Moon Dominican Republic


By Lebawit Lily Girma

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Diamond white beaches, countrywide carnivals, and irresistible music: discover why so many have fallen head-over-heels for the DR. Inside Moon Dominican Republic you’ll find:
  • Flexible itineraries including the best of the Dominican Republic in 10 days, plus roundups of the best beaches, spots for diving and snorkeling, outdoor adventures, and more
  • Strategic advice for honeymooners, foodies, night owls, and more, whether you’re in the DR for a few days or a few weeks
  • The top activities and unique experiences: Don a mask and join in the frenzy of Carnival or dance the night away to live merengue. Visit a cacao plantation or organic coffee farm, snack on fried plantains or a breakfast of mangú, and explore the bustling markets. Stroll along cobblestone streets and admire 16th-century churches, palaces, courthouses, and statues or take a community tour for a deeper understanding of local life
  • Outdoor adventures: Enjoy miles of sand and clear water for sunbathing, swimming, and playing in the waves. Hike to hidden waterfalls or zipline through the forest. Dive to shipwrecks, snorkel alongside spotted eagle rays, or try kitesurfing
  • Ways to respectfully engage with culture from DR-insider Lebawit Lily Girma, from supporting small businesses to exploring ethically and sustainably
  • Full-color photos and detailed maps throughout
  • Thorough background on the landscape, wildlife, history, government, and culture
  • Handy tools including a Spanish phrasebook, health and safety tips, visa information, and advice for LGBTQ, senior, and solo travelers
With Moon Dominican Republic’s practical advice and local insight, you can find your adventure.

Craving more of the Caribbean? Try Moon Bahamas or Moon Aruba.


Playa Juanillo

the Colonial City

DISCOVER the Dominican Republic


Planning Your Trip






The Best of the Dominican Republic


Romancing the DR


Roots and Rhythms



road to Miches.

It’s no surprise that the Dominican Republic consistently ranks as the most visited country in the Caribbean, with no signs of slowing down. 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, swaying palm trees, and sparkling sand are worth the trip, it’s the rest of the country that will make you fall in love.

Santo Domingo’s restored Colonial City brims 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, served 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 sound 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.


countryside home

view from Montaña Redonda

The Dominican Republic oozes life. They say New York City never sleeps, but the DR never stops dancing.

ouvenirs along Calle El Conde in Ciudad Colonial

stand in Constanza.

Salto de Jimenoa Dos


1 Celebrate Carnival: Don a mask and join in the frenzy.

2 Hit the Beach: Enjoy miles of white or golden sand and clear water, for sunbathing, swimming, and playing in the waves.

3 Catch a Baseball Game: Passions for baseball run deep for baseball in the Dominican Republic. Join in the fun.

4 Get to Know the Real DR: Dance to merengue, snack on local cuisine, and explore the bustling markets.

5 Go Back in Time at Santo Domingo’s Ciudad Colonial: Stroll along cobblestone streets and admire 16th-century churches, palaces, courthouses, and statues.

6 Make an Impact: Travel with a local guide and stay in green lodging. Experience the DR with the people who live here.

7 Dive & Snorkel: Explore reefs and shipwrecks teeming with life.

8 See Wildlife: From golden swallows to humpback whales, the country’s parks, sanctuaries, and reserves are home to beautiful creatures.

9 Get into the Water: Surfing, kayaking, kitesurfing, and paddleboarding are just a few of the ways to find aquatic adventures.

10 Take a Hike: Discover mountain caves, climb sand dunes, and wander through cloud forests.

Planning Your Trip

Where to Go
Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo was the first city of the Americas, and today it is the most dynamic, cosmopolitan city in the Caribbean. The Ciudad Colonial, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990, displays Spanish colonial and Gothic architecture in its sprawling plazas and bustling streetscapes. The upscale Piantini and Naco districts in the center of the city offer modern, upscale hotels, sleek bistros and lounges, and shopping malls. On the weekends, city dwellers flock to the nearby beaches of Juan Dolio, Guayacanes, and Boca Chica. Santo Domingo is just a two-hour drive from Punta Cana via the Coral Highway.

