The North Shore seems to be the forgotten corner of the Caribbean. While most of the other islands in the Caribbean spend millions of dollars on marketing campaigns aimed at attracting tourism, our little slice of heaven remains relatively unknown. We are going to try and answer most of the common questions we get regarding the area and the logistics of traveling to/from it. If we have missed something or if you have specific question feel free to shoot us a note here.
Hispaniola and the Dominican Republic: The island of Hispaniola is gigantic in comparison to most of the Caribbean islands, second only to Cuba. It is comprised of over 29,418 square miles. The island has five major mountain ranges reaching across it with the highest peak being Pico Duarte at an incredible 10,164 ft above sea level. The coldest temperature recorded up on the peak was –1 °C, cold enough to snow! The island is divided in two by the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Although they share the same island there is a bitter rivalry between the two countries and the border is tightly controlled. The Capital of the Dominican Republic is Santo Domingo which is located on the South shore of the island. Santiago is the second largest city and it is located in a valley situated between two mountain ranges in the middle of the country. Punta Cana is located on the Eastern shore and has the highest concentration of tourists. Puerto Plata, Sosua and Cabarete comprise the North Shore.
Language: Spanish is the national language but English is becoming more and more prevalent in the tourists districts. You can absolutely travel here without having the ability to speak Spanish. The Google Translate app is fantastic and anyone coming into the country should have it on their phone. Learning some basic words and phrases will go a long way. Start with the following…
Hello - hola, Thank You - gracias, Please - por favor, Beer - cerveza, How much - cuanto, I am sorry - lo siento, Goodbye - adios
Hola, cerveza por favor. Gracias, cuanto? - You just said “hello, can I please have a beer. Thank you and how much do I owe you? Your speaking broken Spanish but trust us, under most circumstances this will do just fine.
Getting here: We have four major airports servicing the Dominican Republic, listed by proximity to the North Shore they are Puerto Plata ( POP ), Santiago ( STI ), Santo Domingo ( SDQ ) and Punta Cana ( PUJ ). Unfortunately the closest airport (POP) is also usually the most expensive to fly into. A lot of travelers have been flying into STI or SDQ and then either renting a car, hiring a cab or bringing one of the busses up. Flying into Punta Cana isn’t really an option for North Shore visitors as it is a seven hour drive. Google Flight Matrix is your new best friend when it comes to searching for airfare. Find the cheapest route and then book it on the individual airline site directly.
Passport/Visa: All tourist are provided with a thirty day visa upon entering the country the cost of which is incorporated into your airline ticket. You need to have at least six months of validity left on your passport which is common with most countries. Proof of a return ticket will be asked by your airline during the check in process before departing to the Dominican Republic. Tourist who overstay the 30 day visa are charged an overstay fee the amount of which is incremental with the length of the overstay. If you happen to overstay your visa just be honest about it at the customs desk when you leave. They are actually very friendly about it. The customs agent will direct you to the payment desk where you can take care of your fine and carry on your merry way. You will be welcomed back into the country with open arms.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC OVERSTAY FEES
1 day past 30 days to 3 months = RD $2,500
3 months to 9 months = RD $4,000
9 months to 12 months = RD $5,000
12 months to 18 months = RD $6,500
18 months to 24 months = RD $8,000
Complete list is listed here https://www.migracion.gob.do/Menu/Index/21
Currency: The Dominican Peso is the main currency used on the island but USD is also accepted at most locations. Credit Cards are widely accepted with the exception of the bars, restaurants and vendors operating along the beach. The current exchange rate is hovering around 50 pesos per 1 USD. Current exchange rates can be found here. 10,000 peso’s / 200 usd goes a long way for most travelers and you will have a hard time spending that in one day. Our recommendation is to avoid exchanging money at the airport currency exchange. All of the airports have bank ATM’s available in the arrival lobbies and they are significantly better deal than the currency exchange. As always, it is a good idea to notify your financial institution of your travel plans before leaving your home country.
ATM Machines: The two most popular banks are Banco Popular and Scotia Bank. Both have locations and ATM’s all over the North Coast and they accept most cards from different financial institutions. Exchange rates are usually set right at the going rate and the atm fee is usually a little less than in North America - average withdrawal fee is $3.00. In almost all cases they will have a security guard posted next to the ATM at their bank locations. This has a dual purpose, first it adds protection for any customer making a withdrawal. Second and probably more important, it prevents ATM tampering which is a huge problem in this country. We strongly recommend that you utilize the bank located ATM’s and try to avoid offsite and generic machines. Most of the bank ATM’s have much lower withdrawal allowance than the North American counterparts. Some of the smaller banks will only allow you to pull 2,500 pesos at a time so you may have to make multiple withdrawals. Pro Tip: Progresso allows the most at 20,000 pesos per transaction. They have a branch in Sosua located next to Surf Liquors on Pedro Clisante. Banco Popular and Scotia will both let you pull up to 10,000 pesos per transaction.
