Dominican Republic Travel FAQ

Dominican Republic Travel FAQ

What to expect when traveling to the Dominican Republic with Rustic Pathways.

Your most frequently asked questions regarding travel in the Dominican Republic, food, accommodations, and more answered by Manuel, Dominican Republic Program Manager.

Where does the Dominican Republic country name come from?

For most of its history, up until independence, the country was known as Santo Domingo – the name of its present capital and patron saint, Saint Dominic – and continued to be commonly known as such in English until the early 20th century. The residents were called “Dominicans” (Dominicanos), the adjectival form of “Domingo”, and the revolutionaries named their newly independent country “Dominican Republic” (República Dominicana).

What languages are spoken in the Dominican Republic?

Spanish is the official language of the Dominican Republic. Apart from Spanish, Haitian Creole is widely spoken by Haitian immigrants, as well as French. English is generally only spoken in tourist areas, resort areas and by hotel employees.

What are people in the Dominican Republic like? How do people see themselves?

Dominicans are kind, warm people. They are expressive and like to joke around all the time. They love to dance and share their meals with those they care about. They treat everyone around them like family and love to share their culture.

What are the most amazing travel experiences in the Dominican Republic?

Walking in through the cobbled streets of the first city of the Americas in Santo Domingo’s Colonial Zone. Visiting the pristine beaches all around the country, visiting the mountain town of Jarabacoa, enjoying a cafecito with a host family, hiking up to Pico Duarte, the highest point in the Caribbean 10,164 ft., jumping off the 27 waterfalls of Damajagua, snorkeling through the coral reefs of the Amber Coast, taking a boat to Isla Saona and visiting a turtle conservation project as well as some of the country’s most stunning beaches.

What are one or two off-the-beaten-path experiences that travelers might not know to look for?

Avoid the major cities and head out. Visit the secluded beach of Bahia de las Aguilas, hike up to Pico Duarte and see the pyramids of Valle Nuevo.

What is the food like in the Dominican Republic?

Food in the Dominican Republic mixes Western African, Taino, and European techniques and ingredients to create varied Creole cuisine. Food is something we keep in mind when designing our programs so we include a taste of Dominican flavor all over.

One of the typical dishes that are a must-try for students is Sanchoco. Sancocho is a thick soup made of a variety of meats, vegetables, and tubers. It is very normal to see it in family gatherings or friends parties. Sancocho is a celebration dish!

Another yummy dish is The Dominican Flag (Yep! We have a dish with such name) or just The Flag. La Bandera is mainly composed of rice, red beans, and meat —normally chicken, but also beef or pork—. You can also add salad, avocado, and fried plantains or banana. This is one of the most common and representative dishes in the country. It is a very common lunch and is never missing in our base house meals. Also, it is not uncommon to see it featured in most Dominican restaurant menus’, more than one student has eaten it during meals outside the base house.

Mangú, along with The Flag and Sancocho, is the third musketeer of Dominican cuisine. It’s basically a boiled green plantain puree. This is like the Dominican version of mashed potatoes. It is eaten with eggs, Dominican salami, or fried cheese. You can also combine them all to make Mangú con los tres golpes (Three hits mangú). Then sprinkle some olive oil and garnish with onions. Do not forget the avocado.

What is the weather like in the Dominican Republic?

The climate in Dominican Republic is generally hot with tropical temperatures all year, although it does vary from region to region, particularly during hurricane season. The annual average temperature is 77 °F. In the mountains ranges in the northern part of the country, the temperature averages 65 °F while near sea level the average temperature is 28 °C 82 °F.

What is money like in the Dominican Republic?

The Dominican Peso is the currency used in the Dominican Republic. As of February 2024, 1 US Dollar is equivalent to approximately 59 Dominican pesos.

Dollars are accepted in some major cities and at beach resorts, but not all locations groups travel to, mainly tourist areas.

How much money should I bring for a week in the Dominican Republic?

About 100 – 200 USD per week.

What are one or two of the most popular activities or past times in the Dominican Republic?

Baseball is the most popular sport in the Dominican Republic and it’s played throughout the country. Any community, town, or city that you visit will have plenty of baseball fields. Another popular activity is dominos, a game that’s popularly played in teams of two in colmados (a mix of small supermarket and bar) all around the country.

What is one favorite memory of a Rustic Pathways program when traveling to Dominican Republic?

My favorite memory was getting to know the communities and the challenges they face and participating in community service.

Driving through the lush green mountains and admiring the scenery.

Going to the different beaches around the country, every beach in the DR is unique. Taking a boat to Saona Island and learning about turtle conservation.

What advice do you have for first-time visitors to the Dominican Republic?

Don’t be shy! Even if you don’t speak a lot of Spanish, Dominicans love to share with foreigners and really appreciate it when you try to speak Spanish. Also Dominicans like to practice their English even if they have to make up some words. We really appreciate people coming here to learn about our culture.

What are the main points of interest and landmarks that one must see?

The colonial zone, town of Jarabacoa, Saona Island.

Is it safe to travel in the Dominican Republic?

Dominican Republic is safe to travel to, but some precautions are needed.

  1. Comply with local laws.
  2. When staying in a resort area, make use of hotel room safes
  3. Avoid driving at night and be cognizant of other drivers
  4. Only use trusted vendors.
  5. Do not leave drinks unattended at resorts.
  6. Use reputable tour operators or a tour company like Rustic Pathways
  7. Exercise caution when using ride hailing apps
  8. Don’t wear expensive watches or jewelry
  9. Wear life jackets when on water activities

What is violent crime like in the Dominican Republic?

