Dominican Republic

Travel Guide Caribbean Hispaniola Dominican Republic



Sosua beach boats

Sosua beach boats

© shinenyc

Discovered by Columbus on his first voyage to the New World, the Dominican Republic has come a long way since the Spanish empire claimed it, ignoring the presence of the local Taino people. While modern Dominican culture retains some elements of traditional Taino culture, aspects of Spanish, African and American culture have also contributed, creating an energizing lifestyle dominated by music and dance (the nation celebrates three annual music festivals).

The country is larger than most of the other Caribbean island nations and this gives the Dominican Republic a greater geographic diversity. While it offers beautiful sandy beaches to relax by, travellers can also enjoy a spectacular mountainous inland, a rich habitat for native flora and fauna.



Brief History

The Arawakan-speaking Taínos moved into Hispaniola, displacing earlier inhabitants, circa A.D. 650. The Taínos called the island Kiskeya or Quisqueya ("mother of the earth"). They engaged in farming and fishing, and hunting and gathering. The fierce Caribs drove the Taínos to the northeastern Caribbean during much of the 15th century. The estimates of Hispaniola's population in 1492 vary widely, from 100,000 to 2 million.

The Dominican Republic was claimed by Christopher Columbus on his first voyage in 1492. He named it the island of La Española (Hispaniola), and it became an important city during the Spanish conquest of the Caribbean and the Americas.

By 1697, the French had gained dominion over the western third of the island of Hispaniola, which became Haiti in 1804. The remaining two thirds of the island, known at the time as Santo Domingo, attempted to gain their own independence in 1821, but they were conquered by the Haitians and subsequently ruled by them for 22 years. In 1844, they finally attained independence and became known as the Dominican Republic.




The Dominican Republic occupies the eastern two-thirds of Hispaniola and covers an area of 48,442 km², including offshore islands. The land border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti is 388 kilometres long. The Dominican Republic's shores are bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and the Caribbean Sea to the south. The Mona Passage, a channel about 130 kilometres wide, separates the country from Puerto Rico. There are many small offshore islands and cays that are part of the country. The two largest islands near the mainland are Saona, in the southeast, and Beata, in the southwest. The country has 4 major mountain ranges. The most northerly is the Cordillera Septentrional, which extends from the northwestern coastal town of Monte Cristi, near the Haitian border, to the Samaná Peninsula in the east, running parallel to the Atlantic coast. The highest range in the Dominican Republic is the Cordillera Central. Here are the four highest peaks in the Caribbean: Pico Duarte (3,098 metres), La Pelona (3,094 metres, La Rucilla (3,049 metres) and Pico Yaque (2,760 metres). In the southwest corner is the Sierra de Neiba, while in the south the Sierra de Bahoruco is a continuation of the Massif de la Selle in Haiti. There are other, minor mountain ranges, such as the Cordillera Oriental ("Eastern Mountain Range"), Sierra Martín García, Sierra de Yamasá and Sierra de Samaná. Between the Central and Northern mountain ranges lies the rich and fertile Cibao valley. Other valleys include the San Juan Valley, south of the Central Cordillera, and the Neiba Valley. Most of the Enriquillo Basin is below sea level, with a hot, arid, desert-like environment. There are other smaller valleys in the mountains, such as the Constanza, Jarabacoa, Villa Altagracia, and Bonao valleys. The Llano Costero del Caribe is the largest of the plains and another large plain is the Plena de Azua. There are 4 major rivers draining the numerous mountains of the Dominican Republic. The Yaque del Norte is the longest and most important Dominican river. The Artibonito is the longest river of Hispaniola and flows westward into Haiti. Finally, there are many lakes and coastal lagoons. Enriquillo is a salt lake of 40 metres, making it the lowest point in the Caribbean. Other important lakes are Laguna de Rincón or Cabral, with freshwater, and Laguna de Oviedo, a lagoon with brackish water.




The valleys and mountains of the Dominican Republic divide the country into 3 geographical regions:

  • Northern Dominican Republic includes Cibao Valley, the Northern Mountain Range and the Atlantic coastal areas.
  • Central Dominican Republic is dominated by the Cordillera Central (Central Range).
  • Southwestern Dominican Republic lies south of Valle de San Juan, encompassing the Sierra de Neiba.






Sights and Activities


The Dominican Republic is one of the largest producers of cigars in the world. Some argue Dominican cigars are even better than Cubans. A great activity is to go explore the entire cigar making process from growing to rolling and lastly smoking. The best places to experience the cigar process are in the center of the island near Santiago and Cibao Valley region.


