DOMINICAN REPUBLIC TRAVEL GUIDE
The Dominican Republic is a Caribbean nation that shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti to the west. For the adventure tourist this Caribbean country offers a diverse countryside comprising tropical rain-forests, arid desert expanses, alpine ranges and steamy mangrove swamps. It's a playground for trekkers, mountain bike enthusiasts and water-sport junkies.
The northern and eastern coasts are dotted with many luxurious resorts however the Dominican Republic has much more to offer than this. There is the wonderful Caribbean music and dance, exotic foods and drink, popular local baseball games, and the remarkable colonial architecture found in the capital Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial. There are also sugar plantations, small quaint villages and wonderful mountain retreats to explore and enjoy in Jarabacoa and Constanza. If you're looking for a hassle-free holiday that's big on relaxation then the Dominican Republic is the place to be!
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DOMINICAN REPUBLIC QUICK FACTS
Capital: Santo Domingo
Currency: Dominican peso (DOP)
Area: 48,730 km²
Population: 10,63 million (2018)
Religion: Roman Catholic 95%
Electricity: 110/60Hz (USA plug)
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DOMINICAN REPUBLIC PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 6 January, Three Kings Day (Epiphany)
- 21 January, Our Lady of Altagracia
- 26 January, Juan Pablo Duarte’s Birthday
- 27 February, Independence Day
- 1 May, Labour Day
- 16 August, Restoration Day
- 24 September, Our Lady of Las Mercedes
- 6 November, Constitution Day
The Merengue Festival is held every year during the last week of July or the first week of August.
Also, Carnival, Good Friday, and Corpus Christi.
FESTIVALS IN DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
The Dominican Republic has a bewildering barrage of festivals. On every day of the year, there seems to be some kind of celebration somewhere. These traditional fiestas are one of the great pleasures of a trip to the Dominican Republic; there’s at least one in every city, pueblo and campo.
- Guloya This popular festival draw massive crowds each January to San Pedro de Macorís to watch the raucous drummer’s procession through the Miramar neighbourhood and affords a glimpse of a colourful subculture you won’t be able to get elsewhere.
- Sand Castle Festival Cabarete is transformed for 10 days every February into a giant sand sculpture park.
- Carnival The pre-eminent celebration of the year, held on every Sunday in February and culminating on February 27. La Vega, Bonao and Santo Domingo are your best bets.
BEST TIME TO VISIT DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
- High Season (mid-Dec–Feb) - July to August and the week before Easter are also high season. Expect significantly higher hotel prices and beaches. Most water sports are prohibited throughout the DR during the week before Easter.
- Shoulder (Mar–Jul) - You may see short but strong daily rains in Santo Domingo (through October). March is generally one of the drier months in Samaná.
- Low Season (Aug – early Dec) - Hurricane season (typically impacting the eastern part of DR), but if there are no storms it’s still an excellent time to travel. Temperatures don’t vary much (mountains are an exception). Room rates are deeply discounted.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
HIKING & CYCLING IN DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Outdoor activities in the Dominican Republic can be enjoyed all year round, just be prepared for the odd rain downpour! The dry season from November to April.
BEACH OPTIONS IN DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
The best time to visit the stunning beaches of the Dominican Republic is during the dry season from November to April, although despite the odd rain downpour, the weather is warm all year round.
SURFING IN DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
The Dominican Republic has great surf all year round. The big wave season is from October to April, while May to September generally has fun waves perfect for learning or intermediate surfers.
KITESURF IN DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
You can expect good kitesurfing conditions in the Dominican Republic for most of the year. The best period for consistent winds is from February to August, with June, July and August being the best months. September, October and November have the least wind.
For more details on kite surfing in Dominican Republic expand this section!
HEALTH RISKS IN DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Be aware of possible health risks in
Zika Virus - Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.
Dengue - Dengue is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. About one in four people infected with dengue will get sick. For people who get sick with dengue, symptoms can be mild or severe.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC TRAVEL COSTS
The Caribbean is not cheap, but there are ways to get the most bang for your buck with a little forward planning and some savvy choices
- Budget less than US$ 60 Budget room: under US$30, Take motoconchos (motorcycle taxis) and gua-guas (small buses) to get around
- Midrange US$ 90 Internet deal on all-inclusive accommodations: US$ 80, First-class bus tickets between major destinations US$ 10, Join group tours for activities like snorkelling, hiking etc.
- Top end over US$ 250 - Beachfront resort: US$200 and over, Activities in beautiful places: US$100 and up, eat out at top restaurants in urban areas, rent a car for the entire trip or at least for special excursions.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC TRAVEL TIPS
First-class buses have air-con and often TVs and a movie. Fares are low – the most expensive is less than US$10. Reservations aren’t usually necessary. The country’s two main bus companies – Caribe Tours and Metro – have individual depots west of the Zona Colonial, Santo Domingo.