Punta Cana and the Southeast Coast

On the southeast and eastern coasts of the island are the DR’s most visited regions: Punta Cana, Bayahibe, and La Romana. Punta Cana is the crown jewel of Dominican tourism, comprising 30 miles of powdery soft sand lined with all-inclusive resorts, with a handful of independent hotels in Bávaro. Inland, La Romana offers luxury with world-class resorts and golf courses. Bayahibe also boasts many resorts and tourists, though its colorful village center still provides a cultural window into the DR. Many visitors take day trips from Bayahibe to the stunning Saona and Catalina Islands, both of which offer beautiful beaches and great diving.

The Samaná Peninsula

Jutting out of the northeast corner of the island is the Samaná Peninsula, with uncrowded beaches flanked by cliffs and coconut plantations. This region is a haven for European expats and independent travelers. There are three main areas: Samaná town, known for its seasonal humpback whale-watching; Las Terrenas, a funky and cosmopolitan town; and Las Galeras, home to top beaches like Playa Rincón and Playa Frontón. Offshore, the towering rocks of Los Haitises National Park are worth a boat trip for bird-watching and Taíno history. The Carretera Samaná links the peninsula to Santo Domingo in 2.5 hours, and JetBlue flies direct to Samaná’s El Catey International Airport.

Puerto Plata and the North Coast

The North Coast of the Dominican Republic is the most well-rounded destination in the country. There are historical sights in Puerto Plata city, water sports in nearby Cabarete and Sosúa, and cultural excursions to amber mines and coffee and cacao plantations in the province’s various municipalities. Puerto Plata city is also attractive for its Playa Dorada resorts and beaches, but there are less crowded overnight stops along the coastline in Punta Rucia. If you’re a wildlife lover, head west of Puerto Plata city to see manatees at the Estero Hondo Marine Mammal Sanctuary and mangrove swamps in Monte Cristi. To the west are even more beautiful beaches and offshore islands.

Santiago and the Cibao Valley

The mountainous Cibao Valley, known as the breadbasket of the country, offers all kinds of adventure. There are a handful of national parks in and around Jarabacoa—including the tallest peak in the region, Pico Duarte—with fresh-water rivers and lush hills for rafting and hiking. Nearby Constanza sits at 4,000 feet elevation, covered in pine forests, vegetable farms, and flower plantations. The Valle Nuevo National Park welcomes hikers to cooler temperatures and cabins with fireplaces. The Cibao Valley’s major gateway, Santiago, is the DR’s second-largest city, a commercial hub known for its cigars and active nightlife; just an hour southwest are the hot springs of the mountainous escape San José de las Matas.

Barahona and the Southwest

The least tourism-developed area of the Dominican Republic straddles the Haitian border in the southwestern corner of the country. It is slowly developing, and it’s best to see the region before it does. It is also unique in its geography, with a landscape that includes sand dunes, pebblestone beaches, and mountains in Barahona and a host of lagoons, national parks, and roads lined with cactus in Pedernales. The country’s largest protected park, Parque Nacional Jaragua, is home to turtle nesting beaches and flamingos at Laguna Oviedo. American crocodiles glide in the salty Lago Enriquillo, the lowest point in the Caribbean, while 30 endemic bird species roam the Sierra de Bahoruco. The southwest’s highlight for many is the remote Bahía de las Águilas, considered one of the best beaches in the Dominican Republic.

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 now happening 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 below freezing at night in December.

High tourist season runs from mid-December through mid-March—expect higher rates during this time. It’s worth it if you’re coming for the humpback whale mating season in Samaná (which ends mid-March), or for Carnaval Dominicano, which runs every Sunday in February around the island.

During Easter holidays or Semana Santa—Holy Week, aka the week preceding Easter Sunday—hotels fill up in popular areas from Juan Dolio to La Romana to 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 rum festival in Puerto Plata 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.

