Whether you’re simply considering a trip to the Dominican Republic or you have a trip planned for Spring Break or for a family getaway, these travel tips for the Dominican Republic will ensure you’re well prepared for whatever trip you are planning!
My trip to the Dominican Republic was my first visit to a Caribbean island and I didn’t entirely know what to expect. Since I’ve lived in Honduras I had a good idea about certain things (e.g. PACK BUG REPELLENT!) but I definitely learned a lot in the country. So thanks to both my successes and my mistakes, here are my Dominican Republic travel tips for you!
Travel tips for the Dominican Republic
Things to know before you go to the Dominican Republic
What currency do they use?
I will cover currency and changing money in more detail below under ‘money matters’, but the basics of it is that the Dominican Republic uses the Dominican peso (different from a peso in other countries like Mexico, Argentina or Colombia).
You can also pay in US dollars in shops (usually getting RD$ as change unless specifically requested otherwise) but generally you will end up paying more if you pay in dollars. The rate of US dollars to the peso (DOP or RD$) is around 50-51 pesos to the dollar, which is the easiest exchange rate to work with in my experience.
Other exchange rates (as of March 2019) include 57 pesos to the Euro, 67 pesos to the pound (GBP), 36 pesos to the Australian dollar and 38 pesos to the Canadian dollar.
Visas and vaccinations
If you’re a citizen of the UK or anywhere within the EU you are exempt from needing a visa to enter the Dominican Republic for a stay of up to 60 days. Citizens of the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are also exempt from requiring a visa. If you plan to stay for longer than 60 days, check on your government’s website (e.g. Gov.uk’s Foreign Travel Advice if you’re a British citizen).
There are a total of 107 countries whose citizens do not require a visa for the Dominican Republic (also including other European countries such as Andorra, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Macedonia, Norway, Russia, San Marina, Serbia, Switzerland, and the Vatican City). For a full list of visa exempt countries, head to the official site of the consulate.
In terms of vaccinations, the Dominican Republic is generally a fairly safe country to visit. You should be up to date with your routine vaccinations and Travel Health Pro (part of NHS UK) recommends vaccinations against Hepatitis A, Typhoid, and Tetanus. Check with your doctor to find out which vaccinations you may need (for example, I didn’t need any vaccinations since I am up to date with my routine ones and I’ve had all the others in the past for travel to Ghana and Honduras).
They have more than just beaches
Moving away from the more ‘serious’ (but important) topics of visas and vaccinations, it’s high time to mention that the Dominican Republic is way more than just beaches and all-inclusive resorts. There’s so much more to the country than partying in Punta Cana!
From the highest mountains in the Caribbean to the shortest river in the world (or so they claim), from beautiful cenotes to lagoons surrounded by mangroves and from a 1,700 square kilometre national park that’s home to flamingos, iguanas and more awesome wildlife to spectacular waterfalls… there is something for everyone in the Dominican Republic!
Planning for your trip
There are some travel tips for the Dominican Republic you should definitely be aware of when planning your trip! I will cover more about getting around the country in another section below (in ‘Getting around the Dominican Republic’) but here are some useful tips to know when planning and organising your trip.
PS: Not sure what to include on your packing list? Check out my guide on packing for the Dominican Republic!
Book your first night’s accommodation in advance
I’m going to assume here that most people will book their accommodation in advance anyway but if you’re more of a spontaneous soul, make sure you at least book accommodation for your first night as you will need to declare your address in the Dominican Republic on the immigration form.
Make sure to make a note of the address (or just the hotel name) so you can fill out the form while you’re on the plane! If you’re flying into Santo Domingo, I highly recommend Casa Sanchez, Billini Hotel and Hotel Nicolas de Ovando. You can even use HotelTonight to get a great deal on a hotel in Santo Domingo or Punta Cana if you want to stay flexible!
Getting to and from the airport
Whether you’re flying into Santo Domingo or Punta Cana or another airport in the Dominican Republic, I would highly recommend booking an airport transfer to your hotel in advance. Look for reputable, well-recommended companies (e.g. Amstar is highly recommended by other travellers) – Amstar offers rates of around US$57 for a private transfer from SQD (Santo Domingo Airport) to the city, which is fairly pricy (in my personal opinion). You can also take one of their shuttle transfers (shared with guests from nearby resorts) for US$34 per person one way. They also only have a limited selection of hotels (they generally only transfer to the big resorts) so they are probably best if a) you’re staying in one of these resorts and b) you’re a larger group (the car takes up to six people). They also offer transfers from the airports in Samana, La Romana, Puerto Plata and Punta Cana.
