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  • Janis Nunez

Dominican Republic: Santo Domingo & Punta Cana

Updated: Jul 1, 2023

BEFORE YOU GO

ADAPTER: No adapter necessary for travel to the Dominican Republic from the US.


PHONE: Check with your provider to find out what fees apply. T-Mobile has free data and texting, with 25¢ per minute for calls.


WHERE TO STAY: We are huge fans of Airbnb, especially when we fly out of the country. However, there are times when we prefer to get a hotel. If you get an amazing deal, you really can't go wrong. For this trip I started to get a little stressed about finding an Airbnb in Santo Domingo. The reviews I found were either amazing (and crazy priced), or horrible and having major issues like no water, no air, dirty conditions. I didn't want to risk it and we had some points saved up so we chose to stay at the Crown Plaza Hotel (link). We are a family of four and this accommodated us perfectly. They also have free parking, so if you rent a car you will not have to pay extra to park the car in the garage. The rooftop pool is an added bonus, along with the ocean view as you are right along the coast.



FLYING DURING COVID


Flying right now seems somewhat normal with seats filled to capacity on the planes and cart service back in full swing. The only thing different is that you need to wear a mask in the airport and on the plane unless actively eating or drinking. Check your destination for any COVID restrictions before you go. The Dominican Republic had a curfew while we were there that had people off the streets by 9pm, and you couldn't order alcohol anywhere after 3pm. If you are staying at a resort, no need to worry about any of this as you will be on the grounds and have all that you need.


A requirement for US citizens traveling out of the country is to have a negative COVID test to return. This was arranged by our resort, but you can also find multiple locations in cities and also at the airport. Check before you go so that you don't waste vacation time trying to find a location. The test results must show negative, and it's only good for a certain number of days, so be sure to take it a day or so before you leave to have time to get the results. You will have to show the results when you get to the airport. Every country has different requirements, so just check before you go and you should be fine.


WHEN YOU ARRIVE


CURRENCY: When we fly to another country, we like to take money out at the airport ATMs. This time we were visiting family and just exchanged with them when we landed. Check the currency exchange. You get a lot for a dollar in the DR, so don't get too much or you will be stuck with it. We like to keep some bills and coins from each country we visit as keepsakes, though, so maybe hang on to a few bills and coins.


GROCERY: If you are staying at an Airbnb, it's a definite must to get water and food to stock at your place. This trip we stayed at a hotel, so we got water at a local market around the corner from our hotel. It's not safe to drink the water in the DR, so only drink bottled water.


TRANSPORTATION: We rented a car through Costco. We like to rent through Costco because you don't get charged until you pick up the car. You can always cancel if you find another place cheaper without penalty. We book last minute, so this works best for us.


SIGHTSEEING & THINGS TO DO


Originally we were to fly into Santo Domingo, but our Chicago flight was late arriving to Atlanta, so we had to make other arrangements. Luckily a flight to Punta Cana was going out that same day and we were able to get on the plane. We rented a car from Punta Cana and had lunch with a cousin who lives in the area before we set out on our 2 hour drive to Santo Domingo. We met up with family who were waiting for us (Santo Domingo flight) and ended the day early as we had a long day of traveling. We were bummed to miss out on time in Santo Domingo, but we were able to meet up with my father-in-law and his brother to make plans for the next day. Day 1 was basically a travel day.



SANTO DOMINGO


We headed to breakfast at Hermanos Villar, which was around the corner from the hotel. We met up with a local family member who took us around Zona Colonial to see the sites. There is so much history in the area. You definitely don't want to miss it. Here are the sites that we were able to visit:


Panteon Nacional - This is the resting place for many Dominican heroes.



Museo De Las Casas Reales - Historical exhibits on Santo Domingo from 1492 to 1821.



Reloj de Sol - This "clock" sits in front of the Museo De Las Casas Reales. There are also canons and sculptures in the surrounding area.



Plaza de Armas - This plaza is in front of Alcazar de Colon. You will find a statue of the 3rd Governor of Santo Domingo, Nicolas de Ovando. Many restaurants are in this area as well.



Alcazar de Colon was a palace built by Christopher Columbus' son. You can buy a ticket and tour the house. Beautiful architecture.



La Puerta del Conde (The Count's Gate) was the main entrance to the fortified city of Santo Domingo back in the day. The Alter de la Patricia houses the remains of the founding fathers of the Dominican Republic. Within the mausoleum there are statues of them, and an "eternal flame" that is kept lit in memory of the patriots.



Basilica Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor - This is a beautiful church that, unfortunately, we didn't get to go inside because they had a service and then weren't allowing people inside afterward. Definitely go inside if you can, it looks amazing.


Parque Colon - This park is filled with people and musicians, as well as the statue of Christopher Columbus. We enjoyed stopping here a couple of times.




When we were walking back through the area, the crowd had gotten bigger and there was a lot of singing and dancing going on by locals. So fun!



