Beautiful beaches, amenity-packed resorts, awe-inspiring nature, incredible golf, and a vibrant culture -- these are some of the things that make the Dominican Republic one of the most-visited destinations in the Caribbean. Lured by the delights of Punta Cana and beyond, over six million people choose to vacation here each year. However, despite the paradisiacal elements, the island isn’t perfect. In fact, it made the news this year for an unusual spate of tourist deaths. With that in mind, it pays to be prepared before you visit. To help you arrive informed, here are 16 things every traveler should know before visiting the Dominican Republic.
1. Safety in the Dominican Republic is generally okay.
While the Dominican Republic has had its fair share of negative press, the country is generally safe, especially if visitors stick to tourist areas and follow the usual common sense when it comes to traveling. The spate of tourist deaths in 2019 made headlines, but the majority of people visit without experiencing any issues. The U.S. State Department ranks the Caribbean destination with a Level 2 warning (the same as France and Germany), meaning visitors should exercise increased caution. Muggings and pickpocketing are the most common complaints, so tourists should be sensible and careful not to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.
2. Dominican Republic tourists should watch out for scams.
As with many other tourist destinations, the Dominican Republic has its issues with scams and hustles. From fake beggars and police to unlicensed taxis, there’s a wide variety of potential scams to avoid on the island. Also, be mindful of people trying to pick up parking charges at the beaches (parking is free).
3. Spanish is the local language in the Dominican Republic.
Spanish is the national language in the Dominican Republic, so learn a few key phrases before you arrive. English is widely spoken at the resorts, but if you choose to explore further afield, you’ll likely need to know a little Spanish to get by. Plus, you’ll feel much more comfortable engaging with people, if you can converse in their local language.
4. Visitors no longer have to pay a tourist fee upon arrival.
Previously, many visitors to the Dominican Republic were required to pay a tourist fee upon arrival. The U.S. $10 fee has now been added onto the cost of flights, which means smoother arrivals. Yes, you still have to pay, but at least you don’t have to line up to do it.
5. The local currency in the Dominican Republic is the Dominican peso.
The Dominican peso is the local currency on the island, so exchange U.S. dollars when you arrive. You can use U.S. dollars, but in many places, you’ll likely be paying a higher price for products and services. If you plan on staying at your resort the whole time — particularly if you’re on an all-inclusive vacation — then U.S. dollars will work just fine, but you might want some local currency when venturing off the property.
6. Dominican Republic excursions should be planned carefully.
Keep in mind that many major attractions aren’t close to the main resort areas. For example, if you’re staying in Punta Cana, finding the local culture or mythical waterfalls might take a little planning. That’s not to say you shouldn’t branch out and experience what’s on offer beyond your all-inclusive resort — just don’t expect a quick 10-minute cab ride up to Monkeyland.
7. Book airport transportation to your Dominican Republic hotel in advance.
Finding your own transportation from the airport can be stressful, especially with issues like unlicensed taxis. Avoid that stress and book a car in advance. You’re likely to save on time and money, plus gain some peace of mind, with a little forward thinking.
8. Baseball is the national sport in the Dominican Republic.
Baseball is the biggest sport in the Dominican Republic, with the country providing the second-highest number of players in Major League Baseball after the U.S. If you visit in the winter (October through January) and fancy an excursion away from the beach, check out a Dominican Professional Baseball League game. Catching a game is a great way to soak up the culture and mix with local fans.
9. Be aware of sex tourism in the Dominican Republic.
Depending on where you are on the island, you might see some aspects of sex tourism. Due to the high poverty rates, prostitution has a visible presence throughout the D.R., particularly in Santo Domingo and Puerto Plata. It’s important to be aware of the issues around trafficking and prostitution, in order to gain insight into the island beyond its dreamy Caribbean image.
10. Using Uber in the Dominican Republic is a great way to avoid inflated prices.
Uber operates in Santo Domingo, Santiago, and Puerto Plata, so if you’re worried about being ripped off in a taxi, this is a great option.
11. There is such a thing as island time.
Island time is alive and well in the Dominican Republic. That means things run at their own pace, unhurried by tourists who arrive with strict routines. Expect everything from restaurant reservations to pre-booked taxis to operate with a delay — 15 to 30 minutes late is hardly considered off schedule. Just go with it — you’re on vacation, after all.
12. Locals in the Dominican Republic are welcoming.
While it’s often stories about pickpocketing that make the news, locals in the Dominican Republic are warm and friendly. In fact, their hospitality and generosity are part of what makes the island so great.
13. You can’t drink the tap water in the Dominican Republic.
Bottled water is available everywhere, so don’t even think about drinking the tap water in the D.R. Some hotels provide filtered H2O, but play it safe and stick to the branded bottled water to avoid any unpleasant illnesses.
14. You’ll have to pack more than beachwear.
If you plan on taking in the nightlife in the Dominican Republic, make sure to pack more than your standard beachwear. Dominicans take clubbing seriously, and turning up in your beach attire will make you feel slightly underdressed in many bars and clubs. You don’t have to bring anything fancy, but at the very least, leave your flip-flops at the hotel.
15. A mobile hotspot device can come in handy.
Wi-Fi is generally good in the resorts, but can be patchy in some parts of the island. That being said, you might want to get a mobile hotspot device to stay connected, especially if you plan on traveling off the property.
16. The beaches in the Dominican Republic are incredible.
If you’re visiting the Dominican Republic, chances are you want to spend some time on the beach. Luckily, the Caribbean country is home to some of the most beautiful stretches of sand in the world. From popular Bavaro Beach to Playa Rincon, which has a more undeveloped feel, there are plenty of options to choose from.
Our Top Pick for a Hotel in Punta Cana: Majestic Colonial Punta Cana
Located on a beautiful stretch of Bavaro Beach, the Majestic Colonial Punta Cana is an all-inclusive property with two sections: the family-friendly side and the adults-only Colonial Club side. The 658 suites are attractive, and some have ocean views. Upgrades to swim-up suites are available. On-site amenities include eight restaurants, 11 bars, a 1,300-foot lazy river-style pool, and a pretty beach with free non-motorized water sports. A disco and casino can also be found here.
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