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Dominican Republic travel guide - Travel S helper

Dominican Republic

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The Dominican Republic is a sovereign state that occupies the eastern two-thirds of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. Haiti occupies the western third of the island, making Hispaniola one of only two Caribbean islands, along with Saint Martin, that are shared by two nations. The Dominican Republic is the second-largest Caribbean country in terms of size (after Cuba), with 48,445 square kilometers (18,705 square miles), and third in terms of population, with 10.08 million inhabitants, roughly three million of whom reside in the capital city’s metropolitan region.

In December 6, 1492, Christopher Columbus arrived on the western portion of Hispaniola, in what is now Haiti, which had been inhabited by the Tano people since the seventh century. The island was home to the first permanent European colony in the Americas, as well as the world’s oldest continuously inhabited city and the first seat of Spanish colonial authority in the New World. In November 1821, the Dominican people proclaimed independence from Spain after more than 300 years of Spanish domination. José Nez de Cáceres, the head of the independence movement, desired to join with Gran Colombia. However, after liberated from Spanish control, the newly independent Dominicans were forcibly annexed in February 1822 by their more powerful neighbor Haiti. Following the Dominican War of Independence triumph against Haitian authority in 1844, the nation came back under Spanish colonial administration. During the Dominican War of Restoration in 1865, the crown was definitively deposed.

Until 1916, the Dominican Republic was mostly consumed by internal conflict (Second Republic). Between 1916 to 1924, the United States occupied the country for eight years, and a following six-year period under Horacio Vásquez Lajara was followed by the dictatorship of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina until 1961. A civil war in 1965, the country’s last, was terminated by another US military intervention and was succeeded by Joaqun Balaguer’s dictatorial reign from 1966 to 1978. Since then, the Dominican Republic has progressed toward representative democracy, with Leonel Fernández serving as President for the majority of the period since 1996. Danilo Medina, the Dominican Republic’s current president, replaced Fernandez in 2012, defeating ex-president Hipólito Meja with 51% of the vote.

The Dominican Republic is Latin America’s ninth biggest economy and the largest in the Caribbean and Central America area. Though it was formerly renowned for agriculture and mining, the economy has shifted to a service-based economy. The Dominican Republic has consistently been one of the fastest-growing economies in the Americas during the past two decades, with an average real GDP growth rate of 5.4 percent between 1992 and 2014. GDP growth was 7.3 percent in 2014 and 7.0 percent in 2015, the highest in the Western Hemisphere. The Dominican economy expanded 7.4 percent in the first half of 2016, maintaining its record of strong economic development.

Construction, industry, and tourism have all contributed to recent development. Private spending has been robust, owing to low inflation (averaged less than 1% in 2015), job growth, and a high level of remittances. The Dominican Republic’s stock market, Bolsa de Valores de la Republica Dominicana, is thriving (BVRD). The Dominican Republic’s economic advancement is reflected by its sophisticated telecommunications and transportation infrastructure. Nonetheless, unemployment, government corruption, and inconsistency in electric service continue to be serious issues in the Dominican Republic. Additionally, the nation has “significant economic disparity.” International migration has a significant impact on the Dominican Republic, since the country receives and sends huge numbers of migrants. Illegal Haitian immigration in large numbers and the assimilation of Dominicans of Haitian ancestry are significant problems. There is a sizable Dominican diaspora, mostly in the United States. It helps to the growth of the Dominican Republic by providing billions of dollars in remittances to Dominican households.

The Dominican Republic is the Caribbean’s most popular tourist destination. The year-round golf courses are one of the island’s most popular attractions. The Dominican Republic, a physically varied country, is home to both the Caribbean’s highest mountain peak, Pico Duarte, and the Caribbean’s biggest lake and lowest elevation point, Lake Enriquillo. The island has an average temperature of 26 degrees Celsius (78.8 degrees Fahrenheit) and a high degree of climatic and ecological variety. Additionally, the nation is home to the world’s first cathedral, castle, monastery, and fortress, all of which are situated in Santo Domingo’s Colonial Zone, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Music and athletics play a significant role in Dominican culture, with Merengue and Bachata serving as the national dance and music, respectively, and baseball serving as the preferred sport.

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Dominican Republic - Info Card

Population

10,694,700

Currency

Dominican peso (DOP)

Time zone

UTC – 4:00 (Atlantic Standard Time)

Area

48,671 km2 (18,792 sq mi)

Calling code

+1-809, +1-829, +1-849

Official language

Spanish

Dominican Republic | Introduction

Weather & Climate in Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic is a tropical and maritime nation. Due to its varied topography, the Dominican Republic’s climate varies considerably over short distances and is the most varied in the entire Caribbean. The average annual temperature is 25°C (77°F). At higher altitudes, the average temperature is 18°C, while near the sea the average temperature is 28°C. Low temperatures of 0°C (32°F) are possible in the mountains, while high temperatures of 40°C (104°F) are possible in the sheltered valleys. January and February are the coolest months of the year, while August is the warmest. Snowfall can be observed on rare occasions on the summit of Pico Duarte.

The rainy season on the north coast lasts from November to January. Elsewhere, the rainy season extends from May to November, with May being the wettest month. The average annual rainfall nationwide is 1,500 millimetres, with averages of 350 millimetres in some parts of the Neiba Valley, while the Eastern Cordillera records an average of 2,740 millimetres. The driest part of the country is in the west.

Tropical cyclones hit the Dominican Republic every two years, with 65 % of the impacts occurring along the south coast. Hurricanes are most likely to occur between August and October. The last major hurricane to hit the country was Hurricane Georges in 1998.

Geography of Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic is located on the eastern side of the second largest island in the Greater Antilles, Hispaniola. It shares the island with Haiti in a 2:1 ratio. The country’s land area is estimated at 48,442 km2 (18,704 sq mi) (by the US Embassy) and 48,730 km2 (18,815 sq mi), making it the second largest country in the Caribbean, after Cuba. The capital and largest metropolitan area of the Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo, is located on the south coast.

There are many small offshore islands and bays that are part of the Dominican territory. The two largest offshore islands are Saona, in the southeast, and Beata, in the southwest. To the north, at a distance of 100-200 kilometres, are three large, largely submerged banks that geographically represent a southeastern extension of the Bahamas: the Navidad Bank, the Silver Bank and the Mouchoir Bank. Navidad Bank and Silver Bank have been officially claimed by the Dominican Republic.

