Many travelers with an eye toward planning a visit to the Dominican Republic focus on the more tourist-oriented spots: the sprawling resorts of Punta Cana or the bustling capital of Santo Domingo, the oldest city in the Americas, which is now a popular port for cruise ships.

You’re missing out if you don’t consider a trip to the northern coast between Puerto Plata and the Samaná Peninsula, which are two of the DR’s most pristine, off-the-beaten-path destinations. To experience them fully, it’s best to meander from one end to the other.  

Whale Watching in the Dominican Republic

Start in Puerto Plata, a bustling colonial-era city with colorful characters and history everywhere you look. In Sosúa – just six miles east of Puerto Plata – visitors can experience a vibrant city life, Victorian architecture, and public beaches that are never too far away. 

A short drive away, Cabarete is more of a funky laid-back beach town, which is fitting considering the hordes of kiteboarders and other active water sports aficionados who often spend weeks at a time here. Three hours down the coast is the quaint seaside town of Las Terrenas, and you’d be forgiven if you thought you were in Europe due to the influx of tourists from Italy, Spain, and even Russia who settle in the area.

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Finally, on the other side of the peninsula, the town of Samaná provides a wide variety of activities for outdoors lovers, from mountain biking and hiking to a visit to Los Haitises National Park, featuring centuries-old pictures carved into the cave walls.

Buck the crowds and head for the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, which packs in more diversity than many regions twice its size.

Lisa Rogak is a freelance writer and New York Times Bestselling author. Her latest book is "And Nothing But The Truthiness: The Rise (and Further Rise) of Stephen Colbert."

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