Travel Guide: The Dominican Republic in a Coconut Shell
Here’s a compact travel guide on the beautiful island of the Dominican Republic, written by a Dominican girl now living in Belgium. I want to show and tell you not to be afraid of exploring new things, visiting new places and meeting interesting people in the Dominican Republic.
The Dominican Republic has a background of rich, cultural diversity. We come in all shades and colors. There’s still machismo. We are loud, hardheaded and sadly, a lot of us are uneducated and superstitious. But… we’re friendly. We love music and dancing. We are hardworking and family always comes first. We’re an independent country that is constantly growing and changing.
So, looking for an adventure or need some time to relax. Do you love nature and beautiful beaches and want some epic parties?
Come to the Dominican Republic and find out all the possibilities. Mountains, caves, national parks, beautiful beaches, all inclusive resorts. We Dominicans like to say:
“We live where you vacation.”
Where to stay
Whether you stay in the capital or any other cities or towns, there are always affordable and expensive places to stay in the Dominican Republic.
In Santo Domingo, for example, there are hotels, hostels, guesthouses and studios for rent. Depending on your budget, you can also choose to stay in La Zona Colonial, the colonial side of the city which has plenty of renovated old houses and hotels to enjoy a cozy, Spanish themed stay.
In Punta Cana it's all about the resorts. More on that later.
And... ever thought about using Airbnb in the Dominican Republic? It's booming and there are some really nice places for rent, especially in the cities. Of course, hotels are great but if you want the real Dominican experience, you should try Airbnb for a few nights.
Transportation in the Dominican Republic
Getting to places is fairly straight forward. If it’s a long journey, take the bus; we have different companies with good buses: Metro, Expreso Bávaro, Caribe Tours. From all of these, the first two are the nicest options. The buses make different stops along the way, so tell the driver your final destination and he’ll let you know which is the best stop for you.
If afterwards you still need a ride, look for or ask someone from customer service to get you a taxi from a company with fixed rates. You'll find these in a lot of tourist areas and the drivers normally wear the same color of shirt.
If you’re in Punta Cana, search for Taxi Bávaro. They wear pink shirts. If you’re in Santo Domingo, you can even order an Uber. Another option is Apollo Taxi or another known taxi company; always ask the price to your destination before you go in.
Subway and cable car
We also have a subway in the capital and recently a cable car that connects all parts of the city.
I don’t however recommend taking public cars, public motor bikes or small buses we call ‘voladoras’. They’re not equipped with the basic safety features and you’ll most likely end up uncomfortable and sweaty.
Where to eat
Try it all but take it easy is my advice. Whenever you travel somewhere new, your stomach will need to adjust to the new environment, the different seasonings and the different bacterias in general. It’s no different when trying the delicious food of the Dominican Republic.
Start by trying things at local restaurants and slowly work yourself to eating at the beaches or street stalls. To try local food in Santo Domingo, the places to go are: El Malecón and La Zona Colonial.
A great place to start and try some delicious Dominican food is Adrian Tropical. You'll have a great time in a clean and tropical environment. There are a few Adrian Tropical restaurants scattered over the city.
We also have tons of international restaurants and fast food chains in the capital Santo Domingo. Of course, in the smaller cities and towns, you won't find these but you will still be able to get delicious and affordable local food.
What to eat - Delicious Dominican food
Just like music, Dominicans have a passion for food. All the locals like their dishes prepared in a sightly different way and they’ll swear by their own recipes. You can’t go wrong with Dominican food, unless you’re a picky eater...
Plátano or plantain in english is like a starchy banana, we grow a bunch of it, it’s super versatile and we love it! Green or ripe, you always have to cook it before you can eat it. Some of the most popular plantain dishes you definitely should try are: mangú, mofongo, tostones and pastelón de plátano maduro.
Other things on your list should be the different versions of rice and beans, sancocho and carne guisada. All of this accompanied by a few slices of big, buttery and delicious avocados.
For the sweet tooths there is habichuelas con dulce, pudín de pan and majarete. Don’t forget to eat plenty of fresh and sweet fruit like mangos, papayas, pineapples, bananas and coconuts.
Knock yourself out exploring and tasting all specialties and dishes. You’ll find that there’s something special about the Caribbean flavors that will always keep you wanting more.
How to pick the best hotel in Punta Cana
The most famous places to stay for tourists in the Dominican Republic are the beach resorts in Punta Cana and Bávaro but remember: We’re an island! There are beautiful beaches all around, so if you feel a bit adventurous and want to try something different, check out hotels around Puerto Plata, La Romana, Samaná or Pedernales or Montecristi.
For the maximum amount of chilling and relaxing, choose an all inclusive hotel.