- Meet and greet service at the airport
- English speaking representative will meet you/accompany you on the transfer
- Can pre-book
- Free WiFi in the car/shuttle
- Pricy (when compared to Uber)
- Limited hotel options – mostly serve the big resorts
An alternative is to use Uber – the airport promotes the app quite heavily (it will save you from being hassled and/or scammed out of a high price by the taxi drivers outside the airport) and even offers a $70 (that’s RD$, so about US$1.30, before you get too excited) credit with the code ‘WELCOMEDR’ (valid as of March 27th 2019). The price for a taxi from the airport in Santo Domingo to Zona Colonial (where most hotels tend to be) is around RD$500-600, or US$10-12.
- Cheaper than an airport transfer (and the airport taxis)
- Much more cost effective for smaller groups (e.g. individuals/couples)
- Can take you to any destination (not limited to certain hotels/resorts)
- The driver may not speak English
- You cannot pre-book, only book it at the airport (unknown availability of cars)
- No meet and greet in the airport
Tipping in the Dominican Republic
I feel like tipping is always one of those confusing aspects of travelling to another country! How much should I tip in a restaurant? Who do I tip in a hotel? Do I tip on a tour or excursion?
In the Dominican Republic, tips are generally given for good service. The word for tip is ‘propina’, and you are usually expected to give tips in restaurants, hotels, on tours and excursions and at the airport in certain cases. Wages in the Dominican Republic are fairly low so if you enjoyed your meal, had good service or someone helped you out it’s generally a courtesy to leave a tip.
You can leave a tip either in Dominican pesos or in US dollars. If leaving a tip in dollars, make sure to only leave notes as they are unable to spend or exchange coins so they are basically worthless to them. I found it easier to use pesos for smaller amounts (e.g. under $10) and dollars for larger amounts ($10+) but it depends entirely on your preference.
In the case of a restaurant, a good amount to tip is 10% if you enjoyed it. You can tip more (15%+) if it was seriously incredible or they went above and beyond with their service though! Just make sure to check that there hasn’t been an automatic gratuity added to your bill first, so you don’t end up tipping twice. If your bill has ‘propina’ or ‘servicio’ on it, the gratuity is already included. However, this often doesn’t actually end up going to the waiters so you can always ask to pay without service charge and leave a tip separately (or just tip your server directly).
In a bar or cafe, you can leave a tip of RD$50-100, especially if you had excellent service.
In a hotel or resort, it’s generally considered polite to tip if someone helped you (e.g. porters who carried your bags to your room). You can tip RD$50-100 or so, although it is not automatically expected since they are employees of the hotel. It is also suggested to leave a tip for housekeeping of around RD$100 per night but make sure to include a note that specifies that is what this money is for (they need the note to prove to security that it is a tip). You can also tip if you order room service although you should double check that this isn’t included on the bill already – the general tip amount is usually around RD$100-250 depending on how much you ordered.
If you use a spa in a hotel (or any other spa), you can leave a tip there as well. For example, if you have a massage at the spa in your hotel you can leave a 10-20% tip for your masseuse. Double check again that this isn’t already included (they usually aren’t at spas).
If you go on a tour or excursion (such as one we did in Jamao al Norte, kayaking down the Rio Yasica), it’s polite to tip at the end to your guides if you enjoyed the tour. We also left a tip after a boat trip at Laguna de Oviedo, as a thank you for our guide and captain who operated the boat. The tip generally depends on the price of the tour, how helpful and good your guides were and so on. A generally accepted amount is around $25 for a tour guide for the entire day (RD$1250) and $10 for the driver (RD$500). A lot of people forget to tip the driver so make sure to remember them too!
Finally, tipping your taxi driver is usually not expected unless they go out of their way to help (e.g. helping with your bags or is particularly helpful and friendly), so around 10% of the fare is often considered polite.
Exchanging money in the Dominican Republic
Another very common question is about what currency to take to the Dominican Republic. The easiest way is to take dollars with you and exchange them once you’re in the country. How many dollars to take will depend on what you have planned and what you already have booked (e.g. hotels paid in advance or whether you need to pay at check-in) as well as how long you are staying in the country.
You can withdraw money at banks with your card when you are in the Dominican Republic (or pay by card) but I would recommend to predominantly use cash as there are some reports of credit card fraud and cloning. If you do use a cash machine (cajero automático), make sure to use one that’s inside a bank just to be safe.
The most reliable banks for cash machines tend to be Banco Popular, Banco Progreso, BanReservas, Banco León and Scotiabank and they usually charge an ATM fee (often around RD$200). Some have annoyingly low withdrawal limits, such as BanReservas (RD$2000 or US$40) and Banco Progreso (RD$4000 or US$80) so make sure you won’t be charged really high fees by your bank every time you need to withdraw a small amount.
Use a card like WeSwap to pay only a small transaction fee on ATM withdrawals and card payments abroad – get a £10 bonus when you load your first £50 to your card!