Due to the large number of resorts on the Dominican Republic some world class golf courses have appeared. The island has been a favorite golfing destination for many famous people like Bill Clinton. There are 19 courses with oceanfront views and several courses designed by legendary designers.


The Dominican Republic has more then a thousand miles of white sand beaches with clear blue water. If you're looking for super high end resorts with pools and gold course then some beaches are perfect for you. If you're looking for something more off the beaten track with no people, that is also easy to find! The beaches surround the entire country and all of them are great in different ways. The beaches are amazing and are a great place to relax.

Other Sights and Activities

  • Cabarete Beach, on the north shore in Puerto Plata, is famous for windsurfing, kitesurfing and regular surfing. It's also an excellent place for paragliding.
  • Diving - Go for some excellent diving at places like Boca Chica, Juan Dollo and Ocoa Bay.
  • Eco and Adventure Tourism - This has grown in the Dominican Republic in recent years. Travellers who enjoy bird watching, camping, climbing, horseback riding, or white water rafting will find plenty of opportunities.
  • Baseball - Catch a baseball game and experience a local sports event.
  • The Colonial District of Santo Domingo - Explore the back allies of this historic district and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Catedral Santa María La Menor - This was the first Catholic cathedral in the Americas and is located in Santo Domingo.



Events and Festivals

Virgen de Altagracia

No Dominican religious day is more important than this January 21 tribute to the patron saint, the Virgin of Altagracia. It takes several days to make the pilgrimage to the basilica in the eastern community of Higuay where a 15th century painting of Altagracia hangs. The trip is just one of many smaller vigils and services held throughout the Dominican Republic and once the praying ends, the parties begin.

Juan Pablo Duarte Day

This late January celebration in honor of Juan Pablo Duarte, one of the biggest fighters for an independent Dominican Republic, is held on the closest Monday to Duarte’s birthday, January 26. People lay wreaths and flowers on his tomb at Santo Domingo’s Altar de la Patria and children march alongside military members in parades across the country. The liveliest celebrations take place in front of the statue at Duarte Park.


The final day of Carnival falls on February 27, the same day that Dominican Republic became independent from over two decades of Haitian rule. Although each community celebrates in their own way, no festival is bigger than the one in La Vega, where revelers wear devil horns and whack each other with balloons. Santo Domingo’s Carnival culminates with a giant Independence Day parade along the Malecón.

Semana Santa

The normally vibrant Dominican Republic grinds to a halt during the annual Christian Holy Week celebrations, which usually take place in early April. Church services and parties are the two most important features of these Easter festivities. The Dominican Republic’s Haitian community incorporates ancient voodoo ceremonies in their traditions.

Espiritu Santo

The sounds of conga drums and other African instruments ring throughout the Dominican Republic during this lively festival held in June, seven weeks after Semana Santa. The biggest Espiritu Santo celebration takes place in a community called Villa Mella situated not far from Santo Domingo.

Merengue Festival

The Malecón comes alive with the sound of merengue during this annual Santo Domingo festival, which starts in late July and coincides with the August 4 anniversary of the city’s founding. Several of the world’s finest dancers and musicians perform live while enjoying separate food and craft fairs.

Restoration Day

In 1863, the Dominican Republic regained its independence from Spain for the second time. Each August 16, Dominicans celebrate their ‘second independence’ by dressing in elaborate costumes and marching in street parades. The two biggest celebrations are in Santo Domingo’s Plaza España and in Santiago, the city where the fight began.

Puerto Plata Festival

Fuerte San Felipe is the main location of this lively October festival on the Dominican Republic’s north coast. The most talented folk, blues, jazz, and merengue musicians perform during the day’s costumed parades, food fairs and dance performances. African spirituals are also part of the tradition.




The Dominican Republic is a very popular places to spend some time doing nothing much more than relaxing and enjoying the weather and it is obvious to see why. The climate is warm (sometimes even hot) throughout the year, but the humidity can feel oppressive at times. Although most of the country is warm and there is a wet season like in most other parts of the Caribbean, there are some small differences, mainly between north and south.
In the south, where the capital Santo Domingo is located, differences between the summermonths of May to October and the wintermonths of November to April are relatively small regarding temperatures, around 28 °C to 31 °C during the day and 19 °C to 24 °C at night. In the north, it is a bit colder during winter but somewhat warmer (September can feel extremely hot) during summer.
Also, although the south has the wet season from June to October, the north actually sees more rain on average throughout the year and the wintermonths of November to April actually have much more rain as well.



