Your Trip to the Dominican Republic: The Complete Guide

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The Dominican Republic is known for its beautiful beaches and a multitude of resorts, but it’s also one of the most diverse destinations you can visit and one that remains culturally rich. You’ll want to come here for the country's merengue, bachata and live music and dancing scene, its hospitable people, as well as its rich outdoors, brimming with cacao and coffee trails, farms, and tropical forests. From colonial cities to beach towns, national parks with hiking trails and mountains, offshore islands, and wildlife-rich lagoons, there’s more to do and see than you can fit in one trip.

Here are some tips for an overview of what to expect on your trip to the Dominican Republic, to give you a leg up on activities, accommodation options, best ways to save, and cultural norms.

Planning Your Trip

Best Time to Visit: The weather is spectacular from late November through February, with breezy mornings and evenings. Rain showers are rare during this time, and temperatures are in the low to mid 80 degrees Fahrenheit during the day.

Language: The official language in the Dominican Republic is Spanish. Dominicans tend to speak very fast. They also have their own Dominican Spanish terminology and slang. Learning a few popular phrases can help break the ice.

Currency: The Dominican peso. The rates fluctuate—$1 is approximately 52 Dominican pesos as of Dec. 2019.

Getting Around: Public transportation is widely available, from large coach buses connecting different parts of the country to smaller van buses or “guaguas” for town-to-town transfers, and local shared taxis (“carritos”) as well as motorbike taxis. Major car rental companies are available in major cities and airports.

Travel Tip: Fridays are school field trip days, so museums and historical sites can get crowded. Beaches and rivers are also busy on Sunday, when locals flock to the seaside or to freshwater to relax, party, and cool off. To avoid disappointment, agree on fares before you agree to any service; tipping is customary.

Things to Do

There are a myriad of activities available in the Dominican Republic, from extreme outdoor adventures to cultural experiences.

  • Tour history, architecture, and museums: Visit the Colonial City in Santo Domingo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site—tour its museums and 16th-century structures such as the Ozama Fortress. Walk Puerto Plata city’s center for Victorian architecture.
  • Hike and enjoy the great outdoors: Nature sights abound wherever you choose to stay in the DR. Hike national parks and mountains and swim in waterfalls in Jarabacoa. Hike Taino caves in Barahona and Pedernales. Go canyoning to 27 Damajagua Falls and Magic Mushroom in Puerto Plata province. Go beach-hopping and sample the varied coastline, from Punta Cana to the Samana Peninsula’s rugged beaches reached by boat, Puerto Plata’s golden coast and offshore islands Saona and Catalina.
  • Experience the culture: Sample Dominican cuisine, dance to live merengue and bachata, have drinks at the colmado (the local bodega) and attend a baseball game in season or join in when you see teams practicing.

Explore more attractions, including the best things to do in the Dominican Republic, and the top things to do in Santo Domingo.

What to Eat and Drink

Dominican cuisine is a rich blend of cultures, from Taino to African, Spanish, and Middle Eastern. A typical Dominican dish you should try is mangů—look for this staple plantain mash at breakfast. Sancocho, hearty meat and root vegetable stew, is a Dominican favorite. Streetside fried snacks are also popular, particularly late at night, such as chimichurri burgers, chicharron, or fried pork rinds. A staple Dominican dish found at almost any local restaurant at lunchtime is the national dish, or la bandera Dominicana: rice and beans with stewed chicken, beef or fish, and a side of salad, from potato to pasta salads, and slices of fried plantain.

Desserts are a must in the DR, many of which are coconut-based. Ask locals for the best bakery or dulceria in your area. Ice cream is also popular given the weather; local brand BON has locales all over the country, and you’ll spot mobile ice cream vendors in neighborhoods and parks.

Drinks are part and parcel of life in the country. Sample the country’s renowned rum brands—Brugal and Barcelo or Bermudez, to start—but also taste the many fresh tropical fruit juices. These are also offered as refreshing smoothies, known as batidas, typically made with condensed milk and sugar. A famous Dominican batida is called “morir sonando”—dying while dreaming—a shake made with oranges, condensed milk, and sugar.

