Few Latin American countries are well suited for travelers with disabilities, and the Dominican Republic is no different. On the other hand, all-inclusive resorts can be ideal for travelers with mobility impairments, as rooms, meals and daytime and nighttime activities are all within close proximity, and there are plenty of staff members to help you navigate around the property. Some resorts have a few wheelchair-friendly rooms, with larger doors and handles in the bathroom. And, it should be said, Dominicans tend to be extremely helpful and accommodating people. Travelers with disabilities should expect some curious stares, but also quick and friendly help from perfect strangers and passersby.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
When shopping for jewelry, handicrafts, artwork or other souvenirs, bargaining is common. Even when the price is marked on the item, it's worth a shot and usually turns out to be a casual, low-pressure affair.
Dangers & Annoyances
The Dominican Republic is not a particularly dangerous place to visit, but tourists should be aware of the following:
- Avoid talking on or looking at cellphones in public (thieves are known to snatch them).
- Don't drive at night, since obstacles like potholes, hard-to-spot speed bumps and other hazards are difficult to discern on unlit roads.
- Consider taking a cab when returning home late from bars and bypass the beach on nighttime strolls.
- Be aware of and avoid riptides when swimming.
- Car theft is not unheard of, so don't leave valuables inside your car.
- Tensions along the Haitian border flare up occasionally: check the situation before crossing.
- Use purified water for drinking, brushing teeth and hand washing.
Perhaps the number one complaint is eating contaminated food at a resort buffet. Serous digestive issues, including severe diarrhea and nausea, can result. These should not be treated lightly. Seek medical attention. Take it with a grain of salt since accounts aren't verified, but the website www.iwaspoisoned.com can be a helpful resource prior to booking a resort – see if your accommodations come up, and if so, contact them for a response.
Merely a nuisance is not being given the proper change after a purchase. In many cases it is a legitimate error in math. But it's not entirely uncommon for waiters, taxi drivers and shop owners to 'accidentally' give you less than warranted. If something's missing, say so right away.
Embassies & Consulates
|Canadian Embassy||809-262-3100||Av Winston Churchill 1099|
|Cuban Embassy||809-537-2113||Calle Francisco Prats Ramírez 808|
|French Consulate||809-695-4300||Calle Las Damas 42|
|German Embassy||809-542-8950||Núñez de Cáceres 11|
|Haitian Embassy||809-686-7115||Calle Juan Sánchez Ramírez 33|
|Israeli Embassy||809-920-1500||Calle Pedro Henriquez Ureña 80|
|Italian Consulate||809-682-0830||Núñez de Cáceres 11|
|Japanese Embassy||809-567-3365||Torre Citigroup Bldg, 21st fl, Av Winston Churchill 1099|
|Netherlands||809-262-0320||Nuñez de Cáceres 11|
|Spanish Embassy||809-450-2222||Av Independencia 1205|
|UK Embassy||809-472-7111||Av 27 de Febrero 233|
|US Embassy||809-567-7775||Av República de Colombia 57|
Emergency & Important Numbers
For all calls within the DR (even local ones), you must dial 1 + 809 or 829 or 849. There are no regional codes.
Entry & Exit Formalities
The vast majority of tourists entering the Dominican Republic arrive by air. Independent travelers typically arrive at the main international airport outside of Santo Domingo, Aeropuerto Internacional Las Américas. Passing through immigration is a relatively simple process, especially now that tourist cards aren't required. You’re allowed up to 30 days on a tourist visa. The procedure is the same if you arrive at one of the other airports such as Puerto Plata or Punta Cana; the latter is easily the busiest airport in the country in terms of tourist arrivals.
Other than the obvious, like weapons, drugs and live animals, there are only a few specific import restrictions for foreigners arriving in the Dominican Republic. Visitors can bring up to 20 packs of cigarettes, 25 cigars and 3L of alcohol. It’s best to carry a prescription for any medication, especially psychotropic drugs.
