Last updated on March 8, 2023 by Wandering our World
If you’re looking for pina coladas, palm trees, and pirates on your vacation, then it has to be the Caribbean. The Caribbean Sea and its beaches offer the perfect respite from the rat race and a chance to recharge the batteries in style. Golden sands and turquoise waters await throughout the region, but which destination is the right one for you – Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic?
Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island and an unincorporated territory of the United States. Renowned for its stunning beaches, Afro-Caribbean culture, and surfing, Puerto Rico is ideal for those looking for picture-perfect beaches and an island vibe.
The Dominican Republic is a country located on the island of Hispaniola in the Greater Antilles archipelago of the Caribbean Sea.
Vaunted for its idyllic beaches (which are arguably better than Puerto Rico’s), lush mountains, watersports, and colonial architecture, the Dominican Republic is perfect for family holidays, beach holidays, and those seeking some adventure sport options.
So, let’s dive a little deeper into these two magical destinations to see which will suit your vacation needs the better. We’ll show you which is better for activities, families, beaches, culture and much more. Let’s get started!
- Which Is Easier To Get To?
- Which Is Better For Beaches?
- Which Is Best For Culture?
- Which Has The Best Hotels?
- Which Is Better For Watersports?
- Which Is Best For Families?
- Which Is Better For Digital Nomads?
- Which Is Safer?
- Which Is Cheaper?
- What Time Of Year Is Best?
- Our Final Thoughts…
Which Is Easier To Get To?
Depending on your point of origin, you should have no problem finding a flight to either location.
Although, as the larger of these two Caribbean neighbors, the Dominican Republic is a little easier to get to from certain locations.
Both destinations are well served by flights from the eastern United States. Puerto Rico’s main airport, San Juan Airport (SJU), also receives direct flights from Panama, Columbia, and Madrid. While Punta Cana International Airport (PUJ), in the Dominican Republic, receives more direct flights from South America.
From Europe, there are more direct flights into the Dominican Republic too, with flights available from a number of European capital cities.
If you are carrying a United States passport, entry into Puerto Rico is also a little bit easier. As Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States, US citizens do not need a passport or visa to travel to Puerto Rico.
Most non-US citizens should apply online for an electronic travel authorization (ETSA), or, depending on their nationality, a full visa.
Visitors from the US, Canada, and Europe to the Dominican Republic should apply for a Tourist Card online before traveling.
Which Is Better For Beaches?
As Caribbean destinations, you don’t need to worry about the beaches; both Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic are blessed with stunning stretches of idyllic sand.
Puerto Rico has a variety of beaches, including those with black and golden sands, whereas the Dominican Republic’s beaches are mostly white-sand beaches.
In general, the beaches in the Dominican Republic are often regarded as better and more pristine too, and they certainly look like your typical Caribbean paradise in places like Punta Cana. But you can enjoy a laid-back beach vacation in both destinations.
For the Dominican Republic, Punta Cana and Bavaro beaches attract travelers from around the world with their soft white sands and turquoise waters, whereas the northern beaches in the country are a little more rugged.
If you’re looking for that idyllic Caribbean beach, head to the southwest corner of the country, near the Haitian border, for the secluded-yet-stunning beach at Bahía de las Águilas.
Puerto Rico boasts some excellent social beaches near San Juan, including Ocean Park. Playa Luquillo, a short distance to the east of San Juan, is another popular beach with a lot going on.
For quieter beaches, the smaller islands off the east coast of the main island—Culebra and Vieques—are the places to head to. Check out Flamenco Beach, Sun Beach, and Playa La Chiva for some peace and quiet next to the ocean.
But Puerto Rico’s west coast is the place to head to if you are looking for surfing beaches. The beach town of Rincon is home to many of the best surfing beaches, including Domes, Marias, Tres Palmas, and Sandy Beach. (Related: Sharks In Puerto Rico).
And if surfing is on the agenda for the Dominican Republic, the north coast has the best waves. Head to Cabarete, a world-famous hub for kitesurfing and windsurfing and a favorite bohemian hangout for surfers.
Which Is Best For Culture?
As Caribbean nations, both the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico have rich histories. Both places offer the chance to learn more about the historic cultures of these two nations.
In the Dominican Republic, you can join a tour of the Los Haitises National Park, which includes a stop at a series of caves used by the indigenous Taino people as ceremonial sites. The caves feature impressive petroglyphs which offer insight into the nation’s past.
The Dominican Republic’s main city, Santo Domingo, is essentially an open-air museum. The city was Spain’s first settlement in the Americas, and a walking tour of the city will reveal some stunning colonial architecture.
You’ll also find plenty of history in Puerto Plata, a small coastal city which also has some of the country’s best beaches too.
One of the most significant Taino sites in Puerto Rico is the Cueva del Indio in Arecibo. Cueva del Indio is an impressive cave surrounded by dramatic cliffs, with views out and across the Atlantic Ocean.
In the south of Puerto Rico, the Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Tibes, in the town of Ponce, is one of the most important archeological sites in the Caribbean region and offers insights into the pre-Taino cultures of the region.
