The Dominican Republic

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Location and Geography:


The Dominican Republic (The DR) is located in the Caribbean between Cuba and Puerto Rico (19 00 N, 70 40 W) and occupies the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispañiola, with Haiti occupying the western third portion. With 48,320 square kilometers (about twice the size of New Hampshire), Hispañola is the second largest island in the Caribbean surpassed only by Cuba.

Situated in the heart of the region between North and South America, the country is bathed by the Caribbean Sea on the south coast and the Atlantic Ocean to the north. The island was originally created when a volcano erupted in the ocean millions of years ago. There are, however, no volcanoes on the island.

The Dominican Republic is a land of contrasts with towering mountains and rocky cliffs, rain forests, fertile valleys, cacti-studded deserts, 1,288 kilometers (800 miles) of coastline and about 300 kilometers (185 miles) of prime beaches. The country is crossed by four rugged mountain ranges bisecting northwest to southeast. The largest is the Cordillera Central with Pico Duarte, the tallest point in the Caribbean, rising over 3,175 meters (10,417 feet).

Three large fertile valleys rest between the ranges. Lake Enriquillo in the southwest is the lowest point in the Caribbean falling 46 meters (150 feet) below sea level and the only salt water lake in the world inhabited by crocodiles.



Even though the Dominican Republic is surrounded by a rich animal wildlife, it is not a place where you will find any lions, tigers and bears! As in many other Caribbean islands, the Dominican Republic has only few land species which are endemic. Most of these animals (dogs, cats, pigs, boars, horses, rats and mice) were brought over by European settlers.


The only two endemic land animals are the Solenodon and the Hutia - both are small rodent insectivores much like a rat with a long snout that live in caves and hollow tree trunks where they eat worms and insects. Not many have seen these creatures are they are nocturnal and some even believe that they have gone extinct. 


Visitors coming to the Dominican Republic are more likely to discover animals such as...


- Lizards, geckos and reptiles (e.g the Rhinoceros Iguana)

- Crocodiles (American Crocodiles in Lake Enriquillo),

- Birds (Hispaniolan parrot, woodpecker, trogon, parakeet, palmchat, owls, American frigate birds, brown pelican, flamingos, hummingbirds, etc.)

- Sea turtles (Leatherback, Hawksbill, Loggerhead and Green Sea Turtle)

- Fish (Tuna, Dorado, White Marlin, Blue Marlin, Wahoo, Baracuda, Jacks, Snappers, etc.),

- Humpback whales. From January till March around 3,000 humpback whales find their way to the north coast of the Dominican Republic. The coast of Samaná towards the north east is considered the best place in the world to see these majestic creatures.


Many will probably wonder if there are any dangerous animals in the Dominican Republic, and although there are creatures such as spiders (including large tarantulas) and snakes (e.g. blunt-headed green tree snake, la hotte blind snake and Hispaniolan boa snake), none are deadly. These are, however, not animals that one will commonly come across in urban or tourist areas!




The total population of the Dominican Republic is approximately 10,088,598 (2012 est.) with approximately 73% of mixed backgrounds, 16% white and 11% black.


There is a large population of Haitian immigrants living in the Dominican Republic (the relationship between the two populations is often a source of unrest). It is unsure how many Haitians are currently living in the Dominican Republic, but the number may be close to 1 million. The Haitians who work in the Dominican Republic are usually employed as a low paid labor force working in construction, sugar cane fields, gardening, and cleaning.


Many expats from Canada, USA, Europe and Latin America have also settled in the Dominican Republic and often work in areas related to tourism and real estate.


Most of the population in the Dominican Republic is between the ages of 15 - 64 years old (64%) while about 29.5% are between 0 - 14 years old and only 6.5% are 65 years old and over (2011 est.). The Dominican Republic ranks 92nd among the world's countries when it comes to the annual birth rate with an estimated 19.44 births out of every 1000 (2012 est.). Life expectancy at birth is estimated at 77.44 years (2012 est.). 


