The Dominican Republic is perhaps one of the most famous and long serving package tourist destinations in the industry, with so many resorts built around and serving the needs of package tour families on a two week jolly from Thomas Cook, but Backpackers shouldn’t be put off by this.
All this focus on package tours 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!
All visitors to the Dominican Republic need a tourist card and costs £10. This can be obtained on arrival at the airport and lasts for 30 days.
All travellers are strongly recommended to be up to date on their routine vaccinations including MMR, diptheria – pertusis – tetanus and varicella (chicken pox).
Tetanus – or the booster – and Typhoid is also strongly recommended if you have not got it already.
Hepatitis A and B, Japanese encephalitis, Cholera, Rabies and yellow fever are recommended for at risk groups. Discuss this with your physician, specialist nurse or travel clinic to see which vaccinations are suitable for you.
Proof of a Yellow Fever Vaccination will be required if you are travelling from a country where the disease is present.
The majority of the Dominican Republic is low to no risk of malaria and so antimalarials are not advised for the majority of travellers. There is a raised risk in the areas bordering Haiti and Santa Domingo but antimalarials are not normally recommended as travellers won’t normally be spending significant amounts of time in those areas. You will need to talk through your plans with a qualified professional if you plan to do so.
Anti mosquito measures are advised at all times due to other mosquito borne diseases such as dengue and zika, both of which are present in the Dominican Republic.
Hospitals and clinics are of a good standard in the major towns and cities, and are predominantly private facilities, but are harder to find in more off the beaten track areas. If you do plan to spend more time in rural areas then plan accordingly if you may need medical attention.
Crime and Safety.
The Dominican Republic is generally quite safe. The more touristy bar areas do attract the same petty crime and trouble as anywhere a lot of tourists and a lot of drink mix but this isn’t anything to be overly concerned about, just be sensible with your drinking. The same goes for any reasonable common sense safety 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.