21 Dynamite Dominican Republic Travel Tips to Know Before You Go
After spending nearly six months in this amazing country, I wanted to throw together some valuable Dominican Republic travel tips. See, traveling around this island is different than anywhere you've ever been.
Dominican people have a culture that is all their own. There are unique intricacies and issues you need to understand before you spend some time here.
If you go to the DR without a little local knowledge, you're bound to end up with a few problems here and there.
21 Dynamite Dominican Republic Travel Tips to Know Before You Go
So I wanted to put together a list of things to know before you go. As such, below you'll find 21 dynamite Dominican Republic travel tips:
Understanding Dominican Culture
Dominicans are an incredibly friendly people that love to have a good time. I found the people on the island to be some of the most welcoming and friendly people you'll ever encounter. I made friends, played sports, partied and dated people in the DR – and no one ever questioned that I was an outsider. They don't care.
But this isn't the United States. There's a lot of differences you need to be aware of. First and foremost, there's a lot of poverty on the island. There's not much you can do about that, but understand one thing…
People will work to get their hands on your money. The DR is an island of hustlers. There are millions of amazing people on the island. There are also a lot of hustlers looking to get that cash. Both men and women.
Once you understand this, you'll start to see the island from a different perspective. It's not a bad thing at all. It's just the way things are. Dominican culture values money and status.
One of the things you'll quickly realize while living in the Dominican Republic is that things just don't work like they should.
- The water may shut off for days on end. You'll end up showering on the roof with the neighbors watching.
- Your air conditioner might break down and leak weird smelling liquids all over your floor and clothing.
- The electricity and the internet might go out for hours on end while you're finishing up a project that has a nearing deadline.
- Your bus driver might decide to go pick up his cousins four towns to the south while you're on the way to the airport. Instead of being two hours early for your flight, you end up barely making it.
While the DR is an amazing country, things won't work how you expect them to here. You'll have to learn to go with the flow in the Dominican Republic.
Speaking of going with the flow, I found a solution to all the electricity and Wi-Fi issues found throughout the country.
Grab one of these mobile hotspot devices before you head to the Dominican Republic. Then when you arrive, get a SIM card for this mobile device just like you will for your cell phone.
Keep this bad boy charged, but not on. Then once the electricity goes out, turn it on. Now you have Wi-Fi when no one else does. For digital nomads, this is a huge plus and a lifesaver.
You should be traveling in the Dominican Republic with an unlocked smartphone so you can buy a SIM card. I prefer the iPhone 5 because it's cheap enough that it's not a huge deal if you lose it or it gets jacked.
People speak Spanish in the Dominican Republic. While education levels in Santo Domingo and Santiago are ok, you won't find many people speaking English outside the big cities and the super touristy areas.
You need to learn some Spanish before you go. This is one of the most important Dominican Republic travel tips. Without Spanish, you'll constantly be confused in the country. And you know what confusion means, the gringo ends up getting ripped off.
Don't Think About Driving
I've traveled throughout a lot of Latin America, a region not known for their driving prowess. I've never seen crazier drivers than in the Dominican Republic. The roads here are pure mayhem.
For a tourist, you should never consider driving in the country. It's just way too chaotic for a person not born in the DR or NYC to comprehend. If you value your life in the DR, don't get behind the wheel.
Don't Drink the Water
You can NOT drink the water from the tap in the Dominican Republic. You will get sick. Really, really sick. Just don't do it. Even local Dominicans don't drink their own tap water.
Find a local colmado and order a big jug. They'll deliver it straight to your door – no matter how many flights of stairs it takes. Then grab a pump like this, and you'll be good to go.
Speaking of the colmado, you'll want to check one of these Dominican mini-marts out. These small stores sell everything from toilet paper to fine Dominican rum to Doritos.
Grab a Presidente Grande and chill out one evening at the colmado. You'll make some friends and have a truly Dominican experience while you're at it. Just don't be stingy. Make sure you share your beer with your newfound amigos.
Get Away From the Resort
The vast majority of tourist to the Dominican Republic hit up the resorts in Punta Cana. Then they don't leave. They stay the whole week or two of vacation sitting by the beach and sipping drinks.
