51 Things to Know Before Traveling to the Dominican Republic For the First Time

Is it your first time traveling to the Dominican Republic? Do you want the quick 411 to everything you need to know before visiting the Dominican Republic?

Traveling to a new country for the first time can overwhelming no matter where you go or how much time you spend there. Especially if you’re planning a Dominican Republic trip and most of your friends can’t help you because they stayed in a Punta Cana resort! But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

Here is an easy and comprehensive guide for Dominican Republic travel. We’ll cover everything from the basics like transportation to local insights like the best Dominican Republic places to visit or the tastiest Dominican dishes to try.

Table of Contents

COVID-19 Protocol for Traveling to the Dominican Republic in 2021

Before we hop right into the fun stuff, we have to start with the responsible information! We are not in a post-pandemic world yet, so it’s on us to stay up-to-date and healthy when we consider traveling to the Dominican Republic. Lucky for you, the Dominican Republic is one of the most welcoming places to visit for tourism right now. There is no COVID-19 test needed to enter the country. No vaccine requirements upon arrival.

Covid-19 Flight Departure Requirements

However, depending on where you’re flying back to, you may be required to present a negative PCR or antigen test before departing the country. This means you should take precautions to avoid getting COVID-19, since if you test positive you not only risk infecting others but you will lose your flight back home! This has happened to many Americans.

Costs & Testing Sites for COVID-19 in the Dominican Republic

Testing for COVID in the Dominican Republic is relatively easy, as there are several sites where you can make an appointment or walk-in ahead of your departure. You can easily find these testing sites here.

Beware: When budgeting for your trip, include at least $100 USD for your COVID test. That’s because depending on the test type, it could cost you between $40 to $100 USD. Also remember to add this time to your travel itinerary as the process of picking a testing site, getting there, taking the test, and waiting for the results take time.

Vaccine Card Requirement

UPDATE: As of November 2021, the Dominican Republic is requiring a vaccine card for entering certain spaces. This is a bit more flexible in tourist locations but if you’re traveling to the major cities like Santiago and Santo Domingo, you may need a vaccine card to enter most indoor spaces.

Dominican Republic Travel Visas & Departure Fees

Most tourists can travel to the Dominican Republic without applying for a visa (you can check your country here). Americans do not need a visa to enter the Dominican Republic. And most visitors can legally stay in the Dominican Republic for up to 30 days. If you go over 30 days, have cash ready upon your departure, because you will be required to pay a penalty fee when exiting the country. Here are those fees according to the number of days:

  • 30-90 days: $50.00 USD
  • 3-9 months: $80.00 USD
  • 9-12 months: $100.00 USD

Is it Safe to Travel Through the Dominican Republic?

You should always take precautions when traveling, anywhere, period. Most crimes in the Dominican Republic involve petty theft, so keep a watchful eye when traveling to tourist spots and cities for pickpockets. Muggings are not uncommon in Santo Domingo (“un atraque”) and tend to happen when people are being flashy with their belongings and unaware of their surroundings.

Most crime in the Dominican Republic is in the major cities of Santo Domingo and Santiago. The community values of smaller places make it safer because everyone knows each other and wouldn’t dare do something. Gerry Isabelle (our founder) is a female solo traveler who has moved around the Dominican Republic via bus, car rental, taxi, boat and has never had any issues. So all that being said, we think it is safe to travel through the Dominican Republic.

I, Greisy, am a queer masculine-presenting person and have traveled across the country on my own without an issue. Additionally, I always end those trips blown away by the hospitality and friendliness of the people I encounter.

However, here are some tips on how to avoid issues:

  • Avoid going out at night
  • Only stay in Airbnbs with high reviews and with a secure entrance. People breaking into Airbnbs in the Dominican Republic, is NOT uncommon.
  • Do not flash your valuables in public.
  • If someone seems too friendly, they probably are.
  • Do not drink the tap water or salads cleaned with tap water.
  • Avoid street foods using reused oil.
  • Use the same street smarts you’d use on the subway in NYC.

