Dominican Republic is ensconced as the Caribbean’s most visited destination. It’s not hard to see why; a seemingly endless spread of white-sandy beaches and palm trees play host to a similarly sizeable range of holiday resorts. The country has developed a reputation for a good-quality break at a reasonable price, for what it’s worth.
With its 32km (20m) stretch of beaches and clear blue sea, the region around Punta Cana on the east coast is particularly popular, offering golf courses, all-inclusive holidays and the usual fun-in-the-sun trappings.
Dominican Republic makes up one half of the island of Hispaniola – which it shares with Haiti in the west. The country is one of the most geographically diverse parts of the Caribbean, showcasing everything from tropical rainforests and high-mountain ranges to mangrove swamps and semi-deserts. Mountain-bikers, windsurfers, hikers, climbers and even whale-watchers are well catered for.
No less notably, however, the Dominican Republic is heaving with life, blending the heady rhythms of merengue and bachata music, with a fondness for rum and religion, not to mention a near-unrivalled passion for baseball.
The country has a long history. It was the first part of the region to be discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492. A visit to capital city Santo Domingo still makes the most natural starting point for cultural visitors. The oldest fortress Fortaleza Ozama (built in 1502) and colonial-era churches still stand proud, while the city as a whole is a thrusting, energetic destination full of speaker-blaring corner stores and dance-till-you-drop nightclubs.
While it’s a large country by Caribbean standards, it remains relatively easy to combine different elements of the destination in one itinerary. And whether you’re here for the beaches, the music, the countryside or the culture, the DR in full swing is a force to be reckoned with.
Weather and climate
Best time to visit
The climate in Dominican Republic is generally hot with tropical temperatures all year, although it does vary from region to region.
In Santo Domingo, the temperatures are constant throughout the year, ranging between 25°C (77°F) and 28°C (82°F) while rain falls abundantly from May to November.
The resort town Punta Cana on the east coast is extremely popular with European and American tourists from December to March who seek to escape the cold in the northern hemisphere. In January, the average high in Punta Cana is 29°C (84°F) while the average low is 21°C (70°F). Precipitation is high from June to November, with a risk of hurricanes too. April is the shoulder season, meaning good weather (27°C/81°F) and fewer crowds.
If you’re visiting the mountainous interior, it’s best to pack a light sweater as it can get very cold at high elevations.
Lightweight fabrics are best suited to the tropical temperatures. Waterproofs are essential during the rainy seasons.
The Dominican Republic shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with the nation of Haiti. It is larger than its French-speaking neighbour, occupying two-thirds of the landmass.
A series of mountain belts stretch across the border region, most notably in the form of the Cordillera Central; at 3,175m (10,414ft) the peak of Pico Duarte represents the highest point of the country.
The Dominican landscape is frequently forested and often undulating, with a multitude of valleys, plains and plateaux. The soil is fertile with excellent white beaches on the north, southeast and east coasts. Ten per cent of the country was set aside in the 1970s to be protected as national parks and science reserves, and, in spite of occasional hurricanes and fires, these areas remain largely intact. Today there are 17 national parks in the Dominican Republic.
Capital city Santo Domingo sits on the south coast (providing a popular stop-off for cruise ships), while the country’s second largest city, Santiago, is located in the central northwest region.
The Reserva Cientifica Banco de Plata is an underwater park located off the north coast, set up to preserve a breeding ground for the thousands of humpback whales that visit each winter.
Safety and security
The Dominican Republic is friendly and welcoming, but has a high crime rate, ranging from opportunistic crime like bag-snatching and pick-pocketing, to violent crime.
There have been a number of incidents in Santo Domingo where foreigners have been mugged at gunpoint during the daytime while walking in residential districts.
Take particular care in remote areas, especially at night. Don’t wear expensive jewellery or carry large amounts of cash or expensive items like smart phones or cameras on the street. Use a hotel safe whenever possible. Don’t leave your bags or other possessions on chairs or tables in restaurants or bars. If you’re attacked or mugged, don’t resist.
There have been incidents of passengers being stopped and robbed or assaulted when travelling from the ‘Las Americas’ airport in Santo Domingo early in the morning or late at night so be vigilant, especially after dark.