Side note - there is a global problem occurring with the theft of credit/debit card information via RF Scanner. A good article about that is located here. We actually had this happen to us during an international trip last year. It sucks.
Cell Phones: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Rogers will all work flawlessly here but you will need to be on international roaming. As always you should call your carrier and ask about roaming charges and the various international roaming plans before you arrive. If you do not have an international plan be sure to keep your phone in airplane mode. Claro and Altice are the major cell phone carriers in the Dominican Republic and both offer contract free, fill as you go sim cards. You can file a request with your home carrier to unlock your device, this will allow you to replace their sim with one of the Dominican carriers. The alternative is to buy or bring a used phone for use during your time here, pop in the sim card and off you go.
Dialing is exactly same a North America 1 + area code + number and receiving calls from home is seamless.
WhatsApp is a free messaging and calling app for smartphones. It has a huge international following and that holds true for the Dominican Republic. We would estimate that at least 90 percent of uses the app on a daily basis for messaging and phone calls. It’s a great APP to have and you should download it to your phone before you arrive. It operates off of wifi so anytime you have a good wifi signal you make free phone calls, video chats and send messages.
Car / Motorcycle / Scooter Rentals: Renting a vehicle here can be an absolute nightmare. Especially if this is your first visit to the island. Do not expect to experience the same point, click, reserve, pick up the keys and drive off the lot simplicity that you would have with your local Hertz office. We have driven in many foreign countries including all over Asia and no one, no one, drives like the Dominicans. They have zero regard for the rules of the road and know only two speeds, bat out of hell and stop. Also, in the event of an accident you as a foreigner will pretty much be automatically liable for the damages to both vehicles - fun!
If you are still intent on renting a vehicle you should do the following
Get written confirmation from you insurance company or credit card that the insurance will cover you in this country for damages, theft and medical expenses. - most will not. Be prepared that even with the written coverage confirmation the rental company may still demand you purchase their insurance package.
Read the entire rental contract from top to bottom, especially the fine print, understand exactly what your liability/deductible is for damage and theft. Inspect the vehicle before signing.
Ask exactly how much they will be charging to your credit card before handing it over. A $3,000.00 “hold” for a deposit can gum up your credit card really fast.
Do not leave your passport with the rental agency. Unbelievably there are many agents here demanding that they keep your passport until the vehicle is returned. You can allow them to make a copy but never, ever leave your passport in someone else possession.
Carefully examine the vehicle inside and out before signing the contract. Take a video with your smart phone for added measure.
Only rent from highly recommend agents - OK Motors in Sosua and Easy Rider in Cabarete both seem to have a very strong following and good recommendations.
Taxi/Uber/Moto: Taxi drivers are everywhere along the North Coast. Like everywhere else in the world there are good taxi drivers and bad taxi drivers. The bad ones make a living by extorting tourist with outrageous fees so always agree on the price before you accept the ride, if it sounds high walk down the block to the next available driver. Most of the taxi stands have a sign showing the prices for traveling around to the more common areas/attractions. You can pretty well determine what your fare should be by reading these signs. We have the 2019 Taxi fares for Sosua and Cabarete linked here. Pro- Tip: If you find a driver that you like ask for his contact info and voila you’ll have your own driver here in the DR! In general its pretty cheap to get around here.
Uber is just now coming to life on the island. There are hundreds of Uber drivers in Santo Domingo and Santiago and you’ll never have a problem getting a ride off the app in those areas. We have used Uber for transportation from the airport in Santiago up to the North Coast numerous times. The rate is surprisingly low considering the distance. 3,400 pesos for a 1 1/2 hour drive. The driver may request that you pay them in cash and this is perfectly normal. They normally need the money to pay for the gasoline used during the trip which is over 5.00 usd per gallon here. The service has just started in Puerto Plata and it is spotty at best. The taxi unions along the North Shore are doing their best to block it.
The Motoconcho better know simply as “Moto’s“are all over the place. You’ll be hard pressed to walk more than 20 yards without someone yelling out Moto, Moto, Moto? Quite simply it is a ride on the back of a motorcycle and it will cost between 50-100 pesos depending on the distance. This is the most common form of transportation in the country and you will see them transporting everything from solo travelers to practically a whole damn family on one motorcycle. Our current observed record is one mother, three kids and a propane tank - all on one bike w driver. Absolutely fine for a quick ride down to the beach but we would be hesitant to jump on one and head out on the main highway…. By law only the driver is required to wear a helmet but feel free to ask for one.