Gua-guas range from minivans to midsize buses with room for around 30 passengers. They stop all along the route to pick up and drop off passengers – wave to be picked up. Most pass every 15 to 30 minutes and cost RD$35 to RD$70. They rarely have signs, so ask a local if you’re unsure which one to take.
Públicos are banged-up cars, minivans or small pickup trucks that pick up passengers along set routes in towns. Públicos (also called conchos or carros) don’t have signs, but the drivers hold their hands out the window to solicit fares.
Motoconchos (motorcycle taxis) are the best and sometimes only way to get around in many towns. An average ride should set you back no more than RD$30, but you might have to negotiate to get a fair price.
Large cities such as Santo Domingo have public bus systems that operate but generally Públicos pass much more frequently.
If you plan to do any driving outside major cities, a 4WD is recommended.
There are no buses that connect directly to either of Santo Domingo’s airports. From Las Américas, a taxi to the Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo costs US$40.
The cost of a bus ride from one end of Santo Domingo by bus to the other is around RD$12. Most stops are marked with a sign and the word parada (stop). The routes tend to follow major thoroughfares.
The Santo Domingo Metro Line 1 runs from La Feria near the Malecón to the far northern suburb of Villa Mella. Line 2 runs east–west along Av John F Kennedy, Expreso V Centenario and Av Padre Castellanos.
More numerous than buses in Santo Domingo are públicos – mostly beat-up minivans and private cars that follow the same main routes but stop anywhere that someone flags them down.
Taxis in Santo Domingo don’t have meters, so you should always agree on the price before climbing in. Standard fare is around RD$200 from one side of the city to the other. Within the Zona Colonial it should be even cheaper.
None of the main bus companies services Cabarete. The closest depots are in Sosúa. The best place to arrange car rental is at Puerto Plata airport when you arrive.
Caribe Tours has the only 1st-class bus service between Jarabacoa and Santo Domingo.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Beyond the capital, much of the Dominican Republic is distinctly rural. Further inland are vistas reminiscent of the European alps: four of the Caribbean’s five highest peaks rise above the fertile lowlands around Santiago. Remote deserts extend through the southwest, giving the DR a complexity not found on other islands. The country’s roller-coaster past is writ large in the diversity of its ethnicities, not to mention the physical design of its towns and cities.
Bávaro and Punta Cana Fly into the airport directly outside this resort area and base yourself at one of the beachfront properties for a little sun and sand and all-you-can-eat buffets for two or three days.
Bayahibe Not far from here and accessible on a long day trip is this tiny town on the edge of a national park with the best scuba diving in the Dominican Republic and a number of excursions including catamaran tours to Isla Saona, an island beach, and snorkelling trips.
Zona Colonial, Santo Domingo Take a walk through history in the Zona Colonial, past beautifully restored mansions, churches and forts, many converted into evocative museums. But the past and present coexist in the former seat of Spain’s 16th-century empire: pop into a shop selling CDs from the latest Dominican merengue star.
Santo Domingo night life Get dressed to the nines, do some limbering up and get your dance moves on. Nightclubs in the seaside resort hotels host some of the best merengue and salsa bands this side of Havana. Downtown has trendy clubs for the fashionable set and the Zona Colonial is chock-a-block with spots.
Bahía de Las Águilas Pick up a rental car in the city and hit the road for this stunning 10-km-long far-flung beach. Its remoteness and loneliness adds spice to the adventure of reaching these postcard-perfect sands in an extreme corner of the Pedernales Peninsula.
Jarabacoa Go white-water rafting in the morning and visit the nearby waterfalls in the afternoon before spending a cool night in the countryside with mountain vistas in the distance.
Pico Duarte Jarabacoa is also the gateway to Parque Nacionales Armando Bermúdez and the hike to Pico Duarte. Consider making the standard three-day hike to the summit, which at 3087m is the highest in the Caribbean.
Cabarete Head out of the mountains to this laid-back beach town and water-sports mecca on the north coast. Active types will assuredly want to stay in or around Cabarete, east of Puerto Plata; it also has a happening bar and restaurant scene. Carve out several hours or days learning the ropes from the best in kitesurfing, windsurfing or just plain surfing. Of course, the beaches are equally alluring for doing absolutely nothing but sipping cocktails and making headway in a good book.
Las Terrenas Continue further along the coast until you reach the Peninsula de Samaná and the cosmopolitan town of Las Terrenas. Kitesurfing and other water sports are deservedly popular here.
