The Dominican Republic
Dominican Republic is a state of the Greater Antilles Archipielago, occupying more than two thirds of the Hispaniola Island. To the north it borders with the Atlantic Ocean, to the south with the Caribbean Sea, to the east with “De la Mona” canal and to the west with the Republic of Haiti.
The Dominican Republic is 48,442.23 Km2 with a population of more than nine million citizens. Its capital, Santo Domingo de Guzman accounts for more than two millions of the entire population.
110-120 V; 60 Hz (same as the U.S.) Europeans will need adapters for their electronics.
It is recommended to drink bottled water, which can be purchased at mostly any supermarket, grocery and convenience stores.
No vaccines are mandatory.
The Dominican Republic keeps the Atlantic Standard Time throughout the entire year. GMT-4, which means one hour more (+1) than the US official Eastern time, in the fall and winter; same time in spring and summer.
Residents of the Dominican Republic speak Spanish, although its schools offer bilingual education so English is the unofficial secondary language.
The country’s ties with the United States, tourism and the infiltration of America’s pop culture including music, television and the Internet, have resulted in many English-speaking Dominicans. French is also the language of choice for some.
At many of the resorts and restaurants, bars and shopping centers you will find people who can speak English but knowing at least some Spanish will go a long way towards enhancing your vacation.
Since Punta Cana is a touristic destination that gets over 3 million visitors each year customer service representatives speak, at least rudimentary, various languages such as english, french, german, portuguese and italian.
- January 1st – New Year
- January 6th – Three Wise Men day
- January 21st – Our Holy Lady “de la Altagracia” day
- January 26th – Juan Pablo Duarte’s day
- February 27th – Independence Day
- March 25th – Holy Friday (variable)
- May 1st – Labor Day
- May 26th – Corpus Christi (variable)
- August 16th – Restoration’s day
- September 24th – Our Holy Lady “De Las Mercedes”
- November 6th – Constitution Day
- December 25th – Christmas Day
The Dominican Republic’s hot tourist spot, Punta Cana sits on the easternmost tip of that country, drawing visitors with its twenty-five miles of pure white, sandy beaches, soft breezes, tall coconut trees and dancing palms. Punta Cana, within the province of Altagracia is about 1 thousand acres, and borders both the Caribbean and the Atlantic Oceans. It is filled with accommodations, of all types, sizes and shapes, but by law none can be taller than a nearby coconut tree.
Punta Cana’s Beaches
Punta Cana’s most beautiful beaches include Playa de Arena Gorda, Playa Bavaro, which has a town that is more like a village, Uvero Alto and Playa de El Cortecito. It also shares its borders with Cabo Engano, Cabeza de Toro and Juanillo, which is a bit further. Punta Cana’s specialty is the all-inclusive hotel, which is often very large and spread out like a small city.
Because of its proximity to the water, and because most hotel grounds are tropical, filled with lagoons and palm trees, wildlife is plentiful everywhere, including flamingos, peacocks, ducks, parrots and other birds. Some of the bigger resorts offer golf carts and trams for guests to use to get around these huge distances more easily.
Punta Cana is a water enthusiasts dream location. There is golf, swimming, scuba diving and snorkeling, fishing, windsailing, afternoon cruises, speedboat rides, yachting, excellent dining, spa treatments, beautiful relaxation areas, children’s programs and more.
Land-lovers have plenty to do as well, including horse riding on the beach, truck safaris to the Dominican Republic’s interior, where you will see local villages, walk through jungles and skirt rivers, or even visit the nation’s money-making enterprises including the sugar cane and coffee fields.
The weather is tropical with average an temperature of 79 degrees, although most of the year the temperature rises as high as 95 degrees during the day. August is the hottest month of the year and January the coolest one. In mountainous regions the yearly average is 68 degrees, coming down to 32 in January.
The Local Currency
The peso is the national Dominican currency. Coins consist of 1, 5, 10 and 25 pesos, and bills, known as RD$ are for 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1,000 and 2,000. US dollars and Euros are an easily exchanged foreign currency into the local Dominican Republic currency.
Many tourism destinations like hotels, restaurants and businesses advertise their prices in US dollars as well as in Pesos, preferring to be paid in dollars, since they are worth more than the Peso. You will get the best rate of exchange from banks and independent money exchanges.
Airports, hotels/resorts, restaurants, and other businesses usually offer a slightly lower rate of exchange. All will require proper identification, like a driver’s license or passport. Also, local ATM machines disburse only pesos.
You can change any currency you arrive with into pesos, but it’s good to be aware that it may be difficult to change the pesos back into your original currency. It’s recommended that tourists exchange only small amounts of money at a time. If you take a trip outside your resort, like a day tour to Santo Domingo, you will notice that prices are much cheaper there than at the resort.
If you’re planning to shop, eat or drink in a bar there, be sure to take enough Pesos, since it will be cheaper and easier to pay that way and there will be less opportunity for you to be taken advantage of.
