Dominican Republic Travel Guide
Date Visited: May 2015
Discovered by Columbus on his first voyage to the Americas. Home to the oldest continuously inhabited city in the Americas and today the most popular tourist destination in the Caribbean region.
There is good reason the masses flock to the Dominican Republic (DR). The country is a unique destination, offering an abundance of history, culture, charming colonial cities, white sandy beaches, unspoilt nature, soaring mountain ranges (including the highest peak in the Caribbean) and a friendly and welcoming population. Add to this a stable political environment, good infrastructure, reliable and modern transportation options and a booming economy. It’s easy to see why the country is the preferred choice for so many visitors. There is something for everyone in the DR – no matter your interest or budget.
Once ruled by Spain, the Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, a former French colony. Haiti makes up roughly the western 1/3 of the island, with the DR comprising the eastern 2/3 of the island. Hispaniola is one of two Caribbean islands in which there are two countries; the other is Saint Martin. With a population of 9,980,000, DR is the third most populated country in the Caribbean (after Cuba and Haiti).
The original inhabitants of Hispaniola were the native Taino Indians, an Arawak Indian race from present day Venezuela. The Taino called the island ‘Ayiti‘. These were the people Christopher Columbus first made contact with in 1492 when he landed on the island. At the time of European contact, the Tainos inhabited all of the Greater Antilles islands and were battling against the more aggressive Carib Indians who had managed to conquer all of the Lesser Antilles islands. When Columbus arrived, the island was inhabited by hundreds of thousands of Taino people but the population declined rapidly, due to diseases brought by the Europeans.
Columbus originally called the island ‘La Española’, meaning The Spanish Island. Later translations altered the name to Hispaniola. Columbus claimed Hispaniola for Spain and returned a year later (1493) on his second voyage to establish the first Spanish colony – La Isabela – on the northeast shore of the island. La Isabela nearly failed because of hunger and disease, which prompted the Spanish authorities to develop a new colony at present day Santo Domingo.
Santo Domingo was founded in 1496 by Bartholomew Columbus, the younger brother of Christopher Columbus and an explorer in his own right. Today Santo Domingo remains the oldest continuously inhabited European city in the Americas. The city was the first Spanish settlement in the region and would be used as a base for conducting further exploration of the new world. From Santo Domingo, Juan Ponce de León colonised Puerto Rico, Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar colonised Cuba, Hernando Cortes conquered Mexico, and Vasco Núñez de Balboa sighted the Pacific Ocean.
The first sugar cane introduced to the new world arrived on Hispaniola from the Canary islands. The first sugar mill in the new world was built on Hispaniola in 1516. Sugar cane would become the most important cash crop on almost every Caribbean island, a crop valued by all the European powers at the time. A crop which would cause much conflict between nations. A crop which would fuel a new type of culture in the Caribbean – rum culture. In no time the Caribbean became one big sugar plantation and all these plantations required an army of workers to operate them. The need for a labor force to meet the growing demands of sugar cane cultivation led to an exponential increase in the importation of slaves. Today the majority of inhabitants in the Caribbean are Afro-Caribbean, descendants of former slaves brought to the islands to work on sugar plantations.
Originally the Spanish claimed ownership of the whole of Hispaniola but they settled mainly in the east, in what is now Dominican Republic. The west of the island (present day Haiti) was left largely empty until the French arrived in the 17th century and started a settlement on Tortuga island. Once this toehold had been established, the French founded larger settlements on Hispaniola. The Spanish resisted these moves and battled against the French. A resolution was agreed upon in 1697 with the Spanish and French signing the Treaty of Ryswick – this gave France the western 1/3 of the island and Spain the eastern 2/3’s.
Ever since the signing of the treaty relations between the two countries have been unfriendly, largely due to cultural differences. Haiti is primarily populated by Afro-Caribbean people with a history of French colonialism. The Dominican Republic is made up of Afro-European people with a history of Spanish colonialism. At various stages Haiti has invaded the Dominican Republic and vice-versa. Relations hit an all-time low in 1937 when the Dominican Republic reportedly massacred 30,000 Haitians living in or near it’s borders. Today it is possible to travel by bus between the two countries – see the ‘Getting There‘ section below for more details.
The Dominican Republic became independent in 1844, however the party didn’t last long. The country’s first president (Pedro Santana) effectively made himself a dictator. This was the start of a long period of political instability, internal disorder and dictatorships, which included the Spanish returning to restore order at one stage.
