Dominican Republic – Around the World from A to Z – D
Dominican Republic – Around the World from A to Z – D
This week on our virtual tour Around the World from A to Z it’s all about the Dominican Republic. This Caribbean island probably doesn’t need an introduction for many Canadians. It has been a popular winter vacation destination for many Canadian snowbirds for a long time. However, for those that don’t know about the DR, or need a little travel inspiration, read on to find out more about this beautiful tropical island and what makes it more than just a beach destination.
Let me introduce you to the Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic, or the DR for short, is a Spanish speaking country located on Hispaniola Island in the Greater Antilles archipelago of the Caribbean region. The island is split by the DR on the east which occupies about 3/5 of the island and Haiti on the west side. To the north of the island is the Atlantic ocean and to the south is the Caribbean.
After Cuba, also an island nation in the Greater Antilles, the Dominican Republic is the second largest country in the Caribbean by area, and the third largest by population, with around 10.8 million inhabitants. Just under a third live in the metropolitan area of Santo Domingo on the south coast.
The Dominican Republic is serviced by 8 International airports, 5 cruise ports and various marinas. Under normal circumstances, getting there from Canada is therefore usually quite easy.
Average year-round temperatures are between 77 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit (25°C to 31°C) which is one of the reasons the DR is so popular for those of us in the snow belt!
The weather is slightly cooler from November to April, when the humidity is relatively low, while the warmest months are May to October, when the humidity is higher, making it seem much hotter than it really is.
With year round warm, tropical weather and mostly sunny days, easy access from Canada and an abundance of brilliant white sand beaches (like the one pictured) make the Dominican Republic an ideal vacation destination for beach lovers.
However there’s more to the country than its beaches. There is a welath of history, heritage, nature in the Dominican Republic, waiting for you to explore.
Saona Island, Dominican Republic
Pictured above is beautiful white sand beach on Saona Island near Cotubanamá National Park, Duarte on the south eastern tip of the DR between La Romana and Punta Cana. Pic via Pixabay.
Why history lovers will love the Dominican Republic and its capital city
Before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492, the island of Hispaniola was inhabited by Taíno natives, an advanced farming and hunting society, which have lived on many Caribbean islands. If you explore the caves in Los Haitises National Park, you’ll see evidence in the Taíno petroglyphs and pictographs that they existed in the Dominican Republic long before it was “discovered” by the Europeans.
The colony of Santo Domingo was the site of the first European settlement on the island. I won’t go into the political history of the two nations that now occupy Hispaniola (you can find that on Wikipedia), but Santo Domingo eventually became the capital city of the Dominican Republic.
If you’re a historical architecture lover, Santo Domingo is probably the best place in the Caribbean for you to explore European heritage buildings.
The colonial city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990 as it is the oldest Spanish settlement in the Americas. The now pedestrian-friendly maze of narrow streets in the historical centre brim with well-preserved 16th to early 20th century architectural marvels. Many colonial buildings are now home to museums, shops, hotels, restaurants and sidewalk cafés.
Santo Domingo’s other attractions—culture, cuisine and nightlife
Santo Domingo is also a great place to visit if you love culture, cuisine and nightlife. Located right on the coast, Santo Domingo’s seaside promenade or Malecón is perfect for a stroll any time of year. Visit in early March, however, and it comes alive with the National Carnival Parade, the biggest of the DR’s Carnival celebrations.
The city is also known for its top dining and nightlife. You can choose from Dominican, Caribbean and Latin specialties, as well as several international cuisines such as Middle Eastern, French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Mexican and Japanese. The best place to dine is in Polígono Central (Naco and Piantini areas), the Malecón, Chinatown and the Colonial City.
If you love to shop, in Santo Domingo you’ll also find lots of boutique shops to browse as well as major chain stores from the US and Europe. I highly recommend that you purchase from the smaller boutique stores though as this helps the local economy.