About 69% of the population lives in urban areas, with the largest number living in the capitol of Santo Domingo (2.138 million, 2009 est.).  


Education in the Dominican Republic is divided into several stages. School is mandatory for children ages 5 - 14 and essentially free of charge (except for expenses to school uniform, supplies, etc.). However, there are children who live in remote rural areas who do not have easy access to schools or financial means to go. The first years of Primary School are followed by two years of Intermediate School and a four year Secondary Course after which a student can be granted with a high school diploma upon graduation (bachillerato). Not many students succeed in completing the entire education for the lack of money or access. Children from wealthy families have the option to attend private schools. After high school students may choose to attend vocational schools or a university. 


High rates of unemployment (13.3%, 2011 est.) and poverty remain a challenge for the country. About 42% of the population lives below the poverty line with 9.9% living on less than US$ 2 a day.



In the past years, the Dominican Republic has unquestionably become one of the most popular and fastest growing tourist destinations in the Caribbean with more than 20 daily direct flights from major US and European cities.

There are now approximately 75,000 hotel rooms across the island making the Dominican Republic the largest destination in the Caribbean.

The east coast of the Dominican Republic (from Punta Cana in the south to Macao and Uvero Alto in the north), which includes approx. 35 kilometres (22 miles) of coast line and more than 45 resorts, has become a very popular tourist destination. More than 4 million tourists from all over the world come to the Dominican Republic each year enjoy some of the best beaches in the world (including Bávaro beach, Punta Cana beach and Juanillo Bay) and some of the most luxurious resorts in the Caribbean (including Paradisus Palma Real, The Reserve at the Paradisus Palma Real, Tortuga Bay Hotel and the Sanctuary Cap Cana Golf & Spa).

Getting to the DR is easy! With the most sea and air connections than any other Caribbean destination, the Dominican Republic is easily accessible from practically any part of the world. Every week many major airline companies fly to one of these international airports (click on the links below for more information): 

- Punta Cana International Airport in Punta Cana (PUJ)

- Las Americas International Airport in Santo Domingo (SDQ)

- Cibao International Airport in Santiago (STI)

- Gregorio Luperon International Airport in Puerto Plata (POP)

- La Romana International Airport in La Romana (LRM)

- El Catey International Airport in Samana (AZS)


Click here to see which airlines fly to the Dominican Republic (

Click here to check your flight's arrival/departure time ( 


Sources:, and



The Dominican culture is a melting pot of old Taino Indian, Spanish, French and African cultures which has created a wonderful mix that we see today in the language, music and art work of the island.




Photo: Calle 27 de Febrero by Andrea Zanivan


Dominican art is perhaps most commonly associated with the bright, vibrant colors and images that are sold in every tourist gift shop across the country. However, the DR has a long history of fine art that goes back to 1865 when the country became independent and the beginnings of a national art scene emerged.


Historically, the painting of this time were centered around images connected to national independence, historical scenes, portraits but also landscapes and images of still life. Styles of painting ranged between neoclassicism and romanticism. The most famous artists of the late 19th century were Alejandro Bonilla (1820-1901), Luis Desangeles (1861-1940), Leopoldo Navarro (1862-1908), Abelardo Piñeyro (1862-1958), Abelardo R. Urdaneta (1870-1933), Juan Bautista Gómez (1874-1945), Adolfo García Obregón (1880-1931), Enrique García Godoy (1886-1947), Bienvenido Gimbernard (1890-1971) and Fernando Báez (1895-1960).


Between 1920 and 1940 the art scene was influenced by styles of realism and impressionism. Dominican artists were focused on breaking from previous, academic styles in order to develop more independent and individual styles. The artists of the times were Celeste Woss y Gil (1890-1985), Jaime Colson (1901-1975), Yoryi O. Morel (1906-1979) and Darío Suro (1917-1997).