Las Galeras Another nearby option is this sleepy fishing village at the far eastern end of the peninsula. Swaying palm trees back beaches ready-made for a movie set, and waves crash over hard-to-get-to cliffs.
Whale Watching, Samaná If possible, plan your trip for mid-January to mid-March, when humpback whales migrate to the Bahía de Samaná and boat-based whale-watching tours are in full steam.
Parque Nacional Los Haitises Or arrange a boat trip to see the mangroves and cave paintings at this park by the bay side town of Sabana de la Mar.
(more location details are available in the above map)
SANTO DOMINGO, or ‘La Capital’ as it’s typically called, is a collage of cultures and neighbourhoods. At the heart of the city is the Zona Colonial, where you’ll find one of the oldest churches and the oldest surviving European fortress, among other New World firsts. Amid the cobblestone streets, it would be easy to forget Santo Domingo is in the Caribbean. But this is an intensely urban city, home not only to colonial-era architecture but also to hot clubs, vibrant cultural institutions and elegant restaurants. The city’s most interesting sights are all located in the cobblestone blocks of the Zona Colonial only steps from the port. Take a walking tour of Zona Colonial, eat in a restaurant in Plaza España and walk part of the Malecón.
A Caribbean workhorse of sun and sand, the SOUTHEAST is synonymous with go-big-or-go-home tourism where sprawling resort developments line the white sands and turquoise seas from Punta Cana to Bávaro. The fishing village of Bayahibe is the departure point for trips to the nearby islands in the Parque Nacional del Este and north of Bávaro is Playa Limón, an isolated stretch of beach backed by palm trees and, more unusually, a lagoon and several mountain peaks.
Laid-back and cosmopolitan, PENÍNSULA DE SAMANÁ offers a European vibe as strong as espresso. Of course, the majority come to gasp at the North Atlantic humpback whales doing their migratory song and dance from mid-January to mid-March. Sophisticated Las Terrenas is the place for those that crave a lively social scene, and sleepy Las Galeras boasts several of the best and most secluded beaches in the Dominican Republic. Renting a car is an excellent way to explore the peninsula on your own.
Within two hours’ drive of Puerto Plata airport you’ll find all the best the NORTH COAST has to offer – water sports and beach nightlife in Cabarete, mountain biking in the coastal hills, the celebrated 27 waterfalls of Damajagua, sleepy little Dominican towns where it’s still possible to escape the tourist hordes, and mile after mile of that famous Caribbean sand.
When you’ve overdosed on sun and sand, the cool mountainous playground of the CENTRAL HIGHLANDS is the place to go; where else can you sit at dusk, huddled in a sweater, watching the mist descend into the valley as the sun sets behind the mountains? Popular retreats, roaring rivers, soaring peaks and the only white-water rafting in the Caribbean, beckon. Nestled in the low foothills of the Cordillera Central, Jarabacoa maintains an under-the-radar allure as the antithesis to the clichéd Caribbean vacation
WHAT TO PACK FOR DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
The Caribbean islands are casual, so bring light, comfy clothes: a bathing suit, T-shirt and shorts will be your wardrobe. Add long pants or a dress for nights out.
Sun hat Buying at home ensures a better fit.
Quick-dry towel A small one, for when the whim to swim hits.
Flashlight For night-time reading, blackouts.
Resealable bags / Drybags Essential for keeping things (cameras, air tickets, passports) dry on boat trips.
Snorkelling mask with corrective lenses Suddenly, reefs are in focus!
WHAT TO EAT IN DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Look out for:
- La Bandera - (the flag) The most typically Dominican meal. Consists of white rice, habichuela (red beans), stewed meat, salad and fried green plantains.
- Bananas - (guineos) A staple served stewed, candied or boiled and mashed. With plantains, the dish is called mangú; with pork rinds mixed in it is called mofongo and is nothing like the iconic Puerto Rican version.
- Tostones (Twice fried plantain) Made from unripe plantains and served as a side dish to meat and fish dishes, or as part of a larger meal.
- Habichuelas con Dulce Sweet (Cream Of Beans) A uniquely Dominican dish is an important tradition in the Dominican Republic, and it's one of the most popular Dominican foods.
- Sanchocho (Meat Stew) The deluxe version "Sancocho de Siete Carnes", in which seven different types of meat from four types of animals are mixed with root vegetables and plantain to produce a very rich, thick, meaty stew, unlike anything you've tried before. The simplified version might contain just beef and perhaps chicken.
- Niños envueltos (Wrapped Children) Rice and ground beef that are wrapped in cabbage and cooked in tomato sauce.
- Pastelitos - By far the most common snack in the DR – fried dough containing beef or chicken, which has been stewed with onions, olives, tomatoes and then chopped and mixed with peas, nuts and raisins.