Though it has the highest mountain in the Caribbean—10,164-foot Pico Duarte— the DR's main draw is the beach. In the southeast, the most popular areas are Punta Cana and La Romana, where the beaches are wide and white, the water is clear, and the real estate is dominated by all-inclusive resorts that mostly attract Americans. Farther southwest, the capital, Santo Domingo, has its own (crowded) beaches plus historical buildings. In the northwest, Puerto Plata attracts a lower-key and largely European crowd. North-central Cabarete, with its steady winds, draws huge crowds of kiteboarders and windsurfers. To the east of Puerto Plata is the Samaná peninsula, with pristine beaches, offshore islets, and small settlements—it's still largely under the radar, but a new airport was recently completed, and flights are beginning to land there from Europe and the U.S.
WHEN TO GO
Most of the year it's hard to go wrong in the Dominican Republic. The weather changes only slightly from season to season, and average year-round temperatures hover between 78 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit. (It can be a little chillier in the mountainous inland areas of the Cordillera Central.) July, August, and September are brutally hot and humid, as well as hurricane-prone.
HOW TO GET THERE
The DR is just a quick hop away from the U.S., and thanks to daily flights on JetBlue and other carriers, it's quickly becoming a major weekend destination for norteños looking to escape the winter chill. The country has seven international airports (unusual for such a tiny country), but it's really only Las Américas International (serving Santo Domingo), Punta Cana International, Gregorio Luperón International (serving Puerto Plata), and Santiago International that get direct flights from the U.S. American Airlines, Continental, Delta, JetBlue, Spirit, United Air, and US Airways all fly into these hubs.
Charter flights are the easiest (and most expensive) way to get from one part of the DR to another. (Driving outside the major tourist areas can be dicey—see "Getting Around," below.) Air Century, operating out of Santo Domingo (809-826-4222; www.aircentury.com), and Take Off Destination Service, operating out of Punta Cana (809-552-1333; http://takeoffweb.com) offer flights between all DR's major tourist destinations.
Americans over age 25 can easily rent a car in the DR as long as they have a valid driver's license. Major car rental companies have airport, hotel, and city locations. Be advised, though: Apart from the country's two major highways (between Puerto Plata and Santo Domingo, and from Santo Domingo to Punta Cana), road conditions can be bad. If you plan to travel to any areas not accessible from these roads, you'll need to rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
Private taxis and transfer services are available 24 hours a day in Santo Domingo, Santiago, and Puerto Plata. Amstar Destination Management Company (www.amstardmc.com ) offers reliable, safe transportation, airport transfers, and tours. Dominican taxis charge flat rates dependent on the distance of travel. Taxi companies will tell you what the rate should be (for travel within a city, it's usually about $1.50), but always confirm the rate with the driver before you leave so you're not charged an inflated price once you get there.
The DR Tourism Board doesn't have official offices in any of the country's towns, but they do have booths at most of the airports. For more information, call 888-374-6361, or go to www.godominicanrepublic.com.
NEED TO KNOW
Capital City: Santo Domingo
Area: 18,810 square miles
Telephone Calling Code(s): 809, 829
Electricity: 110 V, 60 Hz
Currency: As of Nov 22, 2011:
1 Dominican Republic Pesos = $0.03 US Calculate Other Amounts
Before entering the country at ports or airports, visitors are required to fill out embarkation/disembarkation forms (to show with a photo ID or passport) and purchase a Tourist Card, good for 15 days of travel in the DR. (It's essential that each visitor has $10 to pay for the Tourist Card. No coins or other currency, including Dominican pesos, can be used.) Tourist Cards are available at booths in the airports and ports.
GOOD TO KNOW
Books and Movies
Julia Alvarez's In the Time of the Butterflies is a partly fictional account of three sisters who sought to overthrow the Trujillo dictatorship in the late 1950s. Quisqueya La Bella: The Dominican Republic in Historical and Cultural Perspective, by Alan Cambeira, is an engaging historical account of the nation's place in the larger Caribbean. Renowned Dominican poet Pedro Mir, Poet Laureate of the Dominican Republic, published Contracanto a Walt Whitman (Canto a Nosotros Mismos) in 1952, his "counter-song" to Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself."
The film Un Macho de Mujer (2006, directed by Alfonso Rodríguez) is a lighthearted comedy that captures the Dominican sense of humor. Nueba Yol (1995, directed by Ángel Muníz) is a slightly overstereotyped but very popular Dominican comedic drama made in the style of Spike Lee's films.Cuisine
Dominican cuisine has been greatly influenced by its rich history, resulting in Taino and (predominantly) Spanish-influenced dishes. La bandera (the flag), the country's national dish, consists of white rice, red beans, stewed meat, and fritos verdes (fried green plantains). Sancocho, a derivative of the Spanish cocido (stew), is made of meat, plantains, and vegetables. (Each region of the country has its peculiar way of preparing it, including the must-try sancocho prieto, made of seven different local meats.) On the coast, fish and conch are enjoyed, and coconut is used to sweeten many seafood dishes. Samaná's pescado con coco (fish with coconut sauce) is an especially well-known dish. Dishes made with plantains are ubiquitous, and include the popular mangú (a purée of boiled green plantains) and mofongo (mashed plantains). Yaniqueques (disks of deep-fried dough) are often sold on the beaches; casabe (flat round cassava bread) and catibias (cassava-flour fritters stuffed with meat) are staple Taino-derived foods; and locrio, a traditional rice dish adapted to the local produce of the Dominican Republic, is the missing link to the traditional Spanish paella. Also be sure to try pastelitos (meat or cheese-filled pastries) and quipes (small, football-shaped patties of ground beef and cracked wheat, with the consistency of falafel). Bigger appetites will appreciate chimichurris, delicious spit-cooked pork sandwiches.Good Buys
More than half of the handmade cigars sold in the U.S. are from the DR (including the popular Fuentes, Davidoffs, Romeo y Julieta 1875s, and Macanudos), and because prices are dramatically less expensive than overseas, visitors should score a few stogies to bring home. Additionally, Dominicans boast that their amber is 90 percent more transparent than amber from other parts of the world (you can be the judge if this is true).
January: 1, New Year's Day; 6, Day of the Epiphany; 21, Virgen de la Altagracia Day; 26: Duarte's Day
February: 27, Independence Day; ten days before Lent, Carnival
April: Day before Easter, Good Friday; first Sunday, Easter
June: Thursday after Trinity Sunday: Feast of Corpus Christi
August: 16, Restoration Day
September: 24, Virgen de las Mercedes Day
November: 6, Constitution Day
December: 25, Christmas Day