Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Dominican Republic: Travel Tips and General Observations

The following are tips and general observations related to travel to the Dominican Republic ("the DR") based on our recent (late June-early July 2019) travel to La República Dominicana.

Brush up on the Dominican Spanish

It was very helpful to have our son who had lived recently in the DR for two years with us on our trip to the Dominican Republic. His Spanish skills helped tremendously in communicating with staff at the resort and on most of the excursions. Although we could have gotten by with English and our own very limited Spanish, it was significantly easier having a Spanish speaker. Even Spanish speakers who have not been to the DR might want to review "Some Really Popular Everyday Dominican Slang Words and Sayings."

Consider Dominican Republic Pesos for Currency

The resort we stayed at had an ATM machine that made it easy to access Dominican pesos. While we were in the DR, the exchange rate was approximately 50.8 DOP per $1 US. Because almost everyone we encountered accepted both the Dominican peso and the U.S. dollar and because almost all of them used the obvious simplifying assumption of 50 Dominican Pesos for every $1 U.S. dollar, there was a minor savings incurred by making purchases in pesos rather than dollars. More importantly, we didn't want to carry around (even in the airports) large amounts of cash and the ATMs we accessed only gave out Dominican pesos (and limited each ATM transaction to 10,000 pesos [~200 USD]). It is important to not withdraw too many Dominican pesos because Dominican Republic laws disallow many institutions from converting Dominican currency back to other currencies. Banks can covert the DR pesos to other currencies, but at a poor exchange rate for the consumer. I like to use the Fidelity Cash Management Debit Card for ATM withdrawals when on foreign travel.

See the Trip Advisor Currency Issues page for more details." See also the post "Dominican Republic Currency" for other useful details regarding currency and financial transactions in the DR. The Frommer's article "Money in the Dominican Republic" also provides good advice.

Finally, although many places will accept the Euro, I recommend visitors use Dominican Pesos or even U.S. dollars instead of Euros because the exchange rate for the Euro is often simplified to 1 Euro = 1 U.S. Dollar, which currently is a conversion loss for the holder of the Euro.

Safety in the Dominican Republic

From my experience, it seems that the largest significant danger for travelers to the Dominican Republic is driving, especially in or near Santo Domingo. I highly recommend that travelers who are unfamiliar with DR driving norms allow a local who is familiar with those norms to do the driving, especially if going into cities such as Santo Domingo or even busier parts of Punta Cana.

During our visit to the DR and as I write this, there is a media-fueled hysteria regarding "suspicious deaths" in the Dominican Republic. The death of a couple in the same weekend are the two cases that seem most suspicious to me, but statistically it doesn't seem any less safe in the DR now than it has been in recent years and, statistically, might even be safer than a couple of years in recent years. Our biggest health-related issues on this trip were digestive issues that seemed highly correlated to overindulgence at the resort's excellent buffet. Two articles that provide a less-sensationalized view of the current reports out of the DR are "Tourist Trap: Dominican Republic Tourism Deaths Not Unusual" and "Media frenzy over Dominican Republic deaths causing more harm than good."

At the time of this writing (and for our trip to the DR), the U.S. Embassy in the Dominican Republic's "U.S. Citizen Services" provides links to greater details regarding travel in the DR. Its "Alerts and Messages" page currently states (they provide the emphasis): "Exercise increased caution in the Dominican Republic due to crime" and links to the U.S. State Department's "Dominican Republic Travel Advisory" dated 15 April 2019 that rates the security advisory level as "Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution." The last referenced page provides in greater details the types of crimes that are frequently committed and outlines actions to take when traveling in the DR. To provide context to this, other nations currently with "Level 2" advisories include Mexico (crime and kidnapping), the Bahamas (crime), France (terrorism and civil unreset), United Kingdom (terrorism), Spain (terrorism), Germany (terrorism), Belgium (terrorism), Netherlands (terrorism), Denmark (terrorism), Brazil (crime), and Jamaica (crime).

Consider All Major Airports

When scheduling flights to the Dominican Republic, keep in mind that there are multiple airports in the Dominican Republic. For our trip to the southeastern portion of the country, the three most likely airports are Santo Domingo International Airport (SDQ), Punta Cana International Airport (PUJ), and La Romana International Airport (LRM). Our Costco package arranged flights into and out of the busier Punta Cana Airport.

The Punta Cana airport is a modern airport with several dining and shopping options and relatively comfortable seating for waiting. We flew out of the air conditioned Terminal B, but my understanding is that Terminal A is open air. This airport felt in some ways more like a United States airport than a Dominican Republic airport due to the prevalence of fast food operations most commonly associated with the United States and due to most prices being listed primarily in U.S. dollars. This is one of the places where Europeans are currently better off using U.S. dollars or Dominican pesos because many of the food establishments treat 1 Euro as 1 U.S. dollar, but the current exchange rate for these currencies is 1 Euro costs $1.13 US. For more details on traveling through the Punta Cana Airport, see TripAdvisor's "Punta Cana: Arriving and Departing" and "Helpful Tips For the Punta Cana International Airport Arrival / Departure​."

Taste Dominican Republic Food Favorites

One of the more interesting aspects of travel to different regions and different countries for many travelers is to taste local cuisine in the travel destinations. Before traveling to the Dominican Republic, I thought it's cuisine would be relatively bland. There are some bland food choices that are popular in the DR, but I was surprised at how many great flavors I enjoyed when eating Dominican favorites. About the only Dominican delicacy that I did not care for was Concón (burnt rice).

We did not see many berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, etc.) while in the Dominican Republic, but the fruits we did try were excellent. In particular, the pineapple, papaya, and mango in the DR are particularly tasty. I thought I liked pineapple before this trip to the DR, but I now realize what pineapple can taste like and it's even better than what I thought I loved already. The sweet, succulent pineapple of the Dominican Republic is plentiful and refreshing.

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