Dominican Republic: True Piece of Paradise
Location/Geography of DR
The Heart of the Caribbean
In the time of pirates, this island came to be known as Hispaniola, a change in pronounciation and spelling from the original name given by Christopher Columbus (Isla Espaniola). Now we are the Dominican Republic (DR), sharing a border with Haiti. Two bodies of water surround us; to the North, the Atlantic Ocean, and to the South, the Caribbean Sea. Cuba sits to our west; Jamaica, SW. Puerto Rico is directly east, the Virgin Islands a little farther east, and the island nations of the Lesser Antilles arc south and east from there. Turks & Caicos lies directly north, the Bahamas NE.
The DR, with a land mass of 48,730 km2 (18,810 m2), covers two-thirds of the island, and makes us the second largest nation in the Caribbean after Cuba.
We may be second in size, but we have some other fascinating geographical claims to fame. The highest point in the Caribbean is 10,164-foot Pico Duarte (3,175 m), and it sees snow in winter. The lowest point is Lake Enriquillo, a salt water lake 128 feet (39 m) below sea level. Not only that, it’s shoreline is the lowest dry land found on earth, comparing to all islands surrounded by ocean. Lake Enriquillo has yet another surprise: one of the largest wildlife populations of the Amerian Crocodile in the world.
Capital City: Santo Domingo
Population: 10,652,000 (2015)
Santo Domingo Population: 3 million (2015)
Telephone Calling Code(s): 809, 829, 849
Electricity: 110 V, 60 Hz coest
The country has 31 provinces; each province is divided up into municipalities, each with its own municipal government.
As in the close up image below, the DR flag carries a unique feature not found on any other country’s national flag: an open bible on the coat of arms in the center. The insignia reads: “God, Fatherland and Liberty.” In 1844, the flag was finally official. It is a powerful patriotic symbol for Dominicans.
Language of the DR
Spanish is the official language, and if you plan to live here, it’s a great idea to learn enough Spanish to feel comfortable in daily life. The strong expat and tourist communities of Cabarete and Sosua add an interesting internatinal vibe to this idea, because on a given day on the beaches, supermarkets, or in popular restaurants and bars, you will find a melting pot of languages, like English, French, German, Dutch, Swiss, Belgian, Italian, Russian, Serbian, and many more.
The official currency is the Dominican Peso (RD$). Notes of 2000, 1000, 500, 200, 100, 50, and 20 in bills, plus 25, 10 5, and 1 peso coins. Be careful with the 200 RD and the 50 RD, the color makes it tricky to tell these two apart. This happens a little with the 2000 and 500 peso notes also. An exchange rate for Dollars to Pesos or Euros to Pesos can be found on any bank website, although you will find the exact daily rate by visiting the bank personally. One tip, the bank rate often changes close to closing time, and you may lose a point or two. ATMs can be found anywhere around the North Coast, and most places take credit cards as a form of payment.
What’s not to love about the tropical climate of the Dominican Republic? On the North Coast, a typical day might see lots of sunshine and a few clouds. Even in rainy season, the sun usually peaks out for some of the day. However, if you’re planning to visit Pico Duarte in winter, you might see snow, an awesome sight in this country of palm trees and papayas. If you need a break from the heat of summer, a visit to Jarabacoa in the mountains, with its cold rivers and pine trees, is one popular way to chill.
The average temperature on the North Coast ranges from 66°F to 93°F (19° to 34°C). The coolest period is between December and February. At least a couple of weeks during this time send people running for blankets at night.
How to get to the Dominican Republic
Approx 50 different airlines in total arrive and depart from POP, some by direct routes, others by connecting flights.
Here on the north coast, Gregorio Luperon International Airport (POP) is our international airport, only 15 minutes from Puerto Plata, 10 minutes from Sosua, and 20 minutes from Cabarete. It is the fourth busiest Airport in the Dominican Republic, and was constructed in 1979 to increase tourism on the North Coast.
Puerto Plata (POP) services: Air Canada, Air Europa, Air Finland, Air Transat, American, Condor, Delta, Finnair, Jet Blue, Thompson, Thomas Cook, United, Westjet, XL Airways France, and many more.
And Soon by Cruise Ship
About 24km from Puerto Plata is the Bay of Maimon, and here is where the finishing touches are making ready Amber Cove Cruise Center. About 523 years after Columbus’ arrival & 30 years after Puerto Plata’s last cruise ship, Amber Cove will see its first cruise ship in October.
The port was built for the same reason as the airport, to increase tourism and to make Puerto Plata a cruise destination once again. It represents one of the Dominican Republic’s biggest cruise industry investments.
Amber Cove’s 2 ports will accommodate 10,000 visitors a day, including cruise passengers & crew members. For visitors, a transportation hub will provide easy access by land and sea to the surrounding destinations and attractions.