The Dominican Republic has four major mountain ranges. The northernmost is the Cordillera Septentrional, which stretches from the coastal town of Monte Cristi in the northwest, near the Haitian border, to the Samaná Peninsula in the east, parallel to the Atlantic coast. The highest mountain range in the Dominican Republic – and in the entire Caribbean – is the Cordillera Central (“Central Mountain Range”). It slopes gradually southwards and ends near the city of Azua on the Caribbean coast.

The Cordillera Central contains the four highest peaks in the Caribbean: Pico Duarte (3,098 metres or 10,164 feet above sea level), La Pelona (3,094 metres or 10,151 feet), La Rucilla (3,049 metres or 10,003 feet) and Pico Yaque (2,760 metres or 9,055 feet). In the southwest corner of the country, south of the Cordillera Central, there are two other mountain ranges. The northernmost of the two is the Sierra de Neiba, while to the south the Sierra de Bahoruco is an extension of Haiti’s Massif de la Selle. Other smaller mountain ranges are the Cordillera OrientalSierra Martín García, Sierra de Yamasá and Sierra de Samaná.

Between the central and northern mountain ranges lies the rich and fertile Cibao Valley. This large valley is home to the cities of Santiago and La Vega, as well as most of the country’s agricultural land. The semi-arid San Juan Valley, south of the Cordillera Central, and the Neiba Valley, nestled between the Sierra de Neiba and the Sierra de Bahoruco, are less productive. Most of the land in the Enriquillo Basin is below sea level in a hot, dry desert environment. There are other smaller valleys in the mountains, such as the valleys of Constanza, Jarabacoa, Villa Altagracia and Bonao.

The Llano Costero del Caribe (“Caribbean Coastal Plain”) is the largest of the plains in the Dominican Republic. It stretches north and east of Santo Domingo and contains numerous sugar plantations in the savannahs that are common there. West of Santo Domingo, its width reduces to 10 kilometres as it runs along the coast and ends at the mouth of the Ocoa River. Another large plain is the Plena de Azua (“Azua Plain”), a very dry region in the province of Azua. Some other small coastal plains are located on the north coast and on the Pedernales Peninsula.

Four major rivers drain the many mountains of the Dominican Republic. The Yaque del Norte is the longest and most important Dominican river. It carries the excess water from the Cibao Valley and flows into Monte Cristi Bay in the northwest. Similarly, the Yuna River serves the Vega Real and flows into Samaná Bay in the northeast. The San Juan Valley is drained by the San Juan River, a tributary of the Yaque del Sur, which flows into the Caribbean Sea to the south. The Artibonito is the longest river on Hispaniola and flows into Haiti in the west.

There are numerous lakes and coastal lagoons. The largest lake is Enriquillo, a saltwater lake that lies 45 metres below sea level, making it the lowest point in the Caribbean. Other important lakes are the freshwater Laguna de Rincón or Cabral and the brackish water Laguna de Oviedo.

The Dominican Republic is located near a fault line in the Caribbean. In 1946, it was hit by a magnitude 8.1 earthquake off the northeast coast. This triggered a tsunami that killed about 1,800 people, mostly in coastal communities. The wave was also recorded in Daytona Beach, Florida, and Atlantic City, New Jersey. The area remains at risk. Caribbean countries and the United States are working together to establish tsunami warning systems and map the risk in low-lying areas.

Demographics of Dominican Republic

The population of the Dominican Republic was 9.76 million in 2007. In 2010, 31.2 % of the population was under 15 years old and 6 % of the population was over 65 years old. In 2007, there were 103 men for every 100 women. The annual population growth rate for 2006-2007 was 1.5 per cent, with a projected population of 10,121,000 for 2015.

The population density in 2007 was 192 per km² (498 per km²) and 63 % of the population lived in urban areas. The southern coastal plains and the Cibao Valley are the most densely populated areas of the country. The capital Santo Domingo had a population of 2,907,100 in 2010.

Other important cities are: Santiago de los Caballeros (745,293 inhabitants), La Romana (214,109 inhabitants), San Pedro de Macorís (185,255 inhabitants), Higüey (153,174 inhabitants), San Francisco de Macorís (132,725 inhabitants), Puerto Plata (118,282 inhabitants) and La Vega (104,536 inhabitants). According to the United Nations, the growth rate of the urban population in the period 2000-2005 was 2.3 per cent.

Ethnic groups

The population of the Dominican Republic is 73% racially mixed, 16% white and 11% black. Ethnic immigrant groups in the country include West Asians – mainly Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians.

Many immigrants came from other Caribbean countries because the country offered economic opportunities. About 32,000 Jamaicans live in the Dominican Republic. There is a growing number of Puerto Rican immigrants, mainly in and around Santo Domingo, estimated at about 10,000. There are more than 700,000 people of Haitian origin, including a generation born in the Dominican Republic.

There are also East Asians, mainly Chinese and Japanese. Europeans are represented mainly by Spanish whites, but also by smaller populations of German Jews, Italians, Portuguese, British, Dutch, Danes and Hungarians. Some Sephardic Jewish converts from Spain were part of the early expeditions; only Catholics were allowed to come to the New World. Later, Jewish migrants from Iberia and Europe arrived in the 1700s, and some made it to the Caribbean as refugees during and after World War II. Some Sephardic Jews live in Sosúa, while others are scattered throughout the country. The number of self-identifying Jews is about 3,000; other Dominicans may have Jewish ancestry due to intermarriage between converted Catholic Jews and other Dominicans since the colonial years. Some US-born Dominicans now live in the Dominican Republic and form a kind of expatriate community.

Religion

In 2014, 57% of the population (5.7 million) identified themselves as Roman Catholic and 23% (2.3 million) as Evangelical Protestant (in Latin American countries Protestants are usually called Evangelicos). Other religions have recently been added through immigration and missionisation, with the following percentages of the population: Spiritists: 2.2%, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: 1.1%, Buddhists: 0.1%, Bahá’ís: 0.1%, Chinese Folk Religion: 0.1%, Islam: 0.02%, Judaism: 0.01%. The Dominican Republic has two patron saints: Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia (Our Lady of High Grace) and Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes (Our Lady of Mercy).