Getting There

By Plane

Air Dominicana (website under construction) is the national airline of the Dominican Republic, but is only expected to begin flights in April 2008, mainly charters to several cities in the Caribbean and to New York. It is based at Punta Cana International Airport (PUJ) which offers a wide range of flights with many other airlines. Destinations include Moscow, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Düsseldorf, Berlin, Stuttgart, Calgary, Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Santo Domingo, Paris, Madrid, Edmonton, Quebec City, Regina, Vancouver, Atlanta, Miami, New York, San Juan, Amsterdam, Caracas, Vienna, Bogota, London, Frankfurt, Newark, Cincinnati, Detroit, Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Zürich, Faro, Lisbon, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Brussels, Santiago, Lima, Atlantic City, Antigua, Aruba, Barbados, Curacao, Holguin, Pointe-a-Pitre, Port of Spain, Sint Maarten, Varadero, Fort Lauderdale, Halifax, Moncton, Birmingham, Glasgow, Charlotte, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Cleveland, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Campinas, Manchester, Newcastle and a few other places in the region.

Las Américas International Airport (SDQ) near the capital Santo Domingo is another important international hub with flights to most neighbouring countries and islands, South America, Central America, North America and several direct flights from Europe as well. Destinations include Frankfurt, Toronto, New York, Madrid and Paris.

By Boat

Ferries del Caribe offers three weekly ferries between Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic and Mayagüez in Puerto Rico. From Santo Domingo they leave on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8pm arriving in Mayagüez at 8am the following morning. From Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, they leave on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 8pm, and arrive in Santo Domingo at 8am the next morning. The journey takes about 12 hours in both directions.



Getting Around

By Plane

Air Santo Domingo is the only domestic carrier and has regular flights between Santo Domingo, Santiago, Samaná, Punta Cana and Puerto Plata. There are also gua-guas which are smaller and less comfortable buses but are an excellent way to meet locals and travel within a smaller region.

By Car

Renting a car is a good way to get around in the Dominican Republic, although it's expensive compared to other countries in the region. Roads are generally in a good condition, although not all roads are tarred and some roads (even tarred ones) can be difficult to pass after very heavy rains. The main roads include the Sanchez Highway running westwards from Santo Domingo to Elias Pina on the border with Haiti, the Mella Highway eastwards from Santo Domingo to Higuey in the southeast and the Duarte Highway which runs north and west from Santo Domingo to Santiago and to Monte Cristi on the northwestern coast. There are several international and local companies offering rental cars, both at the airport as well as the major towns and resort areas.

You have to be 25 years of age to rent a car, and you must have a credit card and a valid national driver's license. Driving is not easy in the Dominican Republic and traffic police are known to be corrupt.

By Bus

The Dominican Republic has a good bus system and it's one of the best ways to get around. Buses are generally cheap, reliable and comfortable, although some buses aren't as nice. Metro Bus or Caribe Tours have air-conditioned and comfortable cabins and are a little faster as well. For an overview of schedules and connections, see

By Boat

Other than a daily ferry between Samaná and Sabana del Mar, most travellers that go out on ferries or boats are on a tour for snorkeling, diving or fishing.



Red Tape

Citizens of most countries, except large parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, can purchase a tourist card on arrival. See Entry Requirements.




See also Money Matters

The Dominican currency is the Dominican Peso (DOP). Coins come in denominations of $1, $5, $10, $25 and banknotes in $20, $50, $100, $200, $500, $1,000, $2,000.




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.




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.




Related article: Spanish: Grammar, pronunciation and useful phrases

Spanish is the official language of the Dominican Republic.

You will find some Spanish-English bilingual locals especially in Santo Domingo and tourist areas. 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 possible German, Italian or Russian) to help you out. Dominicans are quite friendly and will be quite helpful if you are polite and respectful. Haitians living in the DR may speak a variation of French and you may hear a few African and Arawakan words interspersed with the Spanish, especially in rural areas. 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.




Dominican cuisine is predominantly Spanish, Taíno, and African. The typical cuisine is quite similar to what can be found in other Latin American countries, but many of the names of dishes are different. One breakfast dish consists of eggs and mangú (mashed, boiled plantain). For heartier versions, mangú is accompanied by deep-fried meat (Dominican salami, typically) and/or cheese. Similarly to Spain, lunch is generally the largest and most important meal of the day. Lunch usually consists of rice, meat (such as chicken, beef, pork, or fish), beans, and a side 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 varieties of meat.

Meals tend to favor meats and starches over dairy products and vegetables. Many dishes are made with sofrito, which is a mix of local herbs used as a wet rub for meats and sautéed to bring out all of a dish's flavors. Throughout the south-central coast, bulgur, or whole wheat, is a main ingredient in quipes or tipili (bulgur salad). Other favorite Dominican foods are chicharrón, yuca, casabe, pastelitos (empanadas), batata, yam, pasteles en hoja, chimichurris, tostones.

