Traveling to the Dominican Republic: Immersive Travel Experience for Teens
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Traveling to the Dominican Republic: Immersive Travel Experience for Teens

When traveling to the Dominican Republic, must-do experiences include beach relaxation and sightseeing, while also interacting with the local community to truly experience their way of life.

For teens, an immersive travel experience is one of the main benefits of travel that Rustic Pathways alumni mention when asked about their trip.

An immersive travel experience allows them to learn about another culture, try different foods, practice another language, meet new acquaintances, and much more.

Rustic Pathways Country Manager Manuel Del Villar says students often say they are surprised how happy local villagers are even if they have very little. The expectation is that local residents will be sad if they lack running water or basic comforts that the students have at home. But Del Villar says that local communities are strong, which makes all the difference.

“They find joy in life. Kids can just play with sticks. They don’t need a TV,” Del Villar said.  “Dominican culture is very welcoming. The people are warm, loud, and fast talking and normally are huggers and kissers.”

A group of students traveling to the Dominican Republic are seen celebrating and smiling while playing games with members from the local community.

Students on the Mountain Air and Island Living program in the Dominican Republic.

In addition, the beautiful mountains, tropical rainforest climate and picture-perfect beaches in the Dominican Republic add an adventure element that attracts tourists from around the world.

The Rustic Pathways’ programs take teens a little off the beaten trail – away from popular tourist destinations and beach resorts to see both the scenery and meet the people. The places are hand-selected by local authorities and residents who are born and raised in the country.

Del Villar shared some of the highlights that young travelers visiting the country shouldn’t miss.

What Teens Shouldn’t Miss When Traveling to the Dominican Republic:

  1. Exploring Diverse Regions of the Dominican Republic
  2. Engaging with Local Residents on Meaningful Projects
  3. Savoring the Authentic Dominican Cuisine and Culinary Traditions
  4. Immersing in Rich Dominican Culture
  5. Creating Lasting Memories in the Dominican Republic
  6. Watch Our Dominican Republic Travel Guide

1. Exploring Diverse Regions of the Dominican Republic

One of the programs Del Villar oversees called the Mountain Air and Island Living program allows students to get a taste of different aspects of the country. The students start their journey by traveling to the valley of Jarabacoa, meaning “Land of Waters.”

The area is located amid the Cordillera Central Mountains. This mountain range runs through the heart of the Dominican Republic and has the highest peak in the Caribbean.

Later the students travel north to the beach town of Sosúa where they enjoy the water and go snorkeling – diving deep to see coral formations.

This area has a small Jewish community since refugees from World War II moved to the region in the 1940s. They created and sold European-style cheese and salami, which later became part of the staple diet for locals.

Copyright: © 2015 Rustic Pathways
Usage with express permission only.

The students also visit a 82-foot waterfall and jade pool below a deep canyon at Salto de Baiguate. And they tour the Colonial Zone in the nation’s capital Santo Domingo.

Santo Domingo is a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to the first university, cathedral, and hospital in the Americas.

Copyright: © 2015 Rustic Pathways
Usage with express permission only.

Another program, Marine Life and Coastal Restoration takes students to the southern beach town of Bayahibe and the remote Saona Island.

In these regions, students learn about coral reefs and do work to rebuild them in multiple beaches. They also visit caverns, and see sea turtles, sea stars, dolphins, manatees and other marine life.

Take in the sights of Los Haitises National Park and explore wondrous caves. Copyright: © 2014 Rustic Pathways

Getting a taste of these different ecosystems is a wonderful part of any visit to the island nation. The best moments though come from time spent with the Dominican people.

2. Engaging with Local Residents on Meaningful Projects

Many teen trips offer the opportunity for service. Del Villar says some of his best memories come from times when students were deeply impacted by one of their projects. One project that really stood out to him involved building an aqueduct for the Mountain Air and Island Living program.

