The Dominican Republic is a Caribbean country that occupies the eastern two-thirds of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. The western one-third of Hispaniola is occupied by the country of Haiti. To the north lies the North Atlantic Ocean, while the Caribbean Sea lies to the south.
As part of the Caribbean the Dominican Republic has the North Atlantic Ocean lying to its north and the Caribbean Sea to its south. It's situated on the island of Hispaniola and occupies the eastern two-thirds of the island while Haiti occupies the western third.
After attaining independence in 1844 the Dominican Republic endured many years of largely non-representative rule until Joaquin Balaguer became president in 1966 holding office until 1996. Today regular elections are held and the Dominican Republic now has an impressive and fast growing economy with tourism playing a major role.
For the adventure tourist this Caribbean country offers a diverse countryside comprising tropical rainforests, arid desert expanses, alpine ranges and steamy mangrove swamps. It's a playground for trekkers, mountain bike enthusiasts and water-sport junkies.
The northern and eastern coasts are dotted with many luxurious resorts however the Dominican Republic has much more to offer than this. There is the wonderful Caribbean music and dance, exotic foods and drink, popular local baseball games, and the remarkable colonial architecture found in the capital Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial. There are also sugar plantations, small quaint villages and wonderful mountain retreats to explore and enjoy in Jarabacoa and Constanza. If you're looking for a hassle free holiday that's big on relaxation then the Dominican Republic is the place to be!
Explored and claimed by Columbus on his first voyage on December 5th, 1492, the island of Quisqueya, named by Columbus as La Hispaniola, became a springboard for Spanish conquest of the Caribbean and the American mainland.
The island was first inhabited by the Taínos and Caribes. The first ones were very friendly and the second were cannibals, an Arawakan-speaking people who had arrived around 10,000 BC. Within a few short years following the arrival of European explorers, the population of Tainos had significantly been reduced by the Spanish conquerors. Based on Fray Bartolomé de las Casas (Tratado de las Indias) between 1492 and 1498 the Spanish conquerors killed around 100,000 Taínos.
The first European settlement founded on the America continent was on La Isabela, Puerto Plata (19º53'15.08" N 71º04'48.41" W) founded in 1493 using a XV century style. The City of Santo Domingo was founded by Bartolomé Colón, on 5 Aug, 1496 and later that was moved by Frey Nicolás de Ovando to the west side of Ozama river in 1502.
In 1606, the King of Spain ordered the depopulation of the west part of the island due to high rates of piracy and smuggling. That measure was the cause of French invasion and, after that, the rise of the Republic of Haiti.
In 1697, Spain recognized French dominion over the western third of the island, which in 1804 became Haiti. The remainder of the island, by then known as Santo Domingo, sought to gain its own independence in 1821, but was conquered and ruled by the Haitians for 22 years; it finally attained independence as the Dominican Republic in 1844.
A legacy of unsettled, mostly non-representative, rule for much of its subsequent history was brought to an end in 1966 when Joaquin Balaguer became president. He maintained a tight grip on power for most of the next 30 years when international reaction to flawed elections forced him to curtail his term in 1996. Since then, regular competitive elections have been held in which opposition candidates have won the presidency. The Dominican economy has had one of the fastest growth rates in the hemisphere.
Tropical maritime with little seasonal temperature variation. There is a seasonal variation in rainfall. The island lies in the middle of the hurricane belt and is subject to severe storms from June to October. It experiences occasional flooding and periodic droughts.
Rugged highlands and mountains with fertile valleys interspersed.
Citizens of most countries can purchase a tourist card on arrival. See Entry Requirements
The main airports (in alphabetical order) are:
You can get flights from Europe at least via Madrid (MAD), Paris (CDG) and Munich (MUC). From the US, you can fly from New York, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, Philadelphia, San Juan, Atlanta or Charlotte. Most European and Canadian cities have charter flight connections, which operate seasonally.
You will be charged $10 for a tourist card on arrival. This must be paid in US dollars or euros. Local currency, sterling, or other currencies will not be accepted. A departure tax of $20 cash is payable on most charter and some scheduled flights. If you are flying on a US carrier, the departure tax is always included in the taxes when you purchased your ticket, so you will not have to pay anything when leaving.
Taxi fares to nearby hotels are posted just outside the airports.
