Full of energy and high spirits, the Dominican Republic has become one of the most famous destinations in the Caribbean. Home to a diverse landscape, the Dominican Republic is best known for its terrains filled with lush mountains, desert dunes, and white sand beaches.
But hidden within the peaks and coves of the island, there are also colonial towns, fishing villages, urban cities, and luxury resorts.
Bienvenidos – Welcome to the Dominican Republic!
Apart from natural beauty, the Dominican Republic has also become known for its lively character and rich culture. The party scene runs almost non-stop throughout the country, and the locals are eager to share in their celebrations with visitors.
Through many of these celebrations, tourists can also take a peek into the island’s historical significance. With stories of Conquistadors, indigenous tribes, and foreign explorers, the Dominican Republic walks hand in hand with its past as they head toward the future.
Called “La Capital” by locals, Santo Domingo is the capital of the Dominican Republic. The city is known for blending the past with the present, and it proudly represents various cultures. Remnants from the New World and hints of colonialism still stand tall in Santo Domingo.
The most famous part of the city is the Zona Colonial, which has the island’s oldest churches and fortresses. Yet, while history is alive in the streets, Santo Domingo is still an urban metropolis with clubs, new gastronomy, and luxury boutiques to explore.
- Culture and Language
- Spending Budget
- How to Get Around
- Top Cities to Visit
- Points of Interest
Culture and Language
While the island has had a lengthy history, the most famous events of the country’s past began when Christopher Columbus discovered the Caribbean islands. The island he landed on was named La Isla Española for Spain, but it became more well known as Hispaniola. The Taíno people originally inhabited the island and ruled with five chiefdoms.
Dominican Republic History
By 1493, Christopher Columbus had built a colony on the island. In the next 3 years, the settlers would begin constructing Santo Domingo and, in 1496, the city was officially designated as the capital. But with the expansion of the island, dark events occurred. The settlers enslaved the local Taíno people in gold mines, which led to many of them dying from disease, starvation, and forced labor.
The importation of slaves from Africa followed several years later, which led to many uprisings and conflicts on the island. For the rest of the 16th century, the island rapidly declined as the mainland of the Americas was discovered. For the 17th and 18th centuries, the island’s growth was still minimal.
The French were given a part of the island for a brief period in the 18th century, but it wasn’t until Hispaniola was united that the Dominican Republic regained its popularity.
Since the Dominican Republic gained its independence in 1844, it has been an uphill battle to establish a stable government. But having won that battle, the Dominican Republic is now flourishing under a Democratic government that has successfully expanded the tourism, mining, and textile industries.
The island’s history is significant in its cultural representations. The vast majority of the Dominican Republic’s culture can be traced back to Spain, the Taíno people, or from Africa.
This unique blend of the three distinct cultures has all come together to influence the island’s lifestyle and customs. One of the most famous pieces of Dominican culture is merengue, which is a local style of song and dance.
Aside from the architecture and tradition, one of the other cultural stamps that Spain left on the island is its language. Spanish is the official language of the Dominican Republic.
It’s estimated that over 90% of the population in the Dominican Republic speaks and understands the Spanish language. But Dominican Spanish differs from other Spanish language variants, which makes it unique to the island.
The English language is also recognized as a foreign language in the Dominican Republic, and it’s taught as a secondary language in school. However, the language is not widely spoken on the island and instead, most speakers are foreigners or ex-pats.
But with a booming tourist industry, the English language is becoming more common.
When you compare the cost of a trip to the Dominican Republic to other Caribbean destinations, you’ll find that it’s relatively affordable. While prices are rising, the Dominican Republic is still less expensive than other islands and with a spending budget outline, it can even be friendly for budget backpackers.
It’s better to outline a budget before you start your trip, so you aren’t caught off guard by the cost of accommodation, food, or transportation. With a spending plan, you can also save money by finding good deals or local prices. Your budget will include the cost of airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation.
The first big step and cost of your trip will be the airline ticket. There are many airlines that have services with non-stop or connected flights to the Punta Cana International Airport in the Dominican Republic.
