When comparing the Dominican Republic versus Puerto Rico, the Caribbean islands have much in common, from the Spanish language to a shared passion for baseball. Great beaches, lovely food, and the sounds of Latin music are also constants.
Deciding which island you should visit over another is an enjoyable exercise in comparison. You can find historic Spanish cities, tropical rainforests, and plenty of rum in either destination.
Ultimately, whichever you pick, you will enjoy a great vacation. However, to help you decide, here are a few points to consider when contemplating the Dominican Republic versus Puerto Rico for your vacation.
Weather & Best Times to Visit
Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic have similar tropical climates with dry and wet seasons. The dry weather from December to April makes this the peak season for visitors on each island.
In both Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, daytime temperatures in these months range from the mid-70s to mid-80s Fahrenheit. This balmy tropical weather is very much part of their appeal.
The shoulder seasons of September to November and May are also good choices. Although they might be more humid, you still have every chance of fine weather.
History & Culture
Columbus first landed on the present-day Dominican Republic in 1492, and on what is now Puerto Rico in 1493. Spanish colonization has left a deep impression on both islands in terms of both history and culture.
Santo Domingo, now the capital of the Dominican Republic, was the first European settlement in the Americas.
In Puerto Plata, on the north coast, Fortaleza San Felipe was built in 1577 to protect against pirates. Once a prison, it is now a museum featuring 18th and 19th-century military artifacts.
You can study more local history and some historic costumes at Puerto Plata’s Casa Museo General Gregorio Luperón, dedicated to the hero of the independence struggle. Luperón’s beautiful Victorian-era building is full of photographs, and other period exhibits.
Away from the historic sights, one of the best things to do in Puerto Plata is to visit the famous Umbrella Street. The colorful umbrellas are a photographer’s dream, while everyone can enjoy visiting the coffee bar, chocolate museum, or the museum of tobacco.
Puerto Rico has its own rich history in Old San Juan, the UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, and picturesque forts. La Fortaleza, the Governor’s residence, is the oldest executive mansion in continuous use in the Americas.
The massive El Capitolio, Puerto Rico’s seat of government, and the UNESCO-listed San Felipe del Morro Fortress are major sights. Fortín San Cristobal and the nearby Fortín de San Gerónimo were both built by the Spanish in the 1700s.
Back in the present, San Juan’s promenade— El Paseo de la Princesa—is a must-see. This picturesque street is lined with fountains, while street vendors will try to tempt you away from the views over San Juan Bay.
In terms of culture, both countries share the Spanish language (although English is widely spoken in both). You’ll hear it frequently in the sounds of Puerto Rican salsa or bomba, and Dominican merengue or bachata.
All of these musical styles have origins in African culture. Take a dance class in either Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic to discover the differences—and similarities.
There are plenty of coastal adventures to try on both islands, from sailing to kayaking. However, unlike many smaller Caribbean neighbors, both Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic have large interiors to explore.
Most visitors to Puerto Rico eventually find their way to El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest that’s designated a U.S. National Forest. Here, you’ll find some of the best hikes in Puerto Rico as well as thrilling zip-lining.
The hikes through the rainforest are a chance to see plenty of tropical plants and birds. Cooling down in swimming holes and enjoying natural rock slides is part of the fun.
The island can also be enjoyed in various styles of off-road vehicles, from ATVs to side-by-sides. These range from sedate beach tours, to full-on, sometimes muddy rides along jungle trails.
The Dominican Republic’s equivalent to El Yunque is Puerto Plata’s El Choco National Park. Hike the dense rainforest here to see endemic plants and animals, including tropical birds, lizards, and bats.
You can guess the Caribbean animals you’ll see most of at Monkeyland, a reserve that is home to two troops of very friendly squirrel monkeys. And at the nearby Manatee Reserve, you can kayak or paddle board while admiring these wonderful sea cows in their natural habitat.
In the Isabel de Torres National Park, the Caribbean’s only cable car takes you up to 2,625 feet above sea level. From there you can take in views of Puerto Plata, the rainforest, and the Atlantic waves far below.
For an even more active adventure, hike to the Damajagua Waterfall. This takes you through dense rainforest, and deep canyons, to discover a wonderland of waterfalls, lagoons, and swimming holes connected by natural rock chutes over which you can slide.
Puerto Rico’s unofficial national dish is arroz con pollo, or “rice with chicken”. It can be traced to Moorish Spain, and hence back even further to Asia’s pilaf.