The Catholic Church began to lose popularity in the late 19th century. The reason was a lack of funding, priests and support programmes. At the same time, the Evangelical Protestant movement began to gain support. Religious tensions between Catholics and Protestants in the country were rare.

The Dominican Republic has always allowed a high degree of religious freedom. In the 1950s, restrictions were imposed on churches by the Trujillo government. Letters of protest were sent against the mass arrests of government opponents. Trujillo launched a campaign against the Catholic Church and planned the arrest of priests and bishops who preached against the government. This campaign ended, before it was implemented, with his assassination.

During the Second World War, a group of Jews fled Nazi Germany to the Dominican Republic and founded the town of Sosúa. Since then, it has remained the centre of the Jewish population.

Language in Dominican Republic

The official language of the Dominican Republic is Spanish. You will find some bilingual Spanish-English locals, especially in Santo Domingo and the tourist areas. If you speak some Spanish, most Dominicans will do their best to meet and communicate with you. If you have a problem, you can probably find someone who speaks enough English (or probably French and possibly German, Italian or Russian) to help you. Dominicans are quite friendly and will help you if you are polite and respectful. Haitians living in the DR speak Haitian Creole and you may hear some African and Arawakan words mixed with Spanish, especially in rural areas. Communication should not be a problem, even for those who speak minimal Spanish. If you travel to one of the larger all-inclusive hotels, you will have no language problems.

Economy of Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic is the largest economy (according to the U.S. State Department and the World Bank) in the Caribbean and Central American region. It is an upper middle-income developing country, with a GDP per capita of $14,770 in 2015 (in PPP). Over the past two decades, the Dominican Republic has emerged as one of the fastest growing economies in the Americas – with an average real GDP growth rate of 5.4% between 1992 and 2014. In 2014 and 2015, GDP growth reached 7.3% and 7.0% respectively, the highest rates in the Western Hemisphere. In the first half of 2016, the Dominican economy grew by 7.4 %. Since 2015, the average wage has been USD 392 per month in nominal terms (DOP $17,829).

Over the last three decades, the Dominican economy has evolved from a dependence on the export of agricultural products (mainly sugar, cocoa and coffee) to a diversified mix of services, manufacturing, agriculture, mining and trade. The services sector accounts for almost 60 % of GDP; manufacturing 22 %; tourism, telecommunications and finance are the main components of the services sector; however, none of them accounts for more than 10 % of the total.

Remittances to the Dominican Republic increased to USD 4571.30 million in 2014, up from USD 3333 million in 2013 (according to the Inter-American Development Bank). Economic growth is taking place despite a chronic energy shortage that leads to frequent power outages and very high prices. Despite a widening merchandise trade deficit, revenues from tourism and remittances have built up foreign exchange reserves. The Dominican Republic is up to date on its private foreign debt.

After the economic turmoil of the late 1980s and 1990s, when gross domestic product (GDP) fell by as much as 5 per cent and consumer price inflation reached an unprecedented 100 per cent, the Dominican Republic entered a period of growth and falling inflation until it fell into recession in 2002.

This recession followed the collapse of the country’s second largest commercial bank, Baninter, which was linked to a major fraud case worth $3.5 billion. The Baninter fraud had a devastating impact on the Dominican economy: GDP fell by 1% in 2003, while inflation rose by over 27%. All the defendants, including the star of the trial, Ramón Báez Figueroa (the great-grandson of President Buenaventura Báez), were convicted.

According to the UN Subcommittee on Human Development’s 2005 Annual Report on the Dominican Republic, the country ranks 71st in the world for resource availability, 79th in the world for human development and 14th in the world for resource mismanagement. These statistics highlight the corruption of the national government, the interference of foreign business in the country and the gap between rich and poor.

The Dominican Republic has a notorious child labour problem in the coffee, rice, sugar cane and tomato industries. Labour injustices in the sugar cane industry extend to forced labour, according to the US Department of Labour. Three large groups own 75 % of the land: the National Sugar Council (Consejo Estatal del Azúcar, CEA), Grupo Vicini and the Central Romana Corporation.

Tourism in Dominican Republic

Tourism in the Dominican Republic is an industry that generates more than 5 million arrivals every year. It is an important source of income in the country, especially in the coastal areas. The Dominican Republic is the most popular tourist destination in the Caribbean and ranks 6th in the Americas. The tropical climate, white sandy beaches, diverse mountain landscape and colonial history attract visitors from all over the world.

The Dominican Republic is one of the most geographically diverse countries in the region and is home to the highest mountain in the Caribbean, Pico Duarte, and the largest and deepest lake, Lake Enriquillo. The country is also the site of the first cathedral, castle, convent and fortress built in the Americas, in the colonial zone of Santo Domingo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Tourism in the 2000s

Tourism has become the main source of income for the country and its main provinces dedicated to this industrial activity. The country offers a wide range of accommodation in the city, in the mountains and in hotels on the coast. The Dominican Republic is one of the main holiday destinations for countries of the European continent, North America, the United States and Canada, as well as for countries in South America. This is because the island has a rich history and a unique culture, and the people there are so welcoming and friendly. It is also known for its beautiful Caribbean beaches and unique tropical climate.

The main areas of tourist activity in the country are the eastern, northern regions, Santo Domingo and Barahona, but there is an increase in activity in the interior, with many hiking and cycling trips through the mountains and fields. In 2001, the Dominican Republic was visited by more than two million people. According to the Central Bank, the Dominican tourism industry generated $2,103 million that year, up 18% from last year’s figure of $1,782 million.

According to the Central Bank, more than 2.5 million tourists arrived in the country by air in 2001, an increase of 10.1% over 2000. 58% of the tourists came from European countries, mainly from countries such as Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the United States, were recorded from countries such as the United States, Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and among others.

Tourism is one of the most important sectors of the Dominican economy, as it contributes greatly to it. The travel of tourists to other parts of the country generates expenses, especially when it is from one nation to another, which is the case of the country; foreign tourists usually consume in dollars or exchange their currency for the Dominican peso, which generates an injection of dollars into the economy, thus allowing the country to buy the services and products it does not produce. The country had a turnover of 2,557 million euros in 2004.