Taxi from Airport to Santo Domingo (Ciudad Colonial): it is about $40. There are no hotel "courtesy shuttles" at airports in the Dominican Republic.
At the airport, you can change your US dollars and euros in Dominican Pesos. Note that you may not be able to exchange back local money to US dollars and euros, so do it before leaving.
Although the Island is large, the only land border that the Dominican Republic shares is Haiti. Only 4 borders crossings exist, including one between Dajabón and Ouanaminthe, another west near Elías Piña, another one near Jimaní, and another one between Pedernales and Anse-à-Pitres. Some of those crossing can be opened between 8 AM and 6 PM.
There is a ferry that travels between Mayagüez in Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo in Dominican Republic. The website says the journey takes 12 hours, leaves Puerto Rico on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 8PM, and arrives in Dominican Republic at 8AM the next morning.
For prices and bookings, visit the Ferries Del Caribe English website . Since March 1, 2011 ferry service has returned, it now sails from Mayagüez and San Juan. Check their website for schedules. But be aware that "Enhanced Driver's Licenses" or "Enhanced ID Cards" that is issued by any state in the U.S. and other countries are not accepted on the ferry, so it's highly recommended to take an Plane if you have that ID card.
Options for getting around the country include bus service, 'gua-guas' (pronounced "Gwa-Gwas": small battered vans or trucks that serve as a collective taxi running fixed routes that are very cheap but can also be very overloaded), domestic air flights and charter air service. There is no rail system in the country. Most towns and cities have regularly scheduled bus service, if not by one of the big bus companies, then by gua-gua . The bus lines are most often simple, independently run operations, usually only connecting two cities within a region (Southwest, East, North) or between one city and the capital (with stops made for any towns on the route). Because of the geography of the country, to get from one region of the country to another you have to go through the capital.
Guaguas (local buses)
Guaguas are the traditional means of transport in the Dominican Republic. Guaguas will be filled to the brink with people and luggage; expect to squeeze to fit more people who will be picked up en route. If you prefer authentic experience over comfort, traveling by guagua is the right choice (see ).
Guagua comfort can range from air conditioned with leather seats to a bit worn down with open window air breeze cooling. Traveling with guaguas is safe, and tourists are treated friendly and get helped out.
You can also hop on mid way if you know where to stand on the route and gesture the driver; tell the conductor your destination and he'll tell you where to get off and how to switch guaguas; sometimes you'll have to ride across town to another bus station.
Prices are modest, around 100-150 pesos for a 1-2 hour ride. Since most guaguas are minibusses, you might have to stow your luggage on a seat; in this case you might have to pay a fee for the occupied seat. Larger routes get serviced by normal sized buses with a separate storage compartment.
Be aware that guaguas stop operating at dusk. Plan your trip with enough slack that you will be able to catch your last guagua when the sun is still up.
The guagua network is organic and does not require you to go through the capital; you might have to change several times though, as guaguas usually only connect two major cities.
Caribe Tours , based out of the capital, is the biggest bus company, and has coverage in most regions that are not well-served by the other 'official' bus companies. Unlike taxis and gua-guas, Caribe Tour rates are fixed by destination and are extremely reasonable due to government subsidies. Expect to pay under 250 pesos (Dom) or US$10 for even the longest trips. Caribe Tour buses typically run from 7AM to 4PM (with departures approx. every two hours) and cover most major cities. On longer trips, expect a short (10 minute) stop for coffee and lunch. Buses are fairly luxurious with movies playing for the entire trip and air conditioning (which can be extremely cold - bring a sweater). Another option is the slightly more expensive Metrobus bus company . Metrobus serves the northern and eastern part of the country. The 'unofficial' gua-gua system covers nearly every road on the island for some moderate savings (if you don't mind being packed in).
In short, bus services across the country are comfortable and a good value. The buses are clean, air conditioned (bring sweater), usually play a VHS movie, and are pretty inexpensive, costing no more than $300 pesos one way cross-country (less than $10).
Taxi services are available but potentially dangerous when dealing with unlicensed drivers. In all cases, it's a good idea to go with a licensed driver and negotiate a price for your destination before you leave. Good drivers are often easy to identify by licenses worn around the neck, uniforms, and clean air conditioned vehicles. When calling a taxi company, you will be given a number to verify your driver. When being picked up, make sure your driver gives you the right number as 'false pickups' are often a prelude to robbery.
Another way to get out and about is to book an excursion with one of the many representatives at most local hotels and resorts.
