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This diverse Caribbean destination has been drawing visitors for decades with its tropical rainforests, alpine ranges, exotic food and picturesque sandy beaches. Since being discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492, it has turned into a Spanish oasis, especially in the capital city of Santo Domingo, which is known as the New World’s first European city. Visitors touring by car can discover beaches along both the Atlantic coast to the north and the southern Caribbean coast or wind their way through the interior mountain range and the Cibao Valley.
Driving here is not easy though it provides visitors with a comfortable way of getting to know the ins and outs of the country. Signage is slack and in Spanish though it tends to be more visible on highways. The only exception is the new toll Autoroute Las Americas that runs along the coast south of Santo Domingo. Driving at night should be avoided.
Driving licences: visitors from the UK can drive here with their UK licence for up to three months. Afterwards, it is required to get a Dominican driving licence.
Which side does Dominican Republic drive on: the right.
Motorways: 50mph (80kph)
On country roads: 50mph (80kph)
Built-up areas: 25mph (40kph)
Alcohol limits: there is a zero tolerance law in place here and anyone caught driving with alcohol in their system should expect to be taken into custody.
Driving age: 18 years old.
Seatbelts: are required of all persons travelling in the front seat. There are no child seat laws but common sense should prevail.
Mobile phones and GPS: it is prohibited to use a mobile phone when driving unless it is used with a hands-free. GPS can be used but is not necessary outside of the capital city.
Cost of fuel in Dominican Republic: more expensive than in the UK due to heavy taxes and transporting fees.
Car hire and fuel payment: credit cards are accepted at most petrol stations and car hire depots but a 16 per cent surcharge is usually added.
Insurance: liability insurance comes with car hire though it is recommended to purchase additional coverage.
Traffic and parking: driving in Santo Domingo should be avoided as parking is chaotic and the locals’ driving skills are lacking. Still, many hotels offer parking to their guests, which is the safest option.
Guaguas, collective taxis, are commonly seen and stick to fixed routes. These taxis are usually old Toyota Corollas and drivers pack them with six passengers. They are extremely cheap, costing around £0.30 per trip but are uncomfortable. Regular taxis are a better, but more expensive, option, though they usually can’t be found in the street. Most hotels and other establishments are able to call taxis, which cost anywhere from £2.50 and £9 for city trips, for guests.
Long-distance buses throughout the country are operated by a number of companies, such as Caribe Tours. Buses are inexpensive and comfortable, with air-conditioning and televisions, and travel between most areas of the country. Fares from Santo Domingo to Puerto Plata are around £5 per person. Guaguas also come in the form of mini buses that sit up to 30 people. They are an authentic way to travel and are very cheap, costing about £2 for a two-hour ride.
Santo Domingo’s port receives car ferries from Mayagüez and San Juan (Puerto Rico). The fare for the 12-hour journey is around £155 for a private cabin or £80 for a seat.
The private Punta Cana International Airport is the busiest airport in the country, with direct flights from London-Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham and East Midlands with British Airways, Thomas Cook Airlines and Thomson Airways. The other possibility is to fly to Las Américas International Airport near Santo Domingo. Flights here are received from London-Gatwick, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow with Thomas Cook Airlines. A tourist card, which can be received on arrival for around £6 but must be paid for in US dollars (US$10), is needed by all UK citizens to enter the country. Travellers must also pay a £12 (US$20) departures tax in US dollars when leaving the country.
Many visitors head to Puerto Plata first off, which is a popular resort destination along the north coast that is known for its lovely beaches. The beach is the main draw here though the town itself is home to the historical Fort San Felipe. The Isabella de Torres National Park is the town’s backdrop, with the Christo Redentor statue at the top of the park’s highest mountain.
The eastern-most Punta Cana region is home to some big resort areas, the historical city of Santo Domingo, the artist village of Altos de Chavon and Manati Park, which is a haven for animal lovers.
The fascinating capital city of Santo Domingo is where most of the country’s history can be seen thanks to sites such as Iglesia Regina Angelorum, Ozama Fort and Alcazar de Colon. Or discover the city’s cosmopolitan lifestyle in the Naco and Piantini neighbourhoods.
Pico Duarte, the highest point on the island, is great for hiking and climbing. The town of Constanza is en route and a great spot for eco-tourism. Here, visitors can see an abundance of pine trees as well as birds that are specific to Hispaniola.
The central Cibao Valley is home to the city of Santiago de los Caballeros. The city has some impressive architecture, such as the Cathedral de Santiago, Hermanos Patiño Bridge and El Monumento Santiago. It is also home to a number of great museums, including the Museo Folklórico Yoryi Morel and the Museo Histórico Fortaleza San Luis, as well as modern art galleries in Centro Leon.
The coastal regions, which are the most visited areas in the country, have a tropical climate with temperatures averaging around 28°C. The mountainous interior is the coolest part of the country and can get as cold as 0°C in the winter, while in the valley the temperature can rise to a scorching 40°C. In the north, the wet season runs from November to January, while elsewhere rain is heaviest from May to November. The driest part of the country is the west, while the south has been known to experience tropical cyclones.