The Dominican Republic with your family: practical guide
19 August 2019
The warm and sunny weather, the generous scenery, the kids-friendly hotels and the wealth of its culture make the Dominican Republic an ideal destination for families. Take your pirates to the Caribbean in the footsteps of Captain Jack Sparrow. Head to the paradise island, the white sand beaches, the coconut trees and the crustaceans.
In addition to the unmissable exotic beaches, the country is full of hidden treasures, memorable activities, luxurious hotels and sumptuous