Del Villar said it was a particularly challenging  venture since they had to run pipes across a river and up the side of a mountain. After the first day, some students were discouraged and thought they would be too tired to finish. But the third day when they did finish everything changed.

Copyright: © 2015 Rustic Pathways
Usage with express permission only.

“Everyone was having fun, and there was a big celebration with sancocho to eat, which is a type of Dominican stew,” Del Villar said. “The event wasn’t planned and the whole community came out and gave speeches.”

Rustic alumna Calista Schloessmann says she made some close friends when she worked on a similar water project in the mountains. She keeps in contact with two local boys she met in one village, including a local boy named Brallan who was about twelve years old when she met him.

“He and I immediately developed a close bond; he started to call me ‘hermana,’ his sister, and I felt that we were both an inspiration for one another during the time that we worked in the mountainside to properly place the water canal,” Schloessmann said.

Water projects are not the only ones that inspire students. Environmental projects also make an impact. In the Marine Life and Coastal Restoration program students learn about how irresponsible tourism has damaged coral reefs and how they can help. This includes lessons about using the right sunscreen and avoiding boating in certain areas, along with hands-on projects with local residents that involve building reefs in the Caribbean sea.

3. Savoring the Authentic Dominican Cuisine and Culinary Traditions

In addition to the Dominican stew sancocho, teens are able to try a variety of other foods prepared by local chefs. On the Mountain Air program, students stop at the smoothie shop La Melaza where they can try interesting combinations of local fruits in a Dominican-style smoothie.

Del Villar says other foods teens will likely try include los tres golpes for breakfast or the three hits, which is fried cheese, fried salami, and fried eggs. They are often served with plantains with onion sauce.

For lunch and dinner, la bandera is often served. A rice, beans, and chicken dish, its name refers to the Dominican flag and its red, white and blue colors. The red is represented by the beans. The white is the rice, and meat or poultry is the third color even if it isn’t really blue.

Del Villar says residents in tourist areas also will frequently offer coffee to visitors. In fact, he is offered coffee so often in his travels, he is not sure sometimes how to politely turn it down!

4. Immersing in Rich Dominican Culture

Aside from food, students also can enjoy other cultural aspects, such as the merengue and bachata dances. The merengue is the Dominican Republic’s national dance. It has Spanish and African influences and is based on a repeating five-beat rhythmic pattern.

The bachata is a style of dance that originated in the Dominican Republic and is popular in many countries because of its relatively easy footwork.

The bachata includes basic steps and taps, along with some Cuban hip motion. It’s easy for students to try the dances or watch local residents who know the steps put on a show.

Copyright: © 2016 Rustic Pathways
Usage with express permission only.

In addition, Del Villar says teens will see colmados in the countryside. These are convenience stores that play a central role in many communities and often are a social gathering place.

5. Creating Lasting Memories in the Dominican Republic

Overall, Del Villar says it is an amazing opportunity to introduce teens to his country and help them make some lasting memories. He particularly enjoys watching the teens mature during the trip.

“They may arrive a little scared, shy or overwhelmed, but then they grow in some way and come out as a better version of themselves,” Del Villar said.

Cayla, who joined in the Mountain Air program, certainly found that and more. After she returned home, she shared her thoughts on why her Dominican Republic trip was so meaningful to her.

“The people you meet, places you visit, foods you taste and things you do are all amazing,” Cayla said. “The Dominican Republic is like no other place – the atmosphere was so lively, fun and energetic. It’s a trip that can completely change you as a person and open your mind to so many new things.”

Precautions When Traveling in Major Cities

When visiting the Dominican Republic, it’s essential to prioritize safety, especially in large cities.

Before your trip, check that you have all necessary travel documents, including a valid passport and tourist card. If you are of legal driving age and plan to drive, you can obtain an international driving permit and should familiarize yourself with local traffic laws.

