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Dominican Republic

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Majestic Colonial Punta Cana
Majestic Colonial Punta Cana - dream vacation

Arena Gorda, Carretera Macao, Punta Cana

Now Larimar Hotel Punta Cana
Now Larimar Hotel Punta Cana - dream vacation

Calle Arena Gorda, Entre Hotel Melia y Corales, Punta Cana

Not to be confused with the Caribbean island country of Dominica.

The Dominican Republic is a Caribbean country that occupies the eastern five-eighths of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. The western three-eighths of Hispaniola is occupied by the country of Haiti. To the north lies the North Atlantic Ocean, while the Caribbean Sea lies to the south.

Understand

History

Explored and claimed by Columbus on his first voyage on December 5, 1492, the island of Ayití, named by Columbus as La Hispaniola, became a springboard for Spanish conquest of the Caribbean and the American mainland.

The island was first inhabited by the Taínos and Caribes. The Caribes were an Arawakan-speaking people who had arrived around 10,000 BCE. Within a few short years following the arrival of European explorers, the population of Tainos had significantly been reduced by the Spanish conquerors. Based on Fray Bartolomé de las Casas (Tratado de las Indias) between 1492 and 1498 the Spanish conquerors killed around 100,000 Taínos.

The first European settlement founded on the American continent was located on La Isabela, founded in 1493 using a XV century style located in La Isabela, Puerto Plata (19º53'15.08" N 71º04'48.41" W). The City of Santo Domingo was founded by Bartolomé Colón, on August 5, 1496 and was later moved by Frey Nicolás de Ovando to the west side of Ozama river in 1502.

In 1606 the Royal crown of Spain ordered the depopulation of the western end of the island due to high piracy and contraband. This led to the French invasion and the establishment of Haiti.

In 1697, Spain recognized French dominion over the western third of the island, which in 1804 became Haiti. The remainder of the island, by then known as Santo Domingo, sought to gain its own independence in 1821, but was conquered and ruled by the Haitians for 22 years; it finally attained independence as the Dominican Republic in 1844.

A legacy of unsettled, mostly non-representative rule for much of its subsequent history was brought to an end in 1966 when Joaquín Balaguer was elected president for his second, non-consecutive term (he had first served from 1960-1962). He maintained a tight grip on power for most of the next 30 years, until international reaction to flawed elections forced him to curtail his last term, hold new elections in 1996, and give up power. Since then, regular competitive elections have been held every four years.

The Dominican economy has had one of the fastest growth rates in the hemisphere.

Climate

Tropical maritime with little seasonal temperature variation. There is a seasonal variation in rainfall. The island lies in the middle of the hurricane belt and is subject to severe storms from June to October. It experiences occasional flooding and periodic droughts.

Landscape

Rugged highlands and mountains with fertile valleys interspersed.

National parks

  • Los Haitises National Park
  • Jaragua National Park
  • National Park Isla Cabritos
  • Armando Bermudez National Park
  • Jose Del Carmen Ramirez National Park
  • Sierra del Bahoruco National Park
  • Parque Nacional del Este
  • Monte Cristi National Park
  • Parque Historico La Isabela

Regions

Cities

  • Santo Domingo - Capital.
  • Higüey
  • Juan Dolio
  • Puerto Plata
  • Punta Cana
  • San Pedro de Macoris
  • Santa Barbara De Samana
  • Santiago de los Caballeros
  • Sosua
  • Rio San Juan
  • La Romana - 3rd largest city
  • Hi Adrianna Island

Other destinations

  • Bayahibe
  • Bonao—secluded village
  • Cabarete
  • Constanza
  • Dominicus
  • Jarabacoa
  • Las Terrenas
  • Las Galeras
  • Miches
  • Bahia de las Aguilas
  • Playa Bonita—secluded beach strip popular with Europeans and Americans in the know

Get in

Citizens of most countries can purchase a tourist card on arrival. See Entry Requirements.

By plane

The main airports (in alphabetical order) are:

  • (AZS) Samana, also known as "El Catey", located between the towns of Nagua and Samana on the north coast.
  • (EPS) Samana, also known as "Aeropuerto Internacional Arroyo Barril" between Sanchez and Samaná
  • (JBQ) "La Isabela" airport in Santo Domingo, mainly for domestic flights but also receives some flights from other Caribbean islands
  • (LRM) La Romana on the south east coast
  • (POP) Puerto Plata, also known as "Gregorio Luperon" on the north coast
  • (PUJ) Punta Cana International Airport in the east, the busiest in the country
  • (SDQ) Santo Domingo, also known as "Las Americas" on the south coast close to the capital city Santo Domingo
  • (STI) Santiago also known as "Cibao International" in Santiago de los Caballeros (the country's 2nd largest city).
  • (COZ) Constanza, a domestic airport to all Dominican destinations.
  • (BRX) Barahona, also known as "Aeropuerto Internacional María Montez" this airpot was reopened during the earthquake in Haiti, in order to bring the primary aid to the Haitians.
  • (CBJ) Cabo Rojo, Pedernales, only for domestic use, located near Cabo Rojo port facility.

You can get flights from Europe via Madrid (MAD) or Paris (CDG). From the US, you can fly from New York, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Juan, Atlanta or Charlotte. Most European and Canadian cities have charter flight connections, which operate seasonally.

You will be charged $10 for a tourist card on arrival. This must be paid in US dollars or euros. Local currency, sterling, or other currencies will not be accepted. A departure tax of $20 cash is payable on most charter and some scheduled flights. If you are flying on a US carrier, the departure tax is always included in the taxes when you purchased your ticket, so you will not have to pay anything when leaving.

Taxi fares to nearby hotels are posted just outside the airports.

Taxi from Airport to Santo Domingo (Ciudad Colonial): it is about $40. There are no hotel "courtesy shuttles" at airports in the Dominican Republic.

By boat

There is a ferry that travels between Mayagüez in Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. The website says the journey takes 12 hours, leaves Puerto Rico on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 8PM, and arrives in Dominican Republic at 8AM the next morning.

For prices and bookings, visit the Ferries Del Caribe English website.

Get around

Options for getting around the country include bus service, 'gua-guas' (pronounced "Gwa-Gwas": small battered vans or trucks that serve as a collective taxi running fixed routes that are very cheap but can also be very overloaded), domestic air flights and charter air service. There is a rail system operating only in the city of Santo Domingo. Most towns and cities have regularly scheduled bus service, if not by one of the big bus companies, then by gua-gua. The bus lines are most often simple, independently run operations, usually only connecting two cities within a region (Southwest, East, North) or between one city and the capital (with stops made for any towns on the route). Because of the geography of the country, to get from one region of the country to another you have to go through the capital. At horariodebuses.com you can check bus timetables between destinations in the country.

By car

Cars may be rented through Hertz, Avis, Prestige Car Rentals or other agencies in Santo Domingo and other major cities. Gasoline, however, is expensive often costing upward of US$5.75/gallon (as of March 2011). Some roads, especially in remote areas, are fairly dangerous (often without lane divisions) and many people tend not to respect oncoming traffic. Road conditions on most major highways are roughly similar to road conditions in the United States and western Europe. However, potholes and rough spots are not rapidly repaired and drivers must be aware that there are a significant number of rough spots even on some major highways. There are a number of very good roads such as DR-1 which is a four lane highway connecting the cities of Santo Domingo and Santiago and can be traveled with no trouble. Highway DR-7 is an excellent toll road opened in late 2008. It goes from just east of Santo Domingo north to near Sanchez. From there, you can go east to the Samana peninsula or west along the northern coast of the DR and costs about USD11.

Probably the biggest challenge that an international visitor to the Dominican Republic will face if he or she chooses to rent a car is not so much dealing with automobile traffic, but rather avoiding accidentally running over pedestrians who cross poorly-lit streets and highways in the evening and nighttime hours. Lack of head/taillights on cars and especially motorcycles is also not unusual and with motorcycles this makes them extremely hard to spot. The best recommendation is not to drive after dusk. Outside of Santo Domingo, the motorbike (motoconcho) is an extremely common form of travel. If lost, you can hail a motorbike driver (motochonchista) and ask for directions. You will be taken to your destination by following the bike. A tip is appropriate for such help. Remember that many of these motorbike drivers look upon road rules as only recommendations. However, driving in the Dominican Republic should not be particularly difficult for experienced drivers from North America or Europe.

Guaguas (local buses)

Guaguas are the traditional means of transport in the Dominican Republic. Guaguas will be filled to the brink with people and luggage; expect to squeeze to fit more people who will be picked up en route. If you prefer authentic experience over comfort, traveling by guagua is the right choice.

Guagua comfort can range from air conditioned with leather seats to a bit worn down with open window air breeze cooling. Traveling with guaguas is safe, and tourists are treated friendly and get helped out.

You can also hop on mid way if you know where to stand on the route and gesture the driver; tell the conductor your destination and he'll tell you where to get off and how to switch guaguas; sometimes you'll have to ride across town to another bus station.

Prices are modest: RD$100-150 for a 1-2 hour ride. Since most guaguas are minibusses, you might have to stow your luggage on a seat; in this case you might have to pay a fee for the occupied seat. Larger routes get serviced by normal sized buses with a separate storage compartment.

Be aware that guaguas stop operating at dusk. Plan your trip with enough slack that you will be able to catch your last guagua when the sun is still up.

The guagua network is organic and does not require you to go through the capital; you might have to change several times though, as guaguas usually only connect two major cities.