Taxis are cheap but many are in a state of disrepair. There have been cases of theft from taxis, so keep valuables and cash secure and out of sight. Tourist taxis are safer and more reliable, but also more expensive. Public transport can be unsafe, but private companies operate good bus services between cities.
Although most major roads are reasonably good, general standards of driving are poor. Drivers weave from lane to lane and rarely signal. Many vehicles are in a state of disrepair and don’t have working headlights or mirrors. Drink driving is common. Where possible you should avoid driving outside the main cities at night. Road accidents are frequent, especially during holiday periods like Christmas and Easter.
Take extra care on the road between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. There have been armed robberies in the Dominican Republic on roads close to the border with Haiti, including by criminals dressed as police officers.
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in the Dominican Republic, attacks can’t be ruled out.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
British Citizens travelling to the Dominican Republic for tourism don’t need a visa.
From April 2018, the tourism entry tax (previously known as a tourist card) will no longer be collected upon arrival and should be included in your air fare.
Contact your airline or tour operator if you’re unsure whether you have already paid this fee.
On arrival you will normally be granted a 30-day stay. This can be extended to 60 days by paying for an extension when you leave the country. If you’re planning to stay for longer, seek advice from a local lawyer or contact the local Immigration authorities.
There have been reports in April 2018 that immigration authorities will make more frequent checks on foreign visitors to establish the validity of their stay in the country. The Dominican Republic immigration rules haven’t changed; all tourists should have valid documentation for a 30-day stay and pay for an extension on departure if staying for up to 60 days.
Make sure you’re able to provide a photocopy of your identification (such as a passport), and proof of onward or return travel if you’re asked to do so by the authorities.
If you’re entering as a tourist your passport must be valid up to at least the date of your proposed departure from the Dominican Republic. If you’re entering the Dominican Republic for any other purpose your passport should have at least six months’ validity.
Travelling with children
According to the Dominican Republic authorities, visitors under 18 travelling to the Dominican Republic don’t need written authorisation from their parents as long as they enter and leave with the same person or people. If visitors between the ages of 13 and 18 are travelling alone, or in a group with no one over 18, then parental authorisation is not required as long as the group remains the same on entry and exit.
Otherwise, a visitor under the age of 18 must carry a sworn affidavit drawn up by a solicitor and signed by the child’s parents or legal guardian(s) authorising their travel. The affidavit will need to be legalised by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Dominican Republic Embassy
Check the latest country-specific information and advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.
The vaccines in this section are recommended for some travellers visiting this country. Vaccines are listed alphabetically.
Hepatitis A is a viral infection transmitted through contaminated food and water or by direct contact with an infectious person. Symptoms are often mild or absent in young children, but the disease becomes more serious with advancing age. Recovery can vary from weeks to months. Following hepatitis A illness immunity is lifelong.
Those at increased risk include travellers visiting friends and relatives, long-stay travellers, and those visiting areas of poor sanitation.
All travellers should take care with personal, food and water hygiene.
Hepatitis A vaccination
As hepatitis A vaccine is well tolerated and affords long-lasting protection, it is recommended for all previously unvaccinated travellers.
Cholera is a bacterial infection transmitted by contaminated food and water. Cholera can cause severe watery diarrhoea although mild infections are common. Most travellers are at low risk.
Cholera in Dominican Republic
Cholera occurs in this country.
All travellers should take care with personal, food and water hygiene.
This oral vaccine is recommended for those whose activities or medical history put them at increased risk. This includes:
- aid workers
- those going to areas of cholera outbreaks who have limited access to safe water and medical care.
- those for whom vaccination is considered potentially beneficial.
Hepatitis B is a viral infection; it is transmitted by exposure to infected blood or body fluids. This mostly occurs during sexual contact or as a result of blood-to-blood contact (for example from contaminated equipment during medical and dental procedures, tattooing or body piercing procedures, and sharing of intravenous needles). Mothers with the virus can also transmit the infection to their baby during childbirth.
Hepatitis B in Dominican Republic
2% or more of the population are known or thought to be persistently infected with the hepatitis B virus (intermediate/high prevalence).
