Bahia Principe Luxury Bouganville is located in the outskirts of the town of La Romana…
Ultimate Guide To Your Dominican Republic Vacation
The Ultimate Guide To Your Dominican Republic Vacation
Overview of the country
Arriving in the Dominican Republic
What part of the country to visit?
All-Inclusive resort, hotel or AirBnB -Where to stay
Getting around the country
Things to Do & See
Memories To Take Home With You (Dominican Souvenirs)
Things to bring with you
ARRIVING IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
There are 5 main airports and picking the airport that best suits your needs will depend on available flights from where you will be leaving, the cost of the tickets, and where you plan on spending your time in the Dominican Republic.
Here Is A List Of Airports And Areas They Best Serve:
- Santo Domingo Airport (SDQ): Santo Domingo, La Romana, Bayahibe, Las Terrenas, Samana, Las Galeras and Punta Cana.
- Punta Cana Airport (PUJ): Punta Cana and Bayahibe
- La Romana Airport (LRM): La Romana, Bayahibe, and Punta Cana
- Santiago Airport (STI): Santiago, Cabarete, Sosua, and Puerto Plata
- Puerto Plata Airport (POP): Cabarete, Sosua, and Puerto Plata
Quick Overview of the Dominican Republic
Located in the Caribbean on the island of Hispaniola, which is part of the Greater Antilles group of islands. Hispaniola is shared with Haiti, with the Dominican Republic making up about 3/5 of the island and Haiti the other 2/5.
- Country 10,627,165
- Santo Domingo metro (the capital city) just fewer than 3 million
- 2nd largest metro area Santiago de los Caballeros, about 1 million
Spanish is the official language, but in tourist areas English, French, Italian and German are spoken as well.
Located in the Atlantic Standard Time (AST) and shares the same time as New York/Miami except when those two cities are observing daylight savings time. During this time the Dominican Republic is 1 hour ahead (winter months).
The climate is consistent throughout the year with its coolest months being December through February with highs of 86 F / 30 C and lows of 68 F / 20 C. Its hottest months are July through October with highs of 90 F / 32 C and lows of 72 F / 22 C.
The currency of the Dominican Republic is pesos (DOP), but in tourist areas most places will accept euros and US dollars as well.
Typically for cost, flight options and ease of travel, the Santo Domingo Airport, Punta Cana and the Santiago airports are the 3 main airports that visitors enter.
The Dominican Republic requires a tourist visa from each visitor, but this is a simple process as the visas are granted at the airport and the cost of the visa is included with your plane ticket. The airline actually pays your entrance fee. The visa process is simple as all are welcome unless you have had a run in with the law.
WHAT PART OF THE COUNTRY TO VISIT
This may be the question that you contemplate the longest. The country/island is divided into 6 primary areas for visitors.
LA ROMANA & BAYAHIBE
THE NORTH COAST
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ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORT, HOTEL OR AIRBNB -WHERE TO STAY
You have 3 main choices:
HOTELS/RESORTS (NON-ALL INCLUSIVE)
AIRBNB SYTLE RENTALS
GETTING AROUND THE COUNTRY
If done correctly, this is very safe, but the #1 cause of harm to tourist is the travel between the various locations, whether it be from the airport to the resort or a hotel to dinner. Because this represents the #1 cause of harm to tourists, I am going to go into a little more detail on this subject.
The main ways to move around are the following:
For disclosure, I own a transportation company in the Santo Domingo. I am an American who moved here, and, after being here for a short-time, I quickly realized that even though the island is saturated with tourist transportation companies, there was a huge need for a safe and professional company that understands the needs of visitors.
Shared Shuttles – A very safe way to travel and can save a solo traveler a lot of money, but there is only a marginal savings for 2 passengers ($20 to $30 USD total) and that savings typically do not outweigh the hassle factor.
For 3 or more passengers a private vehicle is usually cheaper. The shared shuttle can wait up to 2 hours at the airport to fill up and then must drop people off at various destinations. This could potentially double the time for transportation.
Higher End Buses – Buses don’t pick-up/drop-off at the airports. You take a taxi to/from the airport and then to/from where you are staying. While the bus tickets are very cost effective at about $10 USD per person, by the time you add in the 2 taxi transfers (one to the bus station from the airport and the other from the bus station to your hotel/resort/AirBnb) the savings drops significantly.