I would recommend exchanging the dollars you’ll need for your first day at the airport or online in advance (e.g. using Travelex) and then waiting until you get to the city and can go to a cambio to exchange the rest of the dollars you’ll need for pesos. Check with your hotel to find a reputable money exchange (cambio) as you will get a better rate here than at a bank. When you exchange your money, make sure to count it out yourself in front of the clerk before you leave just to ensure there haven’t been any mistakes.
Note: when taking Dominican pesos with you into the country, you cannot be carrying more than 20,00o pesos (around £330 or US$400) as it is a restricted currency.
You can also exchange euro for pesos (and in some places other currencies, although this is less common and you’re more likely to get a worse rate) but in general, I would recommend taking US dollars and exchange currency once you are in the country.
SIM Card for the Dominican Republic
WiFi is fairly easy to come by about the Dominican Republic but is not always reliable, even in hotels and restaurants. Since SIM cards are so cheap, I would highly recommend getting one for the duration of your trip so you always have a connection. For using a Dominican SIM, make sure that your phone is unlocked, otherwise, you won’t be able to use a SIM card for a different network.
The best network for the Dominican Republic is Claro, with the best coverage around the country. You can purchase a data packet that includes unlimited internet for 5 days (RS$140 or around US$3). You will need to buy a SIM card separately (usually can be done in the same purchase) at RS$150 and you need to present your passport when purchasing it.
You can find a Claro store in the airport at Santo Domingo and Punta Cana, as well as in most cities. In the cities I would recommend going to the main Claro store rather than a small vendor as often you can only ‘recargar’ (load more money/data/other packets) SIM cards rather than purchasing a new SIM card.
Food and drink in the Dominican Republic
In short, tap water in the Dominican Republic is not drinkable. Even locals don’t drink the tap water and opt for bottled water instead.
The best option is to take a water bottle with you (such as this stainless steel 22oz water bottle that can keep your drink cold for up to 24 hours) and then purchase large bottles of water (e.g. 1 litre+ bottles) to refill it with.
Most hotels will have a fridge in the rooms so you can keep the water chilled or you can just request ice in most restaurants. A lot of hotels will also give you small water bottles as well so if you only use water coolers (which some hotels will have) or larger bottles of water this will help to reduce your plastic use.
Sustainability (plastic use)
This might seem like an odd section to be in ‘food and drink’ but, during my stay in the Dominican Republic, I noticed a huge overuse in single-use plastic as well as excessive plastic waste and lack of recycling. It’s also exacerbated by the number of cocktails served in all-inclusive resorts (which are inevitably served with two straws in each drink) as well as most hotels offering one or two bottles of water to hotel guests.
Now I’m not saying that tourists (or cocktails) are the problem, but there are a few ways you can try and limit your plastic use while you’re visiting this beautiful country.
- When you order a cocktail, request to not have a straw. Very few hotels, resorts and bars use non-plastic straws and the only one we found was Natura Cabana in Cabarete (yay for paper straws). To say without a straw in Dominican Spanish, you can say ‘sin calimete‘ (pronounced like ‘sin cal-ee-MEH-tay).
- As well as requesting no straw, you can also take your own reusable drinking straw to use (e.g. a bamboo straw or metal straw).
- Take your own reusable water bottle and refill from large bottles or water coolers at hotels
- Take your own reusable coffee mug and/or drinking cup. Some bars and hotels use single-use plastic cups for coffee or for drinks when outside/by the pool.
If you stay in a hotel or resort that uses a lot of straws or single-use plastic cups, feel free to mention to reception or management (if you can) that you would prefer them to use non-plastic straws or to use reusable glasses and mugs. If just a few people start mentioning this, then they’re much more likely to change!
We mentioned this at a resort since they were using single-use plastic cups in their restaurant and the next mealtime they gave us glasses instead – success!
The main local spirits in the Dominican Republic are rum (my favourite) and the local ‘schnapps’ type liqueur, Mamajuana. The most popular local brands of rum are Brugal (founded 1888 in Puerto Plata), Barceló (founded in 1929 in Santo Domingo), Bermudez (founded 1852), Siboney (founded 1920 in Santo Domingo), Macorix, Punta Cana, Cubaney and Vizcaya.
The most popular rum with the locals seems to be Brugal, and the best one to buy is generally considered to be Brugal XV. You can even tour the Brugal rum factory in Puerto Plata and do a tasting of the different rums. Don’t forget to enjoy a few Cuba Libres (coke, rum and lime) while you’re in the Dominican Republic!
Words to know when buying rum:
- Añejo – aged (usually 1-3 years)
- Gran Añejo – more aged (3+ years)
- Blanco – white
- Viejo – old (similar word to aged)
- Especiado – spiced
The indigenous local liqueur is called Mamajuana (or Mama Juana). You can buy bottles of the liqueur pre-made or buy a bottle with the tree bark and herbs and then add the alcohol yourselves. The drink originates from the Taíno people, the indigenous people of the Dominican Republic. Mamajuana is considered to be one of the first distilled spirits in the Americas, even before rum!
