Dominican Republic Travel Guide

Dominican Republic Travel Guide

“This is the most beautiful land that human eyes have ever seen” – said Christopher Columbus, when he discovered the Hispaniola island in 1492. He must have believed it was a paradise when saw the palm trees, swaying in a blue haze.Indeed, with so many lovely beaches and lagoons across the island, it is hard to believe you are still on Earth.

The Dominican Republic (DR) is the country that occupies the eastern side the Hispaniola island and the most renowned tourist destination in the Caribbean. The Hispaniola and several smaller islands are a part of the Greater Antilles archipelago and the most exclusive vacationing destination.

The capital city of Santo Domingo is home for cathedrals, historic forts and houses, which make up the Zona Colonial that delivers great opportunity for exploring once proud city of Spanish possessions. The closest and most buzzing resort towns to Santo Domingo are Boca Chica and Juan Dolio. With the sounds of bachata and merengue at every corner these towns have so much to offer.

The town of Puerto Plata, located on the northern coast and bounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the magnificent mountain ranges, is another popular spot to chill out along with kite- and windsurfing city of Cabarete. Puerto Plata offers very much similar features like stunning beaches, Victorian architecture, but captivating magnificent panorama from the top of Mount Isabel de Torres makes this place quite special. I have put together this travel guide to reveal another side of the Dominican Republic apart from beaches.

Accommodation         

While Dominican Republic is mostly an all-inclusive destination, there are still other accommodation options to choose from. Hostels are available throughout the major towns with prices start at about 15 USD for a dorm room. Expect to pay around 25 USD in budget hotels, which are popular with locals, but usually offer quite crappy amenities. It is common, they come with shared bathroom and the majority have cold showers. Mid-range hotels are common in tourist areas with prices ranging between 40 to 65 USD. While I stayed in such hotel, these are really good value for money. Airbnb is also an option throughout the Dominican Republic and you can find studio apartments starting around a 45 USD per night. These usually come with self-catering facilities.

Getting Around Dominican Republic

Buses are a convenient and cheap way to get around the Dominican Republic. Along with two major bus companies, which offer rides from Santo Domingo to Sosúa or Puerto Plata for around 9 USD, there are a number of smaller companies that will get you anywhere for even lower fee.

For getting around in distant regions not covered by bus routes, guaguas are great providing even cheaper service than buses. Very popular with locals, the ordinary guagua ride will set you back no more than 2-3 USD or even lower when traveling within a given city. As most guaguas are a bit cramped they might ride with their doors open.

For transportation within major cities, publicos and motoconchos are extremely inexpensive, under 1 USD per trip. While publicos are kind of private cars, motoconchos are small-engine motorbikes carrying up to 3-4 passengers with no helmets on and performing daredevil driving manoeuvres. Motoconchos are popular for shorter trips within towns and resort areas. Taxis are relatively inexpensive with prices around 5-6 USD average. You can pay with US dollars, Euros or Pesos, but should have the correct amount for payment, as drivers can be unlikely to have change. Santo Domingo has an underground system, that is less than 1 USD per ride.

Food

Dominican cuisine can briefly be described as an unusual, but tasty mix of European, African and indigenous Taíno cuisines. It is based on extensive use of beans, bananas and vegetables (including exotic ones) in the original combinations with meat and fish. Such dishes like la bandera, asopao and Puerco en puya are traditional. Food in the Dominican Republic is cheap.

A meal from a street vendor usually come for less than 1 USD. For this price you may expect to get fried pastries, boiled corn, deep-fried pork or chicken. A meal in cafeterías usually cost between 2-3 USD. Comedores, or family-run restaurants with a homely atmosphere, serve delicious comida criolla for around 3 USD in small towns and 4-6 USD in major cities. There is a lot of fast food in resort areas, and it usually comes at 8 USD per combo meal.

Scuba Diving in the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic has numerous diving sites across the island. As weather conditions deliver great diving almost all year round, the underwater sites vary from resort to resort.

Bayahibe area is known with its El Chico and Padre Nuestro caves. With a famous St George wreck nearby, Bayahibe area has more than 30 dive sites.

Cap Cana offers an opportunity to explore the Patricia wreck and check out barracudas and turtles in the lagoon. The Taino cave near Santo Domingo is a right place to enjoy white stalactites, winding tunnels and the halocline – the boundary between fresh and salt water.

The Underwater National Park of Monte Cristi is the major ancient shipwreck graveyard of the Caribbean with around a hundred ships can be found here.

Top Things to Do and See in Dominican Republic

Altos de Chavon, the City of Artists

The city of artists is a 16th century Mediterranean village replica near La Romana. Established by American tycoon in 1976 it was completed in early 1980s to entertain celebrities and wealthy men. Exploring the cobblestone paths and architecture of Altos de Chavon, as well as the surrounding area, is an amazing adventure. The village accommodates several restaurants, craft shops, Altos de Chavon School of Design and the Grecian style amphitheater where Frank Sinatra played the inaugural concert in 1982. Walking around the Altos de Chavon is like stepping back in time. Admission is around $5 USD.