Read more about Punta Cana currency and money exchange
Punta Cana Airport
Punta Cana’s Airport has a thatched roof and is built in an open-air design, which means that several areas of it are not air-conditioned. This is one of the busiest and best-connected airports in the region. It has more flights than Santo Domingo’s airport, the Aeropuerto Internacional de Las Américas, about four hours away.
When you arrive at Punta Cana Airport, you will be asked to buy a $10 tourist card before going through immigration. This is usually included in the documentation you get before departing, or is issued to you on the flight. After picking up your luggage and clearing through customs, arriving passengers will be greeted by their tour company representative and advised to board the right bus for transfer to their designated resort.
Airport transfers can also be booked in advance on the Internet or by telephone before your trip through Caribbean Dream (book your private airport transfer). You will be able to book the transfer online.
If you are visiting relatives or friends and not traveling with a tour operator, you may consider taking a taxi to your destination. You will find most taxis right outside the airport custom’s area.
All taxis have standard rates, but it’s best to clear up the price and the location you want before you board and then pay upon arrival.
During your vacation, you can get a taxi outside most resorts and hotels. Taxi drivers will accept dollars, pesos and Euros.
If you are looking for an adventure, you might try catching a local Punta Cana bus. The ride is very inexpensive, but the problems are the irregular bus schedules, crowds and the safety of the actual vehicles.
Renting a Car
Renting a car is another option. All the well-known car rental companies are in Punta Cana, like Euro car, Budget, Prestige, and Avis. Many of the resorts have car rental offices right on their property. Some companies also offer motorcycles, scooters, and 4-wheel drive terrain bikes by the hour, the half-day, the full day, and for longer periods.
Driving in Dominican Republic
Driving in the Dominican Republic is not like driving in the U.S., Canada or Europe.
True, the driver’s side is on the left and driving is done on the right side, just like in the U.S. But while there are similar driving laws and rules in the Dominican Republic as in North America, the problem is they’re not usually enforced.
Also your fellow drivers may be using all types of vehicles, ones you’ve never seen on the road before, that are missing parts, lights, even hoods. Also the roads are poorly lit, which makes driving at night ill advised.
Speeding and tailgating are regular events and passing is done almost anywhere including on curved roads. You will notice the din of honking horns as soon as you start your journey. It’s all part of the scene.
You can combine shopping with beach combing as each resort in Punta Cana offers a variety of shops along its beachfront. Locals in the area own and operate these shops, so they are important sources of revenue for most. Some tourists find it annoying, but when you walk on the beach, shopkeepers from the beach stores often come to you and ask you to buy something.
They may even keep pestering you. But travel experts advise that all you have to do is thank them and tell them you are not interested, and keep on walking. The very best thing to say is that you don’t have any money with you, and after hearing that, they will quickly walk away, and leave you alone.
There are items that you may see in local shops in Punta Cana that you probably should not buy. These include dried animals, like crabs, turtle shells and seashells, for a couple of reasons. One, it’s illegal, two, you won’t be permitted to bring them through customs, and three, you could get arrested for trying. Another reason for not buying items like these are it encourages the locals to kill and misuse these reef creatures.
Be ready for an adventure if you decide to go shopping away from the resort. Dominicans are used to bartering to get to the price of an item that they want to pay or sell. So, you might have to expect that once in one of their stores, unless you’re an expert bargainer, you will have to play the game.
It begins with a ridiculously expensive quote, which you will say is not workable and take it from there. Then again, sometimes a local shopkeeper will offer an item to you at a less expensive price than what you think it is worth, and you might wind up getting a great deal.
Dining Out Options
Staying at any of the all-inclusive resorts within Punta Cana will present you with tons of free food, included in the overall price. Most resorts have several different types of restaurants but if you feel like venturing outside your hotel here are some options for you to consider.
Captain Cook Restaurant in Cortecito: This restaurant sits right on the beach, or the Playa El Cortecito, specializing in seafood. You can choose your meal right out of their barrels of freshly caught fish and they will prepare it in any way you like. Among their offerings, Captain Cook’s famous Lobster, Red Snapper, Spicy Mahi-Mahi, Langostinos Creole style, The Captain Cook flaming Agua Roll, Calamari, and Mussels.
Some of the charm of Captain Cook’s is its huge open grill and its overstuffed platters of food. Not good to book this restaurant through your hotel, since you will pay double the restaurant’s actual prices, which are very reasonable. Instead, call the restaurant to make a reservation and they will arrange to have a water-taxi pick you up if it’s not too far away. Their telephone is 1-809-552-1061.
The High Wave Restaurant in Bavaro: The High Wave is a U.S.-style Sports Bar and Grill in the American Bavaro Shopping Center. It’s one of the few restaurants that offers comfortable air conditioning, state-of-the-art high definition TVs, and a great bar/lounge, as well as a swinging love seat on the front porch, and a terrace with tables for big groups. The restaurant serves hamburgers and Churrasco steak and potatoes. As the sun goes down, the music comes up, with both traditional Latin and Dominican as well as retro U.S. The number is 809-309-0500.