The 1940s represents an important period in Dominican art. President Rafael Leónidas Trujillo was eager to cover up the atrocities committed against his own people and wanted to create a more positive public image. He provided asylum for Spanish Civil War refugees and a group of Europeans (including famous artists) subsequently arrived to the DR. They became an inspiration to young Dominican artists who were given a more international perspective on art. The art school Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes was founded as the first official center for teaching art. The DR went through a renaissance heavily inspired by the trends happening in Europe. The artists of the time were George Hausdorf (1894-1959), Josep Gausachs (1889-1959), Joseph Fulop, Manolo Pascual (1902-1983), Ernest Lothar (1906-1961), Mounia L. Andre, Ergenio F. Granell (1912-2001), José Vela Zanetti (1913-1999), Angel Botello Barros (1913-1986), Antonio Prats Ventós (1925-2000) and Francisco Vázquez Díaz (1898-1987).


Between 1950 and 1970 the students who had been taught by European masters began to excel and their art expressed the social and political conditions of the time. A need for a renewal of the image language emerged and as a result paintings were created in non-figurative, abstract, geometric and cubistic styles. The most noticeable artists included Paul Giudicelli (1921-1965), Clara Ledesma (1924-1999), Gilberto H. Ortega (1924-1979), Gaspar Mario Cruz (1925-2006), Luichy M. Richiez (1928-2000), Eligio Pichardo (1929-1984), Domingo Liz (1931-), Silvano Lora (1934-2003), Cándido Bidó (1936-) and José Ramírez Conde (1940-1987).


Between 1970 and 1980 artists were experimenting again with new styles, forms, concepts and themes. Artists such as Ada Balcácer (1930-), Fernando Peña Defilló (1928-) and Ramón Oviedo (1927-) count as the most influential of the decade.







Photo: Sammy Sosa


Baseball has been at the centre of Dominican culture for more than 100 years. Although the exact origins of the sport in the Dominican Republic are not clear, it is believed that baseball emerged in the 1880s brought over by Cubans fleeing Cuba. The first baseball teams in the Dominican Republic were formed in 1894 – 1895 and shortly after the popularity of the sport spread across the island like a wildfire.


In the 1920s Dominican teams began playing against other Caribbean and American teams and in the 1930s baseball became the official national Dominican pastime. Dictator Rafael Trujillo built the first major baseball stadium in Santo Domingo and founded the official, Dominican baseball league in the 1930s. Baseball games were only playing during the daytime (as long as it was daylight) until 1955 when Estadio Quisqueya (Quisqueya Stadium) was built with lights. With the building of this stadium, baseball entered its golden era in the Dominican Republic.


In 1956 Dominican baseball was brought to the United States when Ozzie Virgil became the first Dominican baseball player to play in the Majors. His success ultimately paved the way for other Dominican players. The United States began sending money, players and talent scouts to the Dominican Republic and in the 1960s baseball schools began emerging across the island.


There are 6 teams in the Dominican baseball league. Each team plays 60 games throughout the baseball season which runs from October until February. The two finalists will compete for the championship title and the winning team will go on to represent the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean Baseball Series against Mexico, Venezuela and Puerto Rico.


From 1956 until today more than 420 Dominican baseball players have played in the Majors in the United States. Today there are more baseball players in the Majors than from any other Latin American country. Perhaps the most famous Dominican baseball player is Sammy Sosa (Samuel Peralta Sosa).

He was born in 1968 in the city of San Pedro de Macoris and discovered in the early 1980s and signed his first contract with the Texas Rangers Minor League team. In 1989 Sammy has his first year in the Major League and in 1997 he signed a 4 year / US$ 42,5 million contract with the Chicago Cubs. Throughout his career he has set many baseball records and is the first Latino to ever hit 500 career home runs.





Photo: A man placed a bet before a fight began. The New York Times.