The Dominican Republic, thanks to its geographical location in the Caribbean, has many areas that are exploited for tourism because of their beautiful beaches and landscapes. The most exploited provinces in terms of tourism are, after the era of Trujillo, Puerto Plata, La Romana and La Altagracia, it should also be noted that the Peninsula del Este, is the most important tourist area in the country.

Tourism in the Dominican Republic is an issue that is part of the daily life of its citizens, as it is highly dependent on their economic livelihood and lifestyle.

The main destinations in the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic is internationally known as the “Caribbean Paradise” and this is because the whole country is beautiful, both its beaches and its mountains, which are a unique natural landscape.

The main tourist destinations include:

La Altagracia

It is the first province in the country in terms of tourism, among the main areas are:

  • Bávaro: This region is located in the east of the Dominican Republic, in the province of La Altagracia. According to a UNESCO report, the beaches of Bávaro are recognised as the best in the world, so much so that they are one of the 10 best in the world, along with the beaches of Punta Cana. Among the most popular and fun attractions in the area are Manatí Park Bávaro and its luxury hotels.
  • Higüey: The town of Higüey is one of the province’s tourist destinations, as it has the Basilica of Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia and the Sanctuary of San Dionisio; it also has the fortified residence of its founder, Juan Ponce de León, which is thus visited by foreign tourists and the country’s municipalities and more inhabitants.
  • Punta Cana: This resort of the country is located in the extreme east of the Dominican Republic and is an important part of the most important destinations of the world, the country, the region, the province, in conclusion, it is one of the most important places for the realisation of tourism in the country, since Punta Cana is the place where have the most famous beaches of the country. To get to Punta Cana, you can travel by vehicle along the 179-kilometre corridor made up of the sections of the Las Américas motorway, the eastern motorway, the San Pedro de Macorís ring road, the San Pedro de Macorís-La Romana section, the La Romana ring road and the Autopista del Coral; likewise, it can be reached via the Las Américas international airport, or via the Punta Cana international airport, which is located approx. 2 km from the city of Punta Cana, where there are many luxurious 5-star hotels that enjoy great international prestige. Punta Cana is considered one of the biggest tourist attractions in the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean, because with more than 50 km of beaches, a hotel infrastructure of excellence and high level, also has a large international airport, facilities for all sports, from sailing excursions, boats, inflatables, etc., to the benefits of some of the best golf courses in the Caribbean.

La Romana

  • La Romana: One of the main options for foreign tourists when choosing a holiday destination. La Romana has many beaches. To get to La Romana, you can go via La Romana International Airport. Here are some hotels in La Romana: Casa de CampoGran Bahía Príncipe La Romana, Hotel Frano, Dejavue and others, also has a luxury spa, which is La Romana Hotel-Spa. Information about Casa de Campo
  • Altos de Chavón: It is an old Mediterranean village built on a hill overlooking the Chavón River in the Dominican Republic. It is the seat of a cultural centre, the National Archaeological Museum, and is known as the City of Artists. It also has a remarkable amphitheatre. There is the famous amphitheatre Altos de Chavón, which has about 5,000 seats. It opened in 1982 with the presentation of Frank Sinatra and Carlos Santana, many other artists and rock bands have passed through this beautiful landscape, such as Heart, English Beat, America, Tania Maria, Scandal, Sergio Mendes, Juan Luis Guerra, Michel Camilo, Spiro Gyra, Duran Duran, Aventura, among others. Currently, there are still shows all year round by national and international artists that tourists can enjoy.
  • Saona Island: Saona Island is considered one of the most important destinations or tourist visits in the country. It is considered a natural paradise by the visitor. Saona Island is the largest of the 13 neighbouring islands in the country, covering about 110 kmª. This island offers fine white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters. One of the biggest attractions is the “natural pool“, which is not one metre deep and where you can see aquatic life such as coral reefs, seagrass beds, starfish and fish. The main white sand beaches on Saona Island are on the south coast, from Punta Catuano to Punta de Cruz, except for the area between the southern end of El Gato beach and Punta Laguna. The most important places on Saona are the towns and villages of Mano Juan and Catuano; wide white sand beaches and coral reefs with very clear water; coconut palms along the coast, the lagoons of Secucho, Los Flamencos and Canto de la Playa, the most beautiful beach, Alto de la Vigía (the highest point on the island); crowned flocks of pigeons, ancient forests, cultivated areas and the town of Adamanay.

The island of Saona belongs to the Parque del Este. Together with the Haitises, it is the most important park in the region and one of the most important in the country, as it is the only forest area of relative extent on the southern coast of the eastern region. Semi-humid forests, coastal lagoons, mangroves, coral reefs and sea grasses are preserved in this protected natural area. There are also caves of cultural value. There are impressive archaeological sites such as remains of indigenous settlements, perfectly preserved ceremonial sites, ceremonial sacrificial sites, large-scale rock art and sunken colonial ships.

  • Catalina Island: This island is a protected nature park where there are no buildings.
  • Bayahibe: Bayahibe is also suitable for sharing with family and friends, and it is also a frequent spot for golfers and for those who love diving. Bayahibe is the closest point to take a trip to Catalina Island, Catalinita Island and Saona Island.

Bayahibe has many hotels such as: Catalonia Gran Dominicus, Oasis Canoa, Iberostar Hacienda, Viva Dominicus Beach y Palace, Dreams Romana.

Juan Dolio: The place is only a few kilometres away from the capital Santo Domingo and San Pedro de Macoris. Juan Dolio is currently one of the most important tourist areas in the country. The town of Juan Dolio is very touristy and between its borders are several beaches, the most famous of which is the one that bears its name: Juan Dolio Beach. Juan Dolio beach is one of the most popular beaches in the tourism sector and among domestic and foreign holidaymakers. Juan Dolio has access to a good number of quality hotels and a wide range of seafood restaurants, clubs, Los Marlins golf courses and car rental agencies. Hotels in the Juan Dolio area offer all-inclusive packages, a la carte and buffet restaurants, modern spas, trained animation teams, water sports, tourist packages and many other features to make your stay enjoyable at the best prices. Hotels that are in Juan Dolio include: Barcelo Colonia Tropical, Barcelo Talanquera, Decameron Beach Resort, Coral Costa Caribe, Barcelo Capella and the five-star luxury hotel Embassy Suites.