Go kayaking in Jarabacoa

The Jarabacoa region lies in the Cordillera Central and is home to the several beautiful waterfalls and hiking trails like El Mogote. Today, you can visit Jarabacoa, a right spot to escape the heat of the lowlands, and a completely off the beaten track destination. Be sure to visit Salto De Jimenoa Uno, a beautiful waterfall that is one of the highest in the area. You can get there by taking a tour or hiring a guide for around $30 USD. Kayaking is available along the Yaque del Norte and Jimenoa rivers near Jarabacoa.

Los Tres Ojos Caves

Located within the urban Parque Mirador del Este are the impressive Los Tres Ojos Caves. With a large number of magnificent sculptures and picturesque sites in the Park, Los Tres Ojos (the Three Eyes) limestone sinkholes are the most remarkable. The entire site got its name because of three (actually four) lagoons with turquoise water. There are paved trails all around the park, which makes it a good spot for lots of activities and if you love stalactites and stalagmites, come to this place to enjoy the local scenery. Admission is less than $1 USD. Boat rental is possible for a small fee.

Explore The Enriquillo lake

One of the most secluded corners of Dominican Republic, The Enriquillo lake, with a very few facilities for tourists. Give yourself plenty of time or make sure to get the boat in advance. The reason you should sail to the Cabritos island is to see the largest population of American crocodiles. There was a time when flamingos came down here to spend the winter, but once the lake level started rising, and the shallow flats disappeared, flamingos have abandoned the lake. Cabritos island is also home to a large population of rhinoceros iguanas. There is no need for you to travel around the lake as the road along the southern shore winds quite far from the lake, the most visited parts are Cabritos island and the northern shore. Boat rental is expensive and cost around $100 USD.

Las Casas Reales Museum

One of the most popular museums in the Dominican Republic, Las Casas Reales, has some interesting exhibits on colonial history, architecture and the resistance movement. Even if you’re not a fan of the history of the Dominican Republic, you should stop by just to check it out. The interior of this museum is worth checking out.

Attend Dominican Republic Festivals

It seems that the Dominican Republic has some kind of celebration on every day of the year. While most of the festivals held in honour of the city’s or town’s patron saint, such festivals like Santiago Apostol, held in June, and the Independence Day, held at the end of February and Festival de Merengue in August, shouldn’t be missed.

Discover Gri Gri Lagoon

I read a lot of books about pirates when I was a kid and since then I wondered sometimes how they managed to escape the pursuit. The Gri Gri lagoon is the answer! As the boat moves through the mangrove channel, it ends up with a nice berth. Located in Rio San Juan, the lagoon is connected to the ocean by a channel that is home to a huge number of birds. When going there keep your snorkel mask and be sure to go as a group to save money.

Whale Watching

From January to March, the whale watching season in Dominican Republic is at its peak as the humpback whales leave the cold Arctic waters and make their way to the island to mate. With several breeding grounds near the island, it is a great chance to hear male humpback whales courting songs and leaping out of the water. Whale watching is an expensive excursion, but totally worth it during this period of time when you’re guaranteed to spot a few whales.

Go Underground in El Dudu Lagoon

While the El Dudu lagoon, surrounded by natural cliffs, is larger than Hoyo Azul, it is famous for its amazing underwater landscape. For many years the sunken trees were forming the unique world, as limestone impurities slowly turned wood into stone. Thick trunks and thin branches create a surreal view of this underwater forest. There are three passes leading deep into the rock. One of them ends with a cave with breathable air, which is great to listen to the silence. Apart from scuba diving this picturesque place, located just a stone’s throw from Cabrera, offers restaurant service, a volleyball court and camp facilities. I really enjoyed sliding down the zip line into the lagoon, meanwhile there are carved stone steps leading down to the water for those who prefer a calmer experience. Admission is 150 Pesos ($4 USD).

Explore Santo Domingo

No trip would be complete without visiting Santo Domingo. An amazing city with great churches, palaces, and historic sites. With its mansions and the impressive Catedral Primada de América, Santo Domingo is home to the Museum of the Royal Houses and Alcazar De Colón that was the residence of Columbus’ son, Diego, during the early 16th century. Be sure to visit the Colonial City (Zona Colonial), which boasts Spanish old world architecture and quaint cobblestone streets. Such sites like the Palace of Fine Arts, the Museum of Modern Art, and the National Palace are revealing the country’s rich history and culture.

Visit Faro a Colon (Columbus Lighthouse)

An astonishing cross-shaped monument of Christopher Columbus was erected in 1992 for the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the New World. It became known as a Columbus Lighthouse because of high-power lights projecting a blinding white cross in the sky that can be seen even from Puerto Rico. With a long rows of exhibition halls displaying documents related to Columbus’ voyages, it is still arguable the monument accommodates his remains. As the dispute is still open, Faro a Colon is a great place to explore the history and culture of the Dominican Republic.

Hoyo Azul Lagoon

A natural pool with clear turquoise water located 16 km (10 mi) away from the Punta Cana International Airport. Also known as the Blue Hole, it is one of the most beautiful places in Cap Cana and quite popular with tourists. As you start to travel here, you discover a lovely hiking trail that brings you to the Pool. Since the Pond is fairly small it can’t accommodate everyone at once that may cause in lines. To avoid crowds I’d recommend visiting Hoyo Azul Lagoon in the morning. With no public transport around, the only way to get there is by guagua or público. The entrance fee is around $10 USD.

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