Cockfighting is one of the most popular sports in the DR (only surpassed by Baseball) and one that is completely integrated into the Dominican culture and mentality. For many (especially foreigners), cockfighting is a controversial blood sport regarded as an extreme form of animal cruelty, but the Dominicans say it’s in their blood. The fighting rooster is a symbol of the Dominican identity and the fighting spirit of the Dominican male.


In the DR, cockfighting is legal and fights take place weekly (on weekends) in the thousands of galleras (fighting rings) across the country, where even the smallest town will have one, although not as fancy as the galleras you may encounter in the big cities like Santo Domingo and Santiago where fights are even transmitted on TV and regular competitions are held throughout the year. There is a National Commission for Cockfighting in the country as well as special magazines and websites dedicated entirely to the sport.


Raising a fighting rooster is almost an art form in itself and the ones that fight have been bred, groomed and carefully tended to for 2 years before being let to the ring. These roosters receive special food, vitamins, massages, etc. by expert breeders who invest a lot of money in the process. Potentially large bets are made during a cockfight and so the sport is a potentially lucrative business for breeders with the best and strongest birds.





 Photo: Traditional "La Bandera Dominicana"


Traditional Dominican food is also a mix of Spanish, African and Taino Indian food. It is not spicy, but naturally very flavorful. Among the most popular dishes are Mangú (boiled and mashed plantains), “La Bandera Dominicana” (rice, meat and beans), Sancocho (a stew-like soup with different types of meat, vegetables, potatoes, plantain, etc.), Tostones (deep fried plantain), Chivo con Ron (goat meat cooked in rum to make a stew), Chicharron de Pollo (breaded and deep fried chicken), Empanadas (deep fried dough with e.g. meat and vegetables inside), Pasteles en Hoja (a plantain dough with e.g. meat inside that is wrapped in a banana leaf and boiled), Chuletas (pork chops), Carne Guisada (e.g. chicken, beef or pork that is cooked like a stew), Moro (rice with beans), and more.


Popular deserts include Habituelas con Dulce, Flan, and Dulce de Leche.


It is easy to find a place that serves traditional Dominican dishes on any street in the Dominican Republic. The best time to go is for lunch as this is typically the larger meal for Dominicans and many eat out. Come early (around noon) to get the food fresh and hot-off-the-stove. If you are not adventurous enough to eat at a local Dominican restaurant, most of the all-inclusive resorts have “Dominican Night” once a week where they serve traditional Dominican dishes for lunch/dinner.





Photo: Dominican Merengue dancers


Anyone who has visited the Dominican Republic will undoubtedly have heard the fast beat and rhythms of the Merengue music, which is native to the country. Merengue is dominated by the rhythm which is the most characteristic feature of the music.


The lyrics are often about political topics and sexuality, and the music was originally considered very vulgar and inappropriate by the mid-upper classes. It originated in the 20th century among the lower classes living in the country sides and valleys (e.g. Cibao Valley), but became more mainstream in the early 1930s with the rise of the Dominican dictator Trujillo. Trujillo turned


Merengue into a national symbol of the Dominican Republic. In the 1960s musicians such as Johnny Ventura started mixing traditional Merengue with American R&B and Rock and Roll and in the 1980s, when many Dominicans migrated to the United States; they brought the music with them to cities such as New York and Miami.



Official Holydays 2011:


  • January 01: New Year's Day
  • January 10: Three Kings Day (falls on January 06)
  • January 21: Our Lady of Altagracia Day
  • January 24: Day of Duarte (falls on January 26)
  • February 27: Independence Day
  • April 22: Good Friday
  • May 02: Labor Day (falls on May 01)
  • June 23: Corpus Christi Day
  • August 15: Restoration Day (falls on August 16)
  • September 24: Our Lady of Mercedes Day
  • November 06: Constitution Day
  • December 25: Christmas Day




The local currency is the Dominican peso (RD$). However, US-dollars are used everywhere and in most cases favoured. One US-dollar is worth approximately 42 pesos.