During WWI the American government, concerned the Germans would intervene in the affairs of DR, staged an invasion of the country. The Americans would remain in DR until 1924 at which point elections were held and the country returned to civilian rule. This lasted until 1930 at which point the next strong-man (Rafael Trujillo) would stage a coup. His dictatorship lasted until he was assassinated in 1961. During his rule Santo Domingo was renamed Ciudad Trujillo.
The political situation today is much more stable and the economy is growing strongly. The DR still exports sugar and coffee but tourism is a rapidly growing industry. Today tourism is a vital component of the economy. According to Travelers Digest, DR is the most visited destination in the Caribbean, receiving 4,306,000 visitors in 2014. The second most popular destination – Puerto Rico – received 3,048,000 visitors during the same period.
Larimar is a rare blue variety of pectolite – a volcanic rock formed from calcium and sodium. Pectolites are found in many places around the world but none have the unique blue coloration of Larimar. Furthermore, the mineral is only found in one small area in the DR, south of the city of Barahona.
Larimar was used thousands of years ago by the native Taino’s and was only rediscovered in 1974, on a beach at the foot of the Bahoruco Range by Miguel Méndez and an American peace corps volunteer. The name Larimar was created by Méndez who combined his daughter’s name – Larissa – and the Spanish word for sea (mar).
There are many shops in the DR where you can purchase your own piece of Larimar.
If you wish to learn more about the stone, you can visit the Larimar Museum (actually a shop fronting as a museum) in the old town of Santo Domingo.
Larimar Museum Calle Isabel La Católica Santo Domingo
With a population of 965,040 (rising to 2,908,607 when its surrounding metropolitan area is included), Santo Domingo is the capital and largest city in the DR. It is also the most populous city in the Caribbean. Santo Domingo is the cultural, financial, political, commercial and industrial center of the DR.
Founded in 1496 by Bartholomew Columbus (the younger brother of Christopher Columbus), Santo Domingo has the distinction of being the oldest continuously inhabited European city in the Americas. The old town, known as the ‘Zona Colonial‘, has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and is a charming place to base yourself while you’re in Santo Domingo.
At the centre of the Zona Colonial is the Parque Colon (Columbus Park). Here you will find a statue of Christopher Columbus and the Catedral Primada de America – America’s First Cathedral. A short stroll from the cathedral will bring you to a host of other ‘first in America‘ sites. The first road in America, the first castle in America, the first monastery in America, the first hospital in America, the oldest fortress in America.
The sites of the Zona Colonial can be easily covered on foot in a few days. When you wish to take a break, there are plenty of tree-lined plazas and pedestrian zones where you can relax. The pace of the old town is calm and relaxed, with horse-drawn carts plodding along cobbled streets.
Currently there is a huge restoration program underway in the Zona Colonial with whole streets being renovated, new limestone footpaths being installed, building façades receiving a fresh lick of paint, derelict colonial gems being converted into chic restaurants, shops and boutique hotels.
Sites in the Zona Colonial include:
- Catedral Primada de América – Located on the main square and also known as the Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, this is the oldest cathedral in the Americas. Construction began in 1512 and was completed in 1540. The cathedral combines Gothic and Baroque elements and contains an impressive collection of antique religious art. The remains of Christopher Columbus were once buried here.
- Parque Colón (Columbus Park) – This is the main square of the old town, a leafy green, quiet space where you can relax and watch the world go by. If you are looking for a shoe-shine, you will find it in this square. The square is dominated by a statue of Christopher Columbus. The Catedral Primada de América occupies one side of the square.
- Museo de las Casas Reales (Royal Houses) – Located a short walk from Parque Colón, this fine Renaissance style building was built in the 16th century and served as the seat of Spanish power for the entire Caribbean region. It once housed the governor’s office and the Audiencia Real (Royal Court). Today the building serves as a museum, showcasing colonial-period objects, including treasures recovered from wrecked Spanish galleons.
- Alcázar de Colón (Columbus Palace) -The Alcázar is the most visited museum in Santo Domingo. Designed in the Gothic-Mudéjar style and built under Diego Colón, the son of Christopher Columbus; when he became Viceroy of La Española in 1509. The building is constructed from coral-line blocks and once served as the residence for Diego and his wife, Doña María de Toledo, during the early 16th century. The building today houses the Museo Alcázar de Diego Colón, whose collection exhibits an ensemble of European Medieval and Renaissance art and includes items that once belonged to the Columbus family.