While flights are decently-priced, because of the increased popularity of the Dominican Republic as a tourist destination, there are plenty of airlines that offer discounts or deals on tickets.
The cost of a flight to the Dominican Republic will also be higher in the dry season. The dry season runs from December to April and it’s the time when most tourists will visit the island, which also means that the local prices go up.
There are tourists in the wet season, which runs from June to November, but it’s significantly fewer than in the winter months.
The same increase and decrease are reflected in the price of accommodation. There are many accommodation options in the Dominican Republic from hostels to hotels, and all-inclusive resorts. The most affordable option would be a dorm room in a hostel.
However, the downside to dorm rooms in hostels is the lack of personal space and amenities. Not all hostels will provide internet, which doesn’t suit all travelers. If you want or need Wi-Fi, it’s better to look at a local or budget hotel.
Hotels will be moderately-priced, meanwhile, boutique hotels are a step up from budget hotels and they may have better services. If you want to splurge on your trip, the Dominican Republic is well known for its beach-front resorts.
With plenty of coastlines, there are hundreds of options, but the major resort areas are Punta Cana, La Romana, and Las Terrenas. Resorts are pricey. Many of the best resorts will charge hundreds of dollars per night and may even see rates that exceed one thousand.
While the cost of resorts may be high, many are all-inclusive, so they often include food as a part of the nightly rate. But if you want to get out and explore the streets, it’s important to consider the cost of food as a part of your spending budget.
Dominican cuisine has become famous for its rich dishes and spicy flavors. Some favorite local dishes include catibia and salpicon. Catibia is the Dominican Republic’s take on an empanada, which is made of yuca and filled with meat or cheese. Salpicon is a fresh seafood dish, which includes chunks of the local fish with vegetables and a vinaigrette.
Sancocho is a rich stew that has become a staple on the island. While many variations of sancocho exist, the Dominican Republic uses a variety of meats and vegetables to concoct a savory broth.
Plantains are also a staple in the local diet and one of the best ways that they are prepared are in tostones. Tostones are often served with meals as a side, or they can be a main dish when topped with local salami or cheese.
No matter what gets your mouth watering, there are a lot of distinct flavors that you can try in the Dominican Republic. However, it’s important to know the cost of food, so you can better plan your trip. Local meals will be the most affordable, however, once you enter a touristy area, expect the prices to increase.
The most expensive meals on the island will be in the top restaurants or resorts. However, most places on the island still provide excellent dishes for a lower cost. With the sea and local agriculture, many of the local cuisines are made with fresh ingredients.
Good food often leads to a night out on the town, so the cost of alcohol will be another part of your budget. Local alcohol in the Dominican Republic is very affordable and a six-pack of beer often costs a few dollars. Presidente is the local beer, which is available throughout the island.
Wine is also affordable and many mid-range bottles sell for quite cheap. However, expect the price of alcohol to increase in the resorts.
How to Get Around
While the Dominican Republic is not the largest island, it’s still large enough that you will need to consider how you’ll get around from city to city. Transportation is another part of your spending budget that may or may not be essential.
Some travelers stay within a resort area, so they do not use transportation frequently. But other travelers may want to get out and explore the different coasts.
The most affordable way to travel around the Dominican Republic is by using the local bus service. There are plenty of tour operators that provide services to tourists to transfer them between major cities like Santo Domingo and Santiago. Some buses also connect you to specific areas on the island like the Samaná Peninsula or the Silver Coast.
Most of the buses and tour operators also have very affordable pricing, regardless of the distance. It’s important that you book your tickets at least 2 hours before you intend to travel. Many tickets can be booked online and there are no refunds, so double-check the dates and times of your travel before you make a reservation.
If you want more freedom to explore the island on your own time, you may want to consider renting a car. Car rentals are widely available throughout the island, but they can be very expensive. Depending on the type of vehicle you wish to rent, you will need to adjust your budget.
Motorcycles are also available, but theft is very common, and you’ll need to take extra care to lock up your bike when it’s not being used.
