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Indigenous tribes from the Caribbean and South America inhabited this island at the arrival of Christopher Columbus on December 5th 1492. Here the new Spaniard colonizers built their first settlements and imported African labor in large numbers which defines the cultural mixture present today in the Dominican Republic.
The island was under french ruling during two brief periods and was ruled by Haitian forces for over 22 years. Through the years, the country has taken in immigrants from many parts of the world (especially from europe during world war two) that have enriched the local culture with their own customs and traditions. The Dominican Republic celebrates its independence on February 27th.
The Dominican Republic occupies two thirds of the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with Haiti and is the second largest country in the Caribbean with an area of 30,100 square miles bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to its North and the Caribbean Sea to its South.
This is a big island compared to others in the Caribbean. To avoid long commutes by car you should choose wisely among the eight international airports for your flight arrival, for example, if your final destination is Puerto Plata and you land in Punta Cana you’re looking at a long eight-hour drive by road.
Approximately 10 million people live in the Dominican Republic, out of which, a third live in the capital city of Santo Domingo.
The official language is spanish although thousands are fluent in english, especially in tourist areas and big cities. Many also speak french, italian, german y russian at the hotels. Roads are marked in spanish while menus in the main restaurants are often detailed in more than one language.
The Dominican Republic is on the Atlantic Standard Time (AST) the entire year. The country’s clocks are one hour ahead of the Eastern Standard Time (EST) during fall and winter, however, they’re set on the same time during spring and summer. The country’s time zone is GMT-4.
Citizens of Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Peru and Uruguay may visit the country without a visa or tourist card. Only a valid passport is required. Citizens and legal residents of the United States, Canada, Spain, Mexico, Venezuela and many other countries may enter the Dominican Republic acquiring a tourist card (US$10) for an up to 30 days stay and an additional 800 dominican pesos for a stay of up to 90 days.
For longer stays a scale with increases is applied depending on the length of the stay which is paid for at the airport before exiting the country. Tourist Cards are usually acquired at the entry airport. Bringing exact change of US$10 is recommended. There is also an exit tax of US$20 that is usually included in your plane ticket fare.
Those traveling TO the United States are required to present a valid passport. The Dominican Republic allows canadian citizens to visit the country presenting only a government issued photo ID and birth certificate as long as their flight program doesn’t involve stops in the United States.
Ports of Entry
With few exceptions there is a major international airport within an hour drive of each major tourist area. We recommend that you pay close attention when choosing your arrival airport to make sure you choose the closest one to your final destination.
Airports that regularly receive international flights are:
Aeropuerto Internacional de Las Américas (SDQ) and Aeropuerto Internacional La Isabela (JBQ) in Santo Domingo. Aeropuerto Internacional de La Romana (LRM) in La Romana. Aeropuerto Internacional de Punta Cana (PUJ) in Punta Cana. Aeropuerto Internacional Samaná (AZS) in El Catey. Aeropuerto Internacional Gregorio Luperón (POP) in Puerto Plata. Aeropuerto Internacional Cibao (STI) in Santiago.
The María Montez Airport (BRX) in Barahona is equipped to receive international flights but does not get regular traffic.
Other ports for air traffic which handle mainly domestic flights are: Portillo (EPS), Arroyo Barril (ABA) in Samaná; Constanza (COZ) in Constanza; Cabo Rojo (CBJ) in Pedernales; Osvaldo Virgil (MTC) in Montecristi, Cueva de Las Maravillas (SPM) in San Pedro de Macorís.
The main ports of entry for maritime passengers are: Puerto de Santo Domingo (Don Diego and Sans Souci terminals), Puerto de Cruceros y Marina Casa de Campo in La Romana and the Ocean World Marina in Puerto Plata. Cruises also dock on the outskirts of the islands of Catalina (La Romana) and Cayo Levantado (Samaná).
Click here for a complete airport and seaport list along with recommendations for the best one to choose based on your final destination.
Government offices, consulates and embassies usually work from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm Monday through Friday. Some offices may receive visits after hours if you schedule an appointment. Normal office hours however are from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, five times a week. Stores are generally open Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm and until 2:00 pm on saturdays. Main stores and shopping malls remain open until after 8:00 pm every day, including sundays.
Currency & Banking
Foreign currency can be exchanged freely to Dominican pesos in any branch of Banco de Reservas (the official national bank), at airports, main hotels, commercial banks or “exchange houses”. There are more than 2,000 ATMs throughout the country (which give out only pesos).