There are so many options to choose from so I highly recommend using webpages like Tripadvisor or booking.com to scout for the hotels that best suit your interests and personality. Some are luxury retreats and some are real party hotels.
These are some tips to help you focus your search of the perfect all inclusive hotel. You can use a lot of these tips for booking an accommodation in any place in the world:
Make a list of priorities to look for
Overall look of hotel
2. Don’t look at the fancy photoshopped photos
Most of those beautiful and dreamy photos were taken when the hotel was brand new and some are not even photos but 3D renderings. To have a better perception of how the resort really looks like, take a look at the pictures shot by travelers but make sure they’re recent because sometimes the buildings go through changes and/or renovations.
3. Things to keep in mind
Once in a while some beaches experience an algae problem. If the beach is one of your priorities, make sure to check if the hotel is doing a good job of keeping the beach area clean.
If you go to an all inclusive hotel, never expect too much of the food. It’s not bad of course but keep in mind it’s buffet food and it’s prepared to feed hundreds of mouths. Go early for the best bites!
Your resort will sometimes include some outdoor activities but you’ll have to pay extra for excursions outside of the hotel grounds. If you like doing boat rides, driving 4-wheels, hiking or any other outside activities, this could be an interesting option.
Beautiful beaches in the Dominican Republic
With comfortable accommodations all over the country and buses that take you everywhere, it’s perfectly possible to explore the rest of the island and enjoy some of our other beach destinations like Puerto Plata, La Romana, Samaná or Pedernales.
Up north, this is a big town with lots of personality. From Puerto Plata, you can go to the nearby city Cabarete if you like water sports and surfing. You'll find a lot of parties there too and you can go to Sosua for snorkeling and diving.
Located in the south east, here you will find a lot of colonial buildings. The beaches might not be the best but there are plenty of luxury hotels to make up for that. From here you can go to Bayahíbe beach and visit the Saona and Catalina islands; two beautiful destinations with white sand and clear water. Perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving.
It’s that little arm that sticks out in the North East of the island. Stay in Las Terrenas and Las Galeras for a few days to explore the peninsula. The mass tourism hasn’t quite reached the Samaná area yet and there are a few beautiful and lesser known but beautiful beaches to explore. The small island of Cayo Levantado also makes for a great day trip.
To me, the biggest gem is located in the South West, close to the border with Haiti. Half an hour away from the town of Pedernales is the most perfect and beautiful beach of the Dominican Republic. Crystal clear water in all shades of blue silky white sand and most of the time not too many people around.
This long and wide beach is called Bahía de las Aguilas and it’s only accessible by boat. You’ll pay the captain to take you and pick you up at a time you want.
Explore more of the island
Staying at a beach resort or hotel is only one out of dozens of things to do in the Dominican Republic. If you want to take a break from the beach, there are other amazing things to do. Some of my favorites are:
Los Saltos de Damajagua
This place is close to Puerto Plata. If you like adventure and want to do a cool tour, I would suggest the Damajagua waterfalls. If you want to go sightseeing in the town, you can take the cable car and explore this charming colonial city.
El Salto del Limón in Samaná
A tour takes you though the tropical forest to reach the waterfalls. It involves horse riding, walking, hiking and of course swimming.
Also in Samaná, take a boat for humpback whale watching, the best months being February and March.
Los Haitises National Park
This is another highlight known for its eco tourism. Located on the North East coast of the Dominican Republic, it’s full of interesting caverns and has a large area of mangrove forests. Here you’ll find a great diversity of mammals and birds, including some rare species endemic to our island.
There are many other activities to do inland in other cities such as zip lining, nature tours, mountain hiking, historical city tours, buggy rides, cruises and sports. Not to mention parties, festivals and other nightlife activities.
Safety in the Dominican Republic
You don’t need to worry about dangerous animals except for mosquitos but bug spray takes care of those. Sunburn can easily be avoided by applying sunscreen.
By experience, I can say that the most dangerous thing in the Dominican Republic is the heavy, crazy traffic in the streets of the big cities and after dark. You have to stay alert and be extra careful, especially when renting a car which I would not recommend. Other than that, you’ll be fine just by using your common sense. I wrote more about safety in the Dominican Republic here.
So, what do you think? What are your impressions?
I hope that next time you’re planning a trip, you consider visiting our beautiful island. The Dominican Republic has a lot more than just the most beautiful beaches in the world. There are mangroves, beautiful colonial cities and national parks with amazing waterfalls.
I would love to know if you’ve already been in the Dominican Republic and where you’ve been. I’d love to know what your favorite Dominican food is and how you experienced my country. I’m really curious!