- Plaza de España – The largest square in the old town and a pleasant place to relax and unwind is the Plaza España (Plaza of Spain). The plaza is surrounded by historic colonial buildings, including the Alcázar de Colón and has a row of pleasant outdoor restaurants and cafes along one side. This is a great place for al-fresco dining in the evenings.
- The National Pantheon – Located on Americas first street – Calle las Dames – the National Pantheon was built from 1714-1746 as a Jesuit church. Today it serves as a national symbol of the DR and is the final resting place for many of the Republic’s heroes. There is a very low-key ‘changing of the guard‘ ceremony daily at 11:00-am.
- Capilla de los Remedios – This small Gothic-style chapel is located across the street from the National Pantheon. It was built during the 16th century to serve as a private chapel and family mausoleum. The chapel features a barrel-vaulted ceiling and beautiful stained-glass windows. Opening hours are erratic.
- Fortaleza Ozama – Located on Calle de las Dames, this fort was constructed by the Spanish, who started work on it in 1502 and completed it two centuries later. The fort overlooks the Ozama river and is the oldest European fort in the Americas.
- Calle Las Damas (Ladies street) – is the first paved street in the Americas and dates from 1502. The street gets its name from the fact that noblewomen of Santo Domingo, including Maria of Toledo, wife of Diego Colón, would stroll along the street every evening. Many important buildings are located along this street.
- Monasterio de San Francisco – Located on Calle Hostos, this is the oldest Franciscan monastery in the Americas. It was built in 1508 but severely damaged during the invasion led by Sir Francis Drake in 1586. The monastery was rebuilt but later destroyed by an earthquake. It was then rebuilt as a mental hospital but then reduced to a ruin by a hurricane. Today the monastery lies in ruin and is normally closed. You can view it from outside the wire perimeter fence.
- Ruinas del Hospital San Nicolás de Bari – Also located on Calle Hostos, this hospital, constructed in 1503, was the first hospital in the Americas. The hospital survived the invasion by Sir Francis Drake and earthquakes but was eventually destroyed in 1911 by a hurricane. The ruins are open for visits.
- El Convento de los Dominicos (Convent of the Dominican Order) – Located on Calle Padre Bellini, construction of this monastery began in 1510. In 1538, it became the first university in the Americas. The building’s distinctive Baroque facade is striking, especially when it’s illuminated by the late afternoon sun.
- Parque Duarte – Located opposite the convent on Calle Padre Bellini, this small, leafy park is a good place to relax. The sculpture in the center of the park depicts Juan Pablo Duarte, one of the founding fathers of the Dominican Republic.
- Parque Independencia – Located behind the Puerta del Conde (Count’s Gate – part of the original city wall) at the western end of the pedestrian shopping street – El Conde – this park is not only a nice place to relax but features the impressive marble monument known as La Altar de la Patria (Altar of the Fatherland), a monument to the founding fathers of the Dominican Republic.
- Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Las Mercedes – Located on Calle Las Mercedes, and dedicated to the country’s patron saint, construction of the church began in 1527 and was completed in 1555. The church was damaged during the attack of Santo Domingo by Sir Francis Drake in 1586. Over the years it has suffered damage from various earthquakes and hurricanes but has always been repaired.
- Boutique del Fumador – The Dominican Republic is famous for its cigars and this shop, located on the main pedestrian shopping street – Calle El Conde, is the ‘go-to’ place for everything to do with cigars. There is always a cigar-roller in residence at the front of the shop, who puffs while he rolls.
- Choco Museo – Who doesn’t like chocolate? At this shop/ museum you can not only purchase fresh, hand-made chocolates but you can learn the history of chocolate and even participate in a chocolate workshop. The workshop is a whole lot of fun and at the end of the class you get to take home your own hand-made chocolates. The shop is located just off the main square on Calle Arzobispo Meriño 254.
- Larimar Museum – Also located off the main square on Calle Isabel la Catolica, this is the place to come to learn about Larimar. It’s more shop than museum but the displays are interesting and you can purchase a piece of Larimar to take home.
- Museo Mundo de Ambar – Just like the Larimar Museum, the Amber museum is more shop than museum but the displays are interesting and there are guides on hand to explain everything you need to know about Amber. The museum includes a selection of rare blue amber.