The other issue with the buses (no matter which company you use) because the cost of vehicle ownership is out of range for many Dominicans, it is the main means of transportation around the country. The buses will pull over on the side of the road and let passengers off at any time they want.
This mode of transportation is very safe as well and offering a slightly larger savings than the shared shuttles. Depending on where you go and where your final destination is compared to the where the bus station is, I would estimate for 2 people it will cost about $100 USD (taxi form airport to bus station, bus tickets, taxi from bus station to your accommodations).transportation.
Local Buses – Very inexpensive to use, but often are overcrowded with make- shift seats being added in the aisle, no air-conditioning on many of them, older models, lacking proper maintenance and typically nowhere to store your large luggage. These buses make very frequent stops.
Since I had never used one, I wanted to before I wrote this article. I took one of these buses from Santo Domingo to Bayahibe – a 1 ½ hour drive by car. With all the stops it took over 4 hours to arrive at Bayahibe, and halfway there, they made us get off that bus and onto another bus so they could fill one bus up fully.
I would highly advise against this mode of transportation. The only reason I write about this is because I read so-called “experts” online talking about using this mode of transportation. Yes, you can use it, yes you can save money, but no, it is not worth it when you are on vacation. (my opinion).
Public Cars (Carro Publicos) – Under no circumstances should this mode of transportation be used. These are cars that are very old and lack maintenance. I have seen cars without break lights, headlights, etc. They never have air-conditioning and the driver will pack 6 people in a 1980 Honda Civic.
These cars drive specific routes in the cities and towns. Locals will use 2 or 3 of these cars/routes to get to where they need to go in the city. This is the cheapest form of transportation around $1.50 USD, but your safety and comfort is not worth it, let alone there is no place to store your luggage.
This is another mode of transportation I only talk about so you know not to use it. I read lots of people talking in online forums about this mode of transportation when they want to sound like an Expert on travel in the Dominican Republic.
Higher-End Buses and Shared Shuttles are safe but add a lot of time and hassle on to your transfer for minimal savings unless you are traveling alone. With two visitors you can save maybe $50 USD total for the both of you /$ $25 USD per person (depending on where you are going) and 3 or more people – there is zero savings.
Private Transfers are very safe, the quickest and simplest transfers, but also the most expensive (but not by much unless you are traveling alone) Local Buses and Caro Publicos – Should be avoided no matter the savings. They are uncomfortable and not safe.
As stated in various locations in this article, the city of Santo Domingo is the 1st city of the New World and is what Christopher Columbus is attributed with discovering when he found the West Indies.
While there are many places throughout the country that have historical sites, there is no better place to explore the Colonial times than in Santo Domingo, the Colonial Zone, a World Heritage Site.
We know most people come to the Dominican Republic to enjoy the Caribbean beaches, but the Colonial City should be a must see on your vacation. You can follow this link to learn more about exploring the Colonial City.
Food & Drink
From fresh locally caught fish and seafood to the multiple ways plantains are used in cooking, no vacation would be complete without sampling some of the local cuisine. Since food and drink are important to the local culture and to a vacation, we have created a special article on the Dominican cuisine.
A classic Dominican meal while at the beach is whole fish and plantains. While the sun is setting on your day at the beach, as the classic sounds of bachata, merengue and salsa come alive, there is no more perfect way to end your day than to enjoy a classic meal of whole fish with plantains with either a beer or rum in your hand.
The Dominican Republic has many and varied fresh fruits that are made into flavorful natural juices or smoothies (batidas in Spanish). Pineapple, passion fruit, papaya and mango are some of the many fruits that can be found on this island.
Adults can enjoy the very popular Presidente beer or one of the countries many fine rums in either a frozen drink like a Pina Colada or a simple rum and coke.
THINGS TO DO AND SEE (TOURS & EXCURSIONS)
This depends on what part of the Dominican Republic you arrive at and where you are staying. There are three tours/excursions that set themselves apart from the rest of the tours – each for their own unique reasons: history/culture, raw beauty and magnificent nature.
Isla Saona Excursion
The is no better way to experience the raw beauty of the blue-ish green waters and the coral reefs than to experience it onboard a catamaran sailboat while sailing along the Caribbean Ocean toward the uninhabited island Saona (Isla Saona).
In Isla Saona you will then disembark and enjoy the white-sandy beaches, palm trees and blue-ish green water. For more information on the Isla Saona Excursion.