Before entering or leaving the country at ports and airports, tourists are required to fill out embarkation/disembarkation forms. When you embark, if you don’t have a cedula or residencia you must buy a tourist card, which is valid for 30 days. The Tourist Card costs $10.
In 2002 there were five main highways, named DR-1, DR-2, DR-3, DR-4, and DR-5. These highways are still in good conditions, connecting the country’s provinces and cities. However, they have been modernized to offer shorter, nicer, or safer routes.
Taxis can be found at the airport, hotels, or in town and can also be arranged in advance. They are a cost-effective way to get around, and are a safe and reliable option in Cabarete and Sosua.
Public Cars, or Carritos/Publicos, & Guaguas are privately owned passenger cars and mini buses that transit a specific route daily. Our local route runs from Puerto Plata to Rio San Juan, although other routes connect from those locations. Passengers pay a certain fee with the convenience of stopping anywhere.
Metro & Caribe Tours are the 2 major bus companies in the country, although smaller companies service more local routes. Caribe Tours and Metro both drive comfortable & reliable, air-conditioned, 52 seat buses. Their rates are quite reasonable, around 400 Pesos for a trip to Santo Domingo ($8.95 US). From Sosua, the route travels through Puerto Plata, Santiago, La Vega, and ends in Santo Domingo, or reverse. From the main hub of Santo Domingo (to a lesser extent Santiago) routes depart for all corners of the country. These buses can also be rented for private tours.
More info: http://metroserviciosturisticos.com/ and http://www.caribetours.com.do/
Tourism is fueling the Dominican Republic’s economic growth. The Dominican Republic is the most popular tourist destination in the Caribbean. By the end of 2015, 6 million tourists should have visited this country.
Influences for Dominican cuisine are mostly Spanish, indigenous Taíno, and African.
Locally grown vegetables: Tomato, Bell Peppers, Chili Peppers, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Beets, Beans, Name, Potatoes, Yuca, Yautia, Batata, Eggplant, Platano, Lettuce, Cabbage, Carrots, Onions, Garlic, Cucumber, Chinese Bitter Melon, Radish…
Locally grown fruits: Papaya, Banana, Guanabana, Avocado, Grapes, Mango, Cacao, Café, Tayota, Jack Fruit, Cashew, Coconut, Guava, Passion Fruit, Pineapple, Zapote, Uva de Playa, Tamarind, Orange, Lime, Jagua, Limoncillo, Noni, Almond, Breadfruit, Dragon Fruit, Rambutan…
POPULAR DISHES include: Sancocho, Mofongo, Modongo, Locrio, Pastelon, Pasteles en Hojas, Yanikeke, Quipe, etc. Along the coasts, fish and conch are enjoyed. Samaná’s pescado con coco (fish with coconut sauce) is an especially well-known dish. Dishes made with plantains, a member of the banana family, include the popular mangú (a purée of boiled green plantains, ), tostones (plantains fried in round pieces and smashed flat) and mofongo (mashed, fried plantains).
La Bandera (the flag), is the most significant cultural meal in the Dominican Republic. Served at lunchtime, this hearty meal of rice, beans, and meat, is the main meal of the day for most Dominicans. The lunch takes its name from the three colors of the flag. Sometimes the beans are served separately in sauce (guisado); other times beans and rice are cooked together and called ‘moro’. A side salad is also included, rounding out the food groups.
Pescado Frito con Tostones (whole fried fresh fish with fried plantains), is a famous weekend dish for Dominicans, residents, and tourists alike, if they’re heading to the beach. Along the north coast, many tours include a beach stop for a swim and lunch. The hi-lite of the entire tour is often the fresh fish lunch, served on tables for two or more directly on the beach.
Los Tres Golpes (The three hits), is a breakfast of mangú served with eggs, fried cheese, and salami, with sautéed red onions on top of the mangú, for flavor. Add avocado, when in season, for a popular side dish.
Beach Food/Weekend Special:
Fried Fish & Tostones
Favorite Dominican Lunch:
La Bandera/The Flag
Los Tres Golpes/The three hits
Lechon Asado, the ultimate Christmas dish, is a whole pig barbecued the traditional way on a spit over a wood fire. It’s also enjoyed year round for any large gathering or party, and found roadside, sold by the pound. After careful seasoning (the sazon) it takes about eight to twelve hours to cook on the spit, which is labor intensive, hot work. Depending on the care and knowledge behind the entire process, from live pig to table, the result is delicious, juicy & tender.
Shopping in DR
Although all sorts of jewelry may be found in abundance in the Dominican Republic, Amber and Larimar are the most popular. These gems are both mined in the Dominican Republic, and jewelry items made from them make great gifts if you are looking for high value souvenirs.
More than half of the handmade cigars sold in the U.S. are from the DR (including the popular Fuentes, Davidoff’s, Romeo y Julieta 1875s, and Macanudos), and because prices are dramatically less expensive than overseas, visitors should score a few stogies to bring home.