Getting Internet in the Dominican Republic: Speed & Phone Plans

As our work and communication become more digital, staying connected to the internet is more than a fun pass time. It’s now a necessity. Our jobs may require it. Our travel logistics depend on it. And it’s safer to have in case of emergencies.

WIFI speed and reliability in the Dominican Republic totally depend on where you are. Santo Domingo and the bigger cities have some of the fastest and most reliable internet connections. In other parts of the country, it totally depends on the local infrastructure. If this is important to you, call the owners of your accommodation and ask if they have opted for the fastest internet package.

Getting a SIM card: When I was studying in the Dominican Republic, I was able to purchase a SIM card through Claro because my iPhone was unlocked. I had my own personal Dominican number and unlimited internet. I had the app downloaded on my phone to make easy payments every couple of days. In total, it came out to about $20 USD a month for unlimited internet and texting. Worth it!

Portable modem: You can also purchase a portable WIFI modem that fits in your pocket and provides internet to everyone who connects, as long as it is connected to a signal. Data plans for these modems vary, but you can purchase one through Claro or Altice. However, we still think the $20 unlimited phone plan (mentioned above) is better than this because you can always use your phone as a hotspot.

International Plan: On my recent Dominican Republic trip, my T-Mobile service immediately converted itself to Claro and I had free 2G internet. Check with your phone provider, they may have international plans so that you don’t have to deal with getting a new SIM card while on vacation.

Top Places to Visit in the Dominican Republic

This section could be an entire BOOK! That’s why we have a popular blog post already dedicated to it: the 37 Best Places to Visit in the Dominican Republic. And the 40+ Best Things to Do in the Dominican Republic.

If you’re only interested in the resort scene, then you’ll find those along the southeastern part of the country in places like Punta Cana, La Romana, or Puerto Plata. If you want to veer away from chain hotels and resorts, we have some world-class villas and private homestays in our guide: the best Airbnbs in the Dominican Republic you can rent.

Here are our top favorite places:

Cabarete: For Beach + Wellness

If you’ve read our article on the Best Dominican Republic Beaches, then chances are you already have Cabarete down on your list of places to be in the Dominican Republic! This wellness community focuses on watersports, healthy eating, and beach life. Here you can learn to surf, go horseback riding, meet a community of locals + immigrants from around the world. There are also several day trips you can take from Cabarete.

Jarabacoa: For Wellness + Mountains

Located in the mountains of the Cibao region, Jarabacoa is gaining popularity with travelers for its plethora of ecotourism and relaxing wellness opportunities. You can hike to the highest point in the Caribbean, go horseback riding, white water rafting, visit some of the most important coffee fields in the country, and tons more. End your time there with some homemade ice cream and enjoy watching the convergence of two rivers at their public park, La Confluenza. 

The Southwest: For Desert + Beach

This is our editor’s favorite region in DR! If you love road trips consider renting a car with your family and exploring the southwest Dominican Republic. Here you’ll find raw, untouched natural beauty. The beaches are so clear and shallow, that you don’t need snorkels to see the fish. And the desert topography envelopes you all around with tall sand dunes, hypersaline lakes (Laguna de Oviedo), and beautiful cactus plants along the roads. This is not for travelers who hate: nature and going off the beaten path.

Samana: For Beach + Jungle

While not our top favorite due to the over-tourism in some spots, this has become such a popular destination we’ve decided to add it just in case. For many, the natural wonders in Samana Bay are truly something special. Alongside swimming with fishes on the beaches of Las Galeras and Playa Fronton, travelers can head on boats to Los Haitises National park to witness limestone caves and the biggest mangrove forest in all of the Caribbean! Our personal favorite is the Dominican Waterfall: El Limon. Get there on horseback and before the crowds!

If you’re the type of nature lover who is in it for the animals, then visit between January and March to witness humpback whales swimming through the bay. 