In the Dominican Republic, the national dish of La Bandera reflects the colors of the nation’s flag. With similar roots in Spanish cuisine, it’s made with white rice, red beans, and meat, most often chicken or beef.
In fact, the cuisine of both countries is similar, with one major difference being a Dominican preference for meat over the Puerto Rican taste for seafood. However, both share a love of plantains.
Street food is a major part of life in both countries. Puerto Rico is well-known for its food trucks, and its food scene has created several celebrity chefs.
The Dominican Republic is very well served with food stalls that serve up popular snacks such as chicharrón (pork crackling). If that’s not to your taste, do try the empanadas, and yaroas, a calorific combination of fries, root vegetables, meat, cheese, and finally, condiments.
As on many Caribbean islands, tropical produce is always to hand. Fresh juices and shakes made from fruit such as mango, papaya, passionfruit, pineapple, or guava, are a refreshing delight.
In the Dominican Republic, you should try morir soñando, a unique mix of milk, orange juice, and ice. Its name means “to die dreaming” which is perhaps a nod to how heavenly it tastes.
The drink is so good that it has made its way to Puerto Rico, where it comes with extra flavoring such as vanilla. Deciding which is best, like making a choice between Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic, just means the delight of trying both.
Many books have been written on the importance of rum to the Caribbean. Puerto Rico is now strongly associated with the Bacardi label, while the Dominican Republic is known for Barceló and Brugal.
Bacardi moved to Puerto Rico from Cuba after the Revolution in the 1960s, taking its famous light rum recipe—and even its yeast—with it. It now produces about 70 percent of the Caribbean rum sold in the United States.
You can tour the Bacardi Distillery and follow the rum-making process. You can also learn how to mix the perfect mojito or piña colada cocktails while picking up some bar skills.
Brugal was founded in 1888, but the real commercial history of Dominican rum dates to the 1920s. That’s when the Barceló family first produced their own Spanish-style rum.
Now known as Ron Barceló, their company has grown into one of the world’s largest major rum exporters. Both Brugal and Barceló offer distillery tours, with Brugal being most convenient in Puerto Plata.
These islands are known for their light, Spanish-style rum that is aged in oak barrels for a more aromatic taste. Light rum is well suited to Caribbean cocktails, but you will also find plenty of darker varieties if you prefer to sip it neat, or with cola in a Cuba Libre.
Being Caribbean islands, neither Puerto Rico nor the Dominican Republic is short on great beaches. The biggest difference is that the Dominican beaches tend to be white sand, while Puerto Rico’s shores also have black or golden sands.
On the north coast of the Dominican Republic is Playa Dorada, where the Atlantic ocean waves make for a more rugged experience than beaches further south. Its fine, light-golden sand is lined with palm trees, with kite-surfers playing offshore.
For something more off the beaten track, find your way to Cayo Arena— also known as “Cayo Paraíso” for obvious reasons. Its colorful corals, abundant marine life, and other underwater wonders attract many divers and snorkelers.
In Puerto Rico, you don’t have to go far from San Juan to find good beaches. Escambrón Marine Park is only ten minutes from the center, but popular with surfers as one of the best places for novice-level waves on the island.
Just across the Puente de Hermanos is Playita del Condado, a lovely urban beach in Puerto Rico. It sits in a tiny cove to make a lovely pairing with the larger Condado Beach.
Another ten minutes will take you to the beautiful Isla Verde Beach. Its golden sands are shaded by tall palm trees, with plenty of restaurants, bars, and shops nearby.
Surfers will also want to visit the aptly named Surfer’s Beach in Aguadilla. One of the very best places to surf in Puerto Rico is north-facing, with a lovely point break, especially in winter.
Whale watching is a great activity for everyone visiting the Dominican Republic. Thousands of humpback whales migrate into local waters during the annual season from December through March.
Boat tours out of Puerto Plata are the best way to see these magnificent animals. Some 300 whales have been spotted at one time in Samaná Bay, with Silver Banks being another prime spot.
Puerto Rico is less known for whales, but the resort of Rincon, on the west coast, is the epicenter here. You might even see whales from shore, at the historic El Faro Lighthouse.
Are you still wondering whether to visit Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic? The reality is that either will be a great choice. To plan your tropical adventure, browse our cruises to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic to find the perfect itinerary for you and your loved ones.