Long-haul buses

Caribe Tours, based out of the capital, is the biggest bus company, and has coverage in most regions that are not well-served by the other 'official' bus companies. Unlike taxis and gua-guas, Caribe Tour rates are fixed by destination and are extremely reasonable due to government subsidies. Expect to pay under RD$250 for even the longest trips. Caribe Tour buses typically run from 7AM to 4PM (with departures approx. every two hours) and cover most major cities. On longer trips, expect a short (10 minute) stop for coffee and lunch. Buses are fairly luxurious with movies playing for the entire trip and air conditioning (which can be extremely cold - bring a sweater). Another option is the slightly more expensive Metrobus bus company. Metrobus serves the northern and eastern part of the country. The 'unofficial' gua-gua system covers nearly every road on the island for some moderate savings (if you don't mind being packed in).

In short, bus services across the country are comfortable and a good value. The buses are clean, air conditioned (bring sweater), usually play a VHS movie, and are pretty inexpensive, costing no more than RD$300 one way cross-country (less than $10).

Taxi services are available but potentially dangerous when dealing with unlicensed drivers. In all cases, it's a good idea to go with a licensed driver and negotiate a price for your destination before you leave. Good drivers are often easy to identify by licenses worn around the neck, uniforms, and clean air conditioned vehicles. When calling a taxi company, you will be given a number to verify your driver. When being picked up, make sure your driver gives you the right number as 'false pickups' are often a prelude to robbery.

Another way to get out and about is to book an excursion with one of the many representatives at most local hotels and resorts.

Talk

The official language of the Dominican Republic is Spanish. You will find some Spanish-English bilingual locals especially in Santo Domingo and tourist areas. If you speak some Spanish, most Dominicans will try hard to meet you half way and communicate. If you have a problem, you can probably find someone who speaks sufficient English (or probably French and possibly German, Italian or Russian) to help you out. Dominicans are quite friendly and will be quite helpful if you are polite and respectful. Haitians living in the DR may speak Haitian Creole and you may hear a few African and Arawakan words interspersed with the Spanish, especially in rural areas. Communication should not be a problem even for those who speak only a minimum of Spanish. If you are traveling to one of the large all-inclusive hotels, you will have no language problems.

See

There is just one UNESCO World Heritage Site; the old town of Santo Domingo which is the oldest European city in the Americas. In addition to that there are many national parks and beaches in the country.

Do

Climb/hike to the top of Pico Duarte. At 3,098m it's not only the highest mountain in the Dominican Republic but in the whole Caribbean.

Buy

Money

The currency of the Dominican Republic is the Dominican peso denoted by the symbol "$" or "RD$" (ISO code: DOP). Wikivoyage uses "RD$" for clarity.

At airports and harbors you can change your US dollars and euros in Dominican pesos, though the rates there are not great. It makes sense to get only as many pesos as necessary there and change more later on at your destination or to just withdraw pesos from an ATM with your credit- or debit-card. Note that you may not be able to exchange back Dominican pesos to US dollars and Euros in most countries, so do it before leaving.

In most cities one can find a Banco Popular and Scotiabank - their ATMs allow withdrawals with Visa, Mastercard and Maestro. They usually impose a very low limit but allow several withdrawals at once. Even though it is possible to withdraw money in the bank directly, most will flatly refuse this and point one at their ATMs. Unless one is very proficient in Spanish and willing to fight this out with the staff one has to obey (and thus pay a fee for every withdrawal - between RD$100 and RD$200). Depending on the season the limits change - in high season the limits are higher, in low season they go lower. It always makes sense to try a value that ends in 900 if the 1000 don't work (e.g. if 4000 is over the limit, try 3900 first before trying 3000).

Shopping

One of the best spots in the Colonial District of Santo Domingo to shop is the several blocks long outdoor mall, El Conde Street. It offers everything from street vendors (it is not recommended to eat off these) to knock-off name brand clothing for extremely inexpensive prices. There are some very pleasant outdoor restaurants that serve as perfect spots to people watch and drink Presidente (their most popular beer).

During the day, there are also several touristy shops where you can buy cheap presents for the family back home including authentic paintings and beautiful jewelry. There is also a very nice cigar shop at the end of the mall across from the cathedral. Clothes, however, are generally very economical and often of good quality. Most prices can be negotiated. US dollars are accepted in most areas.

Drink

  • Beer: Presidente, Brahma, Bohemia
  • Rum: Brugal, Barcelo, Bermudez, Macorix, Siboney, Punta Cana.
  • Mama Juana: a mixture of bark and herbs left to soak in rum, red wine and honey.

Additionally, other imported drinks are available for purchase—at least in the towns and cities—they might not be as readily available out in the countryside.

Do not drink tap water! Locals, even in the most rural areas, will either boil their water or purchase bottled water. Eating salads or other food that may be washed in tap water is not advisable. Ice is a bad idea as well, except in luxury hotels and restaurants (which produce ice from bottled water). If you plan on cooking or washing dishes for longer stays, it is a good idea to rinse everything with bottled or boiled water before use.

Eat

Food in the Dominican Republic is typical Caribbean fare, with lots of tropical fruits, rice, beans, and seafood. Most restaurant meals will cost an additional 16% tax plus 10% service: for very good service, it is customary to leave an additional 10%.

Sleep

Lodging in the Dominican Republic is plentiful, with options ranging from huge, all-inclusive beach resorts to more personal options scattered along the coasts and in the cities. Hotels charge a 25% room tax, so inquire beforehand to determine if that tax is included (often the case) in the listed room price.

Learn

Many US universities offer study abroad options for the Dominican Republic. The two most common cities hosting exchange students are Santo Domingo and Santiago. Check with local universities for programs and prices. Spanish language schools are located in major cities and on the north coast as well.

Work

Most companies do not require anything more than a passport to work. There are a lot of US companies in the country, especially in Santo Domingo and DN (the National District). There are good opportunities for English speaking employees. The country has several free zones, lots of them in the call center area.

Volunteering

There are several volunteer opportunities in the Dominican Republic. Many worldwide organizations offer extended travel for anyone willing to volunteer their time to work with locals on projects such as community development, conservation, wildlife sanctuary maintenance & development, scientific research, and education programs.

  • Orphanage Outreach
  • Dominican Foundation
  • International Student Volunteers Dominican Republic
  • The DREAM Project
  • Peace Corps Dominican Republic
  • IDDI

Stay safe

The Dominican Republic is generally a safe country. Although the major cities of Santo Domingo and Santiago have experienced the growth of a thriving middle class, construction booms and reached a high level of cosmopolitanism, the Dominican Republic remains a third world country and poverty is still rampant so you need to take common sense precautions:

  • Try to avoid being alone in cities as muggings are fairly common.
  • Very few streets are lit after dark, even in the capital of Santo Domingo. Those that are lit are subject to routine power outages.
  • Wild dogs are common throughout the country but largely ignore people (feeding these dogs is not recommended as this may induce aggressive behavior).
  • Western travelers should dress casually and remove rings and other jewelry when away from tourist destinations, but common tourist destinations, particularly the more expensive and the luxury hotels and areas, are very safe.
  • Sex tourism is prevalent in the Puerto Plata province of the country, so you may be hassled by young men or women trying to offer you 'services'. A firm 'No' is good enough. The age of consent is 18, and tourists who have sex with minors may also be prosecuted by their home country.
  • There are no laws dictating the maximum amount of alcohol that can be drunk prior to driving. However, there is a 0.05% limit for professional drivers. Be wary of vehicles, especially during the late evening, as there is a much higher possibility at that time that the driver is intoxicated. It is illegal for tourists and visitors to drink and drive and besides it being a bad idea you may be penalized for doing so.
  • The level of professionalism of the National Police is somewhat debatable. To protect income from tourism, the government has established the Politur or "tourist police" for the safety of foreign tourists. Travelers should contact this agency if any problems are encountered as they will have a much more positive response than with the national police.

Stay healthy

Malaria can be a rare issue around rainforests if travelers don't take protective measures such as repellents against mosquito bites. No cases have been reported over the past 8 years within the tourist areas. Be sure to consult with a physician before departure.

There is a risk of dengue fever and chikungunya fever which is contracted through mosquitoes that bite during the day and during some seasons of the year. No vaccine is available, so again using mosquito repellent is advisable.

Many of the local foods are safe to eat including the meats, fruits, and vegetables.

Visitors, however, should not drink any of the local water and should stay with bottled water or other beverages. It is important for visitors to stay hydrated in the hot, humid climate.

Sunburn and sun poisoning are a great risk. The sun is very bright here. Use at least SPF30 sunblock. Limit sun exposure.

The country's adult HIV/AIDS prevalence is reaching 2.0% or 1 in 50 adults, which is almost 3 times higher than the USA. Practice safe sex.

Respect

Dominicans are kind and peaceful people. Attempts at speaking Spanish are a good sign of respect for the local people. Be polite, show respect, and do your best to speak the language, and you will be treated with kindness.

Avoid talking about Haiti. Although relations have improved, many Dominicans, particularly of the older generations, harbor resentment towards Haitians. Santo Domingo was invaded and occupied by Haiti for a good part of the 19th century, and the Dominican Republic actually fought its first war of independence against Haiti, not Spain, after which the Dominican Republic faced several other invasions from its neighbor.

Trujillo's dictatorship massacred tens of thousands of Haitians in the 1930s, which fueled the resentment between both nations. Nowadays, about a million Haitians (which is a lot considering the small populations of either country) live in the Dominican Republic, most of them illegally. Some Dominicans' opinions towards illegal immigrants from Haiti are similar to some Americans' attitudes towards Mexican illegal immigrants, with the major difference that, unlike the US, the Dominican Republic is a small and poor country by world standards, but still much much richer and more stable than Haiti. Gang wars can erupt along the border, so stay cautious and be sensitive.

Still, the issues remain very complex and Dominicans often find their position to be misunderstood by foreigners. For example, the Dominican Republic was the first country to come to Haiti's aid in the 2010 Haitian earthquake and has made impressive efforts to help its neighbor during this crisis. This shows that despite their historical, linguistic, religious, cultural and ethnic differences, Haitians and Dominicans still consider each other to be brotherly, yet proudly independent, nations.