Monte Cristi: For Island Hopping + National Park

Monte Cristi is one of the most off-the-beaten-path destinations in the Dominican Republic that offers so much! Here, you’ll likely only see locals and local tourists. Dedicate at least 3 days to see some of the most unique beaches in the world; where the mountains literally meet the sea. This town is also on the Haitian border which means you’ll encounter some Haitian flavors and influence. Consider joining a tour to Haiti from the Dominican Republic from here!

Weather in the Dominican Republic

As a tropical island, the weather is– you guessed it– tropical! The weather fluctuates between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The months of July through October are hurricane season and thus the worst time to visit the Dominican Republic.

If you’re looking to explore cooler mountainous regions of the Dominican Republic, we recommend the Dominican Alps. With weather ranging from 50 degrees to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, you can enjoy the gorgeous view from the mountains in the day and later enjoy a brisk cool night’s sleep. The best towns in the Dominican Alps are Constanza and Jarabacoa for some relaxing time in nature or ecotourism adventures like this tour to hiking El Pico Duarte: the highest mountain in the Caribbean!

Best Time to Visit the Dominican Republic

With a bustling tourism business, the best time to visit the Dominican Republic is any time outside of the crowded holidays and the hurricane season. Unless you have a lot of time to spare, then you can go whenever and just stay alert for possible hurricanes during peak months.

As we have detailed in our Best Time to Visit the Dominican Republic Guide, the weather is different around the country. So please take the area and things you want to do into consideration when deciding what is the best time for you to visit.

Fun Holiday Celebrations in the Dominican Republic

If you love lively celebrations, some of my personal favorite times to visit are during Carnaval and Semana Santa. But remember to book for those ahead of time because things sell out quickly and prices skyrocket. As detailed in our Dominican Culture Guide, Carnaval and Semana Santa are two important holidays celebrated in the Dominican Republic. If you like to travel during big cultural celebrations, then these times might be the times for you.

However, if you’re like Gerry (our editor/founder of Dominican Abroad) and dislike crowded spaces and overpriced accommodation, then avoid dates/places with Carnaval, Semana Santa, and possibly the last week of December!

What to Pack & How to Dress on Your Dominican Republic Vacation

How to dress in the Dominican Republic depends on what you’re going to do, what part you are visiting, and when you’re going. Almost everywhere you go, make sure to pack plenty of loose and airy clothes, comfortable walking shoes, sandals with grip, and short sleeve t-shirts.

Here are some other special packing tips:

  • If you’re going to the mountains, then be sure to throw in a sweater and some hiking boots.
  • If you’re staying in the cities or by the beach, then you definitely want to dress comfortably for hot weather.
  • Do not wear shorts outdoors during sunset or the mosquitoes will feast on you!
  • If you’re going on lots of water adventures like visiting the waterfalls in the Dominican Republic or taking boats to some of the best beaches in the Dominican Republic, then be sure to pack water shoes, bath suits, a waterproof backpack, a sunhat, and lots of eco-friendly sunscreen.
  • If you travel during the rainy/hurricane season, pack an umbrella or two!
  • For long bus rides or flights, packing a warm hoodie is a must since you never know how cold the air conditioning will get.
  • I don’t like the idea of bug repellent unless it’s safe for your skin, instead I prefer to wear loose airy clothes. But here is one mosquito repellent brand that is supposed to be eco-friendly and safe for your skin.

Dressing Ettiquette & Street Harrassment

The Dominican Republic is pretty liberal when it comes to how you want to dress. You can wear short-shorts and tank tops. Bikinis and tight dresses. However, just note that street harassment by men is not uncommon in the Dominican Republic. So, unfortunately, you may want to take that into account with how revealing you dress, if you’re a woman walking alone in certain places like the streets of Santo Domingo. It sucks and I’m sorry that we have to take such things into account!

Communicating in the Dominican Republic: Our Language & Accents

You might have a hard time getting around in the Dominican Republic if you don’t speak Spanish. Given its long colonial history with Spain, the Dominican Republic speaks… yup, Spanish! What makes Dominican Spanish so special though is the cadence and speed with which Dominicans speak.