Santo Domingo

  • Santo Domingo: It is known throughout the world as “the first city of the Americas, the cradle of civilisation of the New World“, that is Santo Domingo. It is a place to explore its main tourist area, the colonial zone, as well as its streets that hide great secrets and its historical monuments, most of which were built by the Spaniards of Santo Domingo. It has many hotels such as the Jaragua Hotel, Barceló Santo Domingo, Hilton Hotel, Meliá Santo Domingo Hotel, Intercontinental V Centenario Hotel, Hispaniola Hotel, Santo Domingo Hotel, Napolitano Hotel, Delta Hotel, Clarion Hotel, Hotel Ambassador, Hotel Intercontinental V Centenario, Hotel Hispaniola, Hotel Santo Domingo, Hotel El Napolitano, Hotel Delta, Hotel Clarion, Hotel Occidental El Embajador, among other hotels with great national and international prestige.
  • Boca Chica: It is one of the most popular places in the Dominican Republic because of its beach, which is visited by all kinds of tourists, locals and foreigners. It is located about 30 kilometres and 25 minutes from Santo Domingo, passing through Las Américas International Airport. The beach is surrounded by a large coral reef, has a turquoise blue colour and the water is only covered after about one kilometre. Sometimes, if the tide allows, you can walk to an island called “La Matica”.

How To Travel To Dominican Republic

Get In - By air

The most important airports (in alphabetical order) are

  • (AZS) Samana, also known as “El Catey”, is located between the cities of Nagua and Samana on the north coast.
  • (EPS) Samana, also known as “Aeropuerto Internacional Arroyo Barril” between Sanchez and Samaná.
  • (JBQ) “La Isabela” airport in Santo Domingo, mainly for domestic flights, but also receives some flights from other Caribbean islands.
  • (LRM) La Romana, on the south-east coast.
  • (POP) Puerto Plata, also known as “Gregorio Luperon” on the north coast.
  • (PUJ) Punta Cana International Airport, in the east, the busiest in the country.
  • (SDQ) Santo Domingo, also known as “Las Americas”, on the south coast near the capital Santo Domingo.
  • (STI) Santiago, also known as “Cibao International” in Santiago de los Caballeros (the second largest city in the country).
  • (COZ) Constanza, a domestic airport to all Dominican destinations.
  • (BRX) Barahona, also known as “Aeropuerto Internacional María Montez”, this airfield was reopened during the earthquake in Haiti to bring first aid to Haitians.
  • (CBJ) Cabo Rojo, Pedernales, for domestic use only, near the Cabo Rojo port complex.

You can fly from Europe via Madrid (MAD) or Paris (CDG). From the United States, you can fly from New York, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Juan, Atlanta or Charlotte. Most European and Canadian cities have charter flights that operate seasonally.

A tourist card will be charged $10 on arrival. This amount must be paid in US dollars or euros. Local currency, pounds sterling or other currencies are not accepted. On most charter flights and some scheduled flights, a $20 departure tax is payable in cash. If you fly with a US airline, departure tax is always included in the taxes when you buy your ticket, so you don’t have to pay anything when you leave.

Taxi fares to nearby hotels are posted at the airport exit.

Taxi from the airport to Santo Domingo (Ciudad Colonial): It costs about $40. There are no “courtesy shuttles” from hotels to airports in the Dominican Republic.

Get In - With the boat

There is a ferry that runs between Mayagüez in Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. According to the website, the journey takes 12 hours, leaving Puerto Rico at 8pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and arriving in the Dominican Republic at 8am the next morning.

How To Travel Around Dominican Republic

Options for getting around the country include buses, “gua-guas” (pronounced “gwa-gwas”: small, beat-up vans or trucks that serve as shared taxis and run fixed routes very cheaply, but can also be very crowded), domestic flights and charter flights. There is a railway system that only operates in the city of Santo Domingo. There are regular bus services in most cities, if not from one of the major bus companies, then from the Gua-Gua. The bus lines are mostly simple, independent operations that usually connect two cities in the same region (southwest, east, north) or run between a city and the capital (with stops in all cities along the route). Due to the geography of the country, to get from one part of the country to another, you have to go through the capital. On horariodebuses.com you can check the bus schedules between the different destinations in the country.

Get Around - By car

Cars can be rented from Hertz, Avis, Prestige Car Rentals or other agencies in Santo Domingo and other major cities. However, petrol is expensive and often costs more than US$5.75/gallon (as of March 2011). Some roads, especially in remote areas, are quite dangerous (often without lane separation) and many people tend to disregard oncoming traffic. However, road conditions on most major roads are roughly comparable to those in the United States and Western Europe. Potholes and bumps are not quickly repaired, however, and motorists should be aware that there are a significant number of bumps even on some major roads. There are, however, a number of very good roads, such as the DR-1, which is a four-lane highway connecting the cities of Santo Domingo and Santiago, and can be easily travelled. The DR-7 is an excellent toll road that was opened at the end of 2008. It runs from the east of Santo Domingo north to near Sanchez. From there you can drive east to the Samana Peninsula or west along the north coast of the DR and costs about $11.

Probably the biggest challenge for an international visitor to the Dominican Republic who chooses to rent a car is not so much dealing with car traffic, but avoiding accidentally running over pedestrians when crossing poorly lit streets and roads in the evening and at night. The absence of headlights on cars and especially motorbikes is not uncommon and, in the case of motorbikes, makes them extremely difficult to see. The best recommendation is not to drive after dark. Outside Santo Domingo, the motorbike (motoconcho) is a very common means of transport. If you get lost, you can call a motorcyclist (motochonchista) and ask for directions. You will be taken to your destination by motorbike. A tip is appropriate for this assistance. Remember that many of these motorcyclists only consider the traffic rules as recommendations. However, driving in the Dominican Republic should not be particularly difficult for experienced riders from North America or Europe.

Get Around - Guaguas (local buses)

Guaguas are the traditional means of transport in the Dominican Republic. The guaguas are filled to the brim with people and luggage; expect to pick up more people along the way. If you prefer the authentic experience to comfort, travelling by guagua is the right choice.

