The Dominican Republic has a lot to offer for travellers wanting a Caribbean vacation at a moderate price. The beaches are beautiful against a backdrop of turquoise ocean, there is a growing number of favourable destinations (Puerto Plata, Punta Cana, La Romana, Samana, Boca Chica, Santo Domingo, and more) and there is a wide variety of hotels and resorts to choose from, offering everything from budget-friendly accommodations to 5-star luxury stays. Golfers have an array of courses to choose from, shoppers can access everything from malls to markets, and go-getters are presented with a variety of attractions, watersports, adventure tours, festivals, and nightlife.
It’s really no wonder the tourism board’s slogan is: Dominican Republic Has it All. Truly, it does. But there are also some things you need to know before you go. Here are our Top 10 Tips.
Currency: The Dominican Republic accepts US currency as well as Dominican Pesos (do not confuse this with Mexican Pesos because they are not the same). However, it’s wise to change your money BEFORE you leave home, at your bank or at a currency exchange, the latter of which will offer the best rates. Never undertake this task at an airport because rates are highest there. And never venture off your resort to unknown banks or ATMs, especially at night, in order to withdraw money in local currency. Instead, consult the front desk of your resort because some are willing to exchange a small amount of money if they have it on hand.
The Language: The official language of the island is Spanish. Although you will encounter people that speak fluent English, you will meet others that converse only in their native tongue. Although it’s not necessary to study Spanish before you go, it couldn’t hurt to learn a few words that will help you to communicate your needs. Many all-inclusive resorts offer Spanish lessons so visitors can learn the basics. In the meantime, consider the following few phrases to help you communicate:
Por Favor/Gracias (Please/Thank you)
Buenos Dias/ Buenas Noches (Good Morning / Good Evening)
Yo no comprendo (I don’t understand)
Estoy perdido (I am lost)
Dónde está el baño? (Where is the bathroom?)
Cuánto cuesta? (How much does it cost?)
Necesito ayuda (I need help)
Be Courteous and Respectful: It doesn’t matter where you travel, you should always be courteous and respectful. This is especially so in the Caribbean; you are inviting trouble if you are confrontational, ill-mannered and patronizing. Do not approach people with a bad attitude and an aura of superiority. Remember, you’re the outsider.
Bargaining: Be prepared to bargain for most everything you buy with the exception of items in hotel gift shops which are a fixed price. For almost anything else, locals expect you to haggle. Bargaining is a way of life in the Dominican. As long as your offers are reasonable and respectful, vendors and artisans will be open to giving you a deal. The general idea is, they will set the price quite high, your offer will be low, and eventually, you’ll meet somewhere in the middle. For the service industry (such as taxis, golf caddies, salon & spa attendees) it’s best to reach an agreement BEFORE you commit to the service.
Island Time: Be prepared to experience ‘Dominican Time’, which is their fun and friendly way of saying they take their time when going about their business. Islanders have a laidback approach to life so they aren’t in a hurry to get something done. Seeing as you’re on vacation, you might as well adopt the same attitude. Don’t get angry about waiting a few extra minutes, try to relax and go with the flow.
Tap Water: Do not drink the tap water. It’s perfectly ok for bathing and even brushing your teeth but don’t swallow it. Many hotels provide bottled water in the rooms. If not, be sure to ask for or purchase bottled water if you plan on drinking it. As extra protection, consider using Dukoral® before travelling, for the prevention of diarrhea.
Tipping: Most of the big resorts in the Dominican are all-inclusive but that doesn’t mean you should skip the tip after a meal or service. You don’t need to go overboard but tipping between 50-100 pesos for waiters/waitresses, bartenders or chambermaids is a welcomed and acceptable gesture. Tip between 100-200 pesos for spa services, taxi drivers, tour guides, and food service off the resort. It’s a show of gratitude and usually results in better service.
Bugs & Bites: There are several different bugs in the Dominican Republic, among them mosquitoes, ticks, bees, wasps, black flies, spiders, and ants. But the most irritating is sand fleas, particularly found in the Punta Cana area. As beautiful as the beaches are, these almost-invisible insects reside in the sugary, white sand and will leave you with nasty bites that show up as small red welts accompanied by intense itching, particularly on your lower legs and feet. It takes a few weeks for the bites to fully disappear and scratching them may cause scarring so its best to be prepared. For starters, avoid the beach when the sand is moist and cool, such as after a rain, late at night or very early in the morning. This seems to be when bug activity is highest. Let the sand dry out and heat up first. Secondly, put a towel between the beach and your body and refrain from digging your toes deep into the moist and cooler sand. Use bug spray that includes flea protection, providing you don’t plan to engage in any attractions involving animal encounters. The toxins can be harmful to animals so many hands-on experiences with dolphins, parrots, or monkeys are prohibited if you are wearing bug spray. Lastly, antihistamines, like Benadryl® and Reactine®, are helpful. These over-the-counter medications won’t prevent bites from happening but they will stave off any itching and swelling. Cortisone cream and Calamine Lotion can also help with the itch and redness. Conveniently, most resorts carry these items in their gift shops or pharmacy.
Excursions: As tempting as it might be to spend your vacation lounging on the beach or by the pool, you can’t truly say you’ve seen a destination unless you experience the culture, see some attractions and participate in some unique local activities. Luckily, in the Dominican Republic, there is a LOT you can do, as we have already discussed. When it comes to booking these excursions, avoid any random individuals that approach you on the beach with some laminated photos and poorly spelled business cards. Your best bet is to do some research BEFORE you leave home. Ask your travel agent if they offer tour bookings or can refer you to a company that does. Or, do an internet search of the well-known tour operators and best prices in the area of your resort. If you prefer to wait until you’ve arrived at your destination, consult with your hotel concierge, or your vacation provider rep, some of which make themselves available onsite (ie: Sunwing, Air Canada, Air Transat, West Jet Vacations). Some resorts conveniently house a reputable tour operator in the lobby. Any of these methods will assure you of booking with a credible company.
Stay Alert: This piece of advice should be taken seriously whenever you may roam. Actually, it should be common sense. However, we think it’s worth mentioning if your destination is the Dominican Republic, especially in the current climate of unrest. Staying alert includes such things as:
a) Don’t wander off the resort and into unknown territory, especially at night. If you plan to leave your resort, make sure it’s with a reputable tour company or transfer service, or have the hotel concierge call a taxi for you.
b) Don’t invite strange people to your room. Conversely, don’t enter a stranger’s hotel room, or venture to a stranger’s home.
c) Women travelling together should remain together, don’t split up and do things alone. If partying at a club, do not overindulge in alcohol and lose control. Do not go to the ladies room or leave the club by yourself.
d) Do not flash cash, or go to an ATM alone or after dark.
e) Use your room safe to lock up your passport and valuables when you are not using them.
f) Don’t leave valuables unattended on the beach or by the pool, such as your wallet, room key, smartphone, or camera.
g) Refrain from “hooking up” with strange men or women as tempting as it might be. You never know who you’re dealing with or what their intentions are.
Enjoy yourself as much as possible. After all, it’s your vacation and it’s meant to be fun. At the same time; however, be smart and aware. If what you are considering is something you wouldn’t do at home due to safety concerns, then it stands to reason you probably shouldn’t be doing it on vacation either.