So, what exactly is Mamajuana? The tree bark and herbs originate from a type of herbal tea that the Taíno people made and to make the liqueur you add red wine, rum and honey. Rumoured to be an aphrodisiac (or, as the man trying to sell Scott a bottle of it, good for ‘boogie boogie’) and also thought to have medicinal benefits (in theory a flu remedy, digestion aid, blood cleanser, kidney tonic and more). Whether it is or isn’t, it’s pretty tasty and a must try when you’re in the Dominican Republic!
Foods you must try
My main recommendation of food to try in the Dominican Republic is the delicious dish called mofongo. If you’re vegetarian (or don’t eat pork), then this sadly isn’t for you although some restaurants do make alternative versions (e.g. Mercado Colon offers versions made with chicken or beef brisket and I believe you can find vegetarian versions in some places!). The traditional Dominican form of mofongo is mashed fried (or sometimes boiled) plantain (plátano) flavoured with garlic and salt with pork crackling (chicharrón).
My favourite mofongo was at Adrian Tropical in Santo Domingo – it was delicious! Served with a small quantity of stew/broth-like soup (sancocho) to be used as a sauce, I will definitely be back there for mofongo if I’m in the Dominican Republic. Delicious!
Another food you can’t miss when in the Dominican Republic is mangú. This is usually eaten for breakfast and mangú itself is mashed plantain (but no, it’s not mofongo!). It is generally served together with fried Dominican salami (salchichón), eggs (also usually fried) and fried cheese (queso frito). Consider it the Dominican fry up!
The very classic side dishes of Dominican meals generally include white rice (arroz blanco) and stewed beans (habichuelas guisadas) or fried plantain (tostones). You generally put the rice on your plate and top it with the stewed beans – it’s delicious! This is generally the main side dish for meat (e.g. braised chicken or ‘pollo guisado‘, another classic and delicious staple) although sometimes you will be served fried plantain (or yuca).
If you go somewhere where they serve traditional ‘homecooked’ meals (we did this on our e-bike tour of Santo Domingo Norte) you may even be lucky enough to try concón, which is the delicious crunchy rice formed at the bottom of the pot. This may sound strange but it is seriously good, especially with your habichuelas guisadas!
The Dominican Republic is also excellent for fish, such as bacalao (codfish with onion, pepper and garlic) and the classic pescado frito (fried fish), which is usually the catch of the day (we commonly had red snapper) which is fried and served with tostones and a lemon. We enjoyed a delicious pescado frito on the beach at Playa Grande in Río San Juan – delicious!
How to get around the Dominican Republic
There are a whole host of ways to get around the Dominican Republic, from hiring a car and driving to taking a bus or taxi. However, the best ways to get around the country depend entirely on where you want to go and how much you want to pay.
Driving in the Dominican Republic
Now, before I go more in-depth into driving in the Dominican Republic I feel like I should point out that Dominicans drive like they have a death wish. Not even kidding, the roads are crazy. The country is actually the second highest for road deaths in the world, beating places like Libya, Thailand, Venezuela, Nigeria and even Iraq.
While speed limits do exist in the Dominican Republic, it’s fairly rare for them to be followed (or enforced). However, the country is making serious headway in trying to curb speeding and other crazy driving and on many busy roads (and touristy roads) you will find military police who will enforce speed limits and other road laws.
I would suggest driving in the Dominican Republic only if you are a very confident driver, especially on the right-hand side of the road (e.g. it’s easier for those from the US or Europe than the UK, New Zealand and Australia).
The main form of public transport in the Dominican Republic are privately owned vans (basically a minibus) called a ‘guagua’. This is pronounced somewhere between ‘gwa-gwa’ and ‘wa-wa’, but if you just say ‘wa-wa’ (with a long a) you’ll definitely be understood.
So, what is a guagua? Basically, these minivans/minibuses have seats for around 10 people… and inevitably fit closer to 20 people instead. They are the standard form of transport for locals (aside from driving) and you may get a few odd looks because it’s not super common for foreigners to travel by guagua!
They are the cheapest way of getting around the country, with rides generally costing less than 100 pesos (e.g. Cabarete to Puerto Plata for 50 pesos). Make sure to confirm the price with the driver first! If you don’t (and they can tell you aren’t a local), they will usually tell you that it’s double or quadruple the normal price. You should also have the exact amount in cash as they definitely don’t take card payments and usually won’t give change either.
Travelling by guagua is also a great way to practice your Spanish as generally the drivers won’t speak English. Phrases like ‘how much to (destination)’ will be very useful!
You can also find buses more like Greyhound and National Express, with more comfortable seats, toilets and air conditioning. Unlike guaguas, the long distance buses generally don’t pick up and drop off in the centre of the city. Most of the main bus stations aren’t central so you may need to grab a taxi or Uber to your precise destination.
