Know before you go – The Dominican Republic

Know before you go – The Dominican Republic

Dance the merengue on a golden beach and sip on delicious local rums in the sunshine with a getaway to the Dominican Republic. This friendly island is one of the most popular Caribbean destinations thanks to its colourful culture, idyllic beaches and year-round tropical climate.

To help you prepare for your Dominican adventure, we’ve created this guide of travel advice for the Dominican Republic with everything you need to know from exchange rates and airports to restaurant recommendations.

Weather

The best time to travel to the Dominican Republic is between December and May, but thanks to the island’s tropical climate you can expect warm temperatures throughout the year with averages of about 28˚C around the coastline. The warmest month is August with temperatures up to 35˚C and the “coolest” are January and February with temperature up to 30˚C.

Thanks to the island’s rich and varied landscape, the wet season lasts from November to January along the Northern coastline and from May to November for the rest of the island. Hurricane season is in August on the Caribbean side and September-October on the Atlantic side.

Getting there

A direct flight from London or Manchester to the Dominican Republic will take just over 9 hours. Flights from Scotland will require a connecting flight and can take around 14 hours total travel time.
The island has multiple airports, but most international flights arrive via Punta Cana International Airport. If you’re travelling to a resort, you should book your airport transfers with them. Otherwise you can hire a car or get a taxi to your hotel.

Currency and Costs

The currency of the Dominican Republic is the Dominican peso (DOP or RD$), but most tourist sites also accept US Dollars, Euros, Canadian Dollars and Swiss Francs. You can generally get 60 - 70RD$ to the pound and the cost of living is slightly lower than in the UK. For example, a three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant in the Dominican Republic will cost about 1,730 RD$ or £26.

Food and drink

The Dominican Republic enjoys a lively Caribbean culinary culture. Think tropical fruits, ocean-fresh seafood and hearty dinners of rice and beans. You’ll find lots of fantastic restaurants serving local delicacies and international fare, but venture outside of the tourists areas and you’ll also discover a wealth of amazing street food and fresh cut fruits ready to be savoured for about 20-40RD$. The Dominican Republic also has a thriving rum industry, so make sure you sample some of the island’s famous spirits.

Typical Dominican Food

La Bandera – a Dominican staple, this dish is made with stewed meat, either chicken or pork, and red kidney beans that have been cooked in an aromatically herby tomato sauce.

Sancocho – usually served at special occasions, this stew is made with beef or, in its more deluxe version, up to seven types of meat including sausage, ribs, pork belly and steak.

Pollo guisado – the perfect home-cooked family meal or hearty stew for guests, this braised chicken dish with peppers and tomatoes is a favourite among Dominicans.

Snacks - known as Hedhikaa or “short eats” & Dessert

Typical Dominican snacks

Tostones – crispy fried slices of unripe plantain can be found everywhere on the island where they’re also known as platano frito or “fried greens” and are enjoyed salted like crisps or chips.

Pastelitos – classic Dominican street food, these Cuban empanadas or little hand pies come filled with cheese, guava, pineapple or coconut

Typical Dominican Desserts

Hahichuelos con Dulce – a sweet, creamy pudding made from red beans, sweet potatoes, raisins, coconut milk and evaporated milk, spiced with cinnamon and cloves.

Bizcocho Dominicano – usually made by a master baker, “Dominican Cake” is airy and moist with a baked-in pineapple filling and spectacular meringue icing. A must-try for travellers!

Typical Dominican Drinks

Rum – Brugal, Barcelo, Macorix

Beer – Presidente, Brahma, Bohemia

Mama Juana – a mix of rum and red wine, flavoured with honey, herbs and aromatic bark

Moir Sonando – a cleverly mixed orange juice and milk beverage, sweetened with sugar and vanilla

Filigrana - Santo Domingo

Luxury dining meets local flavours as this beautiful restaurant fusing Dominican ingredients with recipes from around the globe. Try succulent lobster lasagne, tender steaks straight from the restaurant's charcoal grill, cocktails served in recycled light bulbs and banana and macadamia butter ice cream, with a panoramic view of the Caribbean Sea.

Jellyfish - Punta Cana

A summer favourite, Jellyfish is a striking two storey restaurant right on a palm tree lined beach looking out over the sea with a relaxed outdoor area complete with loungers and beach cushions. Enjoy fresh fish and shellfish, local snacks such as tostones, and delicious frozen cocktails on the beach while you watch the sun go down over the lapping waves.

The Grill - Punta Cana

Enjoy a healthy, modern take on island fare paired open views over the greens of La Cana Golf Course. After a round of golf, you can refuel on fresh fish and tapas such as teriyaki marinated tuna, grilled octopus, stuffed sea urchin or squid ink risotto, followed with seasonal fruit salads, sorbets or indulgent chocolate ganache.

Shish Kabab - La Romana

Try a Middle Eastern take on Dominican cuisine at Shish Kabab. Run by a friendly palestinian family, this tidy little establishment serves traditional Dominican fare alongside kibbeh, hummus, baba ganoush and, its namesake, shish kebabs. After your meal, enjoy a cold Presidente beer and do a little celebrity spotting on their photo wall of famous guests.

La Cava - Cap Cana, Juanillo, Punta Cana

With only space for six people at a time, this private little wine bar creates the perfect atmosphere for romantic dinners or intimate evenings with close friends. They have one of the best wine collections in the Caribbean regions with thousands of bottles from all over the world.

Coco Bongo - Downtown Punta Cana

Punta Cana is home to the Dominican Republic’s most spectacular nightlife with plenty of clubs and bars to keep you dancing all night long. The most famous of these is Coco Bongo. This astounding club features nightly aerial dancers, drag acts and superhero spectacles ready to wow and entertain while you party.

