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The Dominican Republic is a classic Caribbean destination for the package holiday aficionado. But travel in the Dominican Republic is so much more than your standard secure resort on a nice beach. If you want to see more than your hotel pool, this is the Dominican Republic travel guide for you.
I last went to the Dominican Republic in December 2017 and one day I may even go again. So here’s how to tackle the Dominican Republic.
Getting There – How Should You Do It?
The Dominican Republic has such a reputation among people on vacation that it’s not as expensive as you might think to get there. Located on the island of Hispaniola, and bordering Haiti, the Dominican Republic is around two hours from Miami.
I highly recommend getting to Florida first as this is where you’ll get the best prices. It’s not inconceivable to find flights from $100 one way from Fort Lauderdale to Santo Domingo (the capital of the country).
Believe it or not, though, this is not how I got there. I actually spent some time in Haiti and crossed the border by bus, but that’s most certainly not something I’d recommend for the faint of heart.
Places to Visit in the Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic has always been so popular because it has something for everyone. That’s what separates it from a lot of Caribbean islands, where all you have are beaches. In this section, I’m going to go through some of the main places/regions you should explore in the Dominican Republic.
The Capital of Santo Domingo
Santo Domingo is likely the first place you’ll visit. The capital’s airport always has the cheapest flights. My tip is to always order an Uber. It’s rampant in Santo Domingo and the taxi drivers are no more than criminals here. So avoid them the best you can because they will rip you off.
What you can expect from Santo Domingo is a look at the former heart of Spanish power in the Caribbean. Santo Domingo is filled with historical buildings that have been well preserved over time. The old town district is the only area of note here.
Don’t cross the river as this leads to the more dangerous parts of the city. Plus, there’s nothing to actually see there anyway.
I strongly recommend walking around Santo Domingo during the day and during the night. The old-fashioned lighting is like going back in time.
I spent a few weeks in Santo Domingo because I enjoyed it so much. It’s the right mix of crowded, touristy, yet relaxed all at the same time.
On a side note, pickpocketing is a problem here so I recommend bringing something to hide the bulk of your money. This hidden money pocket travel belt looks and functions like a perfectly ordinary belt, yet on the inside, you can stuff a few hundred dollars.
Sorry, but the classic fanny pack is just like wearing a sign that says ‘Rob Me!’
Go Into the Fresh Mountains in Jarabacoa
The Dominican Republic is a country that makes up two-thirds of a large island, so it’s easy to get around. And the buses are no worse than the Greyhound buses we’re all used to in the US. So don’t feel like you have to get a private driver to take you between places.
Now Jarabacoa is a spectacular place. It’s only a small town in the middle of the mountains in the center of the country. It’s also famous for the opening scene in Jurassic Park (but more on that later).
Stroll around Jarabacoa itself to get a taste for how local people in the Dominican Republic live far away from the resorts. Visit the markets and get in touch with real people in the little eateries there.
If you love hiking you’re in the right place. You can literally walk out of town and just follow the roads into the mountains. There is a variety of rushing rivers and waterfalls hidden in the forests to spot. Just beware of the wandering cows. They can be quite aggressive.
I had to get help from a local who took me past them on his motorbike because I knew I couldn’t go any further otherwise.
These hikes tend to be long, so make sure you come fully equipped.
And even if hiking isn’t your thing, there are plenty of drivers who will take you to all the main sights!
Visit the Second City of Santiago
Few people visit Santiago, the second city of the Dominican Republic. I think that’s a shame because it’s a perfect example of what it’s like to live in this country. It’s calm, you can relax, and there are still things to see and experience in the modern center.
There’s the market, the high river that borders the center, and an excellent view from the central hill to watch the sunset.
Santiago is definitely a place I would recommend for a night or two on your way north or south.
Surf’s Up in Puerto Plata
By the time you make it to the north coast, you’ll notice that things have changed. The northern coast of the Dominican Republic is much windier and the waters much rougher. It’s one of the best places in the Caribbean for reliable and consistent surfing, kitesurfing, and other water sports.
This is because when you travel in the Dominican Republic you’re on the Atlantic in the north and in the Caribbean Sea in the south.
Puerto Plata has an old Spanish fort, a beautiful seaside walk, and lots of bars that overlook the pounding waves. Plus, there are a variety of different towns along the coast with caves, isolated beaches, and cool surf spots.
Bear in mind that you need to keep your belongings safe on these beaches. Only bring what you really need and leave everything else at home.
If you need to keep your items safe when you’re on the beach I recommend this handy beach towel with zip pocket. The little zip pocket is perfect for keys, wallets, and phones. And thieves are never going to suspect your towel!
For surfing, I’d take this Blue Sky Waterproof Pouch, so you can take everything you need out on the water with you.
What about Punta Cana?
Anyone who reads a Dominican Republic travel guide likely wants to know more about Punta Cana. It’s where everyone on a package holiday finds themselves visiting at some point.
This is where you’ll find many of the classic beaches in the pictures. It’s also where the most luxurious resorts in the country area are. So if you’re taking your family and you just want to lay on a beach for two weeks, this is the place to be.
Personally, I think it’s crowded, overpriced, and tells you nothing about the country itself. Punta Cana is the Disneyland of the Dominican Republic.
So I wouldn’t recommend Punta Cana at all.
See Also: 10 Hotspot Travel Destinations
What About Safety in the Dominican Republic?
The Dominican Republic is a safe country to visit. It receives hundreds of thousands of tourists every year from all over the world. The vast majority of visits are completely trouble-free.
Your main priority is avoiding pickpockets. As well as the belt I mentioned above, I would recommend an anti-theft day pack of some kind. I like this Bobby Anti-Theft Backpack, which is mainly designed for laptops but can be easily used for anything.
It opens three different ways and even comes with a USB charging port.
Just make sure you take care when walking around at night. Cities like Santo Domingo can be dangerous after midnight, so if you happen to be out partying make sure you have someone call a cab to pick you up.
Last Word – When’s the Best Time to Go?
If you want to travel to the Dominican Republic, the best time to go is around spring or autumn. This way you avoid the dreaded high season over the winter period and the rainy season in the summer.
Remember, it’s worth avoiding high season because prices can be half of what they normally are.
Do you want to visit the Dominican Republic this year?