In addition to Santo Domingo, popular resort towns include Punta Cana, Puerto Plata and La Romana-Bayahibe. The beaches surrounding these three centres are superb. But as I mentioned in my previous post there’s more to the DR than its beaches. I’ll share more about the history and heritage and other tidbits about these three towns and their surrounding areas later.
A heritage church in the Colonial City of Santo Domingo
The Colonial City of Santo Domingo is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site due to it being the first Spanish settlement in the Americas. Photo via Pixabay.
Why the DR is a great destination for nature lovers and thrill seekers
The Dominican Republic is famous for its beautiful white sand and palm fringed beaches, including the European Blue Flag certified beach of Playa Dorada in Puerto Plata on the north coast, perfect for couples, families, groups and solo travellers looking for fun, relaxation and even work-from-home in the sun. But the DR is also a great destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers.
Home to nine distinct ecological zones, from lush tropical rainforests to arid deserts and white sand beaches, 25 percent of the land and coastal shores are preserved as national parks, reserves and sanctuaries, making the DR the perfect natural adventure playground for visitors.
Hispaniola is a mountainous island and in the DR you’ll find the highest peak in the Caribbean, Pico Duarte at 3,087 meters (10,128 feet) ASL, as well as the lowest point, Lake Enriquillo which exceeds 141 feet (43 meters) just 85 km (53 miles) away. There are also three extinct volcanoes, Dos Hermanos, San Juan and Valle Nuevo.
The tropical forests are filled with an abundance of flora and fauna including monkeys, iguanas and parrots some of which are endemic. The Dominican Republic is also home to numerous rivers, waterfalls and striking turquoise and green pools and lagoons, including the 27 Damajagua Waterfalls near Puerto Plata.
For thrill seekers to get to this hidden gem, a hike through dense forest, crossing footbridges and passing various flora is required. When you reach the rocky hilltop you can choose to jump or slide down a series of waterfalls on water-cushioned chutes into deep turquoise pools. (Don’t worry though. Safety gear is provided.)
Salto El Limó in Samaná province, in northern DR
An example of an adventure in nature. At the end of a 1.5 mile hike through thick forest and down lush hilly terrain, where you can spot an array of endemic flora and fauna, you’ll reach a waterfall cascading 130-foot down from the Samaná Sierra. At the bottom, enjoy an invigorating swim in the emerald freshwater pool while enjoying the gushing sounds of the tumbling water & jungle fauna.
Photo via Pixabay.
Other regions and sites in the Dominican Republic worth visiting too
Altos de Chavon, La Romana
A cultural centre near La Romana on the south coast, Altos de Chavón is a replica of a 16th century Mediterranean artists’ village. Here you can walk through cobblestone streets lined with coral block and terra-cotta buildings. Located 300 m above the Chavón River, which flows past the village on its way to the ocean, gives way to spectacular scenic views.
Altos de Chavón is filled with artist studios, craft workshops, art galleries and crafts, archeological and amber museums, as well as the School of Design. In this art lovers paradise you’ll also find a Grecian-style amphitheater, the Church of Saint Stanislaus and many upscale shops, restaurants and bars.
Altos de Chavon, 16th century replica Mediterranean artists' village.
Photo via Pixabay.
Saona Island, Cotubanamá National Park and Catalina Island
Saona Island is a tropical island with brilliant white sand coconut tree fringed beaches surrounded by irridescent turquoise waters. Located off the coast of La Romana within Cotubanamá National Park, you’ll need to take a boat from Bayahibe.
On the way to the island, you’ll stop at Palmilla, a stretch of white sand with a wide natural pool. Once at Saona Island you can ride speedboats or cruie the coastline on a catamaran.
The Cotubanamá National Park is home to more than 100 species of birds so it’s an ideal location for birders. You may even spot turtles, dolphins, whales, and manatees.
If you love to dive or snorkel, another island worth visiting is Catalina Island, which is located about five miles south of La Romana. Here in its “Living Museum of the Sea” you can see the historical wreck of the legendary Captain William Kidd.