The comfort of the Guagua can range from air-conditioned with leather seats to somewhat worn with a cooling breeze through the open window. Travelling with Guagas is safe and tourists are treated kindly and helped.

You can also get on halfway if you know where you are on the route and wave to the driver; tell the driver your destination and he will tell you where to get off and how to change guaguas; sometimes you have to cross town to get to another bus stop.

Prices are modest, around 100-150 pesos for a 1-2 hour ride. Since most guaguas are minibuses, you may have to put your luggage on a seat. In this case, you will have to pay extra for the occupied seat. Larger routes are served by full-size buses with a separate storage compartment.

Note that the guaguas stop working at nightfall. Plan your trip with enough free time to catch the last guagua while the sun is still up.

The guagua network is organic and does not require you to travel through the capital. However, you may have to change trains several times, as the guaguas usually only connect two major cities.

Get Around - Long-distance bus

Caribe Tours, based in the capital, is the largest bus company and covers most areas not well served by other “official” bus companies. Unlike taxis and gua-guas, Caribe Tour fares are set by destination and are extremely cheap thanks to government subsidies. Expect to pay less than 250 pesos (Dom) or 10 USD for longer journeys. Caribe Tour buses usually run from 7am to 4pm (with departures approximately every two hours) and cover most major cities. For longer journeys, plan a short stop (10 minutes) for coffee and lunch. The buses are quite luxurious, with films playing during the journey and air conditioning (which can be extremely cold – bring a jumper). Another option is the Metrobus, a slightly more expensive bus company. The Metrobus serves the north and east of the country. The “unofficial” Gua Gua system covers almost all roads on the island, resulting in moderate savings (if you don’t mind being crowded).

In short, bus transport throughout the country is comfortable and cheap. The buses are clean, air-conditioned (bring a jumper), usually play a VHS movie and are quite cheap, costing no more than 300 pesos for a one-way trip across the country (less than $10).

Taxi services are available but potentially dangerous if they involve unlicensed drivers. In any case, it is best to take a licensed driver and negotiate a price for your destination before you set off. Good drivers are often easily recognised by the licences they wear around their necks, their uniforms and their clean, air-conditioned vehicles. When you call a taxi company, you will be given a number to call to check on your driver. When you are picked up, make sure your driver gives you the correct number, as “false pick-ups” are often a prelude to theft.

Another option is to book a tour with one of the many representatives at most local hotels and resorts.

Destinations in Dominican Republic

Regions in Dominican Republic

  • Greater Santo Domingo
    The cosmopolitan capital and its surrounding beaches
  • Eastern Dominican Republic
    There are the famous all-inclusive hotels of Bavaro and Punta Cana, as well as the large beach resorts of Casa de Campo and Cap Cana.
  • East Cibao
    A beautiful bay often described as “paradise on earth”.
  • Western Cibao
    The second largest city, the highest mountains in the Caribbean and the popular beaches on the Atlantic coast.
  • South of the Dominican Republic
    The most isolated region of the country, almost untouched by tourism, with a unique landscape and wildlife.

Cities in Dominican Republic

Other destinations in Dominican Republic

  • Bayahibe
  • Bonao village excluded
  • Cabarete
  • Constanza
  • Dominicus
  • Jarabacoa
  • Las Terrenas
  • Las Galeras
  • Breads
  • Bahia de las Aguilas
  • Playa Bonita – an exclusive strip of beach, popular with Europeans and discerning Americans.

Food & Drinks in Dominican Republic

Food in the Dominican Republic is typically Caribbean, with lots of tropical fruits, rice, beans and seafood. Most meals in restaurants cost an additional 16% tax plus 10% for service: it is common to leave 10% extra for very good service.

Drinks in Dominican Republic

  • Beer: PresidenteBrahmaBohemia
  • Rum: Brugal, BarceloBermudezMacorixSiboneyPunta Cana.
  • Mama Juana: a mixture of peels and herbs soaked in rum, red wine and honey.

In addition, other imported drinks are also offered for sale, at least in the cities, but not necessarily in the countryside.

Do not drink tap water! Even in the most rural areas, people boil their water or buy bottled water. It is not advisable to eat salads or other foods that can be washed with tap water. Ice cream is also a bad idea, except in luxury hotels and restaurants (which make ice cream from bottled water). If you plan to cook or wash dishes during an extended stay, it is a good idea to rinse everything with bottled or boiled water before using it.

Money & Shopping in Dominican Republic

One of the best places to shop in Santo Domingo’s colonial quarter is Calle El Conde, an open-air shopping centre several blocks long. Here you will find everything from street vendors (eating there is not recommended) to designer clothes at extremely low prices. There are some very nice outdoor restaurants that are great places to people-watch and drink Presidente (their most popular beer).

During the day there are also some tourist shops where you can buy inexpensive gifts for the family at home, including authentic paintings and beautiful jewellery. There is also a very nice cigar shop at the end of the shopping centre, opposite the cathedral. Clothing, on the other hand, is usually very cheap and often of good quality. Most prices can be negotiated. US dollars are accepted in most places.

Currency in Dominican Republic

The Dominican currency is the Dominican Peso (DOP). In February 2016, the exchange rate was 45.72 DOP to the US dollar.

You can change your US dollars and euros into Dominican pesos at airports and ports, but the rates are not very high. It is best to take only as many pesos as you need and exchange them later at your destination or withdraw pesos from an ATM using your credit or debit card. Note that you cannot exchange your Dominican pesos for US dollars or euros in most countries, so do this before you leave.

In most towns you will find a Banco Popular and a Scotiabank – their ATMs allow withdrawals with Visa, Mastercard and Maestro. They usually set a very low limit, but allow several withdrawals at once. Even if it is possible to withdraw money directly from the bank, most will categorically refuse this option and refer you to their ATMs. If you are not fluent in Spanish and willing to argue with the staff, you will have to obey (and therefore pay a fee for each withdrawal – between DOP100 and DOP200). Depending on the season, the limits change – in high season the limits are higher, in low season they are lower. It is always a good idea to try a value ending in 900 if the 1000 does not work (e.g. if 4000 is over the limit, try 3900 first before trying 3000).