When staying at the luxury resorts or really any place in the Dominican Republic, it is advisable to tip for most services. The Dominican Republic is still a fairly poor country and tipping the people who serve you helps them better their sometimes dire economic situation.

Connect

Vibrant colours, friendly people, classic cars rattling down potholed streets, interesting geology, amazing beaches. Rum. Cigars. Music. Cuba is spectacular.

The country’s turbulent history has left it stranded in time in some regards: there are only 21 cars per thousand residents, pay phones are still a major form of communication, the Internet is almost completely absent. A visit to Cuba means cutting yourself off from the world a little (or a lot) — it’s a full immersion experience.

Pinterest pinPin me on Pinterest!Tourists are a major source of income for the country in general and for local people in particular; sometimes we felt like walking wallets as everyone wanted a share of our money. We were constantly saying no to offers of taxis, meals in restaurants, drinks in bars, erotic services. It’s understandable though: while the socialist government makes sure everyone has the bare minimum to survive, locals don’t have a lot of luxury. The tourist dollar is a way to supplement the average salary of less than US$20 a month.

Despite this, we found Cuba to be very reasonably priced: we stayed in casas particulares (local houses that rent out rooms) rather than hotels, and picked up snacks from street vendors rather than always eating out. Transport was the big expense, but didn’t break the bank, tours weren’t too expensive either, and a mojito in a bar could cost as little as US$2.

To listen, hit play below or find episode 312 in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud:

Where is Cuba?

Cuba an island nation in the Caribbean Sea. The main island is the largest in the Caribbean, and the country also includes thousands of smaller islands as well. The US and the Bahamas are to the north, Mexico is to the west (Cancun is a 45-minute flight from Cuba’s capital, Havana) and Jamaica is to the south. A chain of Caribbean islands stretches off to the east, starting with Hispaniola, the island which houses both Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

A tiny bit of Cuban history

Cuba was inhabited by various mesoamerican tribes until 1492, when Christopher Columbus landed and claimed it for Spain. After 400 years of Spanish rule, it was briefly ruled by the US after the American-Spanish war, and gained independence in 1902. The twentieth century was a turbulent one, most notable for the Mafia invasion during American Prohibition followed by the 1959 revolution which overthrew a dictator and brought in Fidel Castro as leader of a now-communist society.

This revolution saw all land holdings over 400 hectares appropriated by the government, with no compensation given to the landowners. Since a huge proportion of the land seized belonged to US citizens, the USA was understandably angry and not only stopped all trade with Cuba, but also prohibited its citizens from visiting the country. President Obama has recently overturned the embargo, so Americans will be able to legally visit very soon. This, along with the loosening of restrictions for Cubans to start small businesses means that change is on its way to Cuba — visit now if you want to see a society on the brink of change.

Cayo Jutia beach CubaCuba is pretty great for beaches.

Get to Cuba

Some cruise ships stop at Cuba, but there aren’t any ferries at present to other countries. This will be changing soon when US Americans have free movement to Cuba; we found several websites advertising ferry services from Florida, which will start operations as soon as it’s permitted.

This means that you’ll almost certainly arrive by air, and probably into Havana. The easiest way to get into the city is by taxi, which costs 20-25 CUC. Until recently, passenger flying out of Cuba were charged a 25 CUC departure tax: this was abolished on May 1, 2015.

A car in Trinidad, a href=The best way to get around Cuba is by taxi… and that might mean a car like this one.

A word about money in Cuba

We read a lot about Cuba before heading there, and most of the articles dwelt heavily on the country’s dual currency system. It’s nowhere near as hard to grasp as these articles will make you think — don’t worry about it!

The currency you’ll be using the most is the convertible peso, or the CUC. It’s pegged 1:1 to the US dollar, so one CUC is the same as a US dollar — easy, right?

The other currency is the moneda nacional (MN or CUP). One CUC is worth 24 MN, and it’s definitely worth carrying some of these, in a separate wallet if possible. You can use them to buy street food like pizza, pastries and sandwiches, as well as drinks and ice cream from vendors or fruit from street carts. If you don’t have any MN on you, many vendors will accept CUC and give change in MN — just make sure to give the smallest denomination possible as they won’t have change for 20 CUC.

Many government-run shops will now accept both currencies and display prices in both CUC and MN. Apparently the dual-currency system is on its way out, but this might take some time!

A typical Havana street. A typical Havana street.

Getting money in Cuba

It can be a challenge to get your hands on Cuban cash. It’s not transferable outside of the country, so you’ll have to wait until you’re there to get it, and that often means standing in ridiculously long lines. The information below was correct as of mid-December 2015.

We decided to rely on plastic, and had no problems withdrawing cash from the ATM at the airport using a Visa debit card. There are ATMs on the departures floor and at the exchange office outside Arrivals. (Turn right out of the door, and — if no-one is using the ATM — talk to the security guard to skip the queue.)

Our Visa Debit worked everywhere, however, most regular debit or MasterCard debit cards don’t work at all, and US cards won’t work either. You can also withdraw from a Visa credit card, but you’ll get charged interest immediately on the amount you take out so it’s not an economical option.

There’s a 3% fee on all ATM withdrawals and currency exchanges, so when we withdrew 800 CUC at the airport, it cost us US$824 plus our normal bank charges.

The other way is to bring cash and change it at a bank or cadeca exchange office. Don’t bring US dollars as there’s an extra 10% tax on them: pounds, euros and Canadian dollars are your best bet. Be prepared to wait in line, usually outside the office: a security guard allows one person to enter at a time.

Trinidad CubaGoing to Cuba can feel like going back in time.

Where to go in Cuba

Havana

Havana seemed to be crumbling around us, with many buildings in a bad state of repair and piles of rubbish decorating the streets. It’s an interesting place to wander around; though — we used an app to explore the main sights but didn’t go into any of the museums. Make sure to see the Capitol building, the pleasantly asymmetrical cathedral, the Castillo de Real Fuerza fortress, and the Partagas tobacco factory. Walk along the malecón (seawall) and buy snacks from the peso shops of street vendors using moneda nacional. We did a tour of one of the tobacco factories, which was very interesting, though quite short. Tickets cost 10 CUC and you have to buy them from any one of the big hotels in the city centre, not from the factory itself.

Viñales

Viñales has boomed in recent years to become a tourist hub. Almost all of the houses are casas particulares and budget street food is hard to come by. It’s worth a visit though: do a tour of the national park on foot or by horse to see tobacco and coffee plantations, visit a cave and swim in a small lake. It’s also a good base for heading to one of the beaches on the northern coast: Cayo Levisa and Cayo Jutias are both around 60km and 90 minutes drive away. Going to Cayo Levisa means hopping on a day tour as going independently is a lot more expensive; we chose Cayo Jutias as it was a little cheaper to get there and seemed less commercial and more laid back.

Viñales, CubaViñales, Cuba

Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Santa Clara

Just an hour or two away from each other, these three colonial cities are all worth a visit. We spent two days each in Trinidad and Cienfuegos, and just visited Santa Clara for the Che Guevara memorial. Trinidad was great for the nightly outdoor concerts at the Casa de la Musica, and Cienfuegos charmed us with its beautiful colonial buildings and seaside location.

Other destinations in Cuba

Twelve days isn’t enough to scratch Cuba’s surface. We limited ourselves to the western side of the island due to time constraints, but there’s plenty to see on the other side as well. We’ve heard that Santiago de Cuba and Guardadlavaca are interesting cities, and there’s snorkelling, scuba diving and hiking opportunities all over the place. There’s no overnight hiking possible: everything we found out about required a guide, a park fee and only comprised 4-15km loops (1-4 hours, maximum hiking time).

Eating in Cuba

Rumours of terrible food in Cuba didn’t match our experience there. Perhaps because new private restaurants have a financial incentive to ensure customers enjoy their food and come back for more, we found the food to be pretty good, on the whole. There was certainly a lot of rice and beans, but in almost every restaurant we could choose from chicken, pork, beef, shrimp or lobster, and side dishes of vegetables were also available. For variety, we had the occasional hamburger or pasta dish, and bought snacks from street stalls in moneda nacional.

As well as eating in restaurants, we also had dinner in our casa particular at least once during each stay. We found the food to be excellent in each case, and the price (7 or 8CUC per person) to be fair. If you’re travelling solo, prices may be a little higher to offset the labour-to-income ratio.

Drink and smoke

Cuba is famous for rum, and for good reason — it’s fantastic. We stuck to Havana Club, the best quality of the brands available, and also the brand you’re most likely to find in bars. Choose from white rum (3 year old) or barrel-aged darker varieties, such as our favourite, the Añejo 7 años. Our cocktail of choice was the mojito, but the daiquiri was also created in Cuba if you want to try it out.

We don’t smoke as a rule, but a few puffs on a Cuban cigar is an experience worth having. Buy your cigars from a temperature-controlled store if at all possible, and never buy on the street. You can tour the cigar factory that produces Partagas, Romeo y Juliet and Cohiba in Havana and see the more casual way cigars are rolled in the tobacco plantations near Viñales.

A tobacco farm in Viñales, a href=Visit a tobacco farm while you’re in Viñales, Cuba.

Get around

The Viazul buses provide a comfortable journey between Cuba’s main cities, but places are limited in high season and you’ll need to buy your tickets (in person) a day or two in advance. Your other option is to hire a car and driver, which we found to be the most convenient way to travel as we were a group of four. Prices are similar to what you’ll pay for the bus, though you might be able to negotiate a small discount if you’re lucky.

Solo travellers can book a seat in a car travelling in the direction they’re heading, though drivers might try to cram four people in the backseat to earn more money. You can ask for advice at the Infotur office in each city, or your casa particular host might have a contact for you.

Classic car in a href=Cuba is full of awesome classic cars.