Around the Island
Located 30-km east of Santo Domingo, Boca Chica is a beach-side town of 70,000 inhabitants, which lies on a beautiful fine white-sand beach in a calm bay with crystal clear water. At weekends this is the most crowded beach in the DR.
The city offers a wide range of accommodation, bars, restaurants and shops and is very popular with tourists from Europe and North America. At night there is a lively bar scene. Peak season is from December through April.
Located across from the main square in Boca Chica, and a short walk from the beach, is the Parco Del Caribe aparthotel. This hotel offers reasonably priced apartments with balconies all arranged around a well maintained garden.
With 50 mega-resorts offering more than 40,000 hotel rooms and an airport serving more than 6 million holiday makers each year, Punta Cana is tourist central. The city has a population of 100,000, with most inhabitants involved in the tourism industry. Punta Cana sprawls along the coast and consists of different towns which have been swallowed up by rampant development.
The focus of this development are the miles of fine white-sand beaches, which are lapped by calm, turquoise waters. The ocean waters along the coast are mainly shallow, with several natural marine pools in which visitors can bathe.
Unfortunately public access to the beaches is restricted with most of the shoreline occupied by large, walled resorts. The road along the coast runs inland behind the resorts so you rarely see the beach, however there are a few roads which provide access to some public beaches.
One non-beach highlight is the Indigenous Eyes National Park. This is a private forest reserve operated by the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation. The reserve features walking trails, which lead you through the forest, past twelve crystal-clear, freshwater lagoons. Five of the lagoons are open to visitors for swimming, a great way to cool off on a hot day. The lagoons are home to fish and turtles and the trails provide good bird watching opportunities and will eventually lead you onto the beach.
Located in the northeast of DR, Samaná was the last stop made by Christopher Columbus on his first voyage to the Americas. Today it is an important tourism destination and is the main center for whale watching (season runs from January to March).
A nice day trip from Samana is to the most northeasterly point in the DR, where you will find Rincon beach and the town of Las Galeras, which is also located on a fine sandy beach. The region is famous for its beautiful palm beaches.
Las Terrenas is a town on the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic, located north of Samaná. The town is nestled among green hills and started life as a quiet fishing village. However it was only a matter of time before developers would exploit its fine white sand beaches. Today the beaches are lined with hotels, restaurants and bars but there are far less tourists here than Punta Cana or Boca Chica, which makes Las Terrenas a more relaxing destination. The town makes a good base for exploring the northeast corner of DR.
In Las Terrenas I managed to get a heavily discounted rate (through booking.com) at the beautiful and opulent Xeliter balcones del atlantico. This condominium complex is a nice place to lay your hat for a few days and is located directly across the road from sandy Las Terrenas beach.
Located in the central range at an elevation of 525-m, Jarabacoa has a tropical rainforest climate. Evenings here are cool and require warm clothes. In the surrounding area you will find mountains, waterfalls and lots of natural beauty.
I stayed outside of town on the Río Jimenoa at the Hotel Gran Jimenoa. The hotel offers comfortable accommodation with a swimming pool, jacuzzi and an onsite restaurant overlooking the river.
Being the most popular tourist destination in the Caribbean, DR offers ample accommodation options for all budgets scattered around the island.
Whether you wish to stay in an opulent, well-appointed colonial-style hotel in the old town or in a cheap hostel in a back laneway, you are spoiled for choice in the charming old town of Santo Domingo. Outside of the capital you will find a wealth of options in the beach-side tourist havens of Punta Cana and Boca Chica. No matter where the road leads you in DR you will find a range of accommodation options to suit your budget.
When I’m in Santo Domingo I always choose to stay in the old town.
Located on Calle Sanchez in the heart of the Zona Colonial, the Casa Sanchez Boutique hotel is a fine option, which I would definitely recommend. The hotel includes a pool in a cool courtyard, which is a great way to cool off after a day of sightseeing in the heat.
Just off the main square, the Casa del Sol is a small, French-run, guest house loaded with soul and charm. The casa is located at the quiet end of Calle Isabel la Catolica. Breakfast is served each morning on the rooftop terrace – a perfect way to start your day.
The Mecure Comercial hotel offers standard business-class rooms on the main pedestrian shopping street in the heart of the Zona Colonial. You can often secure rooms at heavily discounted rates.
