The Dominican Republic is perhaps one of the most famous and long serving package tourist destinations in the industry, with so many resorts and package tours built around and serving the needs of package tour families on a two week jolly from Thomas Cook.
That doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for independent travellers too, in fact a lot of backpackers are missing out by dismissing the Dominican Republic as a long haul Costa Del Sol replacement for package tourists.
The DR is one of the larger and more diverse of the Caribbean islands, and as a result boasts some of the most stunning beaches, waterfalls and jungles in the region. You may not be able to find the hidden tropical hideaways or escape the hordes the same way that you can in more traditional backpacker destinations, but what you get is a strong traveller infrastructure and endless opportunities to relax on a beach, do some jungle trekking, mountain trekking, windsurfing, wildlife spotting or almost any other adventure activity you can imagine.
In contrast to the package tour resorts that populate the island where general tourist behaviour and dress is accepted, the Dominican Republic is actually quite conservative and if you head out of the resorts you will find that the acceptance of those dress codes and behaviours will drop dramatically. Dress relatively modestly, no need to go overboard just don’t wear bikini tops or go shirtless with union jack shorts in more local areas. It won’t go down well!
Citizens of the EU, the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa do not need a visa to enter the DR but they do need to pay a $10 USD entry tax on arrival. Depending on where you buy your flight or package from this may or may not be included in that price (many package tours will have it included, independent flights won’t).
There are good quality medical facilities in the DR, and the resorts generally have top notch clinics with English speaking medical staff in them. There are however a number of poorer facilities too, especially away from the resorts.
All primary vaccinations and boosters should be up to date, and Diptheria, Hepatitis A and Typhoid are highly recommended. Cholera, Hepatitis B, Rabies and Tetanus are only recommended for high risk groups. Yellow fever is not present in the DR.
Malaria however is a variable risk throughout the whole country, and is a high risk on the border with Haiti. Malaria precautions including preventative medicine and antimalrial prophylaxis are absolutely essential. Dengue fever is also a huge problem here and preventative measures are essential for this too.
Crime and Safety.
The Dominican Republic is generally quite safe. The more touristy bar areas do attract the same trouble as anywhere a lot of tourists and a lot of drink mix, and there is a curfew, but this isn’t anything to be overly concerned about just be sensible with your drinking. The same goes for any reasonable common sense precautions. You aren’t in any more danger in the DR as you are in your home city.
Costs and money.
The DR is expensive, there is no real getting around it, but it is still possible to get a good deal if you know how to play the budget package deal and independent travel game. Shopping around and doing your research before coming is essential.
The more you stay away from the resorts and the touristy areas the cheaper it will be. Independent travellers can get by on a basic budget of around £20 – £30 GP a day by living as close to local budgets as possible. A little more comfort and fun on a midrange budget will double that. After that the sky is pretty much the limit. The DR is still a very touristy destination, and tourist activities will be one of your biggest expenses if you want to partake, so it would be wise to set aside a separate budget for splurges.
When to go.
The DR is intrinsically linked with the high tourist seasons of Western Europe in July and August, then December to February, when tourist hordes swarm onto the island like locusts. Prices shoot up in these seasons and it is far more difficult to get accommodation. If you can go in the shoulder seasons it will be a lot cheaper, easier to get accommodation and the weather is pretty much the same year round.
Santo Domingo is an amazing place to spend a few days away from the resorts. It is a modern, cosmopolitan city that still has hidden pockets of colonial architecture amongst the modern developments, and is home to some of the DRs more historical landmarks, including the Columbus Palace and the Cathedral.
This epic Caribbean coastline is one of the longest stretches of beaches in the DR, and is the site of Columbus’ first landing in the Americas. Unfortunately most of the best beaches are surrounded by the usual hotel resorts, but it is the DR. At least you can enjoy some of the stunning colonial and victorian buildings spread out along the coast as well as the botanical gardens and the amber museum.
Take a horseback ride to El Limon Waterfall.
Hire a steed and take a horseback trek into the Samana mountains to see the spectacular El Limon waterfall. This truly stunning spot is sometimes a bit overrun with tour groups, but if you are lucky enough to catch a quiet moment you will feel truly lucky to have seen it.
Enjoy some watersports.
The Dominican Republic is a very touristy island and as such has all the activities that tourists enjoy, so take full advantage and head to Cabarete, the little beach town that has some of the best windsurfing, kitesurfing, diving and other watersports on the island.