Before You Go

Valid passports that won’t expire for an additional six months from your travel dates are required. North American or western European travelers do not need a visa, and since April 2018 the US$10 tourist card fee has been incorporated into airfare, so you don’t need to purchase anything at the airport. Entry is valid for a 30-day period; overstays will result in paying an exit fee at the airport upon departure, calculated according to the amount of time extended (up to US$110 for four additional months). For complete visa requirements, visit


There are no required vaccinations for entry to the Dominican Republic. However, it is recommended that you always keep up to date with routine shots for measles, mumps, and rubella. For longer stays, it is recommended that you also get hepatitis A and B, tetanus-diphtheria, chicken pox, and typhoid shots.

The CDC continues to advise that pregnant women or women who plan to conceive should postpone travel to many parts of the Caribbean, including the Dominican Republic, due to the presence of the Zika virus.

All other travelers should take enhanced precautions to avoid mosquito bites. Always be sure to use insect repellent, wear protective clothing when venturing outdoors, and keep mosquitoes outside.


Transportation options abound: there’s always a bus, car, bike, or coach bus heading to your destination. The DR boasts 10 international and domestic airports at points convenient to beach resort towns and cities. Taxis are easy to spot, and airport fares are displayed as you exit. Around towns or cities, they have set fares, but these become open for negotiation for longer distances, especially in low season—agree on a price before entering any taxi to avoid being overcharged.

There are numerous public transportation options. Hop in the carritos, or shared public taxis, or the guaguas, shared minivan buses, that are sometimes worse for wear. These modes of transportation are dirt cheap, cramming up to 7 people in one sedan or up to 30 in a minivan, and run set routes while picking up passengers anywhere along the way. Motoconchos or motorbike taxis are popular among locals, and while they are the most cost-effective and fastest way to get to your destination, they are the least safe, especially for big cities or highways (with no helmets provided).

Two major coach bus companies, Caribe Tours and Metro Tours, offer convenient itineraries between major cities and hubs. Traveling to the smaller towns is easily done by guaguas—private vans with air-conditioning and wireless Internet on many routes. There are express guaguas or regular ones that stop for every passenger hollering on the roadside.

Renting a car is a definite possibility, with major brands present around the island and its airports. Driving offers more flexibility in your itinerary. But beware that accident rates are high in the DR due to speeding, drunk driving, and frequent road obstacles (such as cows and bikes). It is safer to invest in a local driver. Gas prices are also high.


Pack any prescription drugs, sunscreen, a hat, and mosquito spray. Throw in some wipes for those long road trips, for when bathroom supplies might be lacking on the way.

Bring lightweight clothes, as well as long-sleeve cover-ups if you plan on taking any boat or catamaran excursions or doing some hiking. If you’re heading to Jarabacoa and the beautiful mountainous central area, or even at a lodge in the hills of Puerto Plata, you’ll want warmer clothes, as it can get chilly at night. Mountain hiking, to Pico Duarte for instance, requires proper hiking boots, while sneakers are a must for the national parks and forests you plan on exploring.

Bring nice outfits: at resorts, some à la carte restaurants require it, and in the cities, Dominicans dress up. Clubs can even refuse entry if you show up in shorts. Sightseeing in cities also means not dressing like you’re going to the beach, especially if you plan on entering churches and cathedrals. Of course, on beaches or in beach towns, the dress is casual, but walking around in your bathing suit is frowned upon unless you’re actually on the beach. Nudity is forbidden altogether (but often overlooked in areas like Punta Cana).

The Best of the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic is the second-largest country in the Caribbean, and the most diverse geographically. This 10-day itinerary will give you a solid glimpse into the DR’s beaches, culture, and opportunities for adventure. It can also be used for a 4- or 7-day trip. Mix and match as you please.