Warnings

Most Cubans earn less than US$20 per month, which isn’t really enough to live on. Tourists represent a chance to earn more, and while many people have legitimate businesses, others make a living through scams. Jineteros (touts) are a constant issue: they get a commission if they take you to a casa particular or restaurant, so you’ll end up paying more than you should if you show up somewhere with one in tow. Some restaurants seemed to charge different prices depending on the day, and Craig was once charged three times as much as he should have been for a lemonade by a waitress who wanted to line her pockets. It’s hard to avoid all the scams all the time, even for experienced travellers, so be prepared to be ripped off at least once during your trip.

Final thoughts

Cuba is a fascinating country that’s slowly incorporating capitalist values into its socialist system. You’ll undoubtably be frustrated by its contradictions, but it’s definitely worth a visit.

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Hear about travel to the Dominican Republic as the Amateur Traveler talks to guidebook author and travel writer Lebawit Lily Girma who is working on the Moon Guide to the Dominican Republic.

Bushwick

What makes Bushwick so weird?

It’s the brightly painted warehouses that you can’t tell are functional or abandoned.

It’s galleries that double as yoga studios and coffeeshops that double as life drawing classes.

It’s strange parties in abandoned furniture stores where people wear crazy costumes.

It’s being hit on by guys who always end their catcalls with “God bless you.”

Bushwick

A Brooklyn Unlike Brooklyn

Of all the neighborhoods I’ve visited in Brooklyn (not all of them, not by a long shot, but a great many), Bushwick stands out as being the least like the others. Rather than brownstones or high-rises, this is an industrial-looking neighborhood of warehouses, many of them covered with bright paint. Everything is spread out.

Bushwick isone of the largest Latino neighborhoods in Brooklyn with sizable populations from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Bushwick was a rough neighborhood for a long time — a blackout in 1977 led to mass riots and you can still see some damage to this day. The neighborhood began to turn a corner in the mid-2000s, when the city began pouring much-needed financial resources into the neighborhood.

Then came the Williamsburg factor.

In the early 2000s, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, went from being a no-go zone to the hipster artist enclave of New York City. Over the past decade, however, Williamsburg has gone from hip to yuppie and has become one of the most desirable (and thus expensive) neighborhoods in New York City.

Bushwick

Many low-income Williamsburg residents, including artists, were pushed out as a result, and many of them moved immediately southeast — to Bushwick. Now Bushwick’s longtime residents are dealing with an influx of gentrification. I don’t think Bushwick will ever be on the same level as Williamsburg, but you see a troubling number of luxury buildings popping up.

How is gentrification affect longtime residents? Both positively and negatively, as it always does. Bushwick’s crime rate is lower than it’s been in decades, yes, and those who own property are seeing their values go up. But most people are trapped in a neighborhood progressively growing more expensive by the day.

I strongly considered living in Bushwick at one point; after spending a few days there, I declared it a little too “out there” for me and decided to live elsewhere and visit often. (For the record, I think you get much more value for money in Hamilton Heights, where I live now, plus the rents are cheaper.)

Jessie in Bushwick

Touring Bushwick

Bushwick is the only place in New York that I recommend visiting with a guide or someone who knows the neighborhood well. Not because it’s dangerous — far from it — but because so much of it is hidden in plain sight.

Take this, for example:

Little Skips Bushwick

That’s my favorite coffeeshop in the neighborhood, Little Skips. Aside from a few bright bursts of paint, you’d have no idea there was anything there, let alone a cool coffeeshop. And that’s one of the more obvious ones!

Lots of places in Bushwick are like that — you pass right by without knowing what’s inside, and they don’t advertise it. In that way, the neighborhood reminds me of Melbourne, Australia.

For that reason, it’s great to go with a guide. And I received a chance to do so on a Bushwick Beer, Bites & Art #Instawalk, a tour created by my good friend Jessie.

Now, Jessie is not just a girl who does tours — she is a certified New York City tour guide. With Jessie, you get a professional tour and a real insider’s look to Bushwick, as she’s lived here for years.

Jessie invited me, along with two of our blogger friends, on a complimentary tour through the neighborhood.

Bushwick Cappuccino Black and White

Cappuccino Demonstration

Our first stop was at a cafe called Italo, where we had a cappuccino- and mocha-making demonstration. It’s a warm and homey cafe and I recommend stopping in!

Bushwick Cappuccino Black and WhiteBushwick CappuccinoBushwick Cappuccino Black and White

(I love these pictures so much! Thank you, Brooklyn hipsters, for dressing vintage-y and making it look like these are pictures from decades ago!)

Kate in Bushwick

Street Art Galore

The street art is everywhere in Bushwick. Here are some of my favorite pieces:

BushwickBushwick Street ArtBushwick Street Art

This is just the briefest of tastes. There is SO MUCH.

Bushwick Beer and Meat

Beer and Meat Tasting

One of the highlights was stopping at Hops and Hocks, an adorable specialty store featuring food products from all over Brooklyn and the region. Yes, they have artisanal mayonnaise.

Here Jessie arranged for us to have a beer and meat tasting. And it was out of this world! They actually had a beer flavored like Samoa (Caramel DeLite) Girl Scout Cookies! And some chorizo-like Croatian meat that blew my mind.

Mast Chocolate

SCANDALOUS CHOCOLATE! (If you’ve got time, read up on the Mast Brothers’ chocolate scandal. It’s juicy as hell. This is a good starting point.)

Bushwick

Odds and Ends

Here are some of my other favorite photos from the day:

Bushwick

This is one of the creepier courtyards I’ve ever seen.

Bushwick

Creepiest of all — that skeleton!

Kate in Bushwick

Pure Bushwick: sitting in a bicycle chair next to a thrown-out Christmas tree. In February.

Bushwick

Welcome home! This is an artists’ enclave, unsurprisingly.

Bushwick Scary Van

All this van needs is a FREE CANDY sign…

Bushwick Fire Hydrant

Cool water on a chilly day.

Bushwick

I love how these heads are illuminated.

Chocolate Factory Bushwick

Chocolate Factory? YES, PLEASE!

Raw Chocolate Bushwick

We were just there to gorge on the free samples. And I might have bought a teeny-tiny chocolate bar for five dollars, but maaaaaan. That salty chocolate was TASTY.

Bushwick Rum

We ended up at a rum distillery. (How amazing does this bartender look?)

Bushwick Rum

Cheers to a day very well spent.

Bushwick

The Takeaway

This was one of the best days that I’ve had in New York City so far! I’m totally serious. I loved this tour, I loved the neighborhood, and I loved the camaraderie.

Bushwick is such a cool and different place, and spending time there makes me feel like I know New York on a more intimate level. If you’re visiting New York, I recommend getting beyond the quintessential sights that everyone visits. Bushwick is a way to do that.

Avocado Toast at Dillinger's in Bushwick

A Final Note — My Favorite Bushwick Eats

If you do this tour, extend your time in Bushwick long enough to have a meal! These are all places that I discovered when spending a week here last fall.

If you’re up for coffee and a sandwich, the aforementioned Little Skips is my favorite coffeeshop in Bushwick and one of my favorites in New York. Another great option is Dillinger’s, where they do a lovely matcha latte and avocado toast, pictured above. (These are both located close to where the tour starts, so you may want to go beforehand.)

Roberta’s is one of the iconic pizzerias of New York City — and definitely one of the hippest. Ask for the Bee Sting, which comes topped with honey and soppressata. (It’s always available, even if they tell you they’re only serving off the menu that night.)

983 (Bushwick’s Living Room) is a warm, cozy place with truly excellent down-home comfort food. I got the chicken under a brick, on my server’s recommendation, and it was SO flavorful!

Two restaurants I have on my list to try soon are the Arrogant Swine, which specializes in Eastern North Carolina-style barbecue, and Northeast Kingdom, which specializes in ingredients and dishes from Vermont.

Essential Info: I visited Bushwick on the Bushwick Beer, Bites, & Art #Instawalk tour with NYC Tours and Photo Safaris.

The tour takes 3.5 hours and costs $65 per person, which I think is a very fair price for a great tour in New York City.

In the tour, you’ll visit local Bushwick businesses, do tastings, see a lot of street art, hear about history, and learn tips for getting great photos on your smartphone or regular camera. Your Instagram will be set for weeks!

Note: our tour was slightly altered from the itinerary. Speak to Jessie personally if you want to do this tour exactly as we did.

Jessie can also customize a tour to your preferences. If you like this tour but don’t eat meat, or drink alcohol, she can create a tour featuring what you like personally. She even customized a tour for someone who wanted to photograph interesting textures!

See the calendar and book now here.

Many thanks to Jessie and NYC Tours & Photo Safaris for hosting me on a complimentary tour. All opinions, as always, are my own.

What’s the weirdest place you’ve ever visited?Inside Bushwick: The Weirdest Place in New York City

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With razor-thin profit margins, hotels are getting downright sneaky with their tactics to fill rooms. In an effort to avoid being sued, I won’t call them outright “scams” or “bait and switch” tactics.

No, these fall into more of a gray area. Enough plausible deniability on the hotel’s part (“What? We told you there was free Wi-Fi … we just didn’t say where.”), but still plenty annoying from a traveler’s perspective.

Here are five of the worst, most deceptive tactics many hotels are using these days to mislead unsuspecting travelers.

#1: Deceptive Room Categories

Hotels use a number of empty adjectives to pretty-up their otherwise not-so-pretty rooms. These days, “Deluxe” and “Superior” are to hotel rooms what “gourmet” and “artisanal” are to lousy food: completely meaningless. Not to mention, the word “superior” is relative. It’s senseless to use it to describe an entry-level room.

“Garden” is another one. While sometimes accurate, more often than not, it’s code for “your balcony offers sweeping views of our parking lot full of dumpsters.”