It is illegal to take anything out of the DR that is over 100 years old – paintings, household items, prehistoric artifacts etc – without special export certificates. Mahogany trees are endangered and products made from mahogany wood may be confiscated upon departure. Black coral is widely available but although Dominican law does not forbid its sale, international environmental agreements do – avoid purchasing it. The same goes for products made from turtle shells and butterfly wings – these animals are facing extinction. It is illegal to export raw unpolished amber from the DR, though amber jewelry is common and highly prized.
Most travelers run into problems with the export of cigars, and it’s not with Dominican customs as much as their own. Canada, European countries and the US allow its citizens to bring in up to 50 cigars duty-free.
The majority of would-be foreign travelers in the Dominican Republic do not need to obtain visas prior to arrival.
Tourist cards and their cost ($10) are now included with all airfares and no longer required for purchase upon arrival. A tourist visa is good for up to 30 days from the date of issue. If you wish to stay longer, it’s unnecessary to formally extend – instead you’ll be charged RD$2500 when you depart the country for any stay up to 90 days. (Pay at the immigration desk past security in any airport.) Another way to extend your time is to leave the DR briefly – most likely to Haiti – and then return, at which point you’ll be issued a brand-new tourist visa. (You may have to pay entrance and departure fees in both countries, of course.)
To extend your visa longer than three months, you must apply in Santo Domingo at the Dirección General de Migración at least two weeks before your original visa expires (up to nine months will cost RD$4000).
Dominicans are generally very polite, but observe a couple of strict rules for dining and etiquette. Generally, it's a laid-back, leisurely culture, so be patient if things are moving slower than you'd like.
- Dining Lively background music in restaurants is the norm, so loud conversations aren't unusual.
- Dress Apart from the beach, and especially in larger cities, Dominicans generally notice dress as a social status indicator.
- Attention Rather than calling out, hissing is the preferred method for getting someone's attention.
Wi-fi access is widespread in cafes and restaurants, as well as at midrange and top-end hotels and resorts throughout the country. Travelers with laptops won’t have far to go before finding some place with a signal. However, some all-inclusives, as opposed to most midrange and even budget hotels, charge daily fees (around US$15 and up) for access. And some hotels that advertise the service free for guests only have a signal in public spaces like the lobby and limited access in guest rooms.
You can also buy a mobile internet device from Altice or Claro for around US$55.
The number of internet cafes is dwindling; most charge RD$35 to RD$70 per hour. Many of these cafes also operate as call centers. Most internet cafes have Spanish language keyboards – the '@' key is usually accessed by pressing 'alt', '6' and '4'.
The Dominican Republic has two police forces – the Policía Nacional (national police) and Cuerpo Especializado de Seguridad Turística (tourist police; commonly referred to by its abbreviation, Cestur).
Cestur officers are generally friendly men and women whose job is specifically to help tourists. Many speak a little bit of a language other than Spanish. They wear white shirts with blue insignia and can usually be found near major tourist sights and centers. You should contact Cestur first in the event of theft, assault or if you are the victim of a scam, but you can equally ask them for directions to sights, which bus to take etc.
It’s best to have as little interaction with the Policía Nacional as possible. If a police officer stops you, be polite and cooperate; heavily armed roadway checkpoints aren't uncommon, particularly in regions bordering Haiti – they're looking for drugs and weapons. They may ask to see your passport – you’re not required to have it on you, but it’s a good idea to carry a photocopy. You might also be asked for a 'tip' in cash or merchandise; feign misunderstanding or simply politely decline. More often than not, you'll simply be waved through.
Drugs & Alcohol
Buying drugs in the DR should be avoided. The seller is often in cahoots with the police who 'catch' the exchange in order to extract a bribe from unwary foreigners. Any transactions involving large amounts can result in significant prison time. Also worth noting is the reputedly 'impure' quality of the cocaine distributed in the DR – public service announcements warn that the majority is more dangerous chemical filler than anything else.