Carritos are another form of public taxis but they only travel specific routes between the different towns. You can jump into one just by standing on the side of the street and then ask them to stop anywhere along the route. This an extremely inexpensive way to get around with fares starting at just 50 pesos. The downside is that they are often jammed full of people and don’t expect them to have room for your luggage or groceries.
Bus: There are several private companies running bus routes between the major population centers. The busses are actually very nice and the schedules usually run without fail. We wrote a whole article about it here. The two main companies are Caribe Tours and Metro Bus both are linked and current schedules are available on each respective site. It is a very affordable at around 400 pesos for a one way trip to/from the capital on a comfortable albeit COLD (they blast the a/c units) bus. Pro Tip - Caribe Tours offers an express bus that operates between the North Coast and Santo Domingo, it does not stop in Santiago thus shaving about 45 minutes from the ride. At last check the departure times for the express bus were as follows:
Caribe Tours Express Bus -
Sosua to Santo Domingo : 5:20am, 7:50am, 8:50am, 10:50am, 12:50pm, 1:50pm, 2:50pm and 3:50pm
Santo Domingo to Sosua : 10:30am, 11:30am, 3:30pm, 4:30pm, 5:30pm
Food: Dominican food is down right delicious. The island of Hispaniola is extremely fertile and most of the food is grown right here. Scroll through our restaurants reviews and you’ll see that the variety and the quality of the food here is excellent. We also have five major grocery stores along the North Coast. La Sirenas and Jumbo in Puerto Plata (Super Target equivalent), Playero and Super Pola in Sosua and Janets in Cabarete. All five offer a great selection of fresh produce, deli counters and the typical assortment that you would find at a normal North American grocery store. Cost with the exception of prime beef is on par if not less than North America. Credit, Debit and cash accepted at all.
Booze: Yes, yes and yes. The Dominicans love their beer and their rum. Presidente beer and Brugal rum are both considered national treasures. Both are brewed right here on the island and you’ll be hard pressed to go anywhere without seeing someone sipping from a green Presidente bottle. Imported Alcohol is taxed here so if you have a favorite brand its not a bad idea to hit the duty free store at the airport. All four airports offer Duty Free shops in the baggage claim area so don’t worry about carrying it on if your arms are already full.
Crime: The Dominican Republic gets a bad rap about crime and for the most part, it is not deserving. We travel quite extensively and have lived in some touchy spots - looking at you Detroit. Yes, absolutely there is crime in the Dominican Republic. Find a place in the world where there isn’t crime and we’ll come have a look. From a statistical perspective violent crime is actually very low compared to the rest of the region. Crime against tourists is pretty much confined to petty theft. We’ve spent more than a few late nights out in Sosua and Cabarete and we have never felt threatened or unsafe. Compared to St. Thomas USVI, Jamaica, Nassau, St. Kitts, Miami, New York etc - the North Shore is absolutely safe. The majority of crime here is property theft, scams and crime of opportunity, as to be expected in any low income area. As Peter Gabriel once sang, “if you don’t get given you learn to take”. If you use some common sense and take the typical precautions chances are good you’ll experience very few if any problems during your time here.
It’s pretty simple, leave that Rolex at home. Don’t travel with an absurd amount of cash, use the safe in your hotel or rental villa and don’t wander into unknown areas at night.
Dating: There are a lot of North Americans and Europeans here dating and marrying Dominicans guys and girls. The social dynamics are quite a bit different here, age is generally not an issue nor is appearance. Having fun, enjoying life and being a good partner seems to be the priority. If your interested in meeting new people Domincan Cupid is a good place to start.
Health Care: The health care system in the Dominican Republic is getting better and better by the minute. Health care insurance can be purchased by non-residents and it is very inexpensive compared to plans being offered in the United States. One of the largest differences between the Dominican health care system and those in North America is the use and discretion of the pharmacy’s. Most medication can purchased directly over the counter without prescription (with the exception of painkillers and opioids) and at a much lower cost.
Bringing Pets to/from the Dominican Republic: You can definitely bring your fuzzy BFF into the country. You will need a current health certificate with vaccination records from your vet. Make a couple of copies because the airline may request to keep one. Upon arrival you will be directed to the agriculture office at the airport where an official will process your pets paper worker and provide you with a permit - cost at writing was 10.00 usd. Note - airlines will restrict pets in the cargo hold during the summer months dues to the heat, make sure you call in advance.
Don’t have a best furry friend? A visit with Dogs and Cats of the Dominican Republic can fix that. This is an excellent organization and they have been providing assistance to abandoned and abused animals for years. Adopting an animal here is easy and so is the process of returning to North America.
This little guy was found here malnourished. He had a tough start to his life. One year later, he travels all over the world with his new Dad and is a happy, healthy, full grown bundle of fun.