The most accurate exchange rate according to the Central Bank of the Dominican Republic can be found at (click on the shortcut link CENTRAL BANK on the right side of the website).


Major credit cards such as VISA, Master Card and American Express are commonly accepted and will usually be charged in Dominican Pesos. Withdrawing money from ATM machines is only possible in Dominican Pesos.




 Photo: Coffee plants


The economy of the Dominican Republic relies on export of agricultural products and on tourism. In the past, the economy was mainly based on the export of commodities such as sugar, coffee, cocoa, tobacco, meat, consumer goods, ferronickel, gold and silver. Nearly 60% of all commodities are exported to the United States. In 2009 (est.) the Dominican export amounted to approximately US$ 5.462 billion.


In recent years, the service sector has seen a big growth and has become the main source of income and employment. Of the 4.4 million people who make up the labor force (2009 est.), 14.6% work in agriculture, 22.3% in industries (e.g. tourism, sugar processing, gold mining, textiles, tobacco and cement) and 63.1% in services (2005 est.).


The economy slowed down in mid-2008 and especially in 2009 due to the global recession, which had a negative effect on the tourism industry.


The large unemployment rate (14.9%, 2009 est.) as well as the number of people living below the poverty line (42.2%, 2004 est.) continue to be a challenge for the country.




Photo: Presidential Palace in Santo Domingo


The Dominican Republic is a democratic republic built on the principles of the French Civil Codes which were put into force in 1845.


The government consists of:


The Executive Branch: The President (Head of Government and Chief of State), the Vice President and a Cabinate nominated by the President. The President and Vice President are elected for 4-year terms and eligible for two consecutive terms. The last Presidencial election was held on May 20, 2012 electing Mr. Danilo Medina from the Dominican Liberation Party (DLP) with 51.21% of the votes. Danilo Medina will take office on August 16, 2012 until the next election in 2016.


The Legislative Branch: The Senate (32 seats) and the House of Representatives (178 seats). Members of both chambers are elected by popular vote every four years.


The Judicial Branch: The Supreme Court with judges that are appointed by the National Judicial Council (comprised by the President), leaders of both chambers of Congress, the President of the Supreme Court and non-governing congressional representatives.


All Dominican citizens who are 18 years old are eligible to vote. Married people can vote regardless of their age. Members of the Armed Forces and the Police are not eligible to vote.




The official language in the Dominican Republic is Spanish.



95% of the population is Roman Catholic.


There are many churches and cathedrals around the Dominican Republic. Some of the most interesting to visit include:


Santo Domingo: Catedral de Santa María la Menor is the oldest cathedral in the Americas; dedicated to St. Mary and located in the Colonial City. The construction began in 1512 under Bishop Fray García Padilla but was not completed until 1540. It received its status as “Metropolitan Cathedral” by Pope Paul III in 1546. Although centuries old, the cathedral is still an impressive limestone building that combines Gothic and Baroque architecture. The remains of Christopher Columbus once rested at the cathedral before being moved to the “Faro a Colon” (Columbus’ Lighthouse).



Higüey: Basílica Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and was decreed in 1970. It is the destination for thousands of pilgrims who come every year in January to worship the Virgin of La Altagracia. The cathedral, which was designed by the Frenchmen Pierre Dupré and Dovnoyer de Segonzac in 1951, has been called a masterpiece. The entrance is decorated with cobber plates, where one can read about the miracle in Higüey, and the inside consists of large concrete walls. The main attraction is the image of Virgin Mary which sits carefully inside a small, glass cabinet.



Santiago: Catedral de Santiago Apóstol is a beautiful, cathedral constructed from 1868 to 1895, replacing an existing cathedral which was destroyed in an earthquake. The architecture is a mix of Gothic and Neoclassical styles. The cathedral houses an eternal flame in honor of several of the country’s heroes, among others Jose Maria Imbert, who joined the fight for independence against the Haitians in the “Battle of Santiago” (1844). The cathedral also houses the remains of Ulises Heureax who was the country’s 22nd, 25th and 26th president.