Travellers should avoid contact with blood or body fluids. This includes:
- avoiding unprotected sexual intercourse.
- avoiding tattooing, piercing, public shaving, and acupuncture (unless sterile equipment is used)
- not sharing needles or other injection equipment.
- following universal precautions if working in a medical/dental/high risk setting.
A sterile medical equipment kit may be helpful when travelling to resource poor areas.
Hepatitis B vaccination
Vaccination could be considered for all travellers, and is recommended for those whose activities or medical history put them at increased risk including:
- those who may have unprotected sex.
- those who may be exposed to contaminated needles through injecting drug use.
- those who may be exposed to blood or body fluids through their work (e.g. health workers).
- those who may be exposed to contaminated needles as a result of having medical or dental care e.g. those with pre-existing medical conditions and those travelling for medical care abroad including those intending to receive renal dialysis overseas.
- long-stay travellers
- those who are participating in contact sports.
- families adopting children from this country.
Rabies is a viral infection which is usually transmitted following contact with the saliva of an infected animal most often via a bite, scratch or lick to an open wound or mucous membrane (such as on the eye, nose or mouth). Although many different animals can transmit the virus, most cases follow a bite or scratch from an infected dog. In some parts of the world, bats are an important source of infection.
Rabies symptoms can take some time to develop, but when they do, the condition is almost always fatal.The risk of exposure is increased by certain activities and length of stay (see below). Children are at increased risk as they are less likely to avoid contact with animals and to report a bite, scratch or lick.
Rabies in Dominican Republic
Rabies is considered a risk and has been reported in domestic animals in this country. Bats may also carry rabies-like viruses.
- Travellers should avoid contact with all animals. Rabies is preventable with prompt post-exposure management.
- Following a possible exposure, wounds should be thoroughly cleansed and an urgent local medical assessment sought, even if the wound appears trivial.
- Post-exposure treatment and advice should be in accordance with national guidelines.
A full course of pre-exposure vaccines simplifies and shortens the course of post-exposure treatment and removes the need for rabies immunoglobulin which is in short supply world-wide.
Pre-exposure vaccinations are recommended for travellers whose activities put them at increased risk including:
- those at risk due to their work (e.g. laboratory staff working with the virus, those working with animals or health workers who may be caring for infected patients).
- those travelling to areas where access to post-exposure treatment and medical care is limited.
- those planning higher risk activities such as running or cycling.
- long-stay travellers (more than one month).
Tetanus is caused by a toxin released from Clostridium tetani and occurs worldwide. Tetanus bacteria are present in soil and manure and may be introduced through open wounds such as a puncture wound, burn or scratch.
Travellers should thoroughly clean all wounds and seek appropriate medical attention.
- Travellers should have completed a primary vaccination course according to the UK schedule.
- If travelling to a country where medical facilities may be limited, a booster dose of a tetanus-containing vaccine is recommended if the last dose was more than ten years ago even if five doses of vaccine have been given previously.
Country specific information on medical facilities may be found in the ‘health’ section of the FCO foreign travel advice website.
TB is a bacterial infection transmitted most commonly by inhaling respiratory droplets from an infectious person. This is usually following prolonged or frequent close contact.
Tuberculosis in Dominican Republic
The average annual incidence of TB is greater than or equal to 40 cases per 100,000 population (further details).
Travellers should avoid close contact with individuals known to have infectious pulmonary (lung) TB.
Those at risk during their work (such as healthcare workers) should take appropriate infection control precautions.
Tuberculosis (BCG) vaccination
According to current national guidance, BCG vaccine should be recommended for those at increased risk of developing severe disease and/or of exposure to TB infection e.g. when the average annual incidence of TB is greater than or equal to 40 cases per 100,000 population. See Public Health England’s Immunisation against infectious disease, the ‘Green Book’.
For travellers, BCG vaccine is also recommended for:
- unvaccinated, children under 16 years of age, who are going to live for more than 3 months in this country. A tuberculin skin test is required prior to vaccination for all children from 6 years of age and may be recommended for some younger children.
- unvaccinated, tuberculin skin test negative individuals under 35 years of age at risk due to their work such as healthcare workers, prison staff and vets. Healthcare workers may be vaccinated over the age of 35 years following a careful risk assessment.
