Dominican Republic holidaysThe sample prices are per person based on two people travelling!
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC HOLIDAYS
Spanish is the official language of the Dominican Republic; however, many residents speak English, particularly in the capital of Santo Domingo and the touristy areas. French, German and Italian are also commonly spoken among those working in the tourist industry. For anyone heading into the rural areas, a Spanish phrase book will come in handy.
Although the Dominican peso (DOP) is the official currency, US dollars are accepted in most areas. ATMs aren’t especially common and only Banco Popular, Banco Progreso, Banco León and Scotiabank ATMs accept foreign debit cards. Currency can be changed at bank as well as airports. Credit cards are widely accepted, especially in the tourist areas, hotels and shops. There is usually a charge of around 16 per cent for this service.
No visa is required for UK and EU nationals, but all visitors must purchase a tourist card on arrival. A tourist card costs around €8, or US$10, and can only be paid in euro or US dollars. A departure tax of around €16/US$20 is also required and again, only euro and US dollars are accepted. Some flights include the departure tax in the booking, but it’s best to check with your airline in advance or to have the correct amount of currency available.
With the exception of the central mountains, temperatures remain around 28ºC throughout the year. The rainy season, May to October, is best avoided as it can be extremely humid. August and September, however, are hurricane season. Ideal times to travel to Dominican Republic are December to February or July to August as these periods have the best of the weather without the humidity or hurricanes.
Punta Cana International Airport in the east of the country is the busiest airport, although the biggest and most modern airport is Las Américas International Airport, just outside of Santo Domingo. There are a number of global carriers that fly to both airports from London, Madrid, Paris and Frankfurt, as well as New York and Toronto.
British Airways, Thomson Airways and Thomas Cook Airlines fly to Punta Cana International Airport from London-Gatwick year round, while the latter two airlines also serve flights from Manchester. Las Américas International Airport receives Thomas Cook Airlines flights from London-Gatwick, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow-International. A direct flight from London to the Dominican Republic takes around 8 hours, 45 minutes.
It can be cheaper to fly from Paris or another European city than it is to fly from London. Incorporating a stopover can reduce the flight cost by half. This is especially true in the peak season, from July to August. Outside of peak season, it can be cheaper for UK travellers to fly to a US airport and then take a connecting flight. Seasonal charter flights also offer good deals.
It is possible to get the Dominican Republic by boat. International ferry service Ferries del Caribe connects the country with Mayagüez in Puerto Rico. There are around three services a week, one at the weekend and two during the week. The trip takes around 12 hours and is reasonably cheap. Typically, it’s seating only but for a bit extra it is possible to purchase a private cabin with an exterior window.
Domestic flights in the Dominican Republic can significantly cut down travel time, and it’s possible to find some good deals. The bus is easily the cheapest way of getting around, with car hire being a happy medium as it’s reasonably priced and often more comfortable than the local long-haul buses. The roads are occasionally in poor condition, but they are adequate and the road network is extensive.
There are seven airports that handle domestic flights to the most popular tourist destinations, such as Las Terrenas, Santo Domingo and Samaná. There are a number of carriers, such as Air Century and AeroDomca, but Take Off offers the widest selection of destinations and often has the best deals.
The bus is a popular means of transport, with bus routes easy to interpret and services to even the smallest of towns. Caribe Tours is the biggest company and covers most regions. The prices are cheap but service tends to finish at around 16:00. All long-haul buses have air-conditioning, films and coffee breaks. The Metrobus Company buses, in the north and east of the country, are slightly more expensive, but tend to be quicker and have air-conditioning.
Motorcycles and cars are easy to hire and are reasonably priced, although as the roads are in poor conditions in places, a car is recommended over a motorcycle. To hire, visitors must be over 25 years of age, present a valid driving licence and be prepared to leave their passport or show a major credit card as a deposit. Always check that insurance is included. Many of the big companies can be found at airports or in the cities, while many hotels also feature car hire services.
The capital, Santo Domingo, is one of the main tourist hubs. Here, there are plenty of shops, cafés and restaurants, along with a huge amount of bars and nightlife. Tourists will also find Mercado Modelo, a two-storey market in the Colonial Zone. It’s a great place to pick up souvenirs and haggling is pretty much a requirement.
Outside of the capital, there is a wide variety of places to visit. Cabarate is a great beach with plenty of beach-side restaurants. However, the biggest draw here is the windsurfing and kite-surfing, as the coastal winds make it the perfect place for professionals and beginners alike.
For those tourists wanting to see some wildlife, the Dominican Republic is an ideal destination for humpback whale-watching, and one of the best places to see them is Cofresi. Cruises which take passengers out to see the whales are easily found.
For those looking to add a bit of adventure to their trip, Puna Cana and Pico Duarte provide thrills in abundance. In Puna Cana, visitors can zip wire through the rainforest, admiring the views as they go, while Pico Duarte is the highest peak in the Caribbean. Found within Bermudez National Park, the peak can be hiked, although it’s quite a demanding two-day trek that is not advisable for beginners.
Jaracacoa, an inland town, is another ideal spot for thrill-seekers. Here, there’s a huge array of activities on offer, from mountain biking and horseback riding, to white-water rafting.
The Dominican Republic is ideal for relaxing too, with over 20 miles of stunning beaches to choose from. Playa Boca Chica, a bustling beach with white sands and crystal clear waters, is located just outside of the capital. Playa Rincón, on the eastern shoreline of the Samaná Peninsula, is slightly more difficult to reach, but tends to be deserted.
