Christopher Columbus discovered this oldest country of the Americas in 1492. I explored the Punta Cana region in February 2018.
This Caribbean country shares its land boundary with Haiti on the west. Together they were referred to as Hispaniola-one island shared by two countries. The Dominican Republic occupies the eastern 2/3 while the western 1/3 is occupied by Haiti. Cuba is the only Caribbean country larger in both land mass and population than the Dominican Republic (approximately 11 million people). Dominican Republic’s land mass is about twice the size of New Hampshire.
The country is often plagued by both drought and hurricanes.
Arrival at Punta Cana Airport
Planes land and passengers disembark onto the tarmac. TIP: Limit your carry-on items as you have to carry them down the flight of stairs.
Once loaded onto a shuttle bus, passengers are driven to the terminal. Be prepared for long, slow-moving lines. Visitors need a Tourist Card prior to clearing customs. These can be purchased online in advance.
Click http://dgii.gov.do/tarjetaTuristica/EN/about/Paginas/default.aspx for more information.
Click here to purchase a tourist card. TIP: The citizens of Argentina, Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay, South Korea, Israel and Japan are exempt from purchasing the tourist card. TIP: Be prepared to be hustled. Porters with wheelchairs will urge you to allow them to move you to the front of the line, charging you $10 for the Tourist Card and pocketing $10 for the privilege.
There are well-stocked, modern, clean toilets in the Customs Area.
Click here for more practical information on traveling to the Dominican Republic.
12 Facts about the Dominican Republic
I spent half of a day touring the rural area of Punta Cana with Andrew–Country Adventures outstanding tour guide. I have taken similar tours in Antigua, Oahu and Kauai in the past year. This tour was superior on every level. I’d highly recommend booking a tour and asking for him as your guide. Full and half day adventures are offered.
1. Catholicism is the most prevalent religion. Roman Catholic weddings are the only religious marriage ceremonies legally recognized by the government; civil unions are legal too. Abortion is illegal.
2. The Bible must be read in public schools according to a 2000 law, though private schools do not have to follow this law.
3. Students must attend school from ages 7-14. After age 14, students may choose whether or not to remain in school. Families must pay for school; tuition is a significant chunk of a family budget. School is in session from September through June.
4. Tourism (service sector) is the country’s #1 employer. In fact, the Dominican Republic is the most popular tourist destination in the Caribbean.
5. After Cuba, the Dominican Republic is the second-largest Caribbean producer of sugarcane, the nation’s most important crop. Other main crops are tobacco, cocoa and coffee.
6. A quarter of the country’s coastal shores and land are preserved as national parks, reserves and sanctuaries. The country is considered a leader in sustainable tourism.
7. Three beverages are stand-outs: Presidente Beer is brewed in Santo Domingo and is the most popular beer; it’s served in nearly every establishment. Mama Juana combines rum, red wine, honey, herbs and tree bark. It tastes somewhat like port wine. The Dominican Republic is also known for producing excellent rum.
8. The official Independence Day (from Haiti) is February 27, 1844. The government is a representative democracy and members of the police and armed forces cannot vote.
9. Fashion designer Oscar de la Renta was born in Santo Domingo in 1932.
10. Baseball is the most popular sport. Many US greats hail from the Dominican Republic, including Sammy Sosa, David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez, Albert Pujols, and Juan Marichal.
11. The country’s flag has a white cross with the national coat of arms in the center. Blue and red rectangular boxes are in either corner. Blue stands for liberty, white for salvation and red for the blood of heroes. The Dominican Republic flag is the only one with a Bible on it.
12.Spanish is the official language
The tour stopped outside a school. Barbed wire was above cinder blocks. Sadly, this is to keep children in school. It was a Saturday. School was not in session. Yet children ran alongside the bus begging for hand-outs. Prior to the tour departing we were told we could not give children anything in an effort to dissuade begging.
Peddlers of all types appear on Dominican Republic beaches. One can buy everything from trinkets to cigars while soaking up the sun. Petting a monkey, having a parrot sit on your shoulder or allowing a snake to wrap around your neck are common offers. Be prepared to say, “No thank you” quite often. If you prefer a less intrusive sunning experience, find a chair at one of the pools at your resort. Peddlers are not allowed into the resorts.
Hard Rock Resort and Casino Punta Cana
This all-inclusive resort is 18 miles Northwest of the Punta Cana airport. It boasts 13 pools, 9 restaurants, a spa, golf course and endless music memorabilia.
On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the best resort I’ve stayed in on a Caribbean island, I’d award this property a 7.
