Hire car, buses and domestic shuttle flights offer the best ways of exploring the Dominican Republic (DR). Public transportation is good, and taxis are available in the cities and towns.
Air: Dominican Shuttles (www.dominicanshuttles.com) runs charter and scheduled domestic flights in the DR. SAP Group (www.sapair.com) also runs premium charter flights around the country.
Sea: A scheduled passenger ferry service operates – weather permitting – between Samaná and Sabana de la Mar, on opposite sides of Bahía de Samaná in the northeastern region of the DR.
Note: there is no car ferry service here, so unfortunately, if you arrive in Sabana de la Mar with a rental vehicle, you’ll have to leave it behind and return by the same route.
In addition to international cruise ships, there is also a regular service between Santo Domingo and the Puerto Rican ports of San Juan and Mayaguez on Ferries Del Caribe, an overnight journey taking roughly 12 hours, three times weekly.
A good network of roads connects the major cities, towns, airports and beach resorts in the Dominican Republic.
The most popular highways, include the Autopista Juan Pablo Duarte (DR-1), that runs north and west from Santo Domingo to Monte Cristi on the northwest coast; the Sanchez Highway (DR-2), running westwards from Santo Domingo to Elías Piña on the Haitian frontier; and the Mella Highway (DR-4) that extends eastwards from Santo Domingo to Higüey in the southeast.
The Autovia del Este (DR-3) connects the two main tourist towns (Punta Cana and Santo Domingo).
Road conditions in the DR range from excellent to awful: Autopista Coral (Autopista Oscar de la Renta), running from Playa Bávaro to La Romano, is probably the best highway in the country; Autopista Duarte between Santo Domingo and Santiago is fast moving and in good condition, but you still need to be alert for potholes, speed bumps and pedestrians.
The two best stretches of highway – from Santo Domingo to Bávaro and from Santo Domingo to Las Terrenas – have several peajes (toll boths). Be sure to have Dominican pesos, preferably some change and bills to move through quickly. Toll fees which range from RD$60 to RD$570 are posted clearly on signs just before the booths.
While in theory, road rules in the DR are the same as for most countries in the Americas, with similiar road signs and traffic lights that you would find in the US or Canada, driving is pretty much a free-for-all. Note: Traffic accidents claim more lives than violent crime in the DR.
Typically, traffic lights – when working – are frequently ignored, although you should plan to stop when indicated. Ideally, watch what other drivers are doing – if everyone is going through, you probably should, too, as it can be even more dangerous to stop if the cars behind you aren’t expecting it.
Prohibitions against drinking and driving are widely flouted and it's not uncommon to spot a speeding motorcyclist sipping rum. It's advisable to avoid driving at night.
Keep doors and windows locked at all times. Driving at night is not recommended because of poor lighting and signage.
Traffic drives on the right-hand side of the raod, and seat belts are required.
Car hire: International and local car hire companies have offices at the major international airports, as well as in Santo Domingo and other cities.
Car rental companies usually require you to be at least 21 years old, and in some cases, at least 25 years old, to hire a car. A passport, a valid driving license from your home country and a credit card are required.
Car-rental agencies typically offer comprehensive, nondeductible collision and liability insurance for fairly small daily fees.
If you plan to do any driving on secondary roads along the coast or in the mountains, a 4WD is recommended. Motorcycles can also be rented, but only experienced riders should do so because of the generally poor road conditions.
It’s worth buying a good map to the area you’ll be exploring. In Santo Domingo, Mapas GAAR publishes and sells the most comprehensive maps of cities and towns in the DR.
Drivers and passengers are required to wear seat belts and using a mobile phone while driving is prohibited. Turning right on a red light after stopping is allowed. The speed limit is 120kph (75mph) on highways, 80kph (50mph) on main roads and 40kph (25mph) in small towns and villages.
A valid driver's license, passport and rental documents including insurance must be with you at all times.
If driving in rural areas, look out for potholes and make sure to top up petrol when given the chance as petrol stations can be far apart.
