It’s no surprise that the Dominican Republic now ranks as the most visited country in the Caribbean. The diamond white beaches and lavish resorts from Punta Cana to La Romana attract millions of sun worshippers every year. And while the blue waves, breezy palm trees, and sparkling sand are worth the trip, it’s the rest of the country that will make you fall in love.
The capital’s Colonial City is brimming with grand Spanish-style architecture, 16th-century cathedrals, and wrought-iron balconies. Outside the capital, beaches are lined with rows of frituras (fried food shacks) selling the day’s catch, along with red onion-spiced avocados and tostones (crispy fried plantains). Avid surfers and divers flock to the north, while the countryside offers enriching cultural expeditions to cacao and coffee plantations.
Adventure awaits in the mountainous heart of the country, where you can hike through cloud forests and horseback ride to crisp, cool waterfalls. In the southwestern corner of the island, the possibility of sheer isolation still exists among the peaks, sand dunes, and deserted beaches.
Regardless of where you find yourself in the DR, at the center of it all are unmistakably Dominican experiences. The constant stream of merengue and bachata in the air invites you to dance, whether in the middle of a park or at a rancho típico (open-air, roadside club). People gather on street corners, playing dominoes and throwing back Brugal rum or ice cold Presidente beers from the colmado (corner shop).
You’ll find constant celebration, most notably during February’s countrywide carnivals, which offer a glimpse into the country’s eclectic African, Taíno, and Spanish heritage. Music mixes with laughter to create the daily soundtrack, because Dominicans enjoy every day to the fullest.
When to Go
The Dominican Republic is blessed with sunny, warm weather year-round, with average temperatures in the mid-80s. It gets extremely humid and hot in the summertime, while cooler sea breezes make mid-November through January more pleasant. The rainy season has become unpredictable, with more rainstorms happening now in November than in hurricane season, which normally peaks in September and October. In the central mountains or the Cibao Valley, days are cooler and drier, but temperatures can drop to below freezing at night in December.
High tourist season runs from mid-December through mid-March—expect higher rates during this time. But it’s worth it if you’re coming for the humpback whale mating season in Samaná (which ends mid-March), or for Dominican Carnaval, which runs every Sunday in February around the island.
During Easter holidays or Semana Santa—Holy Week or the week preceding Easter Sunday—hotels fill up in popular areas from Juan Dolio to La Romana and Las Terrenas (look out for beach closures due to a high level of boozing that weekend). In Santo Domingo, the Malecón is partly turned into a pedestrian zone, and becomes a beach party in the city with games and music. It’s also a dangerous time to be on the road, so be wary.
The low tourist season (summertime) brings with it attractive airfare and slashed hotel rates, if you can bear the heat and humidity. Catch the merengue festival in Santo Domingo in July.
November to mid-December is the best compromise between seasons, with fewer tourists, ideal weather, and good rates before the end of year holidays—not to mention the Dominican Republic Jazz Festival on the North Coast.
Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Dominican Republic.