Dominican Republic Guide, Caribbean

A beach ball in the Dominican Republic, Caribbean

Vacations in The Dominican Republic

Dolphin island, Punta Cana beach, Dominican Republic, cheap Caribbean islands

Punta Cana, east coast.

The Dominican Republic (DR) is simply the best budget island in the Caribbean!
This large, tropical country on the north edge of the Caribbean offers the discerning-dollar tourist not only hundreds of miles of white sand, palm fringed beaches and a history stretching back to Columbus but also a variety of landscapes including magnificent mountains, lush rainforests, parched deserts, rocky coastlines and delightful historic buildings.

Activities available are numerous compared to other Caribbean countries and apart from watersports include rock climbing, long-distance hiking, rainforest walks, canyoning, class II white-water rafting, whale watching (January-March), quad biking, golf and horseback riding.

The DR is the least expensive of the Caribbean islands because it’s huge, fertile and has a large labour force at hand providing services, building infrastructure and producing much of the food and drink consumed on this part of the island, unlike other smaller Caribbean islands that need to import just about everything.

Puerto Plata (north coast) is arguably the best budget destination as well as being more authentic than touristy but exquisite Punta Cana (east end), though it does have a reputation for some degree of sex-tourism.
Cabarete is the watersports mecca (north coast near Puerto Plata), while Samana (north coast peninsula) is a newish, mid-range tourist zone with fine protected beaches and whale-watching a speciality.

DR does not encompass the whole island, as Haiti occupies the west third of the island of Hispaniola.

Please note that the Dominican Republic is NOT the same as Dominica, a totally different island in the far-east of the Caribbean.

In addition the DR benefits from 8 international airports hosting cheap direct flights from USA, Canada, UK, Europe, Russia and many other sun-hungry countries. International airports serving prime tourist areas are Punta Cana (PUJ), Puerto Plata (POP), Samana el Catey (AZS) and La Romana (LRM).

Watersports beaches in Cabarete, Dominican Republic

Cabarete, a fun watersports mecca on the Atlantic Ocean with plenty of accommodation choice.

On the Atlantic coast the Samana Peninsula protects and calms a large body of water that is home to a couple of spectacular, tranquil beaches such as Cayo Levantado (photo and information lower down the page) and Playa Rincón. Rincón is on the inside of the Samana peninsula, backed by the massive cliffs of Cape Cabrón and consequently difficult to get to but once you’re there it’s la creme de la creme, one of the Dominican Republic’s outstanding white sand beaches embraced by startling turquoise waters. However, it is lacking facilities (and hawkers! ) so bring everything you need to this true paradise beach.

Down south in the full-on Caribbean there are a couple of pretty good beaches at Bayahibe near La Romana and there is one world-class beach, Boca Chica, with all the assets you could ask for – powder sand, light turquoise water, coral reefs, palm trees. But it’s not only adjacent to a small urban area but also just 20 miles from the country’s capital, Santo Domingo, so the beach is absolutely packed at weekends and during holidays and lined with tacky stalls and noisy cafés and bars.

Sosua beach, Dominican Republic, Caribbean

Sosua beach, nice but quite small, on the north coast between Cabarete and Puerto Plata.

Best time to visit Dom Rep

The best time to visit the DR is November-May, when the weather is calm and reasonably dry, with occasional showers, low humidity and less mosquitoes.
The very best time is February-April, warmer, less crowded and less expensive, apart from February which is Carnival month, with costume parades and varied bizarre celebrations across the island. La Vega is famously boisterous. Events generally climax on Dominican Independence Day, February 27th.
Mid-January to mid-March is also a whale of a time in Samana bay as North Atlantic humpbacks congregate there to mate and entertain thousands of visitors, from shore or boat tours.

The worst time is late July-October when humidity and mosquito-count is high, severe storms are possible, sea will be rough, water visibility poor and beaches strewn with debris.

The DR has a slightly different climate from most of the Caribbean since its north side faces the Atlantic Ocean, but it’s still humid and tropical with average highs of 28C (82F) – 31C (87F) and lows of 21C (71F) – 23C (75F) on the coasts; highs of up to 40C (104F) can occur in sheltered valleys.
Up in the mountains the temperatures are significantly lower and can plummet to 0C (32F) in winter at the highest point, Pico Duarte (3098m).
January and February are the coolest months of the year, while August is the hottest month.

The wet season along the north coast (e. g. Puerta Plata, Samana, Cabarete) may stretch into December or even January, though it’s likely to be just brief daily showers, but the rest of the country gets a traditional Caribbean wet season from May to October/November, with May being the wettest month.
Tropical storms are most likely between August and October. The last time a serious hurricane struck the country was in 1979.

The capital city, Santo Domingo, a port on the south coast.

The Catedral Primada de America in Santo Domingo’s historic Zona Colonial was the first cathedral built in the ‘New World’, a magnificent edifice loaded with history and interest and surrounded by pastel-coloured homes built in the 1500s, sadly infested with assorted, touts, louts, pickpockets and demanding ‘guides’.