There's nothing wrong with that at all. I enjoy relaxing at the beach, too. However, that's not what traveling around the Dominican Republic is all about.
If you're a young person traveling in the DR, make sure you get off the resort a little bit. Check out some of the beaches in small towns around the island. Head to Santo Domingo for a little partying. Just get away from the resort for a bit.
Dance a Little Bachata
Speaking of partying, the Dominicans like to do just that. It should come as no surprise that Dominican people enjoy their rumba here and there. And what type of music is crazy popular on the island?
Bachata! The King, Romeo Santos, is Dominican and you'll hear his music blaring from colmados, bars, and nightclubs throughout the country.
So learn to dance a little bachata while you're in the DR. The locals will be impressed, and you're sure to have a lot more fun on a night out if you can dance a little bit.
Always Rent an Apartment
Unless you're staying at an all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana or Puerto Plata, you'll want to rent an apartment here. Decent hotels are overpriced, especially compared to the value you can get renting an apartment.
You'll find a plethora of options online in all the tourist areas and big cities. In Santo Domingo, you'll want to stay in Zona Colonial or Naco. In Santiago, I really loved the Los Jardines neighborhood.
We've already talked about how some Dominicans on the island see foreigners as dollar signs. The worst of this bunch is taxi drivers. These guys will try to rip you off the moment they realize you're not born and raised on the island.
Instead, just use Uber. It's safer and cheaper. Plus, if a driver tries to go around in circles to get more money from you, you can just get a refund after complaining to Uber. I did this a few times while in the DR and had no issue.
Uber works well in Santo Domingo and Santiago. The app doesn't work in the tourist areas and small towns.
Sankie Pankie & Chapiadoras
Now we're getting to the good stuff. Well, the interesting, and probably – one of the most important Dominican Republic travel tips. In the DR, you have men called sankies and women called chapiadoras.
See, Dominicans are a good looking bunch of people. The African, Indian, and European blood found on the island mixed to form a bunch of exotic and attractive individuals.
Plus, these unique looking people live on an island. Skin is showing all the time. The beach is a big part of life in the DR. Abd of course – looking good naked is of utter importance.
You're starting to see the issue here…
Sankies are Dominican guys that live near tourist areas. They feast on foreign girls, especially gringas, who come to the DR for vacation. Sankies seduce these women and hook up with them. Then they try to get money from the girls by playing to their empathetic side.
It often works, and these guys get to stay in all-inclusive resorts, eat for free, and occasionally, move to the United States. All on one of these girls dime.
Chapiadoras are Dominican girls that usually reside in Santo Domingo or Santiago. These chicks are on the hunt for rich guys, foreign or local. They expect to be taken to expensive dinners and the fanciest clubs in town.
They rarely are concerned with how a man looks or acts, and only care about what is in his wallet and bank account. Many a gringo has fallen for the stunning looks of a chapiadora only to find his bank account on life support after spending a little too much time with her.
Now, there are a ton of great Dominican people on the island that don't engage in sankie and chapiadora activities. However, it's something you need to be on the lookout for while in the DR – if you're single.
Get to the Beach
The beaches in the Dominican Republic are truly world-class. We're talking fine white sand, crystal clear blue water, smooth waves, and giant palm trees all around. Personally, I've yet to come across better beaches in all my travels.
My favorite beach area in the Dominican Republic is Las Terrenas. It's truly paradise once you get passed all the sex tourism.
Most tourists only check out Punta Cana or somewhere around Puerto Plata, but there are so many better beaches in the DR. If you're traveling around the island, make sure to check out these spots, too:
- Bahia de las Aguilas
Always Pay in Pesos
This Dominican Republic travel tip is pretty self-explanatory. You should never pay in USD in the country. In the DR, the currency is the Dominican Pesos. People who try to charge you in USD are ripping you off.
While you may not be able to get away from paying in USD in Punta Cana, you should try. Any taxi driver or tour operator charging dollars is running a scam operation on tourist.
Communicate With What's App
People in the Dominican Republic communicate with What's App. People don't really call or text on the regular phone. That's just how it goes. If someone in the country can't talk on What's App, then they may not be someone you want to get involved with.
What' App allows you to send texts, pictures, videos, and voice messages. You can also make calls and video chat with the app.