But the mother of them all is “Oceanview”. Again, sometimes it’s accurate, but it’s often only technically accurate. “No, no … you can totally see the water. You just have to stand on the balcony air conditioning unit and cock your head like so …”

Man Sitting on Hotel Bed © Daniel Zedda

#2: Free (But Very Limited) Wi-Fi

(That any hotel is still charging for Wi-Fi these days is mind-boggling. It’s a disgraceful, Ryanair-style tactic. But we’ll talk about that another time …)

These days, hotels are instead touting “FREE WI-FI!” However, they never quite nail down exactly where the Wi-Fi is free. Can I actually get it, ya know, in my room? Or is it only available in the lobby? Or sometimes in the lobby? Or in the third-floor janitor’s closet? And is it a high-speed connection or can I actually hear the modem connecting a la AOL circa 1997?

I once stayed at a five-star resort in Africa where the “free” Wi-Fi was only available from one particular chair in the lobby during a one-hour window every afternoon. I’m not kidding. While not every hotel is quite that bad, it’s still a deceptive tactic and they know it.

#3: Hidden “Resort Fee” Charge

This one is particularly insidious and it’s exploded in popularity in the last few years. The gist is simple: charge guests a one-time fee for simple, often essential, amenities. Want to visit the gym, use the Wi-Fi, or drink the bottled water in your room? Yeah, that’s a $20 upcharge. Daily.

What’s worse is that it’s cropping up in hotels that are far from “resorts”. Most hotels reveal this surcharge somewhere, but it’s often intentionally buried on their website’s fine print or on one of the multiple papers you hurriedly signed at check-in. If you visit a handful of hotels each year, chances are you’ve already paid this fee at some point and not even known it.

Abandoned hotel in Phoenix Phoenix’s Finest Hotel © Kevin Dooley

#4: When “All-inclusive” Really Isn’t

I know it’s weird, but “all-inclusive” used to mean every last thing was included in your stay: food, booze, watersports, shows, and access to every restaurant on the property. No more. Now, almost every “all-inclusive” resort is really “mostly-inclusive” or, even worse, “kinda-inclusive”.

Resorts are now saving the best food for their a la carte (read: not included) restaurants, where the additional fees are sometimes $50 USD or more per couple, not including booze. And they would historically only charge for things like jet skiing or scuba diving. Now, even basics like kayaking and use of snorkel equipment are extra.

At an “all-inclusive” property (sorry, but that term requires quotes every time) in the Dominican Republic recently, the staff provided me with a list of what was and was not included with my stay. The “additional fee” list was almost twice as long as the inclusions.

#5: “City” Hotels That Aren’t Anywhere Near the City

This final tactic is cropping up especially in suburbs throughout the United States. It’s the “City Hotel, but Not Really” naming-scheme. I’m talking about when you book “Joe’s Goodtime Boston Beantown Resort” with dreams of walking to the city’s best bars, shops, and restaurants … only to realize that Joe evidently doesn’t own a map. Because Joe’s Boston Resort is actually 50 minutes outside the city.

While they’re not technically doing anything illegal here, this is intentionally misleading and they know it. And, while travelers should always do their research before visiting a destination, they still shouldn’t be hoodwinked into thinking they’re staying somewhere — or at least near somewhere — that they aren’t.

The Bottom Line

As with anything, the key is scrutiny. Hotels count on intentionally obscuring or misleading travelers, knowing full well that you won’t realize “Free Wi-Fi” doesn’t actually mean “Free Wi-Fi in your room” until you check-in. And, by then, it’s too late. Do your research, read plenty of reviews carefully, and always call the hotel directly with any questions.

The post 5 Sleaziest Tricks Hotels Are Using to Screw You Over appeared first on Vagabondish.

All photos by the author

“We are surviving to death.”

This was what one sharp-witted 26-year old girl from Guantanamo tells me over beers in a cafe on Calle Obispo, a lively street near Habana Vieja.

No one’s starving to death on the streets. If you have a bad leg or a bad heart, the doctor’ll fix you right up at zero cost to you. There are beggars, but it’s not uncommon to spot the same person a few blocks away in a suit, clicking away on his smartphone or ordering a coffee at a hotel cafe. Many pull in more money per day than the doctor who treats him, so the girl tells me.

“I think my stork got lazy and dropped me off in the wrong country,” she continues, ordering another Bucanero. “I shouldn’t have been born here.” She’d moved to Havana a year earlier when her heavy metal rocker boyfriend offered to pay for her travels (though he was still married to his wife). Despite speaking near-fluent English, she can’t work without a proper Havana residence permit, so she spends most of her days in their apartment. They rely on the income her boyfriend pulls in from selling tourist trap trinkets in a marketplace a few blocks away. He is one of the lucky ones. With an average income of $5–10 per day, he makes more than the vast majority of people who survived on ~$20 a month at a government job. This includes doctors, lawyers, and bankers — the people who usually pull in the biggest salaries in most other countries.

“In America, workers are like this,” one casa particular owner said, making a triangle with his hands. “The people who use their brains are at the top while the people who use their muscles are at the bottom. But here it’s the opposite.” He flipped the triangle upside down so that the apex was now on the bottom. “Here in Cuba, the smartest people make the least money and work the longest hours.” His daughter works as a obstetrician and delivered more than 15 babies the night before. This was a regular day. She makes less than 600pesos per month (~24 USD). Yet he said that “doctor” is still one of the most desired jobs among students. “You save lives. Everyone knows you and everyone respects you,” he said, explaining the conflict between wanting a fulfilling job and longing for a more comfortable life. He had worked as a mining engineer until a series of kidney problems forced him to retire. His days became a cycle of eat, sleep, eat, sleep, interspersed with visits from his daughters. He sat on a plastic stool outside his house, watching people walk by.

He said a visit from President Obama and Brian Chesky, the founder of Airbnb, a year earlier had changed his life.

“We all looked at this young guy who had built his business from scratch and grown his business like crazy in just a few years. Not even 40 years old,” he said, adjusting his Yankees baseball cap. “He said any of us could do it.” With the help of his younger daughter who had picked up some English working as a journalist for a government magazine, he put up his two free rooms on Airbnb and had already started construction on a third floor where he would add another two rooms for rent. He’d made enough money to buy a motorcycle, and he would take his wife on it on weekends to Malecon’s seaside.

For many Cubans, tourism has become the primary escape from a low-paying government job and speaking English is often a gateway into new opportunities. Our biking tour guide, a 22-year old girl from Vinales, told us how she had picked up her English purely through binge-watching American TV shows. “I love Supernatural and Arrow,” she said as we passed by El Palenque, a limestone cave that doubled as a nightclub on weekends. Wifi is expensive (at about $2 per hour), so she and most of her friends use “El Paquete Semanal,” a 1TB collection of digital contents containing new episodes of TV shows, films, books, and other customized options that is updated weekly at a cost of about $1 (~30pesos). She’d been recruited as a tour guide by her boyfriend’s cousin after he’d heard her mimicking a line from Family Guy. Each morning, she walked 20 minutes from her house near one of the tobacco farms into town where she would take phone calls from both English and Spanish-speaking tourists. She’d even mastered horseback riding for the group’s most popular foreigner-focused tours.

When I asked her boss, another fluent English speaker, how he’d had gotten into the touring business, he said he had actually studied engineering in college but could barely pay his bills as an engineer. He left Havana and returned to his small hometown in Vinales where he found a job at a friend’s tour guide company. After a few years, he bought a few used mountain bikes from some visiting foreigners (since it’s still too difficult and expensive to import new bikes into Cuba) and started his own tour company.

“No one needs a programmer. I haven’t coded anything in years, except to make a website for my tour services,” he said, standing barefoot in a walled-in plot of pebbles and bricks: the foundation to a new house. He’d recently hurt his knees on a biking tour, so he’d switched his attention to building his own casa particular. His father, a farmer, had given him a small plot of land but he had no interest in using it for tobacco. “I like designing things, visualizing and organizing. I made the entire blueprint for this house,” he explained proudly, walking us through where the two bedrooms would be, the space between them to limit sound leakage, the cooled hallway to the kitchen and the seating arrangement for breakfast, all along a skeleton of concrete and bricks already laid into the ground. With limited masons and funds, however, he said it would take nearly 4–5 years to complete. It took him nearly 30 minutes by motorcycle just to get to a wifi hotspot so he could answer email inquiries about his tour services, so it was still difficult to scale his business.

Lack of infrastructure was a problem, but limited food/supplies and a looming sense of stagnation were the more troubling issues for most Cubans.

“Why would anyone work hard? They know it won’t get them anywhere,” the girl from Guantanamo says, lighting up a half-crushed H.Upmann cigarette. The only four things she says people could always get in Cuba were cigarettes, sugar, rum, and coffee, the top exports for the country. “If I want apples and the government’s not selling apples now, even if I have the money to buy, there’s no way I can get an apple.” She says the country still largely relied on imported food and because of the US embargo, their options were always limited. Our casa particular owner in Trinidad told us that finding everyday goods like toilet paper and eggs could take days to find in stores, with most products being used for tourists (e.g. at hotels and casas). She used an iPhone 4 that her daughter had sent her from Slovenia because it was impossible to find (or afford) a working smartphone. She apologized for how her sheets, pillow covers, and blankets were all different colors and sizes because it was impossible to buy a full set, so she bought whatever she could find.

The girl from Guantanamo says she owns only one pair of jeans. They cost her 30cucs (~$30), more than a month’s salary for most government workers. Her shoes were 20cucs (~$20). Almost everything was Made in China. The government-operated shops had limited stock, so she and her friends often relied on street vendors, many of whom traveled to nearby countries like Mexico, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic to source the latest styles and sold them at a massive mark-up on the black market. She says it’s her dream to own an authentic pair of Manolo or Christian Louboutin shoes. When I ask where she could buy them in Havana, she laughs.