For budget travelers, you can travel using the local Guagua system. Guaguas are basically an unregulated way of travel that is mostly used by the locals. Guaguas use small vans or buses to transport people from town to town and they do not travel very far.
If the distance to your destination is far, you’ll probably have to travel from town to town and switch guaguas, which are the most affordable way to travel around the Dominican Republic.
Top Cities to Visit
With a diverse landscape, there are a lot of different cities that are worth exploring in the Dominican Republic. Santo Domingo is the capital, but there are plenty of other considerations to add to your list. Here are the top city destinations in the Dominican Republic.
With a rush of energy, Santo Domingo will welcome you into the island life and local culture of the Dominican Republic. This urban capital is known for its colonial past, which is best displayed in the Zona Colonial. But while history paves the street, life is in the air.
The high energy of Santo Domingo means that there are plenty of parties, festivities, and celebrations all year long. The city is a great place to explore the local cuisine and peruse the local shops.
The Dominican Republic’s second-largest city is Santiago, which also has its fair share of colonial architecture and history. The city is most popular because of the museum, El Centro de Leon, and the Monument to the Heroes of Restoration.
Santiago is also located close to the Cibao Valley, which makes it a great place to stop before heading off into the jungle.
Punta Cana is the most popular resort area in the Dominican Republic, which is located on the East Coast. With plenty of resorts and water activities, tourists flock to these turquoise waters to explore, have fun, and relax in the sun.
Punta Cana is also where the international airport is located, which gives tourists easy access to the island and its various destinations.
La Romana is a small town in the Dominican Republic that has become famous because of the Casa de Campo resort. This resort is known for having decorations by Oscar de la Renta, and it boasts the best golf course on the island.
The Teeth of the Dog is a world-famous golf course that draws exclusive visitors from all over the globe. The nearby Isla Catalina is also a hotspot for cruises and yachts.
The Samaná Peninsula has become a favorite spot for nature lovers who want to glimpse the humpback whales give birth. Every year in January and February, this area and the Samaná Bay are thriving with aquatic wildlife.
The area is also popular because of the natural beauty and destinations like the Salto El Limon waterfall. A vast majority of the area has also been preserved because of the Parque Nacional Los Haïtises, which is open to visitors all year.
For a destination that is a little further off of the beaten track, Las Terrenas provides you with a small series of quieter beaches. The area has a few resorts, but it’s not as congested as Punta Cana. However, Las Terrenas is still accessible and located close to Santiago.
Points of Interest
While towns are tourist attractions in themselves, you may be interested in visiting specific cities or areas of the Dominican Republic. With lots to see and plenty to explore, here are the Dominican Republic’s top points of interest. A great addition to any vacation, consider spending time at one of these sites.
Discover the best of Dominican Republic’s thermal springs to add to your itinerary, on our sister site, Top Hot Springs.
Lake Enriquillo is the Caribbean’s largest saltwater lake that has become famous for its iguanas and flamingos. The local landscape is breathtakingly beautiful and historically significant.
In the center of the lake, Isla Cabritos is home to Taíno rock art from hundreds of years ago. Visitors can take a ferry to the island to see the rock and explore more of the lake.
Pico Duarte is the Dominican Republic’s and the Caribbean’s tallest mountain. Visitors can hire a tour guide to hike the mountain or explore the area. San Juan is the largest town close to the mountain, which gives visitors easy access to viewing the famous peak.
Parque Nacional del Este
If you’re a nature and animal lover, the Parque Nacional del Este is the place to go. This unique landscape is home to some of the most elusive animals including manatees, dolphins, and various species of turtles.
The clear water sits above the white sand and the tropical plants make for a beautiful backdrop. UNESCO has even named this park a world heritage site to solidify its importance.
“Dios, patria, libertad” (“God, fatherland, liberty”)
With close proximity to the United States, the Dominican Republic’s paradise is just a short plane ride away. Whether you live the resort life and lounge on the beach or get out into the jungle, the Dominican Republic guarantees that you’ll have a grand adventure.
As the popularity of the island grows, now is the time to get out and explore everything that the Dominican Republic offers.