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Not to be confused with the Caribbean island country of Dominica.
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.
Explored and claimed by Columbus on his first voyage in 1492, the island of Hispaniola became a springboard for Spanish conquest of the Caribbean and the American mainland.
The island was first inhabited by the Taínos, an Arawakan-speaking people who had arrived around A.D. 600. Within a few short years following the arrival of European explorers the population of Tainos had significantly declined.
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 via Madrid (MAD) or Paris (CDG). 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 or EUROs (€). Local currency, GBP, etc, 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 (official rate as of October 2008, but sometimes you can get it for around $25-30 Some independent hotels in the city may offer airport pickup for $30-$35. There are no hotel "courtesy shuttles" at the airport. This does not exist in the Dominican Republic.
At the airport, you can change your US$ and € in Dominican Pesos. But beware! You may not be able to exchange back local money to US$ and €, so do it before leaving.
Cars may be rented through Hertz, Avis, Prestige Car Rentals or other agencies in Santo Domingo and other major cities. Gasoline, however, is expensive often costing upward of US$3.50/gallon. 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 nighttime hours. 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.
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 .
NOTE: According to an artice on DiarioLibre.com, the ferry service between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic "temporarily" ceased on 15 April 2010 due to a conflict between the company Ferries del Caribe and the administration of the Port of Mayaguez.
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.
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 or transfers with Cocotours , one of the Dominican Republic's leading inbound tour operators. Cocotours has offices in:
The official language of the Dominican Republic is Spanish. 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.
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.
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%.
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.
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, including Moon Palace Casino, Golf & Spa Resort. Hotels charge a 25% room tax, so inquire beforehand to determine if that tax is included 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 Santigo. 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 North American companies [USA] in the country, especially in Santo Domingo and DN (aka 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, & education programs.
The Dominican Republic is a generally 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. For this reason it is best you take common sense precautions. Do not travel alone in cities if possible as muggings are fairly common. Streets are largely unlit after dark, even in the capital of Santo Domingo, and are subject to routine power outages. Wild dogs are common throughout the country but largely ignore people (feeding these dogs is not recommended as this may induce aggressive behavior). Western travelers should dress casually and remove rings and other jewelry when away from tourist destinations, but common tourist destinations, in particular the more expensive, luxury hotels and areas, are very safe.
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.
There are no laws dictating the maximum amount of alcohol that can be drunk prior to driving. However, there is a 0.5% limit for professional drivers. Be wary of vehicles, especially during the late evening, as there is a much higher possibility that the driver is intoxicated compared to your home country. It is illegal for tourists and visitors to drink and drive and you may be penalized for doing so.
The level of professionalism of the National Police is somewhat debatable. To protect income from tourism the government has established the Politur or "tourist police" which is tasked with the safety of foreign tourists. Travelers should contact this agency if any problems are encountered as they will have a much more positive response than with the national police.
Malaria can be an issue around rainforests if travelers don't take protective measures such as repellents against mosquito bites. 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. 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. Practice safe sex.
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 and Haitians, particularly of the older generations, harbor resentment towards each other. 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 not against Spain, but against Haiti, 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.
This all said, 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 by tipping the people who serve you, you are sure to be treated well.