Cars may be rented through Hertz, Avis, Prestige Car Rentals or other agencies in Santo Domingo and other major cities. Gasoline, unlike most countries that were converted to an Metric System (like the Dominican Republic), is sold in US Gallons. However, it's expensive and often costing upward of US$5.75/gallon (as of March 2011). Some roads, especially in remote areas, are fairly dangerous (often without lane divisions) and many people tend not to respect oncoming traffic. However, road conditions on most major highways are roughly similar to road conditions in the United States and western Europe. However, potholes and rough spots are not rapidly repaired and drivers must be aware that there are a significant number of rough spots even on some major highways. However, there are a number of very good roads such as DR-1 which is a four lane highway connecting the cities of Santo Domingo and Santiago and can be traveled with no trouble. Highway DR-7 is an excellent toll road opened in late 2008. It goes from just east of Santo Domingo north to near Sanchez. From there, you can go east to the Samana peninsula or west along the northern coast of the DR and costs about US $11.
Probably the biggest challenge that an international visitor to the Dominican Republic will face if he or she chooses to rent a car is not so much dealing with automobile traffic, but rather avoiding accidentally running over pedestrians who cross poorly-lit streets and highways in the evening and night time hours. Lack of head/taillights on cars and especially motorcycles is also not unusual and with motorcycles this makes them extremely hard to spot. The best recommendation is not to drive after dusk. Outside of Santo Domingo, the motorbike (motoconcho) is an extremely common form of travel. If lost, you can hail a motorbike driver (motochonchista) and ask for directions. You will be taken to your destination by following the bike. A tip is appropriate for such help. Remember that many of these motorbike drivers look upon road rules as only recommendations. However, driving in the Dominican Republic should not be particularly difficult for experienced drivers from North America or Europe.
The official language of the Dominican Republic is Spanish. You will find some Spanish-English bilingual locals especially in Santo Domingo and tourist areas. Many Dominicans have spent considerable time in the United States, especially New York City, and enjoy speaking English with foreigners in order to keep their language skills sharp. If you speak some Spanish, most Dominicans will try hard to meet you half way and communicate. If you have a problem, you can probably find someone who speaks sufficient English (or probably French and possibly German or Italian in tourist areas) to help you out. Dominicans are quite friendly and will be quite helpful if you are polite and respectful. The large community of Haitians living in the DR speak Haitian Creole and in some cases French, and most speak Spanish well. In rural areas, you may hear a few African and Arawakan words interspersed with the Spanish, but standard Spanish is universally understood. Communication should not be a problem even for those who speak only a minimum of Spanish. If you are traveling to one of the large all-inclusive hotels, you will have no language problems.
The Dominican currency is the Dominican Peso (DOP). As of July 2013, the exchange rate was 41 DOP/$1 USD.
One of the best spots in the Colonial District of Santo Domingo to shop is the several blocks long outdoor mall, El Conde Street. It offers everything from street vendors (it is not recommended to eat off these) to knock-off name brand clothing for extremely inexpensive prices. There are some very pleasant outdoor restaurants that serve as perfect spots to people watch and drink Presidente (their most popular beer).
During the day, there are also several touristy shops where you can buy cheap presents for the family back home including authentic paintings and beautiful jewelry. There is also a very nice cigar shop at the end of the mall across from the cathedral. Clothes, however, are generally very economical and often of good quality. Most prices can be negotiated. US dollars are accepted in most areas.
Additionally, other imported drinks are available for purchase--at least in the towns and cities--they might not be as readily available out in the countryside.
Do not drink tap water! Locals, even in the most rural areas, will either boil their water or purchase bottled water. Eating salads or other food that may be washed in tap water is not advisable. Ice is a bad idea as well, except in luxury hotels and restaurants (which produce ice from bottled water). If you plan on cooking or washing dishes for longer stays, it is a good idea to rinse everything with bottled or boiled water before use. In every community, there will be one or more colmados (the same as what are called bodegas in Puerto Rico) where you can buy small amounts of everything. Water is sold in bottles at 15 pesos and up, but it is also sold in plastic bags (fundas) at 2 for 5 pesos, much cheaper and with less plastic trash. If you stay in a room with a kitchenette, you can buy water for around 50 pesos for a 40 liter (huge) jug. Many hotels will refill your water bottle, though probably not the expensive ones. Beer and rum are sold by everyone, everywhere.
