Spoiler, Go Ahead, Take the Tour.
When traveling you should go after an authentic experience; you should really get to know the culture, the people, the neighborhoods. I have always been told to stay where the locals stay, eat where the locals eat and well, do what the locals do. This is solid advice, but sometimes it is worth it to do the touristy things too. The thing is that locals don’t go on tours, and tours or popular photo spots are then labeled as too touristy and unauthentic. At least in my experience, doing the touristy thing as a traveler is usually put down or made fun of. You can picture the tourist underdressed, overly excited and carrying a DSLR camera he doesn’t know how to use here. Here is the truth, tours aren’t just for the lame tourists, there are tours for anyone and everyone. With so many options you can find an experience that might even be authentic. Stop worrying about looking like a tourist, you are one, and tours have a lot of value.
You won’t know where the cool spots are, or how to get there. Usually tour guides are locals, they guide you to local places, to do local things and hey, then you get to hear stories from a local. Tours allow you to pay for a whole day of activities, you could spend a whole day at multiple sites. This makes exploring more efficient. Tours can also give you more mobility, you may not have access to car or public transportation to specific spots. I am going to add that this also applies to just doing the touristy thing in general. Doing a self tour and or visiting tourist landmarks are included in this. For example, my boyfriend Camron and I rented a car in Iceland and so we were able to drive to the Blue Lagoon. I actually have a post about Iceland and the Blue Lagoon if you want more info or tips!
Tours can be adventurous and exciting, sure the locals in The Dominican Republic probably don’t spend every weekend zip lining, but that doesn’t mean that you should miss out. Tours allow you to do things you haven’t done before, in a country that is new to you. I know I am looking forward to cooking authentic food with a local mom in her kitchen, hiking on a glacier and visiting elephants at a sanctuary. These things are best done with a guide, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to risk getting stomped on by elephants or attempt not burning my rendition of local food.
There will be some manufactured feeling tours but look for the ones with the good reviews. You can find small businesses or locals that post yoga classes, meditation, hikes, cooking classes, or even photography sessions on sites like Airbnb, and they are hosted directly by local people. Most people who post on there want to meet tourists, are friendly and want to get to know you. This could lead to going out to local bars, making friends, and even staying in touch!
There is pressure to not be a tourist and people say that tours are lame or not authentic experiences, but it is how I was able to hike in the Caribbean to hidden waterfalls. Taking a tour also allowed me a full day trip experience in which I went from Dublin, to castles, to cliffs, to Giant’s Causeway, to Northern Ireland and back to Dublin all in one day. Talk about efficiency and getting to see it all!
Don’t spend every day on a tour, but book at least a couple. They are fun, exciting, tasty and actually allow you to experience more of the destination than you would otherwise. Go do the tourist thing, take out your GoPro and film yourself ziplining through the Caribbean rainforest.