The main carriers include Caribe Tours, Metro and Capital Coach Lines. Capital Coach Lines only serve the route of Santo Domingo to Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
- Santo Domingo – Samaná (RD$400 with Caribe)
- Santo Domingo – Puerto Plata (RD$400-450 with Caribe, RD$425 with Metro)
- Santo Domingo – Santiago (RD$300 with Caribe, RD$380 with Metro)
- Santo Domingo – Nagua (RD$375 with Caribe)
- Santo Domingo – Barahona (RD$350 with Caribe)
- Santiago – Puerto Plata (RD$130 with Caribe, RD$180 with Metro)
- Monte Cristi – Santo Domingo (RD$400 with Caribe)
- Samaná – Nagua (RD$130 with Caribe)
Caribe Tours and Metro also offer services that go to Haiti. Metro is considered a little more luxurious than Caribe (hence higher prices) and I’ve been informed they even offer complimentary cookies and coffee! Caribe is the national carrier and offers reliable services and the buses are air-conditioned, have toilets and also show bilingual films.
Other bus services include Expreso Bávaro (Bavaro Express) which serves Santo Domingo to and from Punta Cana.
To get to La Romana, Expreso Romana goes from Calle Caracas in Santo Domingo and costs around $150-200. You simply buy your ticket on the bus from the driver and hop on!
For travelling to and from Las Terrenas, you will need to travel with Asotrapusa. They do a route that covers Santo Domingo – Las Terrenas – Samaná and costs in the region of RD$300.
Another way of getting around the Dominican Republic is by taxi. They are generally pretty expensive for long distances, but if your destination is not served by a long distance bus and you can’t find a guagua (or don’t fancy it) you will be able to get there by taxi or – in some case – by Uber.
For example, getting to Bahia de las Aguilas is practically impossible by public transport. You either need to drive, be on a guided tour or take public transport up until Barahona and then take a taxi from there. The bus to Barahona from Santo Domingo is RD$350 (approximately US$7) or you can make a longer journey out of it and stop in Azua to visit their beautiful colonial city and stunning beaches on the way.
- Santo Domingo – Barahona (4h15 – RD$350)
- Santo Domingo – Azua (3h15 – RD$150)
- Azua – Barahona (1h30 – RD$225)
Barahona to Bahia de las Aguilas is around US$60-70 by taxi and will take approximately 3 hours. As I said before – taxis aren’t cheap!
When taking taxis in the Dominican Republic, make sure to ask and confirm the price (feel free to barter – they always have ‘tourist prices’) before getting in. It’s not fun to be told a price triple what you expected when you get to your destination!
Does the Dominican Republic have Uber?
The quick answer – yes! They do have Uber and they advertise it heavily at the airports. The price for an Uber from the airport in Santo Domingo to most hotels in Zona Colonial is around RD$500-600 or approximately US$10-12.
Uber is not available everywhere and has the best availability in Santo Domingo. However, you can also use it in other cities like Santiago de los Cavalleros and Puerto Plata. For example, getting from Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo to Boca Chica is around RD$650-800 and from Puerto Plata to Cabarete is around RD$700-900.
Get RS$70 credit with the code ‘WELCOMEDR’!
Motorcycle taxis (motoconchos)
Another way of getting around cities (particularly Santo Domingo, Puerto Plata and Jarabacoa) is by motorcycle taxi, also know as motoconchos. They are the quickest way of getting around the cities but also the most dangerous. While they are supposed to provide helmets (by law), many do not. I would recommend not travelling by motoconcho in the centre of cities or in heavy traffic!
However, they are a great form of getting around in smaller mountain towns like in Jarabacoa or Constanza as it’s a great way to see the scenery go by!
Ask at your hotel for the motoconcho hub or a referral to a specific one. The official drivers should be wearing neon vests (hi-vis) as well. Confirm the destination and price first and try to have the exact money!
Instead of taking a private taxi, why not be more local and go for a shared taxi? Also known as carrito-conchos, carritos or just conchos, these are basically small guaguas. They usually will have set routes and you can request to stop anywhere on the route. Think of it as a little bit like an UberPOOL…
Usually, fares will be around RD$25-50 so they are definitely cheaper than a private taxi, especially if you are travelling solo!
Things to know about the Dominican Republic
Wow, these travel tips for the Dominican Republic ended up a lot longer than my original plans! This section is basically for everything I couldn’t fit into another section, so… it’s a bit of a random gathering of a few fun things to know about the country and also a few more tips that you will need when travelling there.
I probably should have included this in ‘money matters’ but I feel like it covers multiple sections anyway. Much like in other Caribbean countries, bartering in the Dominican Republic is pretty much a given.