Banks are usually open monday through friday from 8:30 am to 3:00 pm although most banks have branches inside shopping malls and supermarkets which are open until 7:00 pm, also, branches located inside airports remain open 24 hrs to service arriving passengers.
Travelers cheques (which require you present a valid passport) and major credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, Amex) are widely accepted. You can also request cash advances with your credit card at most commercial banks. Exchange rates fluctuate daily and the US dollar is the most commonly used foreign currency for this type of transactions, followed by the Euro and Canadian dollar.
Taxes & Service Charges
Bills at hotels and restaurants are subject to a 28% tax rate (18% ITBIS + 10% service charge). It is customary to leave an additional 10% tip (in cash) for good service at restaurants.
The Dominican Republic has a low crime rate, however it is recommended to take the same precautions you would take in a crowded place (i.e. use the safety deposit box in your hotel room, leave expensive jewelry safely stored in your room and watch your belongings when in public areas). You should avoid driving at night due to poorly marked roads.
In large tourist areas, banks and many other establishments remain open during holidays to better serve tourists during their vacation but in the rest of the country you might find it difficult to find places that are open during these holidays:
January 1st (new year), January 6 (three wise men day), January 21 (day of Our Lady of la Altagracia), January 26 (Juan Pablo Duarte’s birth day), February 27 (Independence day), April 6 (Holy Friday), May 1st (Labour day), June 7 (Corpus Cristi), August 16 (Restoration day), September 24 (day of Our Lady of las Mercedes), November 6 (Constitution day), December 25 (Christmas).
Some of these dates can be changed from year to year (i.e. if a holiday lands on a wednesday the government might move it to monday to make it a long weekend).
In keeping with the Caribbean weather the most common forecast is a partially cloudy day with a chance of light showers by the end of the afternoon. The average temperature fluctuates between a maximum of 91°F in August and 63°F during “chilly” winter mornings. Temperatures can be lower and even drop below 32°F in mountainous areas such as Constanza and Jarabacoa.
What to Pack?
Do you have a business meeting? You should note that formal attire is customary especially if your meeting is in Santo Domingo or Santiago; if your meeting is in a tourist area, such as Punta Cana, more relaxed clothing is accepted (ties are only required in gala events). If you are vacationing in a resort it is recommended you pack shorts and long pants (men) and short cotton pieces (women).
Pack for warm weather but keep in mind that it can get a little nippy at nights and that hotel rooms are typically equipped with air conditioning units that have only two settings: cold and colder. Men should pack slacks for dining at a la carte restaurants inside your resort (mandatory dress code) and to enter museums and churches (where shoulders and knees must be covered).
If you are visiting mountainous regions (such as Constanza, Jarabacoa, Manabao, Santiago) you should keep in mind that temperatures can get considerably lower than in coastal towns such as Punta Cana, Puerto Plata or Santo Domingo.
110 volts/60 cycles (same as the U.S.) European appliances (hair dryers, curling irons, coffee makers) and electronics (cell phones, laptops, ipads) need an outlet adaptor to connect to the electrical grid. European electronics (which work with 220 volts) will take longer to charge (i.e. your cell phone that charges in 2 hours at home may take up to 4 hours to charge here because of the voltage difference) but will work without problems.
24 hrs medical service is common at resorts, these medical facilities are equipped with commonly prescribed medication. Emergency dental services, land and aerial ambulances are also available. Most cities and towns have pharmacies open 24/7.
To allow an animal to entry the Dominican Republic the Animal Health Department requires a rabies vaccine certificate no older than 30 days from the date of arrival to the country and a health certificate no older than 15 days.
The official religion of the Dominican Republic is Roman Catholic. Freedom of religion is established in the constitution.
To marry in the Dominican Republic you need legal transcripts of the following documents to spanish, prepared by the dominican consulate in your country of residence:
- A valid passport
- Original birth certificate
- Affidavit of singleness in spanish
- Divorce decree (if applicable)
Two witnesses are required, if they are non legal foreign residents they have to present their passports. If they are dominicans or legal residents their national ID (cédula) will suffice.
Several hotels offer attractive wedding packages which include all the legal documentation required to tie the knot in the Dominican Republic. Due to the high cost of the above mentioned legal requirements some choose to get married in their home country and recreate the ceremony for their friends in the DR.