Where to Stay

Wherever you choose to stay in the Dominican Republic, accommodation options are the widest and most varied in the Caribbean You’ll find a place to stay to suit every taste and budget.

There are boutique colonial hotels as well as hostels, brand hotels ranging from Sheraton to the JW Marriot, and AirBnB options in the major cities such as Santo Domingo, Santiago and Puerto Plata. Major tourism regions offer all inclusive resorts of various sizes, as well as small locally-owned hotels, budget guesthouses, and luxurious villa rentals.

Explore our article on the best places to visit in the Dominican Republic as you plan your trip.

Getting There

The Dominican Republic has seven international airports receiving international flights from all over the world, including neighboring Caribbean islands. The best way to fly to the DR is to select the airport that is closest to your chosen accommodation. The four most popular airports include:

  • Punta Cana International Airport (PUJ): Ideal for stays in any part of the Punta Cana area, including Bavaro, Cabeza de Toro, Cap Cana, and Uvero Alto.
  • Las Americas International Airport (SDQ): Located in Santo Domingo. Ideal for stays in Santo Domingo, Boca Chica, and Juan Dolio.
  • Gregorio Luperon International Airport (POP): Located in Puerto Plata. Ideal for stays in Puerto Plata, Cabarete, Sosua, and locations on the north coast.
  • El Catey International Airport (AZS): Located in Samana. Ideal for stays anywhere on the Samana Peninsula.
  • Cibao International Airport (STI): Located just outside of Santiago de los Caballeros, the country’s second-largest city. Ideal for stays in Jarabacoa or Puerto Plata, approximately an hour and 20 minutes north.

Car rentals are available at all major international airports and in major cities. Highways are extensive countrywide, as the country boasts some of the most developed infrastructure in the Caribbean. You can also access major bus terminals with a quick cab ride from Santo Domingo, Puerto Plata, and Punta Cana.

Culture and Customs

As a major tourism destination, the Dominican Republic offers many modern conveniences and it won’t be a major culture shock to visit. There are, however, cultural customs that you’ll want to know of to immerse smoothly and to be respectful of the destination and its people.

  • It is considered good manners to say good morning or greet as you enter a business or public transportation, even if it’s filled with strangers. “Saludos” and “Buen Dia” go a long way in establishing respect and rapport. Greeting is expected as you enter shops or places where you are seeking assistance.
  • Tipping is customary for services received, from hotels to taxi drivers and staff at all inclusive resorts. Tip generously. In restaurants, you might have to flag the waiter down for the bill; there’s rarely a rush to kick the customer out.
  • There is such a thing as “Dominican time” when it comes to events; expect a one or two hour delay.
  • When agreeing to services of any kind, such as taxis and tours, agree on a price before you accept. Do not flag down or enter random taxis in the big cities, or venture alone to local clubs and bars after dark, unless in a major tourist area such as the Colonial City. Keep the Uber app on your phone and purchase a local data plan in case there is no Wi-Fi where you’re going.
  • Driving in the DR’s cities can be intimidating unless you have extensive experience driving abroad or in New York City. Opt for taxis or private drivers instead.

Money Saving Tips

  • Public parks are ubiquitous in the Dominican Republic; buy your own drinks at the local “colmado” or bodega, and head to the park to enjoy and save from pricey bars and cocktails.
  • Rideshares such as Uber are popular in Santo Domingo and Santiago and will save you money in-city or to airports.
  • Taking the bus to various parts of the country is easy. Services such as Caribe Tours, Expreso Bavaro, and Metro Tours are safe and have numerous daily departures to multiple parts of the DR for a reasonable fare that doesn’t exceed $10. Buses are air-conditioned and occasionally have Wi-Fi and movies.
  • Book your tours directly with licensed tour providers rather than through your hotel; this will save you money. Be sure to research the tour operators before you sign up.

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