There are specific contraindications associated with the BCG vaccine and health professionals must be trained to administer this vaccine intradermally (just under the top layer of skin).
Following administration, no further vaccines should be administered in the same limb for 3 months.
The BCG vaccine is given once only, booster doses are not recommended.
Typhoid is a bacterial infection transmitted through contaminated food and water. Previous typhoid illness may only partially protect against re-infection.
Travellers who will have access to safe food and water are likely to be at low risk. Those at increased risk include travellers visiting friends and relatives, frequent or long-stay travellers to areas where sanitation and food hygiene are likely to be poor.
Typhoid in Dominican Republic
Typhoid fever is known or presumed to occur in this country.
All travellers should take care with personal, food and water hygiene.
- Both oral and injectable typhoid vaccinations are available, and vaccination is recommended for laboratory personnel who may handle the bacteria for their work.
- Vaccination could be considered for those whose activities put them at increased risk (see above).
Public medical facilities in Dominican Republic are generally limited. Private hospitals offer good standards of care, although reports indicate that some establishments may overcharge. Dentistry is adequate. A good range of medicines is available. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
If you need emergency medical assistance in Santo Domingo dial 911 and ask for an ambulance. Outside Santo Domingo (e.g. Punta Cana, Puerto Plata) contact the tourist police (1-809-200-3500). If you’re travelling with a tour operator, also contact your representative and/or hotel. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
The currency of the Dominican Republic is the Dominican peso. US dollars and travellers’ cheques are easily exchanged. Only exchange money at banks or official exchange offices (casas de cambio). UK credit cards and debit cards will usually work in ATMs. Take great care when withdrawing cash at an ATM. Credit card cloning and identity theft are common.
Punta Cana beaches
Boasting a series of wide white beaches that stretch nearly uninterrupted for 56km (35 miles), Punta Cana has a well-deserved reputation as one of the most affordable destinations in the Caribbean, as well as one of its friendliest, thanks to the Dominican Republic’s lively, Spanish-influenced culture and music. More recent projects, including the in-progress Cap Cana development with its Jack Nicklaus golf courses, are targeting a better-heeled visitor.
All 56km (35miles) of Punta Cana’s sugar white sand beaches are accented with coco palms and turquoise waves. They are perhaps the prettiest in the Dominican Republic. Most are attached to hotels and well-populated with tourists, who enjoy stretching on a sun lounger or taking part in watersports such as parasailing, windsurfing, jet-skiing or deep-sea fishing. Farther afield are more isolated stretches, where you may be one of only a few holidaymakers.
Beyond the beach:
Golfers can choose from five courses, with green fees surprisingly low. Or experience the famous Dominican hospitality with a 4-wheel drive tour of the countryside; day-long excursions usually include a drive through the jungle, a break for swimming at a deserted stretch of beach, a typical lunch (beans, rice, plantains and chicken) at a Dominican home, and visits to caves and sugar-cane fields.
Most stretches of beach around Punta Cana are perfect for kids, with mild surf for splashing. Children will especially enjoy the dolphin, sea lion and parrot shows at Manati Park Bavaro (Carretera Manati) (www.manatipark.com), a theme park that also includes a replica of a native Taino village.
The small city of Higuey, about 45 minutes inland by car, has few true tourist attractions, other than its starkly modern cathedral, the Basilica, but it’s a great place to sample real Dominican life: view the offerings at a colmado (a small grocery); buy peeled pineapple and mango slices from vendors; swig an icy Presidente beer. On the way there, look for photo ops at La Otra Banda, a tiny village of traditional clapboard houses, painted in vivid tropical colours. It is also worth the long, long bus ride to Santa Domingo just to stroll the streets of the Zona Colonial where such notables as Ponce de León, Cortés and Columbus once walked.
Make the two-hour drive to Altos de Chavon, an artists’ complex built on bluffs overlooking the Chavon River to resemble a 16th-century Italian village. Shops nestled on the cobblestone streets sell fine art, handcrafted jewellery, and stylish clothing; enjoy homemade pasta and imported antipasto at the romantic La Piazzetta, where the chef hails from Northern Italy.