Playa San Rafael

Dominican Republic

  •  Photo: Theresa Boehl

  •  Photo: Theresa Boehl

  •  Photo: Theresa Boehl

Unique Natural Spa

The Dominican Republic’s southwest coast is home to verdant mountain slopes, ultra-saturated blue water and unspoiled pebbled beaches.

One of the most famous is Playa San Rafael, revered not just for its scenery, but for its refreshing natural spa, a result of the San Rafael River’s cascading path to the ocean. Rocky dams create shallow freshwater pools where locals convene to take a break from the heat, sip Presidente beer and chow down on fresh-caught seafood.

This attraction is one of the country’s best under-the-radar delights, and worth a trip to the southwest coast just to experience it.

Eat, Drink and Enjoy

As alluring as the ocean is, swimming here is not advisable, as crashing waves and powerful rip tides make it unsafe. Cool off in the spa instead, which, luckily, comes free of charge. Feel the cool water rush over you as you sit under small waterfalls, or don a snorkeling mask to see fish swirling at your feet.

Chairs and umbrellas are available near the river and beachfront for those who order meals at the food shacks. These informal eateries serve seafood favorites like grilled lobster, stewed shrimp and deep fried red snapper, along with sides of piping hot tostones (fried green plantains) and all the cold beer you can drink.


Getting to Playa San Rafael from Barahona will require hiring a taxi service from the town center or flagging down a guagua (public bus), the more budget-friendly option.

Though there are some decent hotel options in Barahona, we recommend choosing one of the area’s sleepy small towns as your base (Paraiso, La Cienaga or Los Patos), home to rustic boutique-style hotels such as the Hotelito Oasi Italiana with an outdoor pool and its own resident parrot.

Playa San Rafael at a Glance


Country or State:Dominican Republic

Length of Beach:2000 feet

Access:By taxi, public bus or motorcycle taxi

Best time to visit:Winter - best weather

High Season:Dec. to April

Low Season:May to November


  • Food shacks near the beach and river
  • Restaurants and hotels in small towns near beach
  • No lifeguards
  • No public restrooms

Beach Type:

  • Pebbled
  • Saltwater
  • Popular