Dominicans speak fast! So fast, we even drop d’s and r’s and s’s from our words for efficiency– check out our Dominican Republic culture post for the full run-down on regional accents and dialect! However, because we are Black, our Dominican accent has unfortunately been met with some prejudice and racism from some Latin American communities. Even though it’s one of the oldest Spanish accents coming from the Canary Islands and Andalucia. That’s humans for ya!

Additionally, like every culture in the world, the Dominican language is full of colloquialisms and ever-changing slang. If you want to brush up on your Spanish before you travel to the Dominican Republic, be sure to check out our guide to Dominican Slang Words.

Exchanging Your Money in the Dominican Republic

Unless you’re hiding out in a resort, most places in the Dominican Republic will only accept cash and no credit cards. That means it’s important to understand how to exchange your money when you arrive.

Currency in the Dominican Republic

The currency in the Dominican Republic is the Dominican Peso. The rate of exchange fluctuates daily, but the most consistent way of remembering the exchange rate is 1 Dollar = about 50 Pesos.

Exchanging Cash: U.S. Dollars for Dominican Pesos

The Dominican Republic is one of the only countries I’ve traveled to where I feel I’ll get a good rate if I decide to exchange U.S. dollars for the local currency. However, nobody wants to walk around with a bunch of cash. So only resort to this if you have no other option and must carry cash with you. And never do this at the airport, unless you’re OK with basically throwing some money away.

Since the Dominican Republic’s second major source of revenue is foreign remittances (Dominican families abroad sending money back home), there are lots of industries and businesses built around exchanging U.S. dollars to pesos at a very good rate. This also means that if you are strapped for pesos but have cash, that you can often pay people in dollars with an exchange rate that is rounded up in their favor.

ATM Withdrawal (the best way to travel to the Dominican Republic)

The safest and best way to exchange your money in the Dominican Republic? Take it out from an ATM machine! And in moderate amounts. Do NOT risk by carrying around a ton of cash. Petty theft and robberies are not uncommon when you travel. So play it safe, pay that ATM fee, and withdraw sporadically.

Cost of Travel/Living in the Dominican Republic

Dear reader, I am a New Yorker. So we’re going to do some comparing and contrasting here to get a sense of the cost of living in the Dominican Republic.

My rent in NYC is about $900 a month, and this is just a third of the rent since I have two other roommates. I remember sharing this with my friends from Santo Domingo, who shockingly explained to me that with what I pay for one room in an old apartment in Queens, they could rent a newly developed apartment in Santo Domingo (with a pool and parking included). Wowza!

Whereas a 15-minute Uber ride would cost me anywhere between $10-$25 or more in NYC, an Uber ride of equal distance and time when I lived in Santo Domingo would cost me somewhere between $3-$10, terrible traffic included. 

You know, as a native New Yorker, I know where to get my affordable bites. But $6 for an entire plate of rice, salad, beans, and pollo guisado plus a coke? It brought tears to my eyes. And if you’re there long enough to need to do grocery shopping, the prices on local homegrown fruits and vegetables will turn you into a chef. I couldn’t stop making my own fresh passion fruit juice! 

However, just because a place is more affordable to you does not mean you should underpay or exploit locals. Don’t be that kind of problematic traveler/expat in the Dominican Republic. Please remember to pay locals fairly and tip them for their good service!

Does Uber Work In the Dominican Republic?

It does! Uber is available in the major cities, Santiago and Santo Domingo. Rides can range from $3-$14 depending on the distance and traffic. I once took a thirty-minute Uber ride from the airport to a friends’ home in Santo Domingo Oeste and it was only about 18 dollars.

A cool thing about Uber in the Dominican Republic is that they also offer UberMoto! By ordering on the app, you can have a motorcyclist pick you up and take you to your destination.

Important Dominican transportation words:

  • Straight = Pa’lante!
  • Here = Aqui!
  • Right = Derecha!
  • Left = Izquierda!
  • Good = Está bien!

