what to do in dominican republic

Water so blue it almost hurts in Isla Catalina. (Photo: Lebawit Lily Girma)

Tips + Trends

These Dominican Republic Dreamy Offshore Islands Are Well Worth a Hop

It’s no secret that the Dominican Republic boasts numerous long white sand beaches with cloud-reaching coconut palm trees. But if you thought the DR’s most striking coastlines were only found on the mainland, you’d be surprised.

The DR has more than 10 offshore islands, big and small, with the kind of tropical scenery that would impress the pickiest beach bums. Offering snorkeling and dive sites, as well as fresh fish shacks and — if you want it — complete seclusion, these three islands are the perfect reason to venture offshore.

Isla Saona

what to do in dominican republic
Isla Saona (Photo: Lebawit Lily Girma)

An easy boat ride from Bayahibe or a full day trip from Punta Cana, the most visited offshore island is also the most stunning of all, and the largest in size.

As your catamaran or speedboat takes off and begins to cruise along Saona’s 15-mile long coast, you’ll gasp at the sight of seemingly endless white sand beaches and dense rows of coconut trees as far as the eye can see. Part of the protected Cotubanamá National Park, this island is also the number one turtle nesting site in the DR.

Swim in Saona’s natural pool, a large, shallow sand bank filled with starfish (watch your feet). Enjoy a lobster lunch — there are local restaurants on a few of Saona’s beaches — and snorkel to your heart’s content.

When choosing an excursion to Saona, make sure you select a sustainable tour operator like Seavis, offering a stop at colorful Mano Juan village — the only inhabited portion of Saona — where you’ll visit a turtle conservation project.

It’s also worth paying the extra bucks to see the island’s most remote beach: the secluded and undeveloped Playa del Canto. Alternatively, you can hire your own boat captain in Bayahibe village, and stop at any beach along the way that strikes your fancy.

Catalina Island

Less than 30 minutes off the coast of La Romana and also part of the Cotubanamá National Park, Isla Catalina attracts snorkelers and divers who come here to see Captain Kidd’s wrecked ship, first discovered off Catalina’s shores in 2007.

The island’s bright turquoise waters are also home to numerous tropical fish and corals, thriving along 100-foot deep walls. But you can also choose to do absolutely nothing — just find a hammock and relax.

Catalina Island is an easy day trip from Santo Domingo, and you’ll find it much more idyllic than the city dweller beaches of Boca Chica and Juan Dolio.

Cayo Levantado

what to do in dominican republic
Cayo Levantado. (Photo: Lebawit Lily Girma)

If you’re staying on the Samaná Peninsula, you might find it difficult to pull yourself away from its striking beaches, such as Playa Cosón and Playa Rincón.

But just three miles offshore, or a 10-minute boat ride across the Bay of Samaná, Cayo Levantado’s beach is well worth the trip. Also known as “Bacardí Island” for serving as the backdrop of a Bacardí commercial filmed in the 1970s, a five-star resort occupies the island’s eastern corner, while a public white sand beach welcomes day trippers on the western end.

Calm turquoise waters, ample space for beach volleyball games, and a host of seafood restaurants and bars at the back of the beach— serving piña coladas in coconut shells — make it a popular pick for groups of friends and families.

Visit from mid-January to March and you might spot a couple of humpback whales in the distance, from the thousands that return every year to the Bay of Samaná to mate and birth in the peninsula’s warm Atlantic waters.