The legal drinking age in the DR is 18.
Prostitution is not illegal (brothel ownership and 'pimping' are) and is big business in the DR (Boca Chica and Sosúa have the highest visible presence). It is definitely illegal to have sex with anyone under the age of 18, even if the offender doesn’t know the sex worker’s real age. Female sex workers, when propositioning foreigners, are known to grab and touch aggressively, often a sly attempt at pick-pocketing.
In general, the Dominican Republic is quite open about heterosexual sex and sexuality, but still fairly closed-minded about gays and lesbians. Prejudice against the LGBT community is fairly widespread, though there has been some progress, in part attributable to Wally Brewster, the vocal and openly gay US ambassador to the DR under the Obama administration.
Gay and lesbian travelers will find the most open community in Santo Domingo, but even its gay clubs are relatively discreet. Santiago, Puerto Plata, Bávaro and Punta Cana also have gay venues, catering as much to foreigners as to locals. Everywhere else, open displays of affection between men are fairly taboo, between women less so. Same-sex couples shouldn't have trouble getting a hotel room.
- Newspapers El Listin Diario (www.listin.com.do), Hoy (www.hoy.com.do), Diario Libre (www.diariolibre.com), El Caribe (www.elcaribe.com.do), El Día (www.eldia.com.do) and El Nacional (www.elnacional.com.do), plus International Herald Tribune, the New York Times and the Miami Herald can be found in many tourist areas. Local papers cost RD$25.
- Radio There are about 150 radio stations, most playing merengue and bachata (popular guitar music based on bolero rhythms).
- TV There are seven local TV networks, though cable and satellite programming is very popular for baseball, movies and American soap operas.
ATMs can be found throughout the DR. Credit and debit cards widely accepted in cities and tourism-related businesses.
The Dominican monetary unit is the peso, indicated by the symbol RD$ (or sometimes just R$). Though the peso is technically divided into 100 centavos (cents), prices are usually rounded to the nearest peso. There are one- and five-peso coins, while paper money comes in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, 1000 and 2000 pesos. Many tourist-related businesses, including most midrange and top-end hotels, list prices in US dollars, but accept pesos at the going exchange rate.
Most bank ATMs have relatively low withdrawal limits, often RD$10,000. So for any long stay you'll likely have to make many trips to the ATM and the fees add up. One option is to withdrawal money using your debit or credit card with a teller inside the bank. Limits are substantially higher or non-existent and there are no additional fees. Be sure to bring your passport.
Always be cautious when using ATMs. One decidedly safe place is a gas station (most have ATMs) where there are always people and usually cameras around.
Credit and debit cards are more and more common among Dominicans (and more widely accepted for use by foreigners). Visa and MasterCard are more common than Amex and generally useful in areas frequented by tourists. That being said, many hotels in popular areas like Las Galeras and Las Terrenas in the Península de Samaná accept only cash (US dollars or RD$). Some but not all businesses add a surcharge for credit-card purchases (typically 16%) – the federal policy of withdrawing sales tax directly from credit-card transactions means merchants will simply add the cost directly to the bill. We’ve had reports of travelers being excessively overcharged when paying by credit card, so always check the bill before signing.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
Moneychangers will approach you in a number of tourist centers. They are unlikely to be aggressive. You will get equally favorable rates, however, and a much securer transaction, at an ATM, a bank or a cambio (exchange office). There should be no commissioned charged. It's worth changing a good chunk of the cash you need upon arrival at one of the exchange offices before and after immigration upon arrival at one of the international airports. Except for the Aeropuerto Internacional Punta Cana, whose exchange offices offer decidedly poor rates.
A shock to many first-timers, most restaurants add a whopping 28% (ITBIS of 18% and an automatic 10% service charge) to every bill. Menus often don't indicate whether prices include the tax and tip.