Size. The resort is 121 acres along Macao Beach. A very efficient shuttle tram service is available. More signage would be helpful for perpetually lost guests. Building names that matched the instrument painted on it would also be helpful.
All-Inclusive. It is all-inclusive but not adult only, though there is an adult-only pool (Eden) that was often quite crowded. Unsupervised pre-teens thought it hilarious to throw shampoo, etc. from the balcony onto unsuspecting guests. Younger children supervised by parents were not bothersome.
Multi-Level Guest Room. The guest room was large with two levels-one with the bed and bathroom and a step-down level with a Jacuzzi tub (for two), writing desk and chair. A spacious balcony overlooked a construction crew working on a waterscape area. One awakened to the sound of construction on all days, but Sunday. The view was quite unsatisfactory. Once construction is completed, this annoyance will disappear.
Room Amenities. Two bathrobes, two pairs of slippers, a safe, shelving and plenty of hangers were in the closet. The bathroom appeared to be as large as the living area. It had a walk-in shower with two heads and plenty of amenities that smelled like male fragrances. The dual vanity, dressing area and separate toilet area were appreciated.
The best part of the room was that it was mold and mildew free-what one often experiences with beachfront locations.
A stocked mini-fridge and liquor dispenser were behind a cabinet. The beverage cart attendant came often and was quite pleasant.
Food. None of the food at the 9 restaurants stood out as excellent. The variety was great (Mediterranean/Italian/Asian/Steak/Mexican, etc.) but the quality was average, or in some cases, below average. The ice cream stations were popular as was the food offered poolside.
Entertainment. The Michael Jackson tribute show on the lower level of the Casino was well attended. It was extremely well done by some incredibly talented performers. Andre Bocelli happened to also be performing on location during our visit. Unfortunately, we could not secure tickets. The Casino seemed popular at night. The bars were not open during the daytime when we watched basketball in the Sports Book area. We never turned on the television during our stay. More publicity for nighttime entertainment would be helpful to guests-post in pool areas, post in dining locations, ask housekeeping to leave a schedule in guest rooms, perhaps.
Housekeeping. Our service was excellent. Spotless, in fact. The chocolates were appreciated. TIP: Workers at all-inclusive resorts can be tipped. Take an envelope of $1 bills and tip where service is outstanding. It is much appreciated.
Athletics. The athletic facilities here are great but not regularly used. The mini golf course is well-designed. With resort credit it was $6 per guest for 18 holes. The basketball court and ping-pong tables in the Teen area were outstanding. The tennis courts were well maintained and the lap pool was pristine and much quieter than the adult pool. The water aerobics class was well attended daily.
Hospitality. Workers seemed happy but honestly none stood out as superior. To this day I recall resort staff names from other countries like Antigua and Jamaica. It was very disappointing to us to learn on our second day from another guest that the color of our wristband meant we had resort credits to use. We were not informed of this at check-in. It’s worth noting that we traveled here with a group. Guests were housed throughout the property and not placed in nearby rooms. TIP: If close proximity of your group is important, request this when booking. TIP: Make sure your reservation and any extra privileges are explained and understood when checking in.
Excursions. We booked a ½ day excursion through a tour company located in the Convention Center, not through the resort’s staff. TIP: This tour can be booked online prior to your arrival. Country Adventures ranks as the best tour company we’ve used in either Hawaii or any Caribbean country we’ve visited. The staff was knowledgeable, courteous and friendly. The vehicle and driver, safe. The tour was priced right. The locations were prepared for our visit and the information shared was excellent. We returned to our Resort knowing this portion of our vacation would be the most memorable.
Departure from Punta Cana Airport
• Follow the instructions given by your airline and arrive at least two hours prior to your departure time. There is a US $20 departure tax, usually built into your airline ticket.
• TSA Pre-Check does not apply here. All passengers must follow their departure instructions, including, but not limited to, 3-ounce fluids in zip locked bag, removal of shoes, electronics, etc. Each guest is also patted down by a same sex agent. Drug sniffing dogs roam all areas of the airport.
• Agriculture products and produce are not allowed to leave the country.
• A very modern food court, with restaurants familiar to all Americans, with plenty of seating is available.
• Duty free shops are abundant.
• A musical trio was performing as we waited to walk on the tarmac to board our plane.
The Dominican Republic is a country worth exploring. Be informed before you go. Get off the resort. Meet the people. Soak in the culture. Expand your knowledge of the world. Travel.
Fashion art products created from photographic images taken in Dominican Republic can be found at the “Linda’s Store” tab above under Vida Design Studio. Thank you for supporting my small business shop.
Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.
©Copyright. March 2018. Linda Leier Thomason
All Rights Reserved.