The Colonial City / Colonial Zone
Santo Domingo, a Unesco World Heritage Site, is the first city in the new world and full of history, culture, wonderful old buildings and streets that shouldn’t be missed. The Colonial Zone is what the historians have credited Christopher Columbus with discovering.
The streets and the buildings date back to the early 1500’s, and in the present day many of the original buildings are still standing along with them are a few ruins that are waiting for you to explore them. For more information on the Colonial Zone Tour.
This excursion makes for a very distinctive experience. With the backdrop of the beautiful Samana Bay and rolling countryside you can witness one of the largest migrations of humpback whales in the world. These magnificent whales come to give birth here along the coastal waters – making them easy to spot.
This makes our top 3 because of the truly unique and rare experience it presents. One of the reasons it is a rare experience is that the whales are here only from December to March and you if you are lucky enough to be here in those months, it is a must see.
Here are few suggestions of tours and excursions in various areas:
SAMANA/ LAS TERRENAS / LAS GALERAS
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As an American living here for the past 8+ years who has also been responsible for assisting thousands of visitors while they are on vacation, I can say I believe this country is completely safe – with a few precautions. With a little common sense you will have a great and safe vacation.
The main thing to keep in mind for your safety is the wealth disparity from here to places like the United States, Canada, England, etc. The minimum required salary here is equivalent to $250 USD for the month. So if you are walking around with a couple hundred dollars on you or a new cell phone, this can attract undesirables.
It is suggested not to use your cell phone while walking around and to keep your money in your pocket till you are in the store or restaurant where you need to use it. Majority of the areas that visitors enjoy walking in will be very safe, should you be that person who likes to go off the beaten path, be careful what streets you choose to walk down at night. It is suggested to use taxis for transportation at night.
With such wide-ranging options (street-food to a high-end restaurants, basic hotels to 5-star resorts), it is hard to provide exact cost but I wanted to point out a few things that make up the costs, so you are aware of them.
One of the main points to understand is that the Dominican Republic has a consumption-based tax system with taxes on staples such as: rice, bread, etc., at 0% tax all the way up the maximum of 18% for luxury items such as: restaurants, steak, lobster, televisions, etc.
You will find most base prices to be very reasonable and the price with tax to be reasonable across the range of purchases, but please remember to add the tax on to make sure you understand your full purchase price before you buy.
Transportation – One of the higher costs in this country is transportation, with gasoline fluctuating around $4 to $5 USD per gallon, and, with multiple tollbooths on the roads, transportation can add up quickly.
Companies trying to offer the cheapest solution often convert their vehicles to run on propane which is a very unsafe way to save on gasoline. We suggest paying the extra $10 -$15 USD to make sure you have a safe journey.
All-Inclusives – While these vary in price, typically the main difference in the various prices will be the quality of food and drink.
Restaurants – The prices of the food will very depending on if you are at a fine restaurant, etc., and most visitors will find the prices on the menu to be very reasonable. On top of this very reasonable price, there is 28% added to the bill above the menu price (an 18% government tax – explained above and a 10% restaurant tax). This 10% is used to offset the salaries of the employees.
While many countries/cities around the world have a tax that is added to the bill, it is not usually 18% and most restaurants include the cost of labor in their menu prices, not as an added surcharge at the end so I felt this was worth mentioning.
Still, at the end of your meal you should find your overall charge to be reasonable, just 28% higher than the prices on the menu, but still very reasonable.
Street Markets – We have thriving street businesses. Completely safe to buy from where you will see food vendors, art, jewelry, etc. These businesses will often be the cheapest as they are not collecting the sales tax, but don’t expect jewelry, etc., to be authentic and real.
MEMORIES TO TAKE HOME WITH YOU (DOMINICAN SOUVENIRS)
No vacation is complete without taking home a few memories and gifts for friends & family. Practically every corner will have someone selling something, but we like to note a few items for their cultural or historical value. We have written an article specifically on Dominican souvenirs that you can read as well and will be a little more in-depth.
Larimar – is exclusively found in the Dominican Republic and has a color spectrum of white, light-blue, blue, and green-ish blue. Not only is Larimar a unique stone, but each stone is unique based on its color pattern. For such a unique stone it has very reasonable prices. The very basic stone that can be used for a small pendent or earrings can be purchased for as little as $30 USD.