“I don’t even want to think about it. The cost of one pair could feed a whole family for a year.”

Every Cuban I met was proud of four things in their country: free education, free healthcare, overall safety, and a deep respect for family. The fourth often manifested in an almost feminist mindset that I hadn’t expected.

“I have only a handful of friends,” one Cuban man said. He’d worked for the military for more than fifteen years and despite having earned a college degree in communications, he couldn’t find any non-military job outside of hotel security guard and storage warehouse labor. “One of my best friends, a guy I knew since we were kids. I recently found out he had hit his wife. That was the end of our friendship. I thought, how can you hit the person you love? You’re supposed to treasure her, protect her. I just couldn’t understand it. I couldn’t be friends with someone like that.”

I asked him why so many people in Cuba go to college but almost no one goes on to graduate school. He just shook his head and said with a smirk, “It’s a sad story.”

“What do you mean? I love sad stories,” I joked.

His girlfriend snickered, “Why? Because you can get on a plane tomorrow out of here?”

The owner of our Havana casa particular said that many Cubans still tried to swim their way to the US border, hoping to leverage the Wet Foot, Dry Foot Policy. Much of his wife’s family had immigrated to the US during the 1980 Mariel boatlift, some during the massive 1960s Cuban migration. Everyone we met had family in Miami. Most make trips home every year and bring whatever supplies they can. A new phone, a pair of good earphones, or an eyeliner refill. Anything is better than nothing. My tour guide in Vinales said I could probably find a buyer for any of my old electronics in Cuba.

“Do you think things will get better?” I ask the girl from Guantanamo. It’s my last night in Havana, 9 days in and I still have not made sense of the happy-sadness that seems to permeate every person I’ve met.

The cafe has started pulling down its metal shudders so we switch to a small, government-owned bar across the street from Havana’s tiny Chinatown. Several classic American cars, all collective taxis, are lined up on the street, hoping to pick up a few tired stragglers from Centro Habana. The drivers are gathered outside their cars, laughing and arguing baseball. The girl flicks her cigarette stub onto the street. She grins at me like I’ve asked a loaded question.

“We all smile and look happy because we’re hoping, some of us consciously and some unconsciously, that someday, who the fuck knows when, someone will come and save us,” she answers.

This article originally appeared on Medium and is republished here with permission.

Great family travel means different things to different people. There’s budget to consider, destination, the age of your children, and the type of travellers you are - do you want to fly and flop or scale the highest peak you can find?

For the best beach holidays, ski trips, adventure tours, and once-in-a-lifetime journeys, our family travel experts have tried and tested the following operators with their children, and recommend their offerings.

Please note that many of these firms excel in a number of areas - Scott Dunn has great beach and ski options; you could hire an exclusive seaside villa with Abercrombie & Kent, or find yourself on a riding safari in Kenya. But we have organised them based on the ways in which each firm really stands out.

British Airways holidays | All-inclusive escapes with hotel partners and customer support

Best generalists

British Airways holidays

The trusted airline’s range of holidays takes in the States, Caribbean and Indian Ocean, plus shorter-haul European destinations, many offering kids’ clubs and all-inclusive options. Try a long weekend of Roman history in the Eternal City, or an all-inclusive break in Cancun, Mexico. Check out low deposit and staggered payment options to spread costs.

Classic Collection | Luxury holidays tailored for each client

Classic Collection

Handpicked four- and five-star luxury hotels, many with kids’ clubs, are the main draw, while private transfers come as standard. Try also a family villa or the new lakes and mountains holidays. Options range from a family-owned hotel in Ibiza to an all-inclusive Caribbean resort with babysitting service. Bookings with children aged 4 to 11 earn a complimentary BubbleBum inflatable booster seat.

Kuoni | Luxury operator with an emphasis on personal touches

Kuoni

The leading long-haul operator, voted Best Large Luxury Tour Operator at the 2016 Telegraph Ultratravel Awards, majors on expert, personal service with high-street locations, including some within John Lewis department stores. From family safaris to all-inclusive beach resorts, it has handpicked hotels in over 90 countries, most notably in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean.

Scott Dunn | Bespoke holidays for 'experience' seekers plus luxury ski chalets and family villas

Scott Dunn

These tailor-made breaks to standout destinations cater for all ages. Childcare (from four months) options in the Alps and Med include private nannies and clubs, plus the CREW activity programme for ages 11 plus. Families with older children could try a family safari to Kenya or a family beach break off the Great Barrier Reef. Strong local partnerships are assured.

Smith & Family | A curated collection of luxury family hotels, holidays and child-friendly self-catering properties

Smith & Family

The new family offshoot of members-only travel club Mr & Mrs Smith indulges the hotel-Babylon passion with little ones in tow. That means the parent panel only selects properties with great childcare provision and attention to detail, plus also the right ambience for parents. Many, such as a luxury resort in Crete, let kids under 12 (sharing with parents) stay free and offer free childcare.

Virgin Holidays | The transatlantic specialist for all-inclusive and package family holidays

Virgin Holidays

The trusted Virgin brand pioneered fly-drive holidays to the States, notably Florida and its theme parks. The portfolio is on the smaller side but includes Disney holidays, Florida villas and all-inclusive breaks in Mexico and Cuba. New concept stores, integrated plans for special assistance and a concierge service to pre-book local attractions are amongst the company’s latest innovations.

Abercrombie & Kent | Bespoke trips with great on-the-ground partnerships

Best long-haul

Abercrombie & Kent

This former Africa specialist now offers expert-led bespoke luxury family tours all over the globe. From hands-on learning activities in China’s southwest to private Kenyan safaris, no expense is spared in getting families off the beaten track with truly phenomenal local guides who know how to engage with children.

Audley Travel | Luxury, tailor-made trips with a great network of local partners

​Audley Travel

Formerly an Asia specialist, Audley now offers expert-selected tours to over 75 destinations. From family safaris in Botswana to luxury family trips to Japan, the emphasis is on local experiences uncovered by local guides. Named Best Tour Operator at the 2016 Telegraph Travel Awards, search handpicked options for all age groups from babies to teenagers.

Cox & Kings | Exclusive small-group tours and private, tailor-made holidays from the world's longest-established travel company

Cox & Kings

With great service, plus airport meet-and-greet and an army of handpicked local guides, these family adventure holidays combine both discovery and comfort. Family breaks are on a private basis only with options including a family tour of Sri Lanka or a family safari to Tanzania. Choose from self-drive or private vehicle with driver options, and expect great on-the-ground support.

Exodus | Adventure holidays - for groups or tailor made - in the spirit of breaking new ground

Exodus

Adventure pioneers, Exodus, now pioneer family adventure holidays, including cycling, walking and wildlife safari breaks. With authentic destination experiences in the safe hands of local-expert tour leaders, you could ride camels through the Moroccan desert, or try snowshoeing through the Finnish winter. Book an extended family-group experience via the Private Adventures option.

Explore! | A huge variety of tour types and destinations for those with a spirit of adventure

Explore

Explore has a history of running small-group adventures with expert local guides and a strong responsible-travel ethos. The choice of Family Adventure Holidays, including options designed for grandchildren and single parents, ranges from trekking with hill tribes in Thailand to walking in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains. Save 5 per cent when booking second and subsequent trips with the family loyalty scheme.

Club Med | Premium all-inclusive holidays with a global reach

Best active beach breaks

​Club Med

The pioneer of the all-inclusive holiday now offers a huge range of holidays on a sporting motif from the Alps to the Andes, plus continues its long tradition of responsible tourism. There are over 60 activities available at resorts from Portugal to the Dominican Republic, plus interconnecting rooms and well-trained staff to engage with all ages, including younger children.

Mark Warner | Mediterranean sun and Alpine ski holidays for active families with childcare needs

Mark Warner

The former ski specialist now majors on well-regarded childcare with dedicated clubs for all ages, including a Baby Club from four months and an evening listening service until 10.30pm. Childcare for ages two to 17 is free, including evening activities. Choose from watersports in Greece, or Christmas skiing in Austria. If it’s all too much, try an adults-only week at selected resorts and chalets.

Neilson | Active escapes based around beach clubs, sailing or winter sports holidays

Neilson

Sporty families favour these high-octane holidays. Most beachclubs, such as a watersports break in Greece, offer interconnecting rooms and kids’ clubs, including the TAG club for teenagers and Hot Shots, a water-based club to gain RYA qualifications. Winter sports breaks, based on children aged 11 years and under, include a week in Les Deux Alps with dedicated childcare.

Sunsail | All aboard for global sailing holidays in 25 stunning destinations

Sunsail

The established Sunsail fleet now extends to over 500 yachts and covers all water-based activities from a tailor-made sailing holiday via a yacht charter, to sailing courses. Flotilla holidays work best for families and options include a Croatia flotilla holiday, touring the Dalmatian Coast in a small group with crew. Summer flotillas from Lefkas have a dedicated activity coordinator to arrange kids’ activities.

Thomas Cook | A high-street package-deal presence with an increasingly global reach

Best Budget

Thomas Cook

The high-street stalwart, booking holidays since 1841, continues to reinvent the family holiday with tailor-made stays and its charter airline flying from 23 UK airports. Sunwing Family Resorts offer first-class family facilities and kids under 12 eat free from the buffet. SENTIDO Hotels & Resorts, designed for more discerning families, include activities for kids and adults alike. You can book face to face and the company plans to open 25 new-format Discovery Stores by 2018.

Thomson | The high-street package specialist has a huge reach and years of experience

Thomson

Thomson has been booking holidays since the mid Sixties and continues to re-invent itself while Thomson Airways is now the UK’s largest charter airline. The Tui Family Life collection of hotels, with locations from the Canaries to Bulgaria, has an excellent range of childcare and clubs, plus activities ideal for multi-generational groups. Plus you can still book face to face at one of 650 high-street locations.