San Cristobal: Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de Consolación was ordered by the former President and Dictator o f the Dominican Republic, Rafael Leónidas Trujillo. The church was designed by the Frenchman Henry Gazón Bona and was completed in 1949 in an architectural mixture of Neoclassic, Romantic and Modern styles. San Cristobal was the birthplace of Trujillo and his remains were laid to rest in the church for 6 months before being moved to Europe - some say to Spain, others say to France. The church also has murals (showing Jesus’ life) painted by the famous Spanish painter José Vela Zanetti who also created murals for the UN building in New York.



La Vega: Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción is a large, concrete building that looks nothing like a church. It was designed by the Dominican architect Erwin Cott and constructed from 1977 to 1992. The church was built according to the biblical number 12 with 12 doors and 12 windows; its design was inspired by the cathedral Sainte Cecile d’Albi in the south of France with an exterior that resembles a large fortress.




Puerto Plata: Catedral San Felipe Apóstol was originally founded in 1502 and destroyed in 1863 by the flames of the “Patriotic Fire”. The church was re-constructed from 1870 to 1879 and had a beautiful façade made of wood and zinc. The church which exists today was built in 1929 in a mix of Art Deco and traditional Colonial influences and converted into a cathedral in 1999.



Sosúa: Sinagoga de la Comunidad Judia de Sosúa is the only functioning synagogue in the Dominican Republic that was built to accommodate the Jewish refugees who arrived in the country in 1940 by invitation from President Rafael Leónidas Trujillo.






The Dominican Republic welcomes everyone with its tropical climate where the moist heat is swept away by a cool breeze that blows all year round. The soft ocean breeze makes the heat bearable and comfortable for those who are not used to the hot weather. The temperature remains almost the same throughout the year with an average temperature of 27 degrees Celsius/80 degrees Fahrenheit. During the summer (July and August) the temperature gets up to 35 degrees Celsius/95 degrees Fahrenheit.

There are two main rainy seasons on the island – however, the rain usually falls during the evening or night. On the north coast, it rains during the months of winter, and on the south coast the rain falls mainly from May till October. Although the Dominican Republic is located in the middle of the hurricane belt and subject to tropical storms and/or hurricanes from June until October, these severe storms are not commonly experienced and if so mainly hits the south coast close to Santo Domingo and/or the west coast close to Haiti.


In the last 80 years, the Dominican Republic has only been hit by 11 hurricanes. Statistically, the chances of experiencing a hurricane in the DR are very small. The storms that have hit include:


  • 2004: Hurricane Jeanne (category 1) hit the east coast, Samana and the north coast on September 17.
  • 1998: Hurricane Georges (category 3) hit from La Romana to Santo Domingo on the south coast on September 22.
  • 1996: Hurricane Hortense (category 3) hit the east coast from Punta Cana to Samana on September 10.
  • 1988: Hurricane Gilbert (category 3) hit Barahona in the southwest on September 11.
  • 1987: Hurricane Emely (category 4) hit Bani in the southwest on September 22.
  • 1979: Hurricane David (category 4-5) hit Santo Domingo on August 31.
  • 1967: Hurricane Beulah (category 4) hit Barahona in the southwest on September 10-11.
  • 1966: Hurricane Ines (category 4) hit Barahona in the southwest on September 29.
  • 1963: Hurricane Edith (category 2) hit La Romana in the southeast on September 26-27.
  • 1955: Hurricane Katie (category 1) hit Barahona in the southwest on October 16.
  • 1930: Hurricane San Zenon (category 4-5) hit Santo Domingo on September 3.


For more information about the weather in the DR, check out: Weather Underground


For more information about any tropical storms and/or hurricanes in the Caribbean, click HERE