Some treats Dominicans enjoy are arroz con leche (or arroz con dulce), bizcocho dominicano (lit. Dominican cake), habichuelas con dulce, flan, frío frío (snow cones), dulce de leche, and caña (sugarcane).




Lodging in the Dominican Republic is 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.

Puntacana Resort & Club is one of many resorts in the Dominican Republic. It features accommodations that range from hotel stays to private villas to real estate opportunities. The amenities at the resort include world class golf courses, a premier spa, an ecological preserve, land & water sports galore as well as many dining & entertainment options.




  • Beer - Presidente, Brahma, Bohemia
  • Rum - Brugal, Barcelo, Bermudez, Macorix, Siboney, Punta Cana.
  • Mama Juana - a mixture of bark and herbs left to soak in rum, red wine and honey.

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.




See also Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to the Dominican Republic. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to the Dominican Republic. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against hepatitis B, rabies, tuberculosis and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.

Malaria is prevalent inland, mainy along the border with Haiti and also in the province of Altagracira, including the popular beach destinations Punta Cana! It is recommended to take malaria pills if visiting these areas, although for Punta Cana anti-mosquito precautions are generally enough, as chances are very slim. Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccination, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.




See also Travel Safety

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.

Try to avoid being alone in cities as muggings are fairly common. Sex tourism is prevalent in the Puerto Plata province of the country, so you may be hassled by young men or women trying to offer you 'services'. A firm 'No' is good enough. The age of consent is 18, and tourists who have sex with minors may also be prosecuted by their home country.

Avoid the following neighborhoods in Santo Domingo: Capotillo, 24 de Abril, Gualey, Guachupita, Ensanche Luperón, Domingo Savio, María Auxiliadora, Villa Consuelo, Los Alcarrizos (and all of their subneighborhoods), La Puya, El Manguito, La Yuca, Santa Bárbara, Los Tres Brazos. If you have to go there for some reason, be polite, mind your own business and try to be polite as possible If someone taking to you. If you do that, there will be no problem. In Santo Domingo, it's recommend to stay in Zona Metropolitana (Piantini, Naco, Evaristo Morales, etc.) and Zona Colonial (excluding Santa Bárbara) where you will have a lot of fun.



Keep Connected


See also International Telephone Calls

Telephone numbers in the Dominican Republic use area code 809 with 829 and 849 as overlay codes. Telecommunications in the Dominican Republic use the North American Numbering Plan country code, 1, followed by the area code as in the US and Canada.

When in the Dominican Republic, the 3-digit area code followed by the 7-digit phone number must be dialed. When calling the Dominican Republic from the United States or Canada, this must be prefixed by the digit "1", it will be charged at international rate. From other countries the international prefix used in the originating country must be dialed before the "1".


INPOSDOM is the national postal service of the Dominican Republic and unfortunately, although things are getting better, is not known for its fast and efficient services. It takes at least a few weeks for your letter or postcard to arrive in the USA and even longer for Europe or other continents. It costs from RD$3 to North America and from RD$4 elsewhere for standard letters and postcards. Post offices generally are open from around 8:00am to 3:00pm, though in big cities and tourist resort areas there are sometimes longer hours and you can usually give your postcards are major hotels and resorts as well at all times. Stamps are available at post offices, but at many shops and kiosks and some hotels as well. Sending packages is not recommended through the official postal service, and it's much better to use good international courier companies like UPS, TNT or DHL.


Quick Facts

Dominican Republic flag

Map of Dominican Republic


Local name
Republica Dominicana
Santo Domingo
Representative Democracy
Christianity (Catholic)
Dominican Peso (DOP)
Calling Code
Time Zone


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Dominican Republic Travel Helpers

  • greatgrandmaR

    4 visits - one a week in Santo Domingo, two visits to Samana by cruise ship and one visit to Amber Cove and Puerto Plata

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  • crystalscan

    Born in the Dominican Republic, but moved to the United States at an early age. I travel every year to the resort areas in the Dominican Republic.

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  • Theforce

    Hi! Born and raised in the Dominican Republic, I can help with general questions and for anything in Sto. Dgo. city (the capital) or the Eastern Zone.

    Je comprende francaise aussi. Un peu ;)

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  • joanna dee

    If you are interested in coming to the North Coast of the Dominican Republic contact us for information. We are based in Cabarete, World famous for Kiteboarding and Windsurfing.

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