If you wish to book in advance, you will find plenty of choice on booking.com
Being a former Spanish colony, there are many influences in the cuisine of DR from the old motherland. The influx of African slaves has also had an influence on the cuisine as has the original indigenous inhabitants – the Taino. The cuisine of DR resembles that of other countries in Latin America and of its Latin neighbours such as Puerto Rico.
Due to the topography of the country, a variety of produce can be grown – from tropical fruits and vegetables along the hot and humid coastal plains to cooler climate produce in the central highlands. Markets in DR are a treat to visit. Seafood is abundant as is meat from local farms.
The dining scene in Santo Domingo is slowly being transformed with a good selection of options from inexpensive street food to fine dining restaurants and wine bars. The Zona Colonial is one of the best places in the Caribbean for wining and dining. Here you’ll find fine old colonial mansions that have been transformed into beautiful restaurants, funky bars and welcoming cafés. A popular location for dinner in the evening is Plaza de España. Restaurants line one side of the square with beautiful views across the square to Columbus’ house.
Some nationalities require visas for Dominican Republic – check your visa requirements prior to arrival.
Most tourists arriving at an airport in DR will need to purchase a tourist card for US$10 before proceeding through immigration. This is simply a tourist tax – you do not need to show your passport, you just need to hand over $10 to the cashier at the desk in front of immigration who will issue you with a paper receipt. You should ensure you have US$10 in cash on hand and that you get your receipt before you join the immigration queue. You will not be allowed to proceed to passport control unless you produce your receipt.
There are seven international airports in the Dominican Republic:
- Las Américas International Airport, Santo Domingo City
- Punta Cana International Airport, Punta Cana
- Cibao International Airport, Santiago City
- Gregorio Luperón International Airport, Puerto Plata
- La Romana International Airport, La Romana City
- Samana El Catey International Airport, Sanchez, Samana
- María Montez International Airport, Barahona City
The two main gateways are covered here – they are:
- Las Américas International Airport, Santo Domingo City
- Punta Cana International Airport, Punta Cana
Las Américas International Airport
Las Américas International Airport is the second busiest in the country (after Punta Cana International Airport) and one of the largest and busiest airports in the Caribbean, handling 3.5 million passengers in 2015. The airport is located on the coast, 45-mins east of downtown Santo Domingo.
The following airlines provide international connections to Santo Domingo:
- Aeroméxico – services to Mexico City
- Air Antilles Express – services to Martinique, Guadeloupe
- Air Caraïbes – services to Martinique, Guadeloupe, Paris (Orly)
- Air Europa – services to Madrid
- Air France – services to Paris (Charles de Gaulle)
- American Airlines – services to Miami, Philadelphia
- Aruba Airlines – services to Aruba, Curaçao
- Aserca Airlines – services to Caracas
- Avianca – services to Bogotá
- Condor – services to Frankfurt, San José de Costa Rica
- Copa Airlines – services to Panama City
- Cubana – services to Havana, Holguín, Santiago De Cuba
- Delta Air Lines – services to Atlanta, New York (JFK)
- Iberia – services to Madrid
- Insel Air – services to Curaçao, St. Maarten
- Insel Air Aruba – services to Aruba, St. Maarten
- InterCaribbean Airways – services to Antigua, Providenciales, Port-au-Prince
- Jetairfly – services to Brussels
- JetBlue Airways – services to Boston, Fort Lauderdale, New York (JFK), Orlando (MCO), Puerto Rico
- LASER Airlines – services to Caracas
- PAWA Dominicana – services to Antigua, Aruba, Curacao, Havana, St. Maarten
- Seaborne Airlines – services to Puerto Rico
- Sky High Aviation Services – services to Antigua, Tortola
- Spirit Airlines – services to Fort Lauderdale
- Sunwing Airlines – seasonal services to Montreal (Trudeau)
- United Airlines – services to Newark
- Venezolana – services to Caracas, Maracaibo
- Wamos Air – seasonal services to Madrid
To/ From the airport
Taxis charge anywhere from US$25 to US$40 for the drive from the airport into Santo Domingo. Alternatively, go upstairs to the second floor of the terminal (departures level) and at the very end of the concourse you will find a minivan, which charges 70 pesos or US$2 to the Zona Colonial. The van can accommodate a maximum of 8 passengers.