- Hotels A 10% service charge is often automatically included; however, a US$1 to US$2 per night gratuity left for cleaning staff is worth considering.
- Taxis Typically, you can round up or give a little extra change.
- Tours You should tip tour guides, some of whom earn no other salary.
- Restaurants Generally not expected since 10% is automatically added to the total. If especially impressed, you can add whatever else you feel is deserved.
Opening hours vary throughout the year. Hours generally decrease in the shoulder and low seasons.
Banks 8:30am–5pm Monday to Friday, 9am–1pm Saturday.
Bars 8pm–late, to 2am in Santo Domingo.
Government Offices 7:30am–4pm Monday to Friday, officially; in practice more like 9am–2:30pm.
Restaurants 8am–10pm Monday to Saturday (some close between lunch and dinner); to 11pm or later in large cities and tourist areas.
Supermarkets 8am–10pm Monday to Saturday.
Shops 9am–7:30pm Monday to Saturday; some open half-day Sunday.
Mail service in the DR can't be relied upon, no doubt in part because mailing addresses are non-existent in much of the country. It can take as long as a month for a letter to arrive from the US. Your best bet is FedEx or UPS; within the country, use either Caribe Pack or Metro PAC; each bus company's own package delivery entity is located in their respective terminals.
New Years Day January 1
Epiphany (Three Kings Day) January 6
Lady of Altagracia January 21
Juan Pablo Duarte Day January 26
Independence Day February 27
Good Friday Friday before Easter
Easter Sunday March/April
Labor Day May 1
Corpus Christi May 31
Restoration Day August 16
Our Lady of Mercedes Day September 24
Constitution Day November 6
Christmas Day December 25
- Smoking Other than at medical facilities and schools, there are no laws against smoking in public spaces.
Taxes & Refunds
An ITBIS (Industrialized Goods and Services Transfer Tax) of 18% sales tax is levied on most goods and services, and in restaurants, a 10% service charge may also be included in the bill. Be sure to ask when booking hotels if the quoted price includes the tax.
There is no refund mechanism for VAT-exempt goods for the average traveler.
Remember that you must dial 1 + 809, 829 or 849 for all calls within the DR, even local ones. Toll-free numbers have 200 or 809 for their prefix (not the area code).
The easiest way to make a phone call in the DR is to pay per minute (average rates per minute: to the US US$0.20; to Europe US$0.50; to Haiti US$0.50) at a Codetel Centro de Comunicaciones (Codetel) call center or an internet cafe that operates as a dual call center.
Calling from a hotel is always the most expensive option.
Local SIM cards can be used or phones can be set for roaming.
Travelers with global-roaming-enabled phones can receive and make cell phone calls. It’s worth checking with your cell-phone carrier for details on rates and accessibility – be aware that per-minute fees can be exorbitant. If you have a GSM phone, and you can unlock it, you can use a SIM card bought from Altice or Claro (cards start at US$5). Or you can buy a new cell phone (the cheapest is around RD$800; DR cell phones work at 1900 MHZ, the North American standard) and pay as you go (around RD$4 per minute for a call and a recharge costs RD$200). In terms of customer service, Altice has a better reputation than Claro.
These can be used at public phones and are available in denominations of RD$50, RD$100, RD$150, RD$200 and RD$250.
The DR is four hours behind Greenwich Mean Time. In autumn and winter it is one hour ahead of New York, Miami and Toronto as well as Haiti – extremely important to keep in mind if heading to or from the border. However, because the country does not adjust for daylight saving time as do the USA and Canada, it’s in the same time zone as New York, Miami and Toronto from the first Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October.
There are public restrooms in most public buildings and restaurants. It's rare that somebody will try to charge you for use, but nearly every bathroom will instruct you to dispose of the toilet paper in a waste basket instead of the toilet. Septic systems are sensitive here, so try to avoid contributing to a blockage.