Local/Public Transportation in the Dominican Republic 

If you are really tight on cash and want a truly immersive transportation experience in the Dominican Republic, here are some super “cheap” options available for getting around. And here is a report of how our friend Fausto, took all public transportation from Santo Domingo all the way to Bahia de las Aguilas.

La Guagua

A guagua is a public transportation bus that is not controlled by the government, but rather a network of drivers who drive on specific routes. The guagua’s can get really packed, so if personal space is important to you, we suggest finding another method of transportation! They cost between 30-35 pesos, and if you’re noticeably a foreigner who is not sure of how it works, we don’t recommend experimenting with them in the big cities.

Concho

A concho is a regular 4 door car that makes specific spots along specific routes. Don’t let the size fool you– some concho’s board up to 8 people if they can pay and fit!

Motoconcho (The Most Popular Way)

A motoconcho is a motorcycle ride that functions as a regular concho– it has a specific route with predetermined stops along the way. 50-100 pesos is the range and you’ll likely have to ride these in Cabarete.

El Metro (In Santo Domingo)

To help with the traffic congestion in the city of Santo Domingo, in 2009 the Metro subway service was put into place to provide more public transportation options to the Dominican people. With two operating lines stretching 30 locations and available times running from 6:00 am to 10:30 pm, the Metro is a great and cheap transportation option for people exploring the history, cuisine, and tourist attractions of Santo Domingo. : 20 pesos

The BEST Way to Get Around the Dominican Republic

Private Drivers & Ubers

Private Driver: If you’re someone who is trying to enjoy as much of the Dominican Republic comfortably (and time is more valuable to you than saving a few bucks), then the very best way is hiring a driver to take you around. That’s it. Private drivers can cost around $100-$200/day and up depending on the route/length and if you’re paying for the driver’s food/accommodation. Leave a comment below if you want a couple of drivers’ contact info.

Uber: Within the big cities, absolutely take Ubers around. They are the best, safest, and most efficient way to move within the cities. Check our guide to Santo Domingo for all the things to do in our amazing capital!

Dominican Cab Companies/Taxi

If you need a private ride and there is no Uber, call an official taxi company. Avoid hailing any cab driving down the street for your safety. If you don’t have a number, Google search for a nearby taxi cab service for a ride. The prices for these rides differ based on destination. When you call the taxi service, always ask how much the ride will cost before confirming!

Private Bus Routes

The next best way is taking the private buses. You can get familiar with the routes for Caribe Tours and Metro Servicios. These coach bus companies offer cross-country transportation at an affordable price. Whenever I find myself in Santo Domingo and feeling a trip to the North, I purchase a Caribe Tours bus ticket all the way to Sosua for about $10. They’re not that slow but they’re also not the fastest way to get around. This is the middle ground between a private driver and public transportation.

The buses have comfortable seats, great air conditioning (sometimes I have to bring a hoodie) and some have wifi available on board.

Important Summary on Dominican History, Politics & Religion

Although we go into further detail with the history, politics, and religion of the Dominican Republic in our Dominican Culture and Important History article, the important beats to know are that

  1. We were invaded and colonized by Spain for centuries
  2. Today, Dominicans have a multiracial and multiethnic historical background which are intrinsic to understanding the culture of the country,
  3. There were TWO ruthless dictators through the 1990s; both backed by the United States
  4. Like most of Latin American, we were invaded twice by the USA and still recovering from the effects of that, and
  5. The country is majority Roman Catholic and the government reflects some religious conservatism. 

Food in the Dominican Republic & Dominican Cuisine

Food is a quintessential part of traveling to the Dominican Republic. Here are just a few Dominican dishes you can NOT leave without trying. Write them down! Take a screenshot!

  • Sancocho
  • Habichuelas con dulce
  • Tostones
  • Yuca
  • Catibía
  • Quipe
  • Onion Tea

Check out our FULL post on Traditional Dominican food to try for descriptions and additional recommendations!

Dominican Books to Read Before You Go

Despite being the largest minority group in New York City, Dominicans remain underrepresented in various forms of media. But that’s slowly changing.