Food in the Dominican Republic is typical Caribbean fare, with lots of tropical fruits, rice, beans, and seafood. Most restaurant meals will cost an additional 16% tax plus 10% service: for very good service, it is customary to leave an additional 10%.
Accommodations in the Dominican Republic are plentiful, with options ranging from huge, all-inclusive beach resorts to more personal options scattered along the coasts and in the cities. Hotels charge a 25% room tax, so inquire beforehand to determine if that tax is included (often the case) in the listed room price.
Many US universities offer study abroad options for the Dominican Republic. The two most common cities hosting exchange students are Santo Domingo and Santiago. Check with local universities for programs and prices. Spanish language schools are located in major cities and on the north coast as well.
Most companies do not require anything more than a passport to work. There are a lot of US companies in the country, especially in Santo Domingo and DN (the National District). There are good opportunities for English speaking employees. The country has several free zones, lots of them in the call center area.
There are several volunteer opportunities in the Dominican Republic. Many worldwide organizations offer extended travel for anyone willing to volunteer their time to work with locals on projects such as community development, conservation, wildlife sanctuary maintenance & development, scientific research, and education programs.
The Dominican Republic is generally a safe country. Although the major cities of Santo Domingo and Santiago have experienced the growth of a thriving middle class, construction booms and reached a high level of cosmopolitanism, the Dominican Republic remains a third world country and poverty is still rampant so you need to take common sense precautions:
Remember that both 911 and 112 are both used as Emergency Telephone Numbers in the Dominican Republic except 911 is only available within the Santo Domingo Area and it's reliability is unknown
Malaria can be a rare issue around rainforests if travelers don't take protective measures such as repellents against mosquito bites. No cases have been reportedover the past 8 years within the tourist areas. Be sure to consult with a physician before departure.
There is a risk of dengue fever which is contracted through mosquitoes that bite during the day and during some seasons of the year. No vaccine is available, so again using mosquito repellent is advisable.
Many of the local foods are safe to eat including the meats, fruits, and vegetables.
Visitors, however, should not drink any of the local water and should stay with bottled water or other beverages. It is important for visitors to stay hydrated in the hot, humid climate.
Sunburn and sun poisoning are a great risk. The sun is very bright here. Use at least SPF30 sunblock. Limit sun exposure.
The country's adult HIV/AIDS prevalence is reaching 2.0% or 1 in 50 adults, which is almost 3 times higher than the USA. If you engage in a sexual relationship, always use protection.
Dominicans are kind and peaceful people. Attempts at speaking Spanish are a good sign of respect for the local people. 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, particularly of the older generations, harbor resentment towards Haitians. Santo Domingo was invaded and occupied by Haiti for a good part of the 19th century, and the Dominican Republic actually fought its first war of independence against Haiti, not Spain, after which the Dominican Republic faced several other invasions from its neighbor.
In the 20th century, Trujillo's dictatorship massacred tens of thousands of Haitians in the 1930's, which fueled into the resentment between both nations. Nowadays, about a million Haitians live in the Dominican Republic, most of them illegally. Some Dominicans' opinions towards illegal immigrants from Haiti are similar to some Americans' attitudes towards Mexican illegal immigrants, with the major difference that, unlike the US, the Dominican Republic is a small and poor country by world standards. Gang wars can erupt along the border, so stay cautious and be sensitive.
Still, the issues remain very complex and Dominicans often find their position to be misunderstood by foreigners. For example, Dominican Republic was the first country to come to Haiti's aid in the 2010 Haitian earthquake and has made impressive efforts to help its neighbor during this crisis. This shows that despite their historical, linguistic, religious, cultural and racial differences, Haitians and Dominicans still consider each other to be brotherly, yet proudly independent, nations.
When staying at the luxury resorts or really any place 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 be treated well.
The Dominican Republic is part of the North American Numbering Plan Area (NANPA) and shares the Country Code of +1 with all the NANPA territories. Area codes used are 809, 829, and 849. Local phone numbers are basically the same format as in the United States and Canada with a 3 digit area code and 7 digit subscriber number. .
If you're planing to use a GSM cell phone here, Viva, Claro and Orange are the only known companies that have GSM plans and SIM cards. It's unknown about Tricom and Wind if they offer GSM. However, Orange and Tricom also have 4G LTE.