Dominican Republic Guide, Caribbean
A beach ball in the Dominican Republic, Caribbean
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.
Dominican Republic map of best beaches and tourist destinations.
The left/west side of this island is Haiti, marked by a jagged grey line. The right/east side is the Dominican Republic.
Haiti is desperately poor and like most neighbouring countries there are long-term relationship issues. Some estimate that there are up to one million Haitians living illegally in the DR.
The next island east is Puerto Rico, US territory, a 12 hour ferry ride for hardened travelers with time to kill and certainly way cheaper than taking a flight. West of Haiti are Cuba and Jamaica.
Note that the waters off the north coast of DR are the Atlantic Ocean, not the Caribbean Sea, so will be cooler than the south or even east shores.
Zoom in on the map to see Samana (the two-fingered peninsula on the north coast) and Cabarete (just to the right of Sosua).
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.
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.
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.
And after all that activity have a few drinks in a quiet beach bar. . .
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.