Souvenir shop? Barter. Taxi? Barter. Markets? Barter. Supermarket? I’m just kidding, don’t try and barter in the supermarket. That would be weird.
There is no one better at bartering than my own mother. It’s quite entertaining, really. If something seems too expensive (or even if it doesn’t, to be honest) she will let the vendor know.
A few tips on bartering:
- Be able to barter in the language
- Know approximately what price it should be
- Don’t be afraid to walk away
Useful phrases for bartering in Spanish include “cuánto cuesta?” (how much), “muy caro” (very/too expensive), “solo tengo…” (I only have…).
For example, you walk into a souvenir shop and want to buy a Larimar necklace. Some shops may have prices on them and others won’t. Whether it does or doesn’t, ask the vendor ‘cuánto cuesta?’. They will give you a price (sometimes on a calculator if they can tell your Spanish isn’t great). Let’s say they tell you it’s 600 pesos. If you’re feeling that the price is very high, offer half. ‘Trescientos pesos’. If they stick to 600, maybe try cuatrocientos (400) or quincientos (500). I would never pay the price they tell me because that is definitely the ‘tourist price’!
We had one in Santo Domingo where we were looking at a bracelet and asked how much it was. The guy told us 13,000 pesos!! At first, I thought I had misunderstood (maybe he said 1,300 pesos…) and then he typed it on a calculator. Nope, he was saying it was 13,000 pesos or US$250! Not a chance, man. We told him this was WAY too expensive (no gracias, es muy caro) and immediately he dropped the price to 10,000 pesos ($200). I couldn’t even be bothered to barter because he had clearly noticed I had a decent camera (we had just come from doing a shoot at the cathedral) and thought I had money to burn. We went to another shop and came out with our 600 peso necklace down to 450 pesos (US$9). Much better.
I later checked online to see how much a similar bracelet might cost. Buying a Larimar bracelet (made with 925 silver) from an online store with free worldwide shipping and with a guarantee of authenticity cost only US$139. Practically half the price the vendor had quoted us plus we would have guaranteed authenticity of the silver and of the Larimar. Crazy!
Fun facts about the Dominican Republic
I have SO MANY fun facts about the Dominican Republic so I’m only going to regale you with a few of my favourites here. I might actually write an entire post with my fun facts so let me know if that would be of interest!
Highest mountains in the Caribbean
Pico Duarte is the only mountain in the Caribbean to exceed 3,000m and is – yes, you guessed it – in the Dominican Republic. At an elevation of 3,098m or 10,164 ft, it is part of the Cordillera Central Range which stretches from near Baní in the Dominican Republic to northwestern Haiti.
You can hike this peak and the most common trailhead is from the town of La Ciénaga, near Jarabacoa. There is another trailhead near San Juan de la Maguana which is the starting point of a four-day/three-night hike that summits Pico Duarte and ends at La Ciénaga – local Dominicans run hiking trips on this trail but it should only be done by experienced hikers who are fluent in Spanish.
The second-highest mountain in the Caribbean is also located in the Dominican Republic, which is Loma Alto de la Bandera and is found in Valle Nuevo National Park. This peak stands at a height of 2,842m!
The five highest mountains in the Caribbean are all located on the island of Hispaniola – the top two as I mentioned above in the Dominican Republic, numbers 3 and 4 in Haiti and the fifth highest also in the Dominican Republic.
Highest waterfall in the Caribbean
Beating the other Caribbean islands again, the Dominican Republic is home to the highest waterfall in the Caribbean! Salto de la Jalda is the highest waterfall in the country and the entire Caribbean at just under 400 ft (393 ft).
However, it’s no easy feat to get to Salto de la Jalda and you will need to go with a local guide and be prepared for a hike – from the small community of Magua it’s around 13km to get to the waterfall.
Oldest cathedral in the Americas
Yep, check out the Dominican Republic just taking aaaaallllll of the awards. As well as being home to the (two) highest mountains in the Caribbean and the highest waterfall in the Caribbean… it’s also home to the first cathedral, first university, first paved street AND first hospital in the Americas. As in, the ENTIRE American continent (North and South America). Not bad!
The first cathedral in the Americas is the Basilica Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, located in the Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo. Construction of the cathedral began in 1512 and it was completed in 1541. It’s definitely somewhere you need to visit if you’re in Santo Domingo!
First university in the Americas
Santo Domingo was also home to the first university in the Americas – Universidad Santo Tomás de Aquino, founded in 1538. However, this university closed in 1823 during the Haitian occupation of Santo Domingo, when all students were ordered into military service.
The Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo) is the successor of this university, established in 1866. This university also had a turbulent time as it was forced to close during the US occupation from 1916-1924 and was unable to operate independently during the dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo from 1930 until 1961.
The next oldest universities in the Americas are the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, or the National University of San Marcos in Lima, which was founded in 1551, and the Real y Pontificia Universidad de México in Mexico City, also founded in 1551. The university in Lima is the oldest continuously operating university in the Americas.