Calle de las Damas, in the capital of Santo Domingo, is a stunning cobblestone street in the colonial zone that is renowned for its beautiful architecture, abundant history and distinctly European feel.
Catedral Primada de America can also be found in the capital. This cathedral, built between 1514 and 1544, is the oldest cathedral in the Americas. With its Gothic ambience and Renaissance style décor, it’s a very peaceful place to visit and was once the resting place of Christopher Columbus.
There are a number of amazing beaches, including a variety of stretches of sand at Playa del Marao. Nearby, there’s a shipwreck for scuba divers to explore as well as the small fishing village of El Marco. Here, there are traditional restaurants for a real taste of the Dominican Republic’s past.
For a bit of wildlife-spotting, there is Lago Enriquillo, a huge salt-water lake that is home to one of area’s largest wild animal reserves and bird sanctuaries. Colourful flamingos, crocodiles and iguanas can all be spotted here.
Eastern National Park, also known as Parque Nacional del Este, is one of the largest parks in the Caribbean and home to 112 species of bird. There are also local caves where visitors can see early cave drawings along with some remote beaches for the ideal getaway.
Mount Isabel de Torres, in Purto Plata, offers amazing sights of the surrounding scenery. A short cable ride to the top allows visitors to admire the view and see the huge Christ statue here along with the botanical gardens, which are full of beautiful flowers.
To really get a feel for the history of the country, tourists should visit Altos de Chavon, a replica 16th century Spanish village. With beautiful scenery, it overlooks the Chavon River. There’s also an archeological museum and numerous art galleries here.
The Dominican Republic has a wide variety of entertainment for visitors. Although cockfighting is extremely popular, the fights can be brutal. However, there are plenty of other forms of milder entertainment on offer.
Baseball may not be the national sport, but it is very much the national obsession. Going to a baseball game is a great experience as the atmosphere is electric and the locals really get into the mood. The season lasts from October to January and Estadio Quisqueya in Santo Domingo is a great stadium for both visitors who are seasoned fans or new to the game.
For night owls, the Dominican Republic can provide. The capital of Santo Domingo has the most variety of nightlife, but big tourist cities like Bavaro and Punta Cana also have huge clubs with international DJs headlining during the peak season.
Colmadons, small supermarkets by day and bars by night, are popular watering holes. The Dominican Republic is renowned for its rum and the way to drink like a local is to order a bottle of rum along with coke and ice.
For live music, it has to be the car washes. Many of the car washes in the cities transform into clubs or live music venues at night and usually stay open until the early hours of the morning. This is the best way to get a real, local night out.
The Dominican Republic is also known for its carnival, held annually on the last weekend in February. During this time, the city of La Vega comes to life, as more than 100,000 locals and tourists alike pour into the streets to party until dawn.
There are casinos in all the cities which often stay open late. There are also a number of cinemas and although some films are dubbed, English language films are often shown.
The Dominican cuisine takes a lot of its traits from Spanish food, not surprisingly as the nation was once a Spanish colony. The country has adapted many traditional Spanish dishes and given them a Caribbean twist.
Seafood and rice are the staples of most meals, with beans, plantains and potatoes also common. Seafood dishes here are delicious, and one of the best meals to try is paella. This traditional Spanish rice dish is made with local seafood and spices for an amazing fusion of tastes. There are many traditional restaurants across the island and most serve arroz con leche, also known as arroz con dulce. This sweet, spiced pudding of milk and rice is quite heavy, but very tasty.
Moros de gandules con coco, a mix of rice and coconut milk, often with peas, is very popular in the Caribbean, while sancocho, a mixed stew of chicken, pork, shrimp, vegetables and potatoes is exclusively a Dominican dish, along with pastelón, or casserole. There are a number of variations of this casserole but all include some form of meat. For those wanting try something different, lengua picante, or spicy cow’s tongue, is commonly eaten.
Los tres golpes is the name of a traditional meal served in three parts (hence the name, which translates as ’the three hits’). It consists of fried cheese, traditional Dominican salami and mashed plantain with egg, onion and avocado. This dish is often served for breakfast, although there are many other cuisines available for those not wanting to try new foods so early in the morning. In the tourist areas especially, there are traditional British, Italian and a number of fast food places.
Many of the luxury resorts have claimed the beaches along Playa Dorada, but there are still some parts of this largely private stretch that are open for the public, with golden white sands and plenty of beach facilities. It’s better for water sports than for swimming; however, Punta Cana is one of the safest places to swim and is also known as one of the best beaches in the world. The beachfront here goes on for 20 miles, with many amenities along the way.
There are few things more romantic then spending time with your other half on a deserted island. The Dominican Republic is perfect for this. Saona Island is unbelievably beautiful and the only way to get here is by a two-hour catamaran ride. Couples can spend their holiday lounging on the beach, enjoying lunch at one of the open bars or just retire to their beachside villa for an evening alone.
Many resorts cater for families with children’s activities and safe waters that are shallow enough to paddle in. Caberete Bay is great for this, as are many resorts on the northern coast around Playa Dorada. With regards to activities, whale-watching trips are a great experience and the Ocean World Adventure Park, on the northern shore in Plata Cofesi, has slides suitable for all ages.
The mountainous village of Jarabacoa might be small, but it’s the perfect place to experience canyoning. Travelling through the stunning scenery by abseiling, swimming and any other means is possible. It’s also possible to book a rafting trip on the Rio Yaque del Norte, a truly thrilling experience. And let’s not forget all of the water sports that are on offer on pretty much every beach, such as jet-skiing, waterskiing and snorkelling.