We’re not just dominating on the baseball field and in music– we are now producing some of the most popular books of the past two decades. Below are some culturally meaningful books by Dominican/Dominican-American writers:

  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz – Perhaps one of the most prolific works of fiction by a Dominican writer, this book is rich with Dominican history, folklore, and language. The book makes you feel like you’re time traveling through NYC and DR, and the footnotes tell their own stories.
  • Dominicanish by Josefina Baez– Reading this book will make you feel like you just witnessed a performance– probably because it is written by Josefina Baez, an important cultural icon in the world of Dominican American theatre.
  • Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo– This novel offers a sharp yet poetic contrast between the Dominican-American experience and the Dominican experience by showcasing two protagonists related by blood and distanced by circumstance.
  • The Dominican Republic Reader – This 560-page curation of Dominican knowledge is the best resource for fans of history, statistics, personal anecdotes, and general non-fiction.
  • Undocumented by Dan-El Padilla
  • Why the Cock Fights by Michelle Wucker
  • The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa
  • In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

These books will give you insight into Dominican culture that will prove invaluable as you travel. They’ll also help you feel more connected with Dominican people when you get there—and they’re just good books. If you are interested in finding more books by Dominican authors, check out the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute Library. Or subscribe to our newsletter for future Dominican Republic cultural and travel guides.

Dominican Movies to Watch Before You Go

When it comes to cinema, the Dominican Republic has traditionally kept its film industry within the genre of comedy. However, the past decade has changed that! The following films are the most notable films to come out of the Dominican Republic in the past few years. Each of the films below resists traditional Dominican storytelling and have done the best internationally:

  • Carpinteros(2016)- Combining romance and drama within the setting of a real-life prison called La Victoria, this film is a must-watch for its rugged cinematography and powerful performances. It was also the Dominican Republic’s first film to be screened at the Sundance Film Festival! Available to watch on Google Play.
  • Reinbou(2017)- A young boy retraces the history of his dead father to the Dominican Civil War of 1965 with the help of a magical book. If you’re like me and absolutely adore magical realism, this is the film for you. Available on HBO Max.
  • Cocote(2017)- An evangelical Christian man returns home to mourn his murdered father. This film is perfect for those interested in learning more about the different expressions of Dominican spirituality. Available on Amazon Prime via Topic.
  • Hotel Coppelia (2019)- This film is so good we even made a TikTok about it. It tells the story of a group of Dominican sex workers whose brothel turns into a site for revolutionaries during the second US-backed invasion of the Dominican Republic. Available on HBO Max.
  • Veneno: La Primera Caida, El Relámpago de Jack (2017)- This film is a fictionalized telling of the life of popular Dominican wrestler Jack Veneno. The film has impressive fight scenes, the perfect amount of magical realism, and the most talented actors in the Dominican film industry involved. Available on HBO Max.

Before you go on your next trip to the Dominican Republic, be sure to watch one or more of these Dominican movies! You’ll get in touch with how Dominicans live, some of our history/culture and you might even learn some colloquialisms that will help you when traveling.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Greisy Genao (she/they) is a published poet and filmmaker from Queens, NY with a BA in English Writing and Film Studies. As a Fulbright U.S. Student Researcher, she has conducted research on Dominican folklore and film in the Dominican Republic. Their award-winning film work has been celebrated across the Dominican diaspora and praised at film festivals from Santo Domingo to New York City. Greisy has also produced “Stories of the Diaspora,” a series dedicated to capturing the narratives of multi-generational Dominicans in New York. As a multidisciplinary storyteller, Greisy seeks to explore and honor the connection between folklore and nostalgia as it appears in the hyphenated Dominican experience. Follow Greisy on Instagram @Grei-mg.

ABOUT DOMINICAN ABROAD

We believe in intentional and informed travel experiences. That means that we not only practice being mindful of the cultures and traditions of the countries we travel to but that we also are keen on informing our fellow travelers on those cultures so that as a community we are traveling with knowledge and respect for the countries we visit. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter or follow us on Instagram to stay updated on upcoming trips, cultural guides, and travel articles.

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