First hospital in the Americas
Okay, so most of the ‘firsts’ happening in Santo Domingo have one thing to blame – Santo Domingo was the first colonial settlement in the Americas. So no wonder most of the firsts are happening here! It still makes it all pretty epic, though.
I actually mentioned the oldest hospital all the way back at the beginning… which you probably skipped or had entirely forgotten. It is the beautiful Hospital San Nicolás de Bari, also located in the Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo. You can visit the ruins of this hospital completely free of charge – they’re amazing to wander around!
The hospital was built in stages from 1502 until 1552 and was likely modelled on the Hospital of Sancto Spiritu in Rome, and then used as a model for other hospitals throughout Spanish America such as the Hospital de la Concepción in Mexico.
First paved street in the Caribbean
Calle las Damas or ‘Street of the Ladies’ was the first paved street in the Caribbean and all of the Americas – so named because María de Toledo and her ladies would step out of the palace (Alcazar de Colón) and stroll up and down Calle Las Damas in the evenings.
It is lined with important historic buildings, including the Alcazar (oldest viceregal palace in the Americas) as well as Fortaleza Ozama, the oldest fortress in the New World.
Merengue originated from here
If you’ve heard of merengue, then you should know that it actually originates from the Dominican Republic! Merengue is a type of music and dance that was first mentioned in the middle of the 19th century. Strangely enough, it became popular during the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, who was a big fan of merengue and who turned it into the national music and dance of the country.
Merengue is definitely a dance to learn when you’re in the Dominican Republic!
Larimar can only be found here
The beautiful blue stone of Larimar is a rare blue variety of pectolite and is found only in the Dominican Republic. The name ‘Larimar’ is a compound of two words – the daughter’s name of the man who discovered the stone (Larissa) and ‘mar’ (Spanish for sea) as he felt the colour reflected the Caribbean sea.
While Miguel Méndez is widely credited with ‘discovering’ Larimar, he technically ‘rediscovered’ the stone as it had been discovered around 60 years earlier by one Father Miguel Domingo Fuertes Loren. However, the father had requested permission to explore the mine of this blue rock but since pectolites had not yet been discovered, his request was denied and Larimar was to be ‘undiscovered’ again until 1974.
Larimar is a beautiful souvenir to take home from the Dominican Republic, whether as a necklace, bracelet or earrings. Definitely a unique souvenir or gift!
Is the Dominican Republic safe?
I wanted to leave this section until the end because I feel like a lot of the above tells you all about the country! Overall, I feel that YES the Dominican Republic is safe. However, it is best to be cautious and there are definitely things you should know.
Firstly, the people are so welcoming and friendly. We visited some rural communities in Santo Domingo Norte and everyone was so kind and welcoming to us, showing us around their farms and community. In Santiago, locals were excited to see us enjoying the incredible street art and even happy to pose their children in front of a super cute mural and let us photograph them (it was quite amusing, actually).
Poverty and crime
However, poverty is still a big problem in the Dominican Republic. 30% of the population lives in poverty. 20% live on less than US$2 a day. (Source: Borgen Magazine). One thing to be aware of is where is your money going. If you’re doing a tour that takes you to local communities (like ours to Los Morenos), check who the money is going to. Will it truly benefit the locals?
Secondly, while most people are welcoming and friendly, this (of course) does not mean that everyone will be. Pickpocketing does happen, as do muggings. Mostly ensure that you do not ‘flash’ valuables (e.g. no expensive watches, expensive jewellery, carrying lots of expensive camera gear in the open), especially at night or in remote areas.
When withdrawing money from an ATM, aim to only use a machine that is inside a bank. If this isn’t possible, use an ATM that is inside a building (e.g. inside a petrol station) as you are less likely to have your money snatched or your PIN seen and your card stolen. Also, ensure you have put all your money away safely before exiting the bank or wherever you used an ATM.
It is also a similar situation with money changing – make sure to put all your money away safely before leaving the bank or cambio. Count your money in front of the clerk, just to double check you have the exact amount you ought to.
Make sure to keep your belongings on you rather than on tables or chairs when you’re at a restaurant or bar – better safe than sorry!
Sex tourism and sexual health
The Dominican Republic has an international reputation for sex tourism, particularly in areas like Sosúa.
There is also a high prevalence of HIV and AIDS in the country, much higher than the other Caribbean or Latin American countries. Make sure to take precautions!
As I mentioned above, driving can be pretty crazy in the Dominican Republic. If you are hiring a car, make sure you have the highest insurance possible! Also, don’t forget to have good travel insurance before you travel out to the Dominican Republic.
Also, be careful in taxis and (as also mentioned above) on motoconchos. Taxis are often in a state of disrepair (we definitely saw some… interesting cars on the road) and there have been reports of theft from taxis so just stay aware.