Almost every city in the DR that’s frequented by tourists has a tourist office or simply a streetside stand, and a number of less-visited towns do as well. In general, the information you get at tourist offices is a bit canned, but it can certainly still be helpful. Some tourist offices offer maps, bus schedules or a calendar of upcoming events, which are handy. The official DR tourism website, www.godominicanrepublic.com, is a very useful resource.
Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism The main office in Santo Domingo.
Travel with Children
All-inclusive resorts can be a convenient and affordable way for families to travel, as they provide easy answers to the most vexing of travel questions: when is dinner? Where are we going to eat? What are we going to do? Can I have another Coke? For independent-minded families the DR is no better or worse than most countries – its small size means no long bus or plane rides, and the beaches and outdoor activities are fun for everyone. At the same time, navigating the cities can be challenging for parents and exhausting for children. For excellent general advice on traveling with children, check out Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children.
All-inclusive resorts have the best child-specific facilities and services, from high chairs in the restaurants to child care and children’s programming. That said, not all resorts cater to families with young children (some even have adults-only policies). Independent travelers will have a harder time finding facilities designed for children.
Child safety seats are not common, even in private cars, and are almost unheard of in taxis or buses. If you bring your own car seat – and it’s one that can adapt to a number of different cars – you may be able to use it at least some of the time.
Breastfeeding babies in public is not totally taboo, but nor is it common. It is definitely not done in restaurants, as in the US and some other countries. Nursing mothers are recommended to find a private park bench and use a shawl or other covering. Major grocery stores sell many of the same brands of baby food and diapers (nappies) as in the US.
Many NGOs operating in the DR are primarily community networks attempting to develop sustainable ecotourism. Formal volunteering programs may be hard to come by, but if you speak good Spanish and don’t mind some elbow grease (or office work), you may be of some use to them. We strongly recommend that travelers do a thorough investigation themselves in order to asses the standards and suitability of any project. A few more established organizations that accept volunteers:
CEDAF This nationwide NGO helps local farmers develop sustainable ways to use the land.
Fundación Taigüey This is a network of small NGOs, several of which focus on ecotourism.
Grupo Jaragua The largest and oldest NGO in the southwest. Based in Santo Domingo, it concentrates on biodiversity and conservation through microfinancing to assist locals with bee farming etc.
Punta Cana Ecological Foundation One of the pioneers of sustainable development in the DR; projects targeted at coral reef restoration and preserving the natural environment in the Punta Cana area.
REDOTOR Promotes alternative and sustainable tourism projects.
SOEPA Sociedad Ecologica de Paraíso, founded in 1995, is dedicated to the preservation and protection of the environment and natural resources in the area around Paraíso; its biggest project is maintenance and development at Cachóte.
Women traveling without men in the Dominican Republic should expect to receive some attention, usually in the form of hissing (to get your attention), stares and comments like ‘Hola, preciosa’ (Hello, beautiful). Although it may be unwanted, it’s more often a nuisance than anything else. Dressing conservatively and ignoring the comments are one possible line of defense. Unwanted physical touching, even assault, is of course rarer, but not unheard of, and there have been reports of foreign women travelers being the victim of attacks.
Women travelers should take the same precautions they would in other countries and follow their instincts about certain men or situations they encounter. Young, athletic Dominican men who 'target' foreign women, especially in beach resort areas like Punta Cana, are referred to as 'sanky-pankys'. Their MO is subtly transactional, usually involving 'promises' of affection in exchange for meals, drinks, gifts and cash from generally older North American and European women.
Weights & Measures
The DR uses the metric system for everything except gasoline, which is measured in gallons, and at laundromats, where laundry is measured in pounds.
It can be difficult for a foreigner to find work in the Dominican Republic, as opportunities are limited unless you have special skills and speak Spanish. Otherwise, your only options will likely be teaching English, doing something in the tourism industry or working at a call center. Salaries are very low, so don't expect to have much extra spending money.