Santo Domingo: Culture and Nightlife

Arrive in Santo Domingo midmorning and check into El Beaterio in the Ciudad Colonial. Grab an outdoor Dominican lunch on the sidewalk terrace of Cafetería El Conde and enjoy the views of the Parque Colón and the Catedral Primada de América while you eat. Walk lunch off by exploring the area’s stunning architecture and museums on foot, solo or guided, or rent a bike from Zona Bici. Make your way down Calle Las Damas, visiting the Fortaleza Ozama, Museo de las Casas Reales, and Alcázar de Colón, the palatial former home of Diego Colón, son of Christopher Columbus. For dinner, indulge in the seafood tasting menu at Pat’e Palo, the first-ever tavern in the Americas. Afterward, walk over to La Bodeguita de la Zona for a cocktail and live music, or to El Patio Culinario if you’re into a karaoke-type atmosphere. If it’s a Friday or Saturday, catch the free Santo Domingo de Fiesta folkloric dance early-evening show on the far end of Plaza de España. If it’s a Sunday, walk over to the Monasterio de San Francisco for the city’s most popular outdoor merengue, son, and salsa concert.

Parque Colón in Ciudad Colonial

The Samaná Peninsula: Beaches and Seaside Landscapes

Rise early and walk down Santo Domingo’s Malecón, the waterfront promenade, to the neoclassical Gazcue district. Have a Dominican breakfast at Villar Hermanos, a cafeteria buffet with staples such as fried cheese and mangú. Ready for those sugary white beaches? Head north to the Samaná Peninsula by coach bus with Caribe Tours or by rental car (get your toll change ready). Enjoy spectacular views of coconut plantations on the three-hour journey before arriving in Las Galeras. Check into Villa Serena and have lunch there. Walk to the main village beach and arrange for your next-day boat ride to three of the area’s most beautiful beaches, and then spend the afternoon at nearby La Playita, a less crowded stretch of white sand with shallow turquoise waters. If you’d rather have a little more adventure, spend the afternoon horseback riding in the hills with Rudy’s Rancho. At sunset, walk back to the main village beach bar and join the locals for some rum and loud merengue or bachata music. For dinner, enjoy a casual tapas meal in the village at La Bodeguita or salty crepes at French-run Le BDM.


From the main beach, get whisked off to the Atlantic shores and towering cliffs of Las Galeras. You’ll have an entire day for swimming, sunbathing, and snorkeling at three postcard-perfect beaches: Playa Madama, Playa Frontón, and Playa Rincón. After your excursion, have dinner at a romantic cliff-top table at El Cabito and take in Las Galeras one last time.


Hop in a private taxi or catch a guagua (local bus) toward funky Las Terrenas. Begin with a night in the hills of La Barbacoa at Clave Verde Ecolodge, then move on to the chic, Bali-inspired Hotel Mahona and walk over to the beachfront. Stroll its length down to Playa Las Ballenas and have an affordable French gourmet lunch at La Terrasse. Spend an afternoon swimming and sunning on the beach. For dinner, grab a seafront table along the lively Pueblo de los Pescadores restaurant row, or you could join in a communal Dominican buffet meal at Dan & Manty’s. Head over to Replay and dance the night away to Dominican and international tunes. Arrange for a taxi to El Catey Airport the next day, or continue on your trip.

Las Terrenas


On Sale
Sep 17, 2019
Page Count
400 pages
Moon Travel

Lebawit Lily Girma

About the Author

Born in Ethiopia, Lebawit Lily Girma was nine months old when her parents moved to the West African country of Côte d’Ivoire. She has loved travel ever since: exploring cultures and learning languages on various continents, including Europe and the Americas.

After practicing law in the U.S., Lily took a leap of faith to pursue her passions: travel, writing, and photography. After a three-week visit to Belize in 2010, she was determined to return. A year later, Lily was commissioned as an in-house writer and photographer for the Belize Tourism Board for three months. She explored Belize extensively, sharing her adventures through a collection of online articles, blogs, and photo essays. Belize’s diverse cultures and people struck a chord and she returned to Belize for long-term stays while researching freelance articles on the country.

In addition to this title, Lily is the author of Moon Belize Cayes and Moon Dominican Republic, and her writing and photography have been published by CNN Travel, BBC Travel, Delta Sky, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, MorningCalm, Every Day with Rachael Ray, The Travel Channel, and AFAR, among others. She was also a major contributing writer and senior editor for the 2016-2017 edition of Destination Belize Magazine, Belize’s main tourism publication.

Learn more about this author