Trailfinders | Global tailor-made specialist with a reputation for value deals

Trailfinders

Big-hitting Trailfinders has a global reach for family options from cruises to small-group family adventure holidays, such as a touring group to Vietnam. Australia is a strong seller with offbeat family trips including a motorhome fly-drive trip along the Great Barrier Reef area coast. The policy of no credit card charges could save up to 5 per cent of travel costs.

Inghams | A ski, lakes and mountains specialist with an adventure twist

Best ski

Inghams

Founded by mountaineer Walter Ingham more than 80 years ago, the now Swiss-owned specialist prides itself on quality partner relationships and local reps. Skiing holidays are based around hand-picked Family Choice hotels while children aged 2 to 11 fly free on charter flights to Ingham’s’ chalets in Europe. Selected Alpine summer holidays offer free child places and hotels with kids’ clubs.

Canopy & Stars | Luxury glamping holidays for outdoorsy types

Best camping

Canopy & Stars

An offshoot to Alistair Sawday’s Special Places to Stay, the company has quirky UK and European breaks to more than 500 treehouses, cabins and yurts. As champions of the small and independent, the focus is on sustainable tourism. For families, that means low-impact stays suitable for all ages, including babies and non-car owners. Download the Nature Investigators packs to take along for in-situ family fun.

Lonely Planet Dominican Republic (Travel Guide)

Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

Lonely Planet Dominican Republic is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Follow in the footsteps of conquistadors in Santo Domingo, claim a spot in the sand at Playa Rincon, or dance merengue till the wee hours at a Santiago bar; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of the Dominican Republic and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet's Dominican Republic Travel Guide:

Color maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - including cuisine, history, art, architecture, music, dance, sport, politics, landscapes, wildlife Over 28 maps Covers Santo Domingo, Playa Rincon, La Vega, Damajagua,  CabaretePunta Cana, the Peninsula de Samana, Lago Enriquillo, Pico Duarte and more

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Dominican Republic , our most comprehensive guide to the Dominican Republic, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less traveled.

Looking for more coverage? Check out Lonely Planet's Caribbean Islands guide for a comprehensive look at what the whole region has to offer.

Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet, Michael Grosberg and Kevin Raub.

About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveler community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travelers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.

Dominican Republic (National Geographic Adventure Map)

National Geographic Maps - Adventure

• Waterproof • Tear-Resistant • Travel Map

With a diverse landscape of tropical rainforests, rugged mountains, fertile valleys, arid deserts-like expanses and white sand beaches, the Dominican Republic is one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of the Americas. Let the expertly researched National Geographic's Dominican Republic Adventure Map serve as your guide as you explore this Caribbean Island nation. The front side details, with maps, photos and descriptions, someone of the countries most visited areas, including Metropolitan and Colonial Santo DomingoSamana Peninsula, Del Este National Park, Lake Enriquillo and Pico Duarte. While the reverse side combines hundreds of points of interest, a detailed road network and topographic features, in one unparalleled map of the entire country, her islands and surrounding bodies of water.

A user-friendly index towns and protected areas, including forest reserves, national parks, natural monuments and wildlife refuges, will help you find your adventure site. Then plan your route with the mapped road network which includes primary and secondary roads, complete with distances, as well as tracks to help you travel off the beaten path. Additional transportation features mapped include airports, airstrips, ferry routes. sea ports and border crossings with Haiti. Mapped are cultural, historical, ecological and adventure points of interest, such as archeological sites and ruins, swamps, mangroves, coral reefs, shipwrecks, caves and areas for surfing, diving and fishing. Along with its abundance of travel tips and background information, the map is a complete travel guide to the country.

Every Adventure Map is printed on durable synthetic paper, making them waterproof, tear-resistant and tough — capable of withstanding the rigors of international travel.

Map Scale = 1:450,000Sheet Size = 37.75" x 25.5"Folded Size = 4.25" x 9.25"

The Dominican Republic Reader: History, Culture, Politics (The Latin America Readers)

Eric Paul Roorda, Lauren H. Derby, Raymundo Gonzalez

Despite its significance in the history of Spanish colonialism, the Dominican Republic is familiar to most outsiders through only a few elements of its past and culture. Non-Dominicans may be aware that the country shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti and that it is where Christopher Columbus chose to build a colony. Some may know that the country produces talented baseball players and musicians; others that it is a prime destination for beach vacations. Little else about the Dominican Republic is common knowledge outside its borders. This Reader seeks to change that. It provides an introduction to the history, politics, and culture of the country, from precolonial times into the early twenty-first century. Among the volume's 118 selections are essays, speeches, journalism, songs, poems, legal documents, testimonials, and short stories, as well as several interviews conducted especially for this Reader. Many of the selections have been translated into English for the first time. All of them are preceded by brief introductions written by the editors. The volume's eighty-five illustrations, ten of which appear in color, include maps, paintings, and photos of architecture, statues, famous figures, and Dominicans going about their everyday lives.

National Geographic Traveler: Dominican Republic, 3rd Edition

Christopher Baker

This guide covers all the main towns and cities of the Dominican Republic, helping travelers negotiate one of the region's lesser-known destinations. Travel information tips for Santo Domingo, La Península de Samaná, and Cordillera Central are all updated for this latest edition. The book also includes detailed city walks and regional drives, complete with maps, booking information, and features on colonial architecture, shipwrecks, reefs, whale-watching, cave art, and cigar making. The National Geographic Traveler guidebooks are in tune with the ever growing trend toward experiential travel, providing inspiring photography, insider tips, and expert advice for a more authentic, enriching experience of the destination. The guides provide information, historical context, and cultural interpretation not available online.

Top 10 Dominican Republic (Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guide)

James Ferguson

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Top 10 Dominican Republic is your pocket guide to the very best of Dominican Republic.

Spend your days lounging on the beautiful beaches, adventuring through the tropical rainforests and alpine wilderness, or riding the best windsurfing waves in the western hemisphere, and then dance the night away to the intoxicating rhythms of merengue and bachata with a dark rum in hand. The most visited tourist destination in the Caribbean truly offers a little bit of everything.

Discover DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Top 10 Dominican Republic.

True to its name, this Top 10 guidebook covers all major sights and attractions in easy-to-use "top 10" lists that help you plan the vacation that's right for you:

   • "Don't miss" destination highlights .    • Things to do and places to eat, drink, and shop by area.    • Free, color pull-out map (print edition), plus maps and photographs throughout.    • Walking tours and day-trip itineraries.    • Traveler tips and recommendations.    • Local drink and dining specialties to try.    • Museums, festivals, outdoor activities.    • Creative and quirky best-of lists and more.

The perfect pocket-size travel companion: DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Top 10 Dominican Republic.

Recommend: For an in-depth guidebook to the Caribbean, check out DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Caribbean, which offers a complete overview of the island destinations in the region; thousands of photographs, illustrations, and maps; and more.

Moon Dominican Republic (Moon Travel Guides)

Lebawit Lily Girma

Frequent resident and world traveler Lebawit Lily Girma offers insider's tips along with a tourist perspective in Moon Dominican Republic. Girma covers the best of the Dominican Republic, including coverage of Puerto Plata, the Samaná Peninsula, Constanza, and Santo Domingo. Girma also offers intriguing sidebars about Dominicanisms, from colmados to traditional dances and syncretic beliefs. With unique and diverse travel strategies such as The Seven-Day Culture and Food Tour, finding the Best Beaches or adrenaline-pumping outdoor adventures, Moon Dominican Republic gives travelers the tools they need to create a more personal and memorable experience. 

Dominican Republic - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

Ginnie Bedggood

Occupying the eastern two-thirds of island of Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic has something for almost everyone – except perhaps obsessive perfectionists. If you can relax and go with the flow you will experience a land of great environmental diversity with a rich and varied culture, a turbulent history, some infuriating idiosyncrasies, and a people whose friendliness is legendary. The Dominicans are flamboyant, irrepressible, generous, headstrong, and resilient. Their culture is a distinctive mix of an easygoing Caribbean nature coupled with Latino verve and showmanship. For those who choose to break out of the confines of all-inclusive tourist resorts, Culture Smart! Dominican Republic offers a tantalizing insight into this warm, vital, and intriguing people. It takes you on a journey from the unspoiled coastline to the agricultural interior, to the imposing mountains and to the hamlets where time appears to have stood still. It then catapults you into the twenty-first century, through poverty and opulence, to the hustle and bustle of the large cities and the lifestyles of the luxury coastal tourist resorts. It offers practical advice on what to expect and to how to behave in a Dominican home, or in social and work settings. The authors of this book, both long-term residents in the Dominican Republic, have provided a unique roadmap to the interesting and challenging experiences that await you in this beautiful, varied, and complex country.

Sex and Voodoo & Other Oddities: Stories from the Dominican Republic

Mark S Wellbee MD

The Dominican Republic is one of the most fascinating island nations in the Caribbean. My intention in writing this book is to share with you some of my experiences there, from hilarious to touching, including how I became an expat there. I was especially fascinated by the openness with which both islanders and expats treat sexuality and spirituality. Here are some of those unusual expat stories, about sex, voodoo and other oddities, from the islanders of La Republica Dominicana. Amazon.com reviews: Five Stars ***** "This book provides a unique glimpse of life in the Caribbean that the usual tourist would not see. For all whose vacation south has been limited to the all inclusive hotel experience or for those who have ever fantasized about life in 'paradise',Sex and Voodoo is especially for you. Mark S Wellbee does a wonderful job in introducing us into the intimate lives of different characters, from whom we learn, often with some humor, more about the reality of life in the exotic tropics in particular, and the human condition in general."

Exercise a high degree of caution

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.