Monasterio de San Francisco - Go to see the ruins of the monastery built for the Franciscan fathers, which is the oldest monastery of the Americas. It's stunning. (Across the street is a bar. Go get a mojito or two. Excellent service and cool hangout.)



Be sure to take your time walking around the old city. It's a lovely mix of new and old. You can really get a lot of information about the history of the area. We stopped for cold drinks along the way. It was hot in late June! We enjoyed being shown around by family and learning where my father-in-law and his family grew up. Some of the homes have been turned into restaurants, or still remain as apartments. This was a wonderful experience for my kids to learn first hand about their grandfather's upbringing. Definitely check out all of the architecture around the city. It's stunning. We left here and walked over to an aunt's home to visit with more family. Really it was a perfect day, and I wish we had more time there. That last picture of my husband is where they shot a scene from The Godfather II.



PUNTA CANA


The drive from Santo Domingo to Punta Cana is about 2 hours. You will see all kinds of people on various types of transportation. We were impressed with the amount of things people could load onto one motorbike. Sometimes 3 (or more) people on one bike, loaded with stuff they are transporting. They drive on the side of the road, so be careful to keep a watch for them jetting in and out of the side streets. We also found it fascinating to see a person standing on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. We wondered how they got there and what they were waiting for. Lots of produce trucks loaded beyond capacity were plentiful on the drive over as well. It was sad to see some of the homes that people live in along the way to Punta Cana.


ROYALTAN BAVARO RESORT & SPA (link) was the meeting spot for another family gathering. The trip to Dominican Republic was to celebrate a family member's Quinceanera. The family planned for relatives and friends to stay at the resort and celebrate their daughter turning 15. Although I am not one for all-inclusive resorts, I feel like it was an excellent way to allow everyone to be in one place and enjoy celebrating together in an environment that had something for everyone.


We enjoyed our time with family and friends who we don't get to see often, and although the resort had a number of issues, being with family made it worth every minute. If you are considering this resort and would like the list of issues we had with the resort you can check out my Tripadvisor post for details. I'm going to keep this positive and just state that there are several all-inclusive places that you and your family can stay at in Punta Cana. Do your research and pick what works for you. I hear the Hyatt is beyond amazing.


Diamond Club - You pay a little extra, but diamond club gives you access to a separate beach, pool, bar and dining areas. Our whole group had this access, so it was nice to always have space to be together. You also get private access time to the wave rider and other amenities. Check their website for all of the details.



Rooms - The rooms are very comfortable and for us a bonus was the swim out (costs extra). We had 2 queen beds plus a sofa bed, so my boys got their own beds. My youngest son lived in the swim out when we were at the room. It's a nice way to cool off without going to the pool or beach, or to hang out with friends in the evening.


Another thing I liked was that your room key was a bracelet you wore the whole time. This saved having to find a place to put the key and/or forgetting it somewhere. The tub being in the middle of the room was in the way. For a couple it's fine, but for a family of 4 you couldn't really get privacy to use it unless you kicked everyone out. We hung our wet suits around it.



Flow Rider - this was probably my boys favorite part of the resort. It was fun to gather and watch all of the kids/teens (and grownups) attempt and succeed. I didn't get a shot of the Lazy River with all of us in it, but that was a close second for us. We just enjoyed chatting and cooling off from the hot sun.



Pool - The diamond club pool area had its own bar and dining area, which was nice. Unfortunately, the swim up bar was not open the entire stay. Our family "hosts" got everyone tumblers to fill our drinks and take in the pool, which was nice. My kids kept theirs filled with smoothies the entire trip. Ours were filled with mojitos and pina coladas. There are plenty of pool/beach towels and umbrellas/seats available around the pool. There are also cabanas available.



There are a lot of opportunities to hang out with family when they are all at the same resort. We loved being able to just visit and enjoy the company of family we don't always get to see.



Excursions - The resort provides excursions you can pay extra for to do things on the island away from the resort. You can also go on your own to explore. My husband took one day to go golfing with family that lived local and another day to go on a dune buggy tour through the resort with our youngest son and some of our group staying at the resort.



Dining - One bonus of staying at a resort is not having to do much more than make a reservation at the restaurants. Our group had just under 30 people, but we were able to make reservations for a number of tables at the same time. It was nice to visit with different people each night. The kids/teens had their own table and were able to connect with each other, which was nice since they don't get to see each other much. We did have a huge issue at our first restaurant, but it went smoothly after that. I wish they had an authentic Dominican restaurant on site, but it was good nonetheless.


For lunch we made a habit of going to the Food Truck and Grill area. It was EXCELLENT! Grilled meats, sides like rice, chips, guacamole, yuca fries, etc. All of it was great, including the service. (There are more places to grab lunch/dinner than what I've listed.)



We had a wonderful trip with family in the Dominican Republic. There is so much more to do. I can't wait to go back!


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