Punta Cana International Airport
Punta Cana International Airport is the busiest airport in the Caribbean, serving over 6 million passengers in 2014. Most passengers are holiday makers from Europe and North America who come to spend a week or two in one of the many mega-resorts that line the white-sand beaches.
Most flights to Punta Cana are seasonal, with the high season running from mid-December to the end of July and low season running from August to mid-December.
The following airlines provide international connections to Punta Cana:
- Aerolíneas Argentinas – services to Buenos Aires (Ezeiza)
- Aerolíneas Mas – services to Santiago de los Caballeros, Santo Domingo
- Air Antilles Express – seasonal service to Guadeloupe
- Air Berlin – services to Düsseldorf, seasonal service to Berlin (Tegel)
- Air Canada – seasonal services to Halifax, Ottawa
- Air Canada Rouge – services to Montreal (Trudeau), Toronto (Pearson)
- Air Europa – services to Madrid
- Air France – services to Paris (Charles de Gaulle)
- Air Transat – services to Montréal (Trudeau), Québec City, Toronto-Pearson, seasonal services to Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Hamilton, London (ON), Ottawa, Regina, St. John’s, Thunder Bay, Vancouver, Windsor, Winnipeg
- American Airlines – services to Charlotte, Miami, Philadelphia, seasonal services to Boston, Chicago (O’Hare), Dallas/Fort Worth, New York (JFK)
- Apple Vacations (operated by Allegiant Air) – seasonal service to Pittsburgh
- Apple Vacations (operated by Swift Air) – seasonal service to Cincinnati
- Avianca – services to Bogota
- Avianca Ecuador Charter – services to Quito
- Avianca Peru – services to Lima
- Azur Air – services to Moscow (Domodedovo)
- British Airways – services to London (Gatwick)
- Condor – services to Frankfurt, Munich, seasonal service to Vienna
- Copa Airlines – services to Panama City
- Copa Airlines – services to Colombia Bogota, Panama City
- Corsair International – services to Paris (Orly)
- Delta Air Lines – services to Atlanta, New York (JFK), seasonal service to Cincinnati, Detroit, Minneapolis/St. Paul
- Dynamic Airways – services to Chicago O’Hare, New York (JFK)
- Edelweiss Air – services to Zürich
- El Al Charter – services to Tel-Aviv
- Eurowings (operated by SunExpress Deutschland) – services to Cologne/Bonn
- Evelop Airlines – services to Madrid
- French Blue – services to Paris (Orly)
- Frontier Airlines – seasonal services to Chicago (O’Hare), Cincinnati, Cleveland, Philadelphia
- Fly All Ways – services to Paramaribo
- Gol Transportes Aéreos – services to São Paulo (Guarulhos)
- Insel Air – services to Curaçao
- Insel Air Aruba – services to Aruba
- InterCaribbean Airways – services to Puerto Rico
- Icelandair – services to Boston, Detroit
- Jetairfly – services to Brussels
- JetBlue Airways – services to Boston, Fort Lauderdale, New York (JFK), San Juan
- LATAM Argentina – services to Buenos Aires (Ezeiza), Miami
- LATAM Brasil – services to Brasília
- LATAM Chile – services to Miami, Santiago de Chile
- LATAM Colombia – services to Bogotá
- LATAM Perú – services to Lima
- Latin American Wings (operated by Chilejet) – services to Santiago de Chile
- Nordwind Charter – seasonal services to Moscow (Sheremetyevo)
- Orbest – services to Lisbon
- Rutaca Airlines – services to Caracas
- Servicios Aéreos Profesionales Charter – services to Antigua, Aruba, Barbados, Curaçao, Holguin, Guadeloupe, Port of Spain, St. Maarten, Santo Domingo, Varadero
- Seaborne Airlines – services to Puerto Rico
- Southwest Airlines – services to Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago-Midway, seasonal service to Milwaukee
- Spirit Airlines – seasonal services to Fort Lauderdale
- Sun Country Airlines – seasonal services to Minneapolis/St. Paul
- Sunwing Airlines – services to Montreal (Trudeau), Québec City, Toronto (Pearson), seasonal services to Bagotville, Calgary, Gander, Halifax, Hamilton, Kitchener, London (ON), Milwaukee, Moncton, Ottawa, Saint John, St. John’s, Val-d’Or, Vancouver, Winnipeg
- Swift Air (operated by Vacation Express) – seasonal service to Pittsburgh
- Thomas Cook Airlines Charter – services to London (Gatwick), Manchester (UK)
- Thomas Cook Airlines Scandinavia Charter – services to Copenhagen, Stockholm
- Thomson Airways Charter – services to Birmingham, London-Gatwick, Manchester, seasonal service to Glasgow
- TUI Airlines Netherlands – services to Amsterdam, seasonal services to Basel/Mulhouse, Katowice, Warsaw-Chopin
- TUIfly (operated by Thomson Airways) – seasonal services to Hamburg