Some roads are also in a less than great condition, particularly in more rural areas. The Foreign Office recommends not to travel outside of main cities during darkness and to be extra vigilant when travelling on roads near (or into) Haiti. There have been armed robberies on roads close to the Haitian border so only travel these roads during daylight hours and be hyper-aware of your surroundings.
Staying safe in the sun (and from bugs)
It’s pretty basic, use sun cream! This is the Caribbean and DAMN the sun is strong. Even on an overcast day you can still get burnt!
My favourite suncreams are the following:
Hawaiian Tropic Sport SPF50
SunBum Moisturising Lotion (Paraben Free and Vegan) SPF50
TIZO Tinted Face Mineral Suncream SPF40 (best for sensitive skin)
And don’t forget some after-sun lotion too!
There are also lots of mosquitos and although you aren’t at risk of malaria in the Dominican Republic, Dengue Fever is carried by mosquitos here so take precautions and keep those bugs at bay! Some of the best bug repellents are:
Sawyer Products Insect Repellent (non-DEET)
Repel Insect Repellent (pump bottle)
Don’t forget to pack something for bite relief – in my opinion, the best is always an anti-histamine cream!
Travel insurance for the Dominican Republic
Wherever you are travelling to, you should have travel insurance! The Dominican Republic is no different. Make sure to purchase travel insurance that covers all the activities you are planning to do (e.g. kayaking or horse riding) as well as covering the country itself (some insurances are ‘worldwide exc. USA, Canada and Caribbean’).
I get my travel insurance from Coverwise, who are underwritten by AXA. I use them because they are great for people with pre-existing medical conditions!
Other excellent providers include:
- AllClear (UK, great for pre-existing medical conditions and older travellers)
- M&S Travel Insurance (UK)
- Columbus Direct (UK, Europe, Middle East, Australia and New Zealand)
- John Hancock Travel (USA)
Useful words and phrases
So you made it to here! I thought I would add a few words and phrases that you may a) come across during your trip and b) require at some point. There will be a few bits of basic Spanish and the rest are words you may see and be a little curious about…
Spanish you need to know
We’ll start with the basics…
- ¡Hola! – Hello
- Buenos días – Good morning (can also be shortened to ‘buenos’)
- Buenas tardes – Good afternoon/good evening (as above, can be shorted to ‘buenas’)
- Buenas noches – Goodnight
- Gracias – Thank you (pronounced ‘GRA-see-as’)
- Adiós – Goodbye
- Hasta luego – See you later
- Hasta pronto – See you soon
- Hasta mañana – See you tomorrow
- Buen provecho – Enjoy your meal (basically ‘Bon Appetit’)
- Salud – Cheers (and you’re expected to make eye contact when cheers-ing)
- Perdón – Excuse me (e.g. to get someone’s attention)
- Permiso – Excuse me (when trying to get past, e.g. in the supermarket)
There are also a few words that are different in Dominican Spanish than ‘Spanish’ Spanish (and sometimes the Spanish in other Latin American countries).
Dominican words to know
For example, you will see the word colmado a lot. What on earth is a colmado when it’s at home?! Well, it’s the Dominican answer to a bodega, or a convenient store. The colmado also doubles as a bar at night and on Sundays – you will usually find the local colmado busy with people watching baseball on the TV on Sundays and at night merengue music playing and people sat around drinking beer or rum. You will also usually find a game of dominos being played by a group of old men, this is pretty much the signature of a good colmado.
Another (less social than the colmado…) word in Dominican Spanish is ‘cabaña‘. You may be thinking, aren’t they those wooden huts down at the beach? Well, yes… but the word ‘cabaña’ has a very different meaning in the Dominican Republic. The quickest (and easiest) explanation of a cabaña is pretty much a sex motel that you can rent by the hour, usually with set rates for four hours. Specifically, cabañas usually have a garage that you can drive your car into directly and it will then close behind you. You can then go into the room, pay the price and do your thing. Cabañas are discrete and anonymous… and this is my favourite article explaining exactly what a cabaña in the Dominican Republic is!
While most people would think to go to a bar to have a drink in the Dominican Republic, it’s pretty popular to head down to the car wash… You’re drinking your Presidente, the music is playing and after 9pm the party is ON – not in a club, not in a bar, but at a car wash. If you really want to go all out, you can even end your night with a hot wax and a hand finish. Hey, you, get your mind out of the gutter. A hand finish after they’ve cleaned your car, you dirty thing.
There is so much more I could say about the Dominican Republic but I think I have just about (in 7,000+ words, oops) covered the most important travel tips for the Dominican Republic. Do let me know in the comments in you have any questions about travelling the country, any further queries about anything I’ve mentioned or anything you think I have missed!
Do let me know if you are planning a trip to the Dominican Republic – it’s a truly incredible place!
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