Cayo Levantado, Dominican Republic, Caribbean

Cayo Levantado (Bacardi Island), a 15 minute boat ride from Samana.

Cayo Levantado is one of those attractions that some love and some hate, depending on whether you spend time on the private beach run by Gran Bahia Principe (the DR’s only luxury resort on its own island) or the public beach! The hotel’s beach is lovely white sand though not powder, and the water a very clear blue-green. Non-resident tourists travel there on various transport systems including a popular catamaran.
However the public beach section is unmanicured and strewn with flotsam and jetsam while roving hawkers know they have you trapped!

• The other popular island trip is to a really tiny stretch of sand called Paradise Island, near Puerto Plata. Not much more than 80m long the strip of dazzling white sand is home to a handful of shacks offering varied services and lapped by crystal clear water. Swimming and snorkeling is fantastic though the bus ride to get there is arduous.

Getting There

DR is the most popular charter destination in the Caribbean – in season – with direct flights from the UK to various airports around the country in around 9 hours. There are 8 international airports in DR.
You can also find many flights from Europe to DR via Madrid or Paris. Avoid Jet Lag and DVT.

From the US, you can fly from New York, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, Philadelphia, San Juan, Atlanta Boston, or Charlotte in just two or three hours. From Canada’s Toronto there are also direct flights.

Tourist from most countries need to buy a tourist card (visa) – valid for 30 days – on arrival at any airport in the Republica Dominicana. It costs $10.

Domestic Transport

Buses: Long distance buses are good value in Dominican Republic. They are reliable, clean, safe, air-conditioned, usually show ancient movies and are not expensive.

Guagua: Local buses are more likely to be converted vans or trucks called Guaguas. They are traditional, safe from a thievery point of view though not exactly comfortable, they cram people in on whatever route they ply, charge little and are a fun way to meet local people.

Taxis: Taxi services have a problem with unlicensed drivers who can be looking for more than just a fare. Either find an official taxi at a hotel or identify a reliable one by a photo-license around his neck and clean, air-conditioned vehicle. Then negotiate a price for your destination before you leave.

Car hire

This is a developing country so expect some roads to be in very poor condition, though there are a couple of fine highways too.
Try to avoid driving after dark as this is an especially dangerous time because. . .
a) there tends to be a lot of drinking driving which is not penalised in DR, unless it’s a professional driver or tourist!
b) local vehicles with few or no lights are commonplace and difficult to spot, especially motorcycles.
c) pedestrians or their beasts have an unfortunate habit of lurching across roads and highways at night, drunk or not, and are very difficult to see.

A short history of Dominican Republic

Columbus landed here in 1492, not on what is now known as the USA, though DR was – and still is – geologically the North American continent.
The ‘new’ country was named Hispaniola and today’s capital city, Santo Domingo, was Europe’s first permanent settlement in the ‘New World’.
The DR gained independence in 1821 after a number of invasive interludes, including rule by the French and Haitians. And on the subject of invasive, the Spanish wiped out thousands of the original settlers here – the Tainos – when they moved in.

The local language is Spanish, though people in tourist-related industries speak fair English; the country is called Republica Dominicana in Spanish.
Thanks to the Spanish colonialists almost 70 % of the population are Roman Catholics and the local currency is the Dominican Peso, though US$ are acceptable in most places.

Food in the Dominican Republic

Dinner on the beach in Cabarete, north coast.

Dining in DR is likely to be filling but not what you might call haute-cusine. Like much of the Caribbean meals lean towards rice, beans, and seafood or meat, and somewhat lack in dairy products or vegetables, but Dominicana’s do like their tropical fruit and sweet desserts. In fact they like them very sweet indeed. Ever tried Dulce de Leche? Basically it’s boiled condensed milk until it firms up a bit. Sugar rush? I was out of the restaurant and into the sea in 9. 8 seconds! And that’s just one of the offerings.
After the meal comes the pain as they hit you with 16% goverment tax, 10% service charge and another 10% if you’re (very) happy with your waiter/waitress.

BTW, don’t drink local tap water, don’t brush your teeth in it, don’t wash your vegetables in it! Unless you’re staying in a luxury hotel. Ice too is suspect, outside upmarket establishments. All raw foodstuffs consumed in your room, unless peeled, should be at least rinsed with boiled or bottled water unless you like to spend a lot of time in the bathroom. True, my daughter spends a lot of time in the bathroom, but not sitting down moaning.


Note that DR is a poor country in spite of the lavish tourist income. Holiday resorts are perfectly safe but some city suburbs should be avoided, especially after dark when many streets are unlit (either permanently or temporarily by power outages) and rateros may take advantager of unwary turistas.
Areas of Santo Domingo that are considered safe for foreign travelers are Zona Metropolitana and Zona Colonial. Don’t wander around elsewhere in the city, particularly if you’re drunk or elaborately dressed, or both. Take an official, marked taxi with a license hanging around his neck. If there’s a problem contact Politur, the tourist police.