La Yola Restaurant: This restaurant’s name gives its secret away. Yola in Spanish means a small fishing boat. Set within the Punta Cana Resort Marina, it stretches out over the water, allowing diners to feel the gentle ocean breezes, and see the boats up close coming and going.
The overhead shelter is made of thatched cane and there is a glass-floor viewing portal to watch the sea life below. The restaurant has a casual, beach atmosphere, but don’t be fooled. The meals are pricey and the furnishings are sophisticated.
Seafood and fish are the main events, mixed in with beef and chicken selections. Appetizers include spicy tuna tartare with guacamole relish. Main plates include the catch of the day, usually red snapper, grouper, or mahi-mahi, or you might select the baked Chilean sea bass with clam and cherry tomato risotto. Reservations are a must and should be made well in advance. Their telephone is 1-809-0959-2262
Cafeteria Las Leñas II in Bavaro: This is a Spanish-style coffee shop, that locals call the best bakery in the area. They offer a variety of muffins, croissants and sandwiches to eat in or take out. They also have free Wi-Fi. Special occasion cakes are their specialty. Residents say their strawberry juice is awesome and that this is the best place to have breakfast in Punta Cana. Their telephone is 1-809-552-6776.
Bars and Clubs
The Bamboo Bar is next door to the Bamboo Restaurant in the Punta Cana Resort & Club in Higuey, within the Tortuga Bay area. This bar, open from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. offers a restful atmosphere where you can try some of the famous Dominican rums and other exotic cocktails. It also has a wide variety of worldwide coffees and teas. The toll-free telephone from the U.S. and Canada is 1-888-442-2262.
The Mangu Night Club is called the happening place in Punta Cana. It’s located at the entrance of The Occidental Grand Punta Cana Resort, but everyone is welcome. The Mangu has two levels; a ground floor with a dance floor plays top 40 music.
Upstairs it’s a techno music scene. The Mangu also has a bar. Occidental guests are admitted free, everyone else pays a modest fee. The club is open from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. The hotel’s number is 1-809-221-8787.
Sights In and Near Punta Cana
Santo Domingo, a bit longer than a three hour drive from Punta Cana, is the capital of the Dominican Republic and a UNESCO world heritage site. It is one of the busiest and most populated Caribbean cities, combining modern sophistication and old world charm with the Latin lifestyle.
This is where Christopher Columbus founded the first settlement in the Americas. It can boast of having the first cathedral in the Western Hemisphere, the first monastery, the first hospital, the first university and the first court of law. Known as the Colonial City it still has cobblestone streets and 16th-century buildings.
Altos de Chavon is a stunning replica of a Mediterranean village built overlooking the winding Chavon River in the 1970s at the behest of the late Charles Bludhorn, the enormously wealthy president of Gulf & Western Corporation, who owned Paramount Pictures. He had it designed and built as an extravagant birthday present for his daughter.
As the years passed, Dominican and American artists flocked to the area around it to live, study and work. The village hosts three major art galleries with current works. The hillside cliff where the village sits is also home to a 5,000 seat amphitheater, an archeological museum, craft workshops, and several galleries and restaurants.
Super Truck Safari is a very popular excursion in a massive four-wheeler in Punta Cana. It offers tourists an opportunity to experience the real people, the scenery and life in the Dominican Republic. The trip includes a visit to an authentic sugarcane plantation, a horseback ride, a school visit, a stop to see how cigars are made and taste the local produce of coffee and cocoa.
Saona Island sits on the Southeastern tip of the Dominican Republic. This scenic, secluded island with a lovely beach is part of a government-protected nature reserve called the Parque Nacional del Este, known for its beauty. The blue waters surrounding the island are teeming with tons of marine life, especially the area’s indigenous starfish and protective sandbars keep the sand sparkling white.
Manati Park is for animal lovers. It features some local animals including iguanas, crocodiles and tropical birds, but there are also exotic fish, horses, parrots and the chance to swim with dolphins. A half-day tour includes a Taino cultural show, a horse show, and two others by dolphins and sea lions.
Guests can stroll in the lush gardens will see the ducks roaming freely. You may want to snap photos of the beautiful orchids and tropical plants, or buy local crafts in the souvenir shops. Bring your swimsuit and a towel, and you can take a short swim or swim with a dolphin.
Staying Healthy in Punta Cana
The United States Center for Disease Control – CDC – warns that the entire province of La Altagracia, including resorts within Punta Cana are at some risk for malaria. However, the medical community does not advise travelers to take chloroquine or primaquine, the two medicines used to treat it, with them on their vacations.
All tourists, as a precaution against malaria, are asked to use a mosquito repellent containing DEET, especially when going outside at dawn or dusk.
If you suspect you are ill, here are medical facilities within Punta Cana to contact. The Centro Medico Punta Cana is near Plaza Bavaro, with a multilingual staff and a pharmacy. Open till 9pm for patients, open 24/7 for emergencies. Their number is 1-809-552-1506. The Hospital Bavaro is near the airport, has a multilingual staff and is a fully equipped facility, available round the clock for emergencies. Their number is 1-809-686-1414.