Dominican Republic Travel Guide

With gleaming white sandy beaches and azure seas, the Dominican Republic epitomizes the Caribbean with a lot more besides the seaside. As the jumping off point for the conquest of the Americas, the country has a long colonial past that remains well-preserved, particularly in the capital Santo Domingo, a UN World Heritage site. The interior of the country, in parts extremely remote, is characterized by wild rainforests and peaks that reach higher than 3,000 meters.

Why You Should Go

What’s Cool: Immaculate white sandy beaches, trusty gua gua taxis, lively merengue music, oodles of decent cheap rum, highly negotiable prices and exotic amber.

What’s Not: High levels of crime in certain urban areas, mosquito-borne diseases, sunstroke, the hurricane season and cock fighting.

When to Go

As a sub-tropical destination, the Dominican Republic sees little variation in temperature and remains sticky for most of the year. The dry season, from November to February, sees the humidity drop a little although temperatures are still high. The storm season, from June to October, is generally wet and prone to tropical storms and hurricanes.

Getting There & Away

Flights into San Domingo come in from all over the region including major cities in the US and farther afield from Europe. Other options for getting here are limited. Crossing in from neighboring Haiti is more hassle than its worth given that the country has fewer connections and is far more susceptible to political turmoil than the Dominican Republic.

There are no trains in either country. Once you’re here, most people—locals and tourists alike—like nothing better than a good gua gua to get them around. They’re cheap, cheerful and reach even the remotest parts, but can get a little full. A more comfortable and expensive option are air-conditioned coaches which cover the main routes.

Health & Safety

Crime here is bad in certain areas of the capital and other large cities, while tourist areas are also be prone to petty theft so keep you’re goggles on when out in the sea and make sure valuables are kept in a safe place. Health-wise, the Dominican Republic is a catalogue of potential hazards, most of which can be avoided with care. The sun gets very hot in the summer so protect your skin and avoid exposure. Another possible danger during this period is hurricanes and storms which can cause flooding, a reason why many tourists chose to come in the winter.

Food & Hospitality

Like most Caribbean destinations, the Dominican Republic has its fair share of high class resorts with private beaches at suitably high prices, especially on the northern coast around Cabarete and Sosua. International hotel chains also prevail and include the Hilton in San Domingo, but much cheaper options are also available, particularly in the capital.

The local food is straightforward, relatively un-spicy and tasty. The national dish, called the flag, is a combination of rice, beans, meat and plantain fritters. For those that like what they know, western food is widely available in the capital and at top-end resorts.

Itineraries

Holidays in the Dominican Republic are usually centered on the beach, and rightly so, but there are still plenty of other things going on.

  • Three days in Cabarete, a near-perfect beach offering water sports, good food and lively nightlife.
  • Two days in San Domingo, a colonial Caribbean capital with lots of history and the hub of the country.
  • Two days in Santiago de Los Caballeros, the country’s second city with classic Spanish Caribbean architecture.
  • Two days in Bonao, a little slice of rural paradise in the hills that has managed to escape the tourist masses.

Extra time

  • Two days in Sosua, a great little beach resort settled by German Jews which remains safe and very peaceful.
  • Two days in the Cordillera Central, the country’s highest mountain range with snowy peaks and great walks.
  • Two days at Lago Enriquillo, the largest inland waterway in the country, encircled by caves, wall paintings and lots of iguanas.

Highlights

cabarete: the holiday hub of the country and all-round idyllic beachfront city with plenty going on away from the sand.

san-domingo: sometimes brash but always entertaining, the capital is where most travelers will begin their holiday, and there’s enough here to delay a trip to the beach.

santiago-los-caballeros: was an important town and former capital in the colonial days and it retains its old, Spanish feel despite a turbulent past.

bonao: is the kind of place tourists would love, but it remains special because of the lack of visitors. Get here before everyone else does and enjoy the stunning scenery.

sosua: a slice of the German Riviera in the heart of the Caribbean with a character all of its own.

lago-enriquillo: the lowest and wettest point in the country, surrounded by an arid, cactus-heavy landscape of caves and interesting rock formations.

Activities

Windsurfing: hit Cabarete for what is considered some of the best windsurfing in the Caribbean.

Relaxing: when the beaches are this good, there is little doubt that taking life easy will take up a large chunk of you itinerary.

Dancing: great jazz and the best merengue mean most visitors find themselves tapping their feet and swinging their hips at some point.

Trekking: with lots of hills and lush greenery, the Dominican Republic is a great place to explore when the rains calm and the temperature drops in the winter.

Partying: good music and rum mean plenty of late nights, not least in Cabarete and San Domingo where the parties continue until dawn.

Surfing: some great, uncrowded surf can be had on the north shore in and around Cabarete.

Festivals & Events

Hot weather, good music and that unmistakable Caribbean attitude to life make the Dominican Republic a lively destination during its numerous festivals.

January: the liveliest carnival in the country, La Vega Carnival kicks off right at the beginning of the year and continues every weekend until March.

February: the pre-Lent Dominican Republic Carnival, held throughout the month, finishes with street parades and floats that flood the country with color.

July/August: Santa Domingo hosts the planet’s premiere meringue festival featuring both domestic and international talent.

October: the country’s annual jazz festival is a three-day celebration in Cabarete featuring jazz from around the region.