An additional plus for a Samaná road trip are the plentiful apartments and villas for all budgets, as the region is dominated by self-catering accommodation more than any other area in the Dominican Republic.

Punta Cana: last but not least, you can also consider adding Punta Cana to your road-trip itinerary – ideally at the end. Especially as there are some amazing family all-inclusive resorts in Punta Cana (which are much better than in other parts of the Dominican Republic), a 3- or 4-night stay at the end of your road trip might be a great idea to spoil the kids. Especially when you choose one of the Punta Cana resorts with a water park, the little ones will be the happiest in the world.

Budget: how much does a Dominican Republic road trip cost?

 After talking about all the different road-trip ideas and itineraries and about how to get the best Dominican Republic car rental deal, let’s have a look at how much a road trip in the Dominican Republic usually costs.

Road trip budget for accommodation

 Guesthouses, hotels, eco-lodges or other kinds of accommodation are available throughout all budget ranges. You easily can find a basic hotel for 20-30 USD per double room per night in every region of your Dominican Republic road trip, but you can also splurge and easily pay between 100 and 200 USD for a night in a secluded boutique hotel.

Rental car prices 

 When booking a car hire in the Dominican Republic, you shall factor in between 40 to 65 USD per day per vehicle for a simple Economy vehicle and between 50 and 80 USD for an SUV. Both budget examples include full insurance. You can check out the Punta Cana Travel Blog price comparison here for the best rental car companies in Punta Cana and Santo Domingo.

Gas prices in the Dominican Republic (fuel)

 Currently (2022) fuel prices in the Dominican Republic have increased significantly due to the high demand for oil on the world market. While fuel prices tended to range around 3.70 USD per gallon (or 1 USD per liter), they are now more than 30% higher – bringing the average price to 5 USD per gallon. Depending on the category and consumption of your rental car, you can expect to pay between 17 and 25 USD for every 100 miles you are driving on your Dominican Republic road trip – or between 10 and 14 USD for every 100 kilometers.

Tolls for your Dominican Republic road-trip

 There are only a few selected toll roads in the Dominican Republic. The most important are:

  • Punta Cana – Santo Domingo: approx. 5 USD (divided into 3 toll stations)
  • Santo Domingo – Samaná: 10 USD (divided into 3 toll stations)
  • Las Terrenas Boulevard de Atlantico: 10 USD
  • Bypass Santo Domingo: 4 USD
  • Bypass Santiago: 2 USD

Road trip budget for food

 Concerning food, you can design your Dominican Republic road-trip budget fully according to your requirements – the same as for the accommodation. You can have a full meal for 3 USD every day in local “Comedores” and eat a cheap Pica Pollo for dinner, or you can dine at international restaurants with well-elaborated menus for 10-15 USD a plate.

Delicious tropical fruits right on the road when driving in Samana

Road trip budget for activities:

 The budget for activities on your road trip totally depends on you. Luckily, the Dominican Republic is heaven for traveling the cheap way. Most nature activities, such as waterfalls, beaches or hiking trails are completely free. For some national parks, a small nominal fee of 1-5 USD has to be paid. If you are taking guided excursions, they are much more expensive, usually around 50 to 100 USD per person. 

Is it safe to head on a Dominican Republic road trip?

 Yes, it is safe to head on a road trip and it is also safe to rent a car in the Dominican Republic. There are a few things to consider though:

  • When booking your Punta Cana car rental for your road trip, make sure to book it with full insurance to avoid problems when picking up the car.
  • When driving, always drive carefully and watch your surroundings. Dominican traffic might be a bit crazy sometimes.
  • Don’t plan to explore Santo Domingo with your car rental. There is more traffic jam than roads in the city.
  • Don’t drive at night. There are too many unlighted obstacles on the road, such as potholes, motorcycles, animals or street parties.
  • Don’t leave any valuables in the car or anything else that might raise attention.
  • Always plan sufficient time for your road trip. Roads are slower than Google Maps might suggest, especially in the countryside.

 Taking these tips into consideration, you shall have a safe road trip through the Dominican Republic.

How to plan a road trip in the Dominican Republic?

To book your road trip in the Dominican Republic, you have three options:
– You can either contact me via my travel coaching services and we’ll work out a personalized itinerary for you.
– I can put you in contact with a local tour operator, who is specialized in organizing self-drive tours in the Dominican Republic for many years.
– You can check out my itinerary proposals for the Dominican Republic here and book the accommodation and rental car according to the links provided.

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The face behind Punta Cana Travel Blog: Chris

CHRIS

Author, Travel Coach & Punta Cana based digital nomad

Hey, I am Chris, a born and raised German, travel-addictive and Caribbean Soul. Since 2011 I have been living in the Caribbean, among them 5 years in the Dominican Republic. Punta Cana is my home-base here in the country and I’d love to tell you more about how to experience Punta Cana off-the-beaten-track and give you all the advice you want to know for your vacation in Punta Cana.

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