Brilliant white sand beach and surf on Saona Island, Dominican Republic
Photo via Unsplash.
Mount Isabel de Torres, Puerto Plata
Mount Isabel de Torres is a spectacular mountain overlooking Puerto Plata. Take a breathtaking ride in a cable car 2,625 feet above Puerto Plata and explore the nature reserve, observe flora in the botanical garden and stand in awe as you gaze over Puerto Plata from above.
Cable Car Ride up Mount Isabel de Torres overlooking Puerto Plata
Photo via Pixabay.
Some recommended dos and don’ts when travelling to the DR.
If you’re planning on a trip to the Dominican, there are a few things you should know before you go. So here’s some of the boring travel info stuff.
- DO complete the new electronic entry and exit form, which combines the Traveler’s Health Affidavit, Customs Declaration and International Embarkation/Disembarkation forms before you travel to the DR. Keep a copy on the phone/device you plan to take with you. *As of February 1, 2021, the use of digital forms will be mandatory. *
- Do NOT drink the tap water nor drink from water fountains in the Dominican Republic. Even though the water in most hotels is drinkable it is recommended that you drink bottled water instead. (More on this on Sunday.)
- DO book accommodations that use a water filtration system and check that ice is made using the filtered water, and not tap water.
- DO use filtered water to brush your teeth. If you can’t, be sure not to swallow any water.
- DO remember that raw foods such as lettuce may be washed in tap water. If in doubt limit your consumption of raw foods unless you can wash them with filtered water first.
- DO plan for and book excursions and off-resort activities with your travel agent ahead of your trip. That way you can budget for them and don’t have to worry about missing out if you leave it to the last moment and/or having a surprise credit card statement.
- DO tip! It is customary to leave a 10% tip, even if a 10% tip has already been added to your bill. (More on this on Sunday.)
- DO take some official Dominican peso with you (RD$). You’ll need it for tipping and small purchases at markets and small stores away from the resort. While U.S. dollars (not coins) are accepted throughout the country, not only will you be dinged for the currency conversion into USD, the locals will be dinged for the conversion into RD$ too!
- DO convert your $ before leaving Canada if you can. While major credit cards are accepted at many tourist areas in the country and there are ATMs in most Dominican cities and resorts, you’ll pay interest on your entire credit card balance if you purchase currency with it!
Turquoise waters and beautiful white sand beach at Bayahibe in La Altagracia province, DR
Picture via Unsplash.
A few fun facts about the Dominican Republic
Did you know, the Dominican Republic is home to the largest population of American crocodiles in the Caribbean?
Yep…that’s right the crocodiles inhabit Lake Enriquillo in the southwest of the DR, close to the Haiti border, one of only a few salt water lakes in the world inhabited by crocodiles!
Located in a Rift Valley, it’s also the largest lake in both Hispaniola and the entire Caribbean as well as the lowest point on the island at -46 m (BSL). Isla Cabritos an elongated island in the lake is home to two endangered species of iguanas that are endemic to Hispaniola (the Ricord’s and rhinoceros), a large flock of flamingoes, including the American flamingo, as well as numerous other birds and endemic flora.
In 1974, Enriquillo Lake became a national park and, in 2002, joined with two other parks to form Jaragua-Bahoruco-Enriquillo Biosphere Reserve, which also includes the Baoruco Mountain Range, on the large peninsula in the south of the country. Put it on your bucket list for when we can travel to the Caribbean again.
Other Facts about the Dominican Republic:
Population: About 10.5 million
Time: Eastern Caribbean Time (GMT-0400). No daylight savings time.
Drinking Age: 18 years old.
Tourist Spots: Santo Domingo, Punta Cana, Samaná, Sosua, Puerto Plata, la Romana-Bayahibe
Music: Merengue, Salsa, and Bachata
Dominican Republic crocodile
Picture via Pixabay.