Don Queco Cigar Bar - Punta Cana

The Dominican Republic produces some of the most popular cigars in the world. So, what better place to enjoy them than the Don Queco Cigar & Rum Bar in Punta Cana. From the refined atmosphere of the lounge, to the sunny outdoor patio, to the carefully ventilated glass room where they store their cigars, every detail has been selected with cigar aficionados in mind.

What to do in the Dominican Republic

With its tropical weather, sprawling beaches and warm sea temperatures, the Dominican Republic is perfect for water sports from water skiing to stand up paddleboarding The island also boasts a wealth of golf courses, so fans of the sport can enjoy a leisurely round or two in the Dominican sunshine. Head to Punta Cana for your choice of bars, restaurants and lively night clubs or get away from the resorts and the city, and discover the island’s natural treasures.

Go back in time at Santo Domingo

Away from the resorts, take a tour around the historical buildings of Santo Domingo. At over 500 years old, this is the oldest colonial city in the world and a great place to learn about Dominican history. Explore 16th century fortresses and churches along the cobblestone streets of the Zona Colonial for a real taste of what life was like hundreds of years ago.

Watch the whales off the Samana Peninsula

Take a tour out onto the beautiful blue waters off the Samana Peninsula and you could catch sight of Humpback Whales. These graceful giants come to the Dominican Republic in the winter months to mate and rear their calves, and can often be seen waving their flippers, lobbing their tails or even breaching up into the air in Samana Bay.

Go canyoning along the 27 waterfalls of Puerto Plata

Jump, splash and slide along 27 beautiful waterfalls for the ultimate adventure in the Dominican jungle. This natural limestone canyon was carved by river water running down the hillside, creating stunning waterfalls and crystal clear pools perfect for thrills, laughs or simply floating on your back and enjoying a view of the trees.

Fly kites on the beach at Cabarete

To celebrate carnaval, Cabarete hosts beachside fun and games throughout February, including the Dominican Republic Kite Festival. Extreme sport stars come to kitesurf on the beautiful blue waves and show off new tricks. Have a go at kitesurfing or enjoying the simple joys of flying a kite on the beach with your family.

Catch a baseball game at Estadio Quisqueya

In the Dominican Republic, baseball isn’t just a game; it’s way of life. Easily the most popular sport on the island, no trip is complete without catching a game at Estadio Quisqueya. See the locals proudly wearing their teams colours, watch the cheerleaders rally the players, and savour some rum under the floodlights as you cheer on the game.

See the flamingos of Lake Enriquillo

This hypersaline lake is home to the Dominican Republic’s most flamboyant inhabitant. Pink flocks of flamingos can be spotted close to Isla Cabritos and the east side of the lake between April and July. You’ll also spot saltwater crocodiles between January and June, and friendly iguanas sunbathing on the rocks all year round.

Hike the rainforest of Los Haitises National park

From cathedral-esque limestone caves to water-lined mangrove forests to rolling jungles, Los Haitises National Park is a world-class ecoadventure. Discover ancient cave paintings, learn about the different medicinal trees of the park, and kayak along the mangrove channels in this natural wonderland.

Dominican culture

With a rich heritage of European, African and Hispanic traditions, the Dominican Republic is known for its friendly welcome and lively music and dance scene. Home to the Merengue, Bachata and one of the most important fashion design schools in the world, this Caribbean island is bursting with confidence and style.

Languages

The official language of the Dominican Republic is Spanish, but thanks its multicultural cities you’ll find plenty of English speakers wherever you go.

Religions

The Dominican Republic’s main religion is Catholicism and the country has two patron saints - Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia or “Our Lady Of High Grace” and Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes or “Our Lady Of Mercy”.

Carnaval de la Vega February

Carnaval is the Dominican Republic’s biggest annual celebration with a street party every weekend the whole month through. People hold carnivals all over the country, but El Carnaval de la Vega is the most spectacular of them all. Expect parades, floats, colourful costumes, pop concerts, food, drinks and dancing all-day and all-night.

Cabarete Sand Castle Festival February

Head down to Cabarete coast in February and you’ll find giant dragons, towering castles, intricate pyramids and elegant mermaids all carefully sculpted out of sand. For 10 days every February, Cabarete beach is transformed into a fantastic sand sculpture park to celebrate Carnaval season. Enjoy the sights and get inspired to make a sandcastle of your own.

Semana Santa April

Walk through the streets of Cabral in April and you could find yourself being playfully whipped by a ‘devil’. Semana Santa fuses Catholic Easter traditions with Afro-Dominican Vodú celebrations, making it a very interesting time to visit the Dominican Republic. Dominicans celebrate with parades, beauty pageants and by dressing up as devils to ‘punish’ passers by.

Music and dance

The Dominican Republic is famous for creating multiple music genres and dance styles, but the most popular have to be the Merengue and the Bachata.

Merengue - This fast-paced style has surprisingly simple steps, making it easy to pick up and a joy to dance. Come to the Festival de Merengue in Santo Domingo in July/August and join the locals in the dance halls for the full Dominican experience.

Bachata - A more romantic dance style, the Bachata is normally accompanied by songs of longing and heartbreak as couples hold each other close and quickly twist and turn around the dancefloor.

Crafts and produce

Rum - Thanks to the Dominican Republic’s history of sugar plantations, rum is one of the island’s most famous exports. Book a rum-tasting tour at one of the island’s many distilleries and learn all about the Dominicans’ favourite drink.

Cigars - The Dominican Republic is also well known for its excellent cigars. You’ll find specialist cigar shops throughout the country and even cigar bars where you can select something special to enjoy with an after dinner digestif.

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