Not only will you be able to communicate with people in the DR on What's App, but it's great for keeping in touch with people back home. All my family and close friends now have the app. It's how we communicate while I travel.
Time is Different Here
The Dominican Republic is a Latin country and culture. Plus, it's an island. The combination of Latin time and island time isn't exactly a great one for us gringos used to promptness.
Never expect Dominicans to be prompt. Never expect things to be on time in the country. At first, this bothered me, but I eventually got used to it. That's just the way things go on an island in Latin America.
For example, I was playing on a basketball team in the DR. I was told practice would begin at 2:00 PM. I showed up at 1:45 to get warmed up. No one was there, and the gym was locked.
At 2:30, the coach showed up and unlocked the gym. At 3:00, a few of the players started to trickle in. Practice started around 3:45 after social hour finished up.
Tipping Isn't Part of the Culture
While time isn't ideal in the DR, it's nice not having to tip, especially for average service. You won't be expected to tip in the Dominican Republic at all. Now, you can if you feel the service has been great, but it's not expected.
In a few high-end restaurants, tipping is mandatory by law and will be included in the check. You won't have to worry about it in other places.
If anyone asks for a tip, you can rest assured they are trying to rip you off. This is especially true of taxi drivers.
Bring More Than Cargo Shorts
Don't be that gringo that rolls around all day and all night in cargo shorts and flip-flops. Dominicans will look down on you, and you'll give other gringos a bad name. Leave the shorts and flip-flops at the beach. Wear that attire at the beach.
Wear that attire at the beach, but once you head out to dinner or a club, you'll want to wear something nice.
If you're a dude and planning on partying, make sure you bring some jeans, dress shoes, and a button-down.
This is especially important in places like Santo Domingo and Santiago, where many of the locals dress quite stylishly.
Some a Cigar or Three
Cuban cigars are world famous. Dominican cigars should be. If you enjoy a “puro” or three, then make sure you grab a few La Aurora cigars while in the DR. They're fantastic. Plus, it's hard to beat smoking a cigar while watching the sunset at the beach.
Better yet, if you find yourself in Santiago, make sure you check out the La Aurora Cigar Factory Tour. It's fantastic, and one of the best tourism activities I've ever done in my life.
Don't Worry About the Visa
While most countries have strict rules about visas and immigration, the Dominican Republic doesn't. Well, they do, but they don't matter.
Technically, you can only spend a few months in the country each year as a tourist. Two stays of 30-days to be exact. However, there's no real punishment for overstaying your visa here.
You can overstay the visa for years on end. Then when you leave your only issue will be a $200 USD or so fine.
Catch a Baseball Game
For a small island nation of around 11 million people, the Dominican Republic sure does produce a number of great baseball players. A number of MLB stars are from the island, including:
- Albert Pujols
- Sammy Sosa
- David Ortiz
- Robinson Cano
- Pedro Martinez
- Vladimir Guerrero
…And many more!
As such, the country's winter baseball league is highly competitive and entertaining. If you're in the country between October and January, it's a must to go check out one of the games. Plus, there cheap to get into. Games are held in:
- Santo Domingo
- La Romana
- San Francisco de Marcois
Drink a Little Mamajuana
Mamajuana is a Dominican alcoholic drink that's famous throughout the island. The drink is made of rum, red wine, honey, herbs, and spices. Many refer to the concoction as “Dominican Viagra” – and for good reason 😉
Just make sure you don't drink the B.S. sold in the gift shops. Find a way to get your hands on some quality Mamajuana. I downed shot after shot of Mamajuana at a resort in Punta Cana, and it was some of the most delicious booze I ever tasted.
Dynamite Dominican Republic Travel Tips
I hope you enjoyed this list of Dominican Republic travel tips. If you're heading to the country, the advice above is sure to keep you out of trouble and having a great time. The DR is one of my favorite places in the world. If you do it right, the country truly is paradise.
Check out some of my other pieces about the DR, too:
- What It Costs to Live in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic – Piantini Edition
- Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic – Cost of Living & Apartment Tour
- Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic – City Guide
- Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic – City Guide
- Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic – City Guide
- Colombia Vs. Dominican Republic: A Gringo's Guide