Is Dominican Republic Safe for Solo Female Travellers?
The Dominican Republic is a beautiful Caribbean island nation and an easy destination to get to from Canada (usually). It’s definitely worth a visit for nature enthusiasts, adventure seekers, beach lovers and anyone with an interest in Caribbean history, culture, and cuisine as well as historical architecture. However, when it comes to visitor safety, the DR has been given a medium safety index ranking by the Safe Travel Abroad website. Its current rank is 54.Generally speaking though, the country is safe for visitors, but there are hidden dangers and a high crime rate.
Although thefts and pickpocketing are not as big a problem as believed, tourist areas can be hotspots for these types of crimes so precautions should be taken. You should also be aware that violent crime can occur on the streets too.
When visiting the DR here are some safety dos and don’ts especially for solo female travellers.
- Do NOT travel alone if possible, especially at night, but if you do…
- DO take safety precautions all the time avoiding dark and empty streets and locations.
- DO travel with a group when exploring the island, especially in remote locations.
- DO use reputable tour operators for excursions and day trips.
- DO let someone you know and trust know when and where you’re going.
- DO park your car (if renting a vehicle) in designated parking areas, take your belongings with you, and lock all doors.
- Do NOT use public transport especially after dark, as this is where thefts and pickpocketing occurs.
- DO travel by taxi after dark, and make sure to call a reputable taxi company, as opposed to hailing a taxi on the street.
- Do NOT get into an unmarked taxi.
- DO keep your windows closed while travelling in a private vehicle or taxi and keep your belongings out of sight.
- DO exercise caution and carry your money and valuables in hidden pockets.
- DON’T keep all your money in one place.
- Do NOT look like a tourist, remove all jewelry, and don’t wear flashy clothing.
- DO what you can to blend in with the crowd and avoid unwanted attention.
Las Terrenas, on the Samaná Peninsula, in northeastern Dominican Republic
Photo via Unsplash.
How to travel sustainably in the Dominican Republic
Whether you stay at an all-inclusive resort, a villa property or a rental apartment, there are several things you can do to ensure you travel sustainably in the Dominican Republic. Here are just a few things you can do
Take a reusable bottle or flask and fill it from the filtered water stations provided at your resort before going on an excursion or day trip. Tap water is not drinkable, but if like me, you have concerns about using single use plastic, this may be preferable to single use bottled water.
Tip generously! Tipping is the norm in DR, and even though some restaurants add a 10 percent tip to the bill, it is still customary to give a little more – up to 10 percent in extra tips.
Tip taxi drivers, tour guides, bar staff, and other travel service providers not only the resort staff. Remember, most personnel in the tourism industry, especially in the Caribbean, work hard for little money and will appreciate the extra cash.
Purchase locally made items and produce, such as souvenirs, fresh fruit and tasty treats. If you can, purchase souvenirs directly from local crafts people that made them. These will not only be more symbolic of your trip but will help the local economy.
Go off the beaten track and immerse yourself in the country. Choose boutique hotels or other family-owned accommodation in smaller towns rather than staying all-inclusive at a resort in a tourist hot spot. If you prefer the luxury and convenience of a resort, DO venture off the resort for some of your meals and other immersive and authentic activities.
Choose excursions and activities offered by reputable local tour operators rather than booking through your resort hotel. Again, this will help the local economy and will often be more immersive experiences.
Learn some basic Spanish phrases particularly if you plan to venture beyond the tourist spots. This will not only be useful but the locals will appreciate you making the effort to speak their language.
Dominican Musicians in Altos de Chavon
Photo via Pixabay.
Did this article inspire you to add the Dominican Republic to your bucket list or to revisit?
Whether you usually travel alone, with a partner, children, extended family or would like to plan all female group trip, if you’re dreaming of when you can travel again and would like to receive travel inspiration in your inbox, please join my mailing list.
Cayo Levantado, an islet in Samaná Bay, Dominican Republic. Pic via Pixabay.