Exercise caution, particularly in major cities like Santo Domingo and Punta Cana, where tourist areas can be potential theft or scam targets. Stay vigilant, especially when interacting with strangers or when it’s nighttime.

Keep personal belongings secure, utilize hotel room safes, and be cautious with expensive items like watches and electronics.

Stay Updated on Available Emergency Services

Make sure to stay updated on local laws and news, and follow any advisories regarding natural disasters or civil unrest. In case of emergencies, know how to contact local authorities, tourist police, and emergency services.

While the Dominican Republic offers beautiful beaches and popular tourist destinations, it’s essential to prioritize safety and adhere to local guidelines to ensure a memorable and enjoyable trip.

Learn more about the Dominican Republic in this beginner’s travel guide:

For more information about teen travel to the DR, visit our program page or contact our Global Program Advisors for more details. You also can view our country book on the Dominican Republic, which has more photos and information about the country.

Dominican Republic | Know Before You Go Travel Guide


"Today I'm sharing a beginner's travel guide to the Dominican Republic because it's always a good idea for first-time travelers to get a little bit of background and basics about the destination they're visiting. But before I get to that, just wanted to introduce myself. Hello, I'm Jeanette at Rustic Pathways, and we take students ages 12 to 22 on immersive and fun-packed travel programs all around the world. One more thing before we start, please take a moment to subscribe to our channel so you don't miss out on any of our videos. Also, if you could give this video a like, we'd greatly appreciate it. Alright, let's get started."

Where is the Dominican Republic?

"The Dominican Republic is on the Hispaniola island in the Caribbean, and it shares the island with the country of Haiti. It's on the east of the island and takes up about two-thirds of Hispaniola. The Dominican Republic is a geographically diverse nation with high biodiversity as well as historical significance. The country is the site of the first cathedral, castle, monastery, and fortress built in the Americas."

The Capital Santo Domingo

"What is the capital of the Dominican Republic? The capital of the Dominican Republic is Santo Domingo, and it's on the southern coast and is the oldest city in the New World. The capital was founded in 1496 by Bartholomew Columbus, and Santo Domingo's colonial zone is a World Heritage Site."

Language Spoken

"Now let's talk about language. Spanish is the official language of the Dominican Republic, and one of the phrases that you'll probably hear a lot is ke loke. This means 'What's up?' or 'How's it going?'"

Currency | Dominican Peso

"Let's move on to currency. The currency used in the Dominican Republic is the Dominican peso. So 58 Dominican pesos equals one US dollar."


"Moving on to transportation, there's a few ways to get around the Dominican Republic. In Santo Domingo, there's a subway system and there are also taxis and buses. You can also find Uber in the three major cities of Santo Domingo, Santiago, and Puerto Plata. Our students travel comfortably around the country in minivans or minibuses."

Food in the Dominican Republic

"Now let's talk about food. Plantains and different meats are popular in the Dominican Republic, and some traditional dishes for you to try are lavandera, cassava, and sancocho. Dominican cuisine is considered the result of Taíno, African, and Hispanic culture. The Taíno were the indigenous people and original inhabitants of the country."

Lodging & Accommodations

"Where to stay in the Dominican Republic? On our travel programs to the Dominican Republic, students don't have to worry about where they're going to be staying because we organize that for them. However, there are hotels and resorts ranging from $17 a night to $600 a night. It really depends on your budget and where you'd like to stay." "As you can see, the Dominican Republic is a beautiful country and we hope that you visit there soon. I also hope that this travel guide has been helpful for you. Also, make sure to check out our student travel programs to the Dominican Republic, and I'll have those for you in the video description. Let us know if the Dominican Republic is on your travel bucket list!"
About the Author

Mary Rogelstad

Content Writer

Mary is a Content Writer at Rustic Pathways. She has been a writer and editor for nearly 20 years. Prior to covering student travel, Mary created content for the music education company J.W. Pepper & Son. She also was a writer and producer at CNN International and a communications director for a social service agency and a K-12 private school.