Festivals & Holidays in Dominican Republic

  • 1 January: New Year
  • 6 January: Epiphany (Dia de Reyes)
  • 21 January: Our Lady of Altagracia
  • 26 January: Duarte’s birthday
  • 27 February: Independence Day
  • 25 March: Good Friday (varies each year)
  • 1 May: Labour Day
  • 26 May: Corpus Christi (varies each year)
  • 28 May: Mother’s Day
  • 16 August: Restaurant Day
  • 24 September: Our Lady of Mercy (Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes)
  • 6 November: Constitution Day
  • 25 December: Christmas Day

Traditions & Customs in Dominican Republic

Dominicans are friendly and peaceful people. Attempts to speak Spanish are a good sign of respect towards the local population. Be polite, show respect and do your best to speak the language and you will be treated with kindness.

Avoid talking about Haiti. Although relations have improved, many Dominicans, especially the older generations, harbour resentment towards Haitians. Santo Domingo was invaded and occupied by Haiti for much of the 19th century, and the Dominican Republic actually fought its first war of independence against Haiti, not Spain, after which the Dominican Republic suffered several more invasions from its neighbour.

The Trujillo dictatorship massacred tens of thousands of Haitians in the 1930s, fuelling resentment between the two nations. Today, about one million Haitians (a large number given the small populations of both countries) live in the Dominican Republic, most of them illegally. The opinion of some Dominicans towards illegal immigrants from Haiti is similar to the attitude of some Americans towards illegal Mexican immigrants, with the difference that the Dominican Republic, unlike the United States, is a small country, poor by world standards, but still much richer and more stable than Haiti. Gang wars can break out along the border, so stay safe and be sensitive.

Nevertheless, the issues remain very complex and Dominicans often find their position misunderstood by foreigners. For example, the Dominican Republic was the first country to come to Haiti’s aid during the 2010 earthquake and made impressive efforts to help its neighbour during this crisis. This shows that despite their historical, linguistic, religious, cultural and ethnic differences, Haitians and Dominicans still see each other as brotherly but proudly independent nations.

When staying at luxury resorts or other places in the Dominican Republic, it is advisable to tip for most services. The Dominican Republic is still a fairly poor country and tipping the people who serve you helps them to improve their sometimes difficult economic situation.

Culture Of Dominican Republic

The culture and customs of the Dominican people have a European cultural base influenced by African and indigenous Taíno elements; culturally, the Dominican Republic is one of the most European countries in Spanish America, along with Puerto Rico, Cuba, central Chile, Argentina and Uruguay.

European, African and Taino cultural elements are evident in cuisine, architecture, language, family structure, religion and music. Many Arawak/Taíno names and words are used in everyday conversation and for many foods native to the Dominican Republic.

Architecture

The architecture of the Dominican Republic represents a complex mix of different cultures. The profound influence of European settlers is most evident throughout the country. This style, characterised by ornate designs and baroque structures, is particularly visible in the capital Santo Domingo, home to the first cathedral, castle, convent and fortress in the Americas, located in the city’s colonial zone, an area declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The motifs can be found in the villas and buildings of the country. It can also be seen on buildings with stucco exteriors, arched doors and windows and red-tiled roofs.

The indigenous peoples of the Dominican Republic have also had a significant influence on the country’s architecture. The Taíno people relied heavily on mahogany and guano (dried palm leaves) to make crafts, art, furniture and houses. By using clay, thatched roofs and mahogany, they gave the buildings and the furniture they contained a natural look that blended perfectly with the island’s environment.

More recently, with the rise of tourism and the increasing popularity of the Dominican Republic as a Caribbean holiday destination, architects in the country have begun to incorporate cutting-edge designs that emphasise luxury. An architectural playground, villas and hotels are implementing new styles while offering new interpretations of the old. This new style features simplified, angular angles and large windows that merge exterior and interior spaces. Like the culture as a whole, contemporary architects draw from the rich history and diverse cultures of the Dominican Republic to create something new. When looking at modern villas, you can find any combination of the three main styles: a villa may include a modernist angular design, Spanish colonial style arched windows and a traditional Taino hammock on the bedroom balcony.

Kitchen

Dominican cuisine is predominantly Spanish, taino and African. The typical cuisine is quite similar to that of other Latin American countries, but many of the names of the dishes are different. One of the breakfast dishes consists of eggs and mangú (cooked and mashed plantains). In heartier versions, mangú is accompanied by fried meat (usually Dominican salami) and/or cheese. As in the Spanish tradition, lunch is usually the largest and most important meal of the day. It usually consists of rice, meat (chicken, beef, pork or fish), beans and a portion of salad. “La Bandera” (literally “the flag”) is the most popular lunch dish; it consists of meat and red beans on white rice. Sancocho is a stew often made with seven different kinds of meat.

Meals are usually divided into three courses spread throughout the day, as in any other country. There is breakfast, which can be served from 8 to 9 am. Then there is lunch, which is usually the heaviest meal of the day and is usually served at 12 noon sharp. The last meal of the day, dinner, is usually served around 5:30 or 6 pm.

Meals tend to favour meat and starch over dairy products and vegetables. Many dishes are prepared with sofrito, a mixture of local herbs used to baste meat and sauteed to bring out the full flavour of the dish. Throughout the south central coast, bulgur or whole wheat is a main ingredient in quipes or tipili (bulgur salad). Other Dominican favourites are chicharrónyucacasabepastelitos (empanadas), batata, yam, pasteles en hojachimichurris and tostones.

Dominicans enjoy arroz con leche (or arroz con dulce), bizcocho dominicano (Dominican cake), habichuelas con dulce, flan, frío frío (snow cone), dulce de leche and caña (cane sugar). Drinks that Dominicans like to drink are morir soñando, rum, beer, mama juanabatida (smoothie), jugos naturales (freshly squeezed fruit juice), mabí, coffee and chaca (also known as maiz caqueao/casqueado, maiz con dulce and maiz con leche), the latter only in the southern provinces of the country such as San Juan.

Music and dance

Musically, the Dominican Republic is known for the globally popular style and genre of music known as merengue, a lively and fast type of rhythm and dance music with a tempo of around 120 to 160 beats per minute (although this varies), based on musical elements such as drums, brass instruments, string instruments and accordion, as well as some elements specific to the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, such as the tambora and güira.