If involved in a car accident, report it to authorities. If the accident doesn't cause any injuries and you are in Santo Domingo or Santiago, register the incident at Le Casa del Conductor, or at the nearest police station if you are in a different area.
Taxi: It's advisable to hire tourist taxis, hotel taxis or radio taxis that can be arranged in advance. Avoid unmarked taxis.
Dominican taxis are fairly affordable, but visitors should avoid unmarked street cabs, where robberies and assaults have been known to occur.
The Dominican Republic’s most dependable taxi companies are Tecni-Taxi (+1-809-567-2010 in Santo Domingo, +1-809-320-7621 in Puerto Plata) and Taxi Cabarete/Sosua (+1-809-571-0767).
Bicycle: The DR’s roads are not suited for cycling, and Dominican drivers are not known to be accommodating to people on bikes.
However, mountain biking on the DR’s back roads and lesser-used backroads can be rewarding, and a number of recommended tour companies operate in Jarabacoa and Cabarete.
Bus: Several privately-owned bus companies operate coach services in the DR, including Metro Bus (metroserviciosturisticos.com) and Caribe Tours (caribetours.com.do) – both provide comfortable, frequent service along a network of major cities and towns.
Caribe Tours – the Dominican Republic’s largest and most widespread inter-city bus company – has the most departures and covers more destinations in the DR, as well as Haiti.
Rates are reasonable and the service runs between 7:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., stopping in most major communities.
Metro Bus serves nine cities, mostly along the Santo Domingo–Puerto Plata corridor, plus a daily trip to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Fares tend to be slightly more expensive than Caribe Tours.
Expreso Bávaro Handles trips between Santo Domingo and the Punta Cana area.
Capital Coach Line Offers daily bus services to/from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on comfortable, air-con buses.
Santo Domingo has flat-fare bus and minibus services, and thousands of share-taxis known as Conchos, who usually have pre-established routes. To get one, wave at the driver and check if your destination is on their routes.
Virtually all 1st-class buses have toilets in the back and TVs in the aisles showing movies (loudly) en route. Air-con is sometimes turned up to uncomfortable levels.
Fares are low – the most expensive 1st class ticket is less than US$10 – and you must buy your ticket before boarding. Unfortunately, there are no central bus terminals in the majority of cities and each company has its own station location.
Coaches almost never stop along the road to pick up passengers but drivers are often willing to drop passengers off at various points along the way; they will not, however, open the luggage compartment at any point other than the actual terminal.
Metro: Santo Domingo has a good metro service, with the north-south metro line passing the Plaza de la Cultura, while the east-west line connects major shopping and business areas.
For Santo Domingo metro, you can purchase a single-charge card or a rechargeable card.
Guaguas: A guagua (pronounced 'gwa-gwa') is a small bus or minivan. Guaguas are ubiquitous, the least expensive and least comfortable, but are often the only available public transport for short distances.
Guaguas are typically midsize buses holding around 25 to 30 passengers. They rarely have signs, but the driver’s assistant (known as the cobrador (or charger), since one of his jobs is to collect fares from passengers) will yell out the destination to potential fares on the side of the road.
Guaguas pick up and drop off passengers anywhere along the route – to flag one down simply hold out your hand – the common gesture is to point at the curb in front of you but just about any gesture will do.
Most guaguas pass every 15 to 30 minutes and cost RD$35 to RD$70, but unless you have the exact amount some cobradors may pocket the change of unwary foreigners.
It’s a good idea to carry change or small bills and to find out the exact cost in advance. Tip: ask a local. When you want to get off, tap the roof or bang on the side of the van.
Guaguas are divided into two types: caliente and expreso. The majority are caliente (literally ‘hot’), with no air-conditioning.
The less frequent expreso usually have air-conditioning (some claim to have wi-fi connections), make fewer stops and costs slightly more. Within these two categories there’s a wide diversity in vehicle quality and reliability.
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Latest update: How to get to Dominican Republic: 13 June, 2020
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