Violent crime is an issue in the Dominican Republic. This tends to be more pronounced in urban areas than resort areas. Emergency services, road safety standards, medical treatment and essential services tend to be much better in the popular tourist destinations. Rural areas tend to be somewhat poorly maintained.

What documents are needed to enter the Dominican Republic?

A passport is required for entry into the country. A tourist visa, which can be bought at the airport is also required, but only for visits longer than 30 days.

How do people dress in the Dominican Republic?

In towns and villages long pants and shirts with sleeves are appropriate. At the beach you can wear your normal bathing suits and in cities you can wear shorts and t-shirts.

What are bathrooms like in the Dominican Republic?

Bathrooms in the Dominican Republic feature western toilets and showers.

Can I drink the water?

The tap water is not drinkable. Bottled water is available for purchase everywhere. Bottled water is provided on every program.

Do I need a vaccine?

No vaccinations are required if arriving from the United States or Europe.

What are the accommodations like?

Accommodations range from eco lodges featuring 2-4 beds per room, to base houses with 2-4 beds per room, to dorm style bedrooms in volunteer facilities that can accommodate up to 8 students per room.

What kind of music is widely popular?

Dominicans are famous for their love for dancing and music. The sounds of the Dominican Republic are mainly influenced by roots from West Africa and Europe. There are a great variety of traditional and urban rhythms which create an abundant musical tradition.

Merengue is the most famous music of Dominican Republic and is even considered a national dance. It is often shown as a music that represents the triple heritage of Dominican culture, mixing instruments of African, European, and indigenous Taino origin. It was recently named as a World Heritage by UNESCO.

What time of service project can I expect?

Service in the Dominican Republic varies depending on location. For programs based in the mountains students work on water access and sanitation projects, using picks and shovels to dig trenches and replacing old aqueducts or installing new ones. For programs based in the Bateyes of the East students work in infrastructure projects, building latrines and cementing floors for the communities of the Bateyes.

For village/homestays, where do students and teachers sleep?

For homestays students stay at their host family’s home and teachers sleep in eco-lodges located within the community and usually managed by community leaders.

For village/homestays, are the families we stay with background checked?

All homestays families are vetted and are required to present a recent background check. They are trusted families that have hosted students before both from Rustic and other organizations.

Will there be mosquito nets available? How do you manage mosquitos?

Mosquito nets will be available in every accommodation that doesn’t feature air conditioning. Program leaders also carry around bug spray, but bringing your own is recommended.

Can you accommodate dietary restrictions?

Yes, we can accommodate most dietary restrictions.

How do you all get around?

When on program we get around in vans, 30 passenger buses, open air trucks, small and medium boats and walking.

What safety precautions should tourists take in the Dominican Republic?

Tourists visiting the Dominican Republic should be aware of potential safety and health risks here, including violent crime and traffic accidents. It’s important to exercise caution, especially in tourist areas where petty theft can occur. Avoid displaying expensive belongings such as watches or jewelry, as this may attract thieves.

Be vigilant when using public transportation and keep an eye on personal belongings to prevent theft. Additionally, stay informed about local safety standards and follow traffic laws to reduce the risk of accidents. Travel insurance and medical insurance are recommended to cover medical care and other emergencies.

What are some specific safety concerns regarding transportation in the Dominican Republic?

Traffic accidents are a significant safety concern in the Dominican Republic due to poor road conditions, poor lighting, and aggressive driving behaviors. Tourists should exercise caution when driving or using public transportation and wear seat belts at all times. It’s also advisable to avoid route taxis, which may not adhere to safety standards.

Familiarize yourself with local traffic laws and regulations, and consider obtaining an international driving permit if planning to drive in the country. In case of emergencies, have access to emergency contact information and know how to seek medical evacuation if necessary.

How do local authorities handle drug offences?

Dominican authorities take drug offences seriously. While many countries are decriminalizing offenses. Dominican law criminalizes all drugs except for tobacco and alcohol. The possession of any quantity of marijuana or other narcotic drugs is a punishable offense under the law.

Reminder: Illegal drugs, alcoholic beverages and tobacco are not welcome on Rustic Pathways programs.

How should tourists prepare for natural disasters while visiting the Dominican Republic?

Tourists should be aware of the hurricane season in the Dominican Republic, which typically occurs from June to November. Stay informed about weather forecasts and any potential natural disasters that may affect your travel plans.

Plan ahead by knowing the evacuation procedures at your accommodation and having access to emergency supplies. Follow the advice of local authorities and tour operators regarding safety measures during a natural disaster. Additionally, consider purchasing travel insurance that covers trip cancellations and interruptions due to unforeseen events such as hurricanes or other natural disasters.

Do I Need an International Driving Permit to Drive in the Dominican Republic?

To drive in the Dominican Republic, you only need a valid driver’s license from your own country. So, if you have a license from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, or another country, you’re all set.

You don’t need to get a new license when you arrive in the Dominican Republic. But, make sure your own license is up-to-date.

Having an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) can be helpful, though. It’s like a translation of your regular license that you can use in other countries.

If you’re visiting the Dominican Republic for less than 90 days, you don’t need an IDP. If you’re staying longer, then you might need to get a local driving permit from the Dominican Republic.

Manuel Del Villar

Program Manager

Manuel has a degree in chemical engineering from the University Pedro Henríquez Ureña and is currently pursuing a master’s in water treatment systems. He has two years of work experience in student travel with a Canadian company and started as a Rustic Program Leader in May of 2018. He has been a program leader on our Public Health in the Caribbean and was the leader on the inaugural program with our gap year partner Verto Education. Manuel is an enthusiastic, dynamic, and compassionate person. He loves traveling and teaching students about the culture and history of the Dominican Republic.

See Manuel’s Profile Page