Blue Amber – The Dominican Republic is known for amber and while our amber is second to none, there are other countries where amber can be found as well. If you want something truly unique, look at the blue amber – found only in the Dominican Republic. A stone rarer then Larimar, its price starts a little higher. A basic stone can be found for around $100 USD.
Mamajuana – The drink of the Dominicans. This drink combines 12 spices and herbs, wine, honey and rum (of course Dominican Rum) as the base. Mamajuana to Dominicans is like barbecue sauce or chili is to Americans. Everyone has their own unique way of mixing their mamajuana to achieve that perfect flavor.
What makes this a great souvenir to take home is not only will it be the conversation of your next party, but the spices and herbs only get better with time. Keep the bottle and for years to come and all you have to do is add more rum, honey and wine. I have had my bottle for 8+ years now. My advice is to buy a big bottle of the mamajuana as it will go fast at your next party.
Art – If you are interested in art you can find wooden statutes, paintings, ceramics, etc. Some of these paintings and statues will not have the faces completed. This is meant to show that not just one face can represent the Dominican people – that the history of the Dominicans is vast with heritage coming from Africa, Spain, France, Haiti, and England – to name just a few countries.
rum – Two of the most popular rums produced in the Dominican Republic are Brugal and Barcleo. With bottles ranging from light to dark, aged and very aged, there is sure to be a bottle that calls your name.
cigars – Perhaps one of the most important countries in the world for cigars. The Dominican Republic will have a wide arrange of cigars from La Aurora dating back over 100 years, to Arturo Fuente whose cigars are consistently ranking as one of the world’s best cigars by Cigar Aficionado Magazine, and La Flor, the preferred brand of the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo.
Friendly Culture – Dominicans in general are very friendly. If you need something, ask. They will do their best to help you, but depending on where you are visiting from, some things might make you think otherwise.
Personal space is not as important here. So that means people might not be as quick to get out of your way, they brush alongside you as they are walking or flat out just don’t move. Just ask politely and they will move out your way with a smile.
Also, the Dominican Republic is a very formal country with their interactions. Dominicans always great each other by shaking hands. Always feel free to start your conversation with a handshake – even with young children.
Tipping – Dominicans tip Dominicans when they have the money to do so. With salaries being so repressed in this county a couple of extra dollars for your waiter, etc., can go a long way. With or without a tip you are sure to receive excellent customer service, but if you can spare a few dollars, you will see just a little bit bigger smile from the person helping you.
Eating out at restaurants is not meant to be hurried in this country, and, since you are on vacation, order some food, sit back and talk with the company you have with you. If you are in a hurry, you will not enjoy your experience while eating out.
Loudness /Music / Horns – part of the culture. Just like personal space Dominicans don’t put as much emphasis on noise pollution as many countries do.
time – Dominican time is a real thing. Usually running about 10 or 15 minutes behind. If you need to be somewhere on time – like the airport for your flight out, make sure your driver will be there on time.
Clothing – No matter how hot it is outside you will see many Dominican in pants and button-down shirts. The Dominicans take great pride in professionalism and to them long pants and a nice button-down shirt reflect their professional values.
THINGS TO BRING WITH YOU
Sunscreen – as it is hard to find here and usually expensive.
Money to exchange – Depending on your bank taking money out of the cash machines can become very expensive. Most cash machines limit the amount of money you can take out for each transaction and charge around $6 USD per transaction. You will probably need to make multiple withdrawals.
Mosquito spray – Typically the breeze is strong enough so they don’t land on you, but if the breeze drops you may want to use a little spray.
Comfortable shoes to walk around in – With so much to explore, a comfortable pair of shoes can really make a difference.
Adventurous attitude – From the first city of the new word to waterfalls, rivers, beaches and national parks, there is a lot to see outside the walls of the all-inclusive resorts. Make sure to pick one or two places to explore in between the time at the beach.
The Dominican Republic is great place to consider for your next vacation because not only can it offer you some of the best beaches in the world and culture only like the oldest city in the New World can offer, but the Dominican Republic offers this to you at an affordable price. With a few of the precautions mentioned in this article, some local food and drink, and, of course, a sublime beach as a backdrop, you can make the Dominican Republic a vacation to remember for years to come.
Bonus: I have helped thousands make their Dominican vacation memorable, and, while this is my job, feel free to contact me even for free advice. I/we are here to help anyone who wants it – whether it is just some friendly suggestions over the phone or through a tour or excursion by my company. Please let me/us know what we can to make your vacation is filled with wonderful memories.