Its syncopated rhythms use Latin drums, brass, bass and piano or keyboard. Between 1937 and 1950, merengue music was spread internationally by Dominican groups such as Billo’s Caracas Boys, Chapuseaux and Damiron “Los Reyes del Merengue”, Joseito Mateo and others. Radio, television and international media have popularised it further. Some well-known merengue performers are Wilfrido Vargas, Johnny Ventura, singer-songwriters Los Hermanos Rosario, Juan Luis Guerra, Fernando Villalona, Eddy Herrera, Sergio Vargas, Toño Rosario, Milly Quezada and Chichí Peralta.

Merengue became popular in the United States, especially on the East Coast, in the 1980s and 1990s, when many Dominican artists living in the United States (especially New York) began performing in the Latin club scene and getting airplay on the radio. Among them were Victor Roque y La Gran Manzana, Henry Hierro, Zacarias Ferreira, Aventura and Milly Jocelyn Y Los Vecinos. The emergence of bachata, as well as the increase in the number of Dominicans living among other Latino groups in New York, New Jersey and Florida, contributed to the overall growth in the popularity of Dominican music.

Bachata, a music and dance form that originated in the countryside and rural outskirts of the Dominican Republic, has become very popular in recent years. Its themes are often romantic; stories of heartbreak and sadness are particularly common. In fact, the original name of the genre was amargue (“bitterness”, or “bitter music”, or blues music) until the more ambiguous (and neutral) term bachata became popular. Bachata evolved from the pan-Latin American romantic style called bolero, to which it is still closely related. Over time, it was influenced by the merengue and a variety of Latin American guitar styles.

Palo is an Afro-Dominican sacred music found all over the island. The drum and the human voice are the main instruments. The palo is played at religious ceremonies – usually at the religious festivals of the saints – as well as at secular celebrations and special occasions. It has its roots in the Congo region of west-central Africa, but its melodies are coloured with European influences.

Salsa music enjoys great popularity in the country. In the late 1960s, Dominican musicians like Johnny Pacheco, creator of the group Fania All Stars, played an important role in the development and popularisation of the genre.

Dominican rock is also popular. Many, if not most, of its performers are based in Santo Domingo and Santiago.

National symbols

Some of the most important symbols of the Dominican Republic are the flag, the coat of arms and the national anthem entitled Himno Nacional. The flag has a large white cross that divides it into four quarters. Two quarters are red and two are blue. The red represents the blood shed by the liberators. The blue represents God’s protection of the nation. The white cross symbolises the liberators’ struggle to leave a free nation for future generations. According to another interpretation, the blue stands for the ideals of progress and freedom, while the white symbolises peace and unity among the Dominicans.

In the centre of the cross is the Dominican coat of arms, in the same colours as the national flag. The coat of arms shows a red, white and blue shield draped with a flag, a Bible, a golden cross and arrows; the shield is surrounded by an olive branch (left) and a palm branch (right). The Bible traditionally stands for truth and light. The golden cross symbolises redemption from slavery, and the arrows symbolise noble soldiers and their military pride. A blue ribbon above the shield reads “Dios, Patria, Libertad” (meaning “God, Country, Freedom”). A red band below the shield reads “República Dominicana” (Dominican Republic). Among all flags in the world, the depiction of a Bible is unique to the Dominican flag.

The national flower is the Bayahibe rose and the national tree is the West Indian mahogany. The national bird is the Cigua Palmera or Palm-throat (“Dulus dominicus”).

The Dominican Republic celebrates Dia de la Altagracia on 21 January in honour of its patron saint, Duarte Day on 26 January in honour of one of its founding fathers, Independence Day on 27 February, Restoration Day on 16 August, Virgen de las Mercedes on 24 September and Constitution Day on 6 November.

Stay Safe & Healthy in Dominican Republic

Stay Safe in Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic is generally a safe country. Although the major cities of Santo Domingo and Santiago have seen the rise of an affluent middle class and a building boom, and have achieved a high level of cosmopolitanism, the Dominican Republic is still a third world country and poverty is still endemic, so you should take common sense precautions:

  • Try to avoid travelling alone in cities as muggings are quite common.
  • Very few streets are lit after dark, even in the capital Santo Domingo. Those that are lit are subject to regular power outages.
  • Feral dogs are common throughout the country but largely ignore humans (it is not recommended to feed these dogs as this can cause aggressive behaviour).
  • Western travellers should dress casually and take off rings and other jewellery when outside tourist destinations, but the usual tourist destinations, especially the more expensive and luxurious hotels and areas, are very safe.
  • Since sex tourism is very common in the province of Puerto Plata, you risk being harassed by young men or women who will try to offer you “services”. A firm “no” is sufficient. The age of consent is 18 and tourists who have sex with minors can also be prosecuted by their country of origin.
  • There is no law that prescribes the maximum amount of alcohol that may be consumed before driving. However, there is a limit of 0.05% for professional drivers. Be careful with vehicles, especially late at night when it is much more likely that the driver is intoxicated. It is illegal for tourists and visitors to drive under the influence of alcohol, and apart from being a bad idea, you can be fined for it.

The level of professionalism of the national police is somewhat questionable. In order to protect tourism revenues, the government has created the Politur or “Tourist Police” to ensure the safety of foreign tourists. Travellers should contact this agency if they have any problems, as the response will be much more positive than with the national police.

Stay Healthy in Dominican Republic

Malaria can be a rare problem near tropical forests if travellers do not take protective measures such as mosquito bite repellent. No cases have been reported in tourist areas in the last 8 years. Be sure to consult a doctor before departure.

There is a risk of dengue fever and chikungunya fever, which are transmitted by mosquitoes that bite during the day and at certain times of the year. A vaccine is not available, so it is advisable to use a mosquito repellent.

Most local foods, including meat, fruit and vegetables, are safe to eat.

However, visitors should not drink the local water and stick to bottled water or other drinks. It is important that visitors stay hydrated in the hot, humid climate.

Sunburn and sun poisoning are a big risk. The sun is very bright here. Use at least a sunscreen with SPF 30. Limit exposure to the sun.

HIV/AIDS prevalence among adults in the country is 2.0%, or 1 in 50 adults, almost three times that of the United States. Practice safe sex.

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