Essentially when it comes to beaches, both the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico will keep culture and history seekers more than happy.
However the one big difference is accessibility to culture. Most tourists in the Dominican Republic stay in touristy areas like Punta Cana and will have to travel some distance to experience local culture and historic sights. In contrast, many travelers in Puerto Rico will stay – or at least pass through – the historic capital of San Juan, where many impressive cultural sights and activities can be enjoyed.
Which Has The Best Hotels?
As two major tourist destinations, there will be plenty of choice for hotels in both destinations.
For the Dominican Republic, the area around Punta Cana is the most popular and has some of the best all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean. In Puerto Rico, the most popular locations are in the north and east of the island, in and around San Juan, and on the east coast.
So, let’s have a look at some of the best hotel options for different budgets in and around the most popular areas of the two locations.
After all, knowing the best options that exist for your budget can help make that all-important final decision…
The Dominican Republic: The Best Hotels By Budget
Best Budget Option: Situated within White Sands Golf Course, Karibo Punta Cana offers outdoor pools, gardens and free transport to the stunning nearby Arena Blanca Beach. All apartments have free WiFi, flat-screen TV with international cable channels, and a fully equipped kitchen. See photos and rates here.
Best Mid-Range Option: With three swimming pools (including one with a water park for children), evening entertainment, and a gym and sauna, Tropical Deluxe Princess is set just a stone’s throw from Arena Blanca Beach.
This all-inclusive resort also features seven restaurants serving a range of cuisines and nine bars. The quality-price ratio is excellent. See photos and rates here.
Best Luxury Option: Eden Roc Cap Cana is a five-star resort located close to Punta Cana. The luxurious resort features spa and fitness facilities, a kids club for children, infinity pools, and a a Jack Nicklaus signature golf course.
Expect celebrity treatment and complete luxury if staying here. See photos and rates here.
Puerto Rico: The Best Hotels By Budget
Best Budget Option: The 3-star Canario Boutique Hotel is located in historic San Juan, and affords great views of the ocean.
This boutique hotel offers comfortable rooms furnished with a flat-screen TV, private bathroom and seating area, and is a short distance from Condado Beach. It’s a fantastic price considering the location. See photos and rates here.
Best Mid-Range Option: Costa Bahia Hotel Paseo Caribe features rooms with private balconies in the heart of San Juan.
The property is close to several well-known attractions and is just a short distance from Condado Beach too. The hotel has a fitness centre, a 24-hour front desk, and free WiFi throughout the property, and the rooms have a flat-screen TV and air conditioning. See photos and rates here.
Best Luxury Option: Condado Vanderbilt Hotel is also located in San Juan, close to Condado Lagoon and Condado and Ocean Park beaches. The luxurious oceanfront hotel offers an outdoor pool and a spa and wellness centre, and the rooms are equipped with a TV, air conditioning, and a refrigerator.
The hotel is situated close to the heart of Old San Juan City and within easy reach of the airport. It’s pretty much got the whole package for a Puerto Rico holiday. See photos and rates here.
Which Is Better For Water Sports & Snorkeling?
In addition to offering the chance to relax with a book on an idyllic Caribbean beach, both Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic are excellent destinations for those who like to get their kicks on, or under, the ocean. Kitesurfing, windsurfing, surfing, scuba diving, kayaking and wakeboarding are all possible.
If you’re looking for some fun in the waves in Puerto Rico, then the west is the best. The beaches at Rincon and Aguadilla are the meccas for watersports enthusiasts, and the conditions are generally fantastic.
The island boasts world-class surfing, windsurfing, and kiteboarding, and the best conditions are from February through August.
If you are more drawn towards the Dominican Republic, then the undisputed watersports capital is Cabarete, on the North Coast. Just outside the town is the country’s only wakeboarding park, and windsurfing, kiteboarding, and surfing are all possible in this area.
For those seeking their thrills below the waves, both destinations offer scuba diving too. Underwater environments in the Dominican Republic include mangrove forests, shipwrecks, and a large reef structure with cavernous swim-throughs and extensive coral formations.
Less experienced divers will prefer the southern dive sites, where there is protection from any current, while the north coast is also worth a visit for the more experienced.
For scuba diving in Puerto Rico, the east coast features healthy coral reefs and several small islands, which are perfect for beginners. Whilst the south of the island boasts deeper water and amazing walls, making it perfect for experienced divers to enjoy drift diving.
The waters around these two countries are home to over 700 species of tropical fish, sharks, and turtles, and humpback whales pass by during the winter months.
Which Is Best For Families?
In terms of family activities to keep everyone entertained on vacation, both the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico have similar offerings.
Both destinations have awesome natural beauty to enjoy, and stunning beaches to chill on.
So with that the case, below we’ll have a quick look at a few of the top attractions for families in each location, as that could help you work out which will suit your family more.
Puerto Rico: Family Activities
Campo Rico Ziplining Adventure is perfect for taking in the natural beauty of the island whilst simultaneously getting an adrenaline fix.
Open to all aged 7 years and older, the five zip lines and canopy bridges are a great place to spend a family day in Puerto Rico.