Demonstrations

The security situation is stable. However, demonstrations and protests occasionally occur, particularly in the areas of Santiago, SalcedoBonao and Santo Domingo. Even though these demonstrations are not targeted at foreigners and do not happen near resorts, they have the potential to turn violent without notice and should be avoided. Exercise caution and monitor local news reports.

Crime

Violent crime (including assault) against foreigners occasionally occurs. Petty crime (including pickpocketing) is common in urban areas. Thefts have been reported in resorts, including in hotel rooms and hotel room safes. Exercise caution and be aware of your surroundings, especially after dark. Avoid showing signs of affluence and do not leave your personal belongings unattended on the beach. Ensure that your personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times. Limit the valuable items you bring into the country.

Theft of items from checked baggage at airports has been reported. These thefts have taken place most frequently when travellers are departing. Money and personal items have also been stolen from carry-on luggage while travellers are going through security checks. Do not pack valuables in your checked luggage. Items most likely to disappear include electronics (especially digital cameras), jewellery and perfume. All bags are routinely X-rayed upon arrival and departure.

In the event that documents are lost or stolen, obtain a police report in order to receive a passport or an appropriate travel document from the Embassy of Canada in Santo Domingo, the Consulate of Canada in Puerto Plata or the Office of the Embassy of Canada in Punta Cana.

Unaccompanied female travellers should exercise caution in dealing with strangers or recent acquaintances, especially regarding the acceptance of rides or other invitations. Incidents of assault, rape and sexual aggression against foreigners have been reported, including at beach resorts. In some cases, hotel employees have been implicated.

Never leave food or drinks unattended or in the care of strangers. Be wary of accepting snacks, beverages, gum, or cigarettes from new acquaintances, as they may contain drugs that could put you at risk of sexual assault and robbery. Anyone who is a victim of sexual assault or other crime should report the crime immediately. No criminal investigation is possible without a formal complaint to the Dominican authorities.

Road travel

The Dominican Republic has one of the highest road accident rates in the world. Driving is hazardous due to aggressive driving habits, a significant number of trucks and motorcycles, reckless passing, excessive speeds, poorly marked lanes, construction, vehicles travelling in the wrong direction on one-way streets, and poorly maintained roads and cars. Driving after dark is not recommended due to poor lighting.

Traffic laws are similar to those in Canada but are often not respected. Roadside assistance is not available. There have been reports of police officers, or criminals posing as police officers, demanding immediate payment of traffic fines. Drivers should insist on paying any traffic fine at the nearest police station. Pedestrians should take extra care.

Public transportation

Public transportation is not recommended. Private companies operate reliable buses between cities. Taxi-plane services are also available.

Taxis are fairly reliable. You should always negotiate the fare prior to departure. Avoid using or renting motorcycle taxis (motoconchos), as they are very dangerous. Route taxis (gua-guas/carros publicos) are not recommended as they may disregard traffic laws, often resulting in serious accidents involving injury and sometimes death. They may also be used by thieves to rob passengers.

Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

Fraud

Credit card and debit card fraud occurs. Pay careful attention when your cards are being handled by others during payment. Be cautious when using automated banking machines, and only do so to withdraw money during business hours inside a bank.

General security information

Water safety standards may not be comparable to Canadian safety standards. Hotels and resorts may not have lifeguards on beaches, and appropriate safety and rescue equipment may not be available. It is imperative that you keep informed of local water conditions and warning systems (including at your hotel) and follow instructions accordingly. Strong undertows could pose threats, especially in the Macao area. Swimmers who enter the water do so at their own risk. Remain in well-marked and supervised areas. Avoid walking on deserted or unsupervised beaches after dark.

It is also possible that aquatic equipment offered at the beach does not meet Canadian safety standards. Check that your travel insurance covers accidents related to recreational activities. Avoid participating in any water activities under the influence of alcohol or other substances.

Avoid excursions that are not recommended by tour operators. Ensure that tour operators have taken proper safety measures, including the use of safety equipment such as helmets and life jackets, before undertaking extreme or eco-tourism types of activities.

A number of cases have been reported of Canadians losing large sums of money while playing progressive keno, super keno and other keno or progressive roulette games at casinos. These games operate on a progressive wagering basis, and large amounts of money can be lost rapidly. Exercise caution in hotel casinos where these games are offered, especially when requested to provide credit card information.

Emergency services

The tourist police (POLITUR), a cooperative effort between the national police, secretary of the armed forces and the secretary of tourism, provide a security presence in tourist areas and first response assistance to tourists. They can be reached toll-free at 1-809-200-3500 and can help get tourists to a police station to file a report and to seek further assistance.

Dial 911 for emergency services in Santo Domingo.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Rabies

Rabies is a disease that attacks the central nervous system spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from a rabid animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).

Typhoid

Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives, or with weakened immune systems. Travellers visiting regions with typhoid risk, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should consider getting vaccinated.

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of vaccination is not required to enter this country.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

In some areas in the Caribbean, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A, schistosomiasis and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in the Caribbean. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!

Cholera

There have been cases of cholera reported in this country in the last year. Cholera is a bacterial disease that typically causes diarrhea. In severe cases it can lead to dehydration and even death.

Most travellers are generally at low risk. Humanitarian workers and those visiting areas with limited access to safe food and water are at higher risk. Practise safe food and water precautions. Travellers at high risk should get vaccinated.

Schistosomiasis

Schistosomiasis is caused by blood flukes (tiny worms) spread to humans through contaminated water. The eggs of the worms can cause stomach illnesses like diarrhea and cramps or urinary problems. Risk is generally low for most travellers. Avoid swimming in contaminated water. There is no vaccine available for schistosomiasis.

Travellers' diarrhea
  • Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
  • Risk of developing travellers’ diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
  • The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.

Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in the Caribbean, certain insects carry and spread diseases like chikungunya, dengue fever, malaria and West Nile virus.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.

Dengue fever
  • Dengue fever occurs in this country. Dengue fever is a viral disease that can cause severe flu-like symptoms. In some cases it leads to dengue haemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal.  
  • Mosquitoes carrying dengue bite during the daytime. They breed in standing water and are often found in urban areas.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. There is no vaccine available for dengue fever.

Malaria

Malaria

  • There is a risk of malaria in certain areas and/or during a certain time of year in this country.
  • Malaria is a serious and occasionally fatal disease that is spread by mosquitoes. There is no vaccine against malaria.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. This includes covering up, using insect repellent and staying in well-screened, air-conditioned accommodations. You may also consider sleeping under an insecticide-treated bed net or pre-treating travel gear with insecticides.
  • Antimalarial medication may be recommended depending on your itinerary and the time of year you are travelling. See a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic, preferably six weeks before you travel to discuss your options.

Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Some infections found in some areas in the Caribbean, like rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.

HIV

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks and impairs the immune system, resulting in a chronic, progressive illness known as AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). 

Practise safe sex while travelling, and don’t share needles, razors, or other objects which could transmit infection.

Remember that HIV can also be spread through the use of unsterile medical equipment during medical and dental procedures, tattooing, body piercing or acupuncture. Diseases can also be spread though blood transfusions and organ transplantation if the blood or organs are not screened for HIV or other blood-borne pathogens.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Good medical facilities exist in all tourist areas. Medical care is limited in remote areas. Medical expenses can be very high. It is normal for clinics to require patients to sign an undertaking to pay agreement and to take a credit card impression as guarantee of payment before providing medical care. Any incidents of sickness or injury requiring hospitalization should be reported to the Embassy of Canada in Santo Domingo.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and detention page and our Overview of the criminal law system in the Dominican Republic for more information.

Illegal drugs

Persons convicted of buying, selling, carrying or using any type or quantity of drug are subject to strict penalties. Judicial processes may last several years (during which accused individuals are normally detained) and could lead to long prison sentences in harsh conditions.

Laws

Dominican law stipulates that victims of crime (including foreigners) are responsible for reporting incidents to police. Victims who wish to pursue prosecution or seek compensation must retain Dominican legal counsel to file a formal complaint to the police and to pursue the case through the justice system. The official language of the Dominican Republic is Spanish. You should expect all documents to be in Spanish and not English or French.

An International Driving Permit is required.

Dual citizenship

Dual citizenship is legally recognized. However, in the judicial system, citizens of Dominican origin are considered Dominican citizens. Therefore, Canadian consular officials may be limited in their ability to provide consular services.

Real estate

Many Canadians have reported financial problems and complications involving time-share arrangements and other property investment activities. Exercise caution whenever approached by time-share representatives as pressure sales techniques are used. Do not reveal personal information or provide your credit card unless you are certain you wish to make a purchase.

Before making any real estate or land investment, consult Dominican and Canadian lawyers with relevant experience, and exercise extreme caution. Land deeds should be carefully verified. Ensure that constant vigilance of land will take place, as there have been several instances of disputed land occupation in the absence of the alleged owner. The Embassy of Canada in Santo Domingo cannot intervene in legal matters, and cannot give legal advice regarding land purchases or disputes.

Marriage

Marriages legally performed in compliance with the laws of the Dominican Republic are recognized in Canada. For information on required documentation and procedures, contact the Embassy of the Dominican Republic in Ottawa.

Money

Upon departure from the Dominican Republic, you cannot export more than US$10,000 or its equivalent in another currency.

The currency is the Dominican peso (DOP). U.S. dollars are widely accepted, but Canadian currency is not. Canadian currency and traveller’s cheques can be exchanged at most commercial banks and exchange booths or offices (casas de cambio) and in resort areas and major tourist hotels. Currency should be exchanged only at banks, official exchange booths and casas de cambio.

Climate

The hurricane season extends from June to the end of November. The National Hurricane Center provides additional information on weather conditions. Stay informed of regional weather forecasts, and follow the advice and instructions of local authorities.

The Dominican Republic is located in an active seismic zone. Earthquakes can occur.