- TAME Charter – services to Quito
- United Airlines – services to Houston (Intercontinental), Newark, seasonal services to Chicago (O’Hare), Washington (Dulles)
- Vacation Express (operated by Sunwing Airlines) – seaonal services to Baltimore, Buffalo, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Columbus (OH), Nashville, New Orleans, Newark
- Vacation Express (operated by Swift Air) – seasonal services to Cleveland, Columbus (OH), Indianapolis, Houston (Intercontinental), Miami
- Wamos Air – services to Madrid
- WestJet – services to Montreal (Trudeau), Toronto (Pearson), seasonal services to Halifax, Hamilton, Ottawa, St. John’s
- White Airways – seasonal service to Lisbon
- XL Airways – services to Marseille, Paris (Charles de Gaulle), seasonal services to Bordeaux, Lyon, Nantes, Toulouse
There is a regular scheduled international ferry service between Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) and San Juan (Puerto Rico), which is operated by America Cruise Ferries. The service runs three times a week with the crossing taking 14-hours. Check their website for current schedule and fares.
Caribbean Fantasy (also operated by America Cruise Ferries) offers a weekly ferry service between Mayaguez (west coast of Puerto Rico) and Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic). The ferry sails every Wednesday from Puerto Rico, returning the following Tuesday from Santo Domingo. Crossing time is 12-hours.
Visiting cruise ships to Santo Domingo dock at the San Souci terminal, located to the east of the Zona Colonial. You will need to take a taxi from the dock into the Zona Colonial.
There are several inter-city bus operators who provide regular, reliable, fast, inexpensive service to all points in the country plus daily international connections to Haiti (Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haïtien). Buses are popular so it’s recommended to book your ticket in advance. Air-con on the buses is usually set to ‘arctic-blast’ so best to bring something to keep yourself warm.
The major operators are:
- Caribe Tours – Provides comfortable, reliable bus services to many destinations throughout DR – and daily international services to Haiti. All services depart from their modern bus terminal at Av. 27 de Febrero Esq. Leopoldo Navarro, Ensanches Miraflores in Santo Domingo.
- Metro Buses – Another reliable operator, Metro buses provide bus services from their terminal in Santo Domingo to cities in the north of the country and also a daily service to Haiti.
- Espreso Bávaro – Offers regular services to Punta Cana from Santo Domingo.
Within all major cities you will find mini-buses that run on fixed routes to no fixed timetable. These buses stop to collect and drop passengers wherever required. Larger urban buses run on fixed routes and to fixed timetables, although little information is posted at bus stops.
Santo Domingo is home to only the second underground rail system in the Caribbean — the first is in San Juan, Puerto Rico. This is still very much a ‘work in progress’ – you can access all information on the metro website.
If you wish to maximise your time on the island and explore off the beaten track you will need to hire a car. There are agents at both Santo Domingo and Punta Cana airports.
Driving in the DR is not for the feint-hearted with the local driving style best described as ‘obnoxious and aggressive’. Road rules are very flexible and you’ll need to adapt your driving style in order to get anywhere, especially in the busy urban areas. Not surprisingly, the purchase of comprehensive insurance is mandatory for all rental cars. This can add a considerable amount to rental costs.
The 4-lane freeway between Santo Domingo and Punta Cana is in excellent condition. Infrastructure is generally very good throughout the country and is continually being improved so getting around in your own car is not a problem.
Taxi drivers in DR are generally friendly and courteous and while all taxis are fitted with meters, drivers normally prefer to negotiate a flat fee for the journey. Always ensure you either agree on a fare or agree that the driver uses the meter prior to commencing your journey.
There are limited domestic ferry services in DR. One useful ferry – ‘El Bote‘ – connects Samana to Sabana De La Mar several times a day. The crossing time is one hour, which is short compared to the driving time.
Author: Darren McLean
Author of taste2travel.com and an avid traveler, photographer, travel writer, diver and adventurer.