El Yunque National Forest is touted as being the only truly tropical rainforest within the United States. It’s perfect for a family picnic or a gentle hike among the mountains, rivers, and tropical flora and fauna.
San Felipe del Morro Castle offers the unlikely chance to visit a 16th-century castle in the United States. The castle, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built between the 16th and 18th centuries.
El Morro, as it’s known locally, was erected to guard the entrance to San Juan Bay and defend the Spanish colonial port city of San Juan, and it’s a great place to immerse the kids in the island’s history.
The Dominican Republic: Family Activities
Parque Nacional Los Tres Ojos is a national park a short way outside Santo Domingo with caverns and lagoons to explore.
The park’s name translates as “The Three Eyes” National Park and is derived from the three lakes. The cave system is fed by water from an underground river, and impressive stalactites and stalagmites are on display.
Aquamundo Sambil is the first themed aquarium in the Dominican Republic. The aquarium is divided into five zones, with the Shark Tunnel being a particular favorite among the children!
Aquamundo features several interaction areas to ensure an educational experience, and there’s also a reptile area where you can introduce the kids to a blue-tongued lizard or a leatherback turtle.
Museo Infantil Trampolín is a special museum geared towards the younger generations. The museum is both fun and educational and contains ten different learning rooms. The experience is best for kids between four and twelve years old. It’s a very fun day out!
Which Is Better For Digital Nomads?
The Caribbean is swiftly gaining popularity among digital nomads, and both the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico have growing communities of remote workers. With both places boasting tropical climates, stunning beaches, and decent infrastructure, it’s easy to see why these locations are appealing.
For US citizens, Puerto Rico is particularly appealing: as a US territory, there’s no need for a passport or visa, English is widely spoken, and the US dollar is the official currency.
With its mix of nature, decent infrastructure, affordable prices, and welcoming people, the Dominican Republic should not be dismissed though.
The main difference is the visa situation: staying beyond 120 days in the Dominican Republic can be a little tricky as the country doesn’t issue any specific digital nomad visas, as some Caribbean nations do.
If you’re looking to relocate to find a reasonable cost of living and an island lifestyle, both of these locations can deliver.
Which Is Safer?
In general terms, there’s not much to worry about if you are visiting these destinations on vacation. As busy tourist destinations, they are both prone to a little petty crime and theft, as are other major tourist destinations the world over.
Keep your wits about you and your valuables out of reach, and you should enjoy a hassle-free vacation in a tropical paradise. In the hotels, make use of the in-room safes and don’t leave valuable items unattended. When you are in and around the main beach areas, with the big resorts with security guards, there’s little to worry about.
Should you venture into the main cities—San Juan in Puerto Rico or Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic—be a little extra vigilant. Stick to the popular areas and be on guard for thieves operating on motorbikes; it’s not unheard of for them to whiz past an unsuspecting tourist and snatch their bag.
But all in all, both the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico are safe tourist destinations, and you should be able to enjoy a relaxing vacation in either location without too much worrying you.
Which Is Cheaper?
In general, it is a little cheaper to enjoy a vacation in the Dominican Republic than it is in Puerto Rico, but the difference is not huge.
The prices for food and drinks in Puerto Rico is usually similar to, or a little less expensive than, those in the mainland United States. By contrast, in the Dominican Republic, many daily travel costs, such as accommodation and food, are usually slightly lower than in Puerto Rico.
While generally the Dominican Republic is cheaper, it’s still possible to find good deals in Puerto Rico, especially outside the high season. If you are a little flexible on your dates, you should have no problem finding a good deal for either location.
What Time Of Year Is Best?
With a mere hundred kilometers of the Caribbean Sea separating these two nations, it should come as no surprise that they share similar weather patterns.
In very general terms, the best time to visit these locations will be from December through to late April. December and January will have the hottest weather, but prices can be a little off-putting at this time of year.
The spring brings slightly cooler and less humid weather, and after the Christmas rush, the crowds will be a little lighter and the hotel and flight prices should be a little cheaper too.
The summer months are considered to be the offseason, and you will be able to find good deals on hotel rates at this time of year. The summer is the hottest time of year, and you should also expect a few short tropical rains.
As the summer rumbles on, you should be aware that there is always the chance of a hurricane developing in the area. This does put a few people off, but it also means that the summer does mean fewer tourists and smaller crowds.
However, if you are planning to visit the Dominican Republic with the aim of surfing or kitesurfing, the best weather and conditions are generally between February and August each year.
Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico: Our Final Thoughts
If the Caribbean is calling, you will be pleased to know that both of these excellent vacation spots will be able to give you your dream vacation. Tropical climates, pristine beaches, impressive nature, and plenty of opportunities for entertainment await you in both locations.
Whether you are looking for a family-friendly destination or one rich with adventure sports, both Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic will satisfy your Caribbean vacation yearnings.
The only problem is deciding which of these two dream locations is best for you. But, with such a short distance between the two locations, if you are struggling to choose one, why not visit both?
Split your time between them and enjoy the best of both worlds. With flights between the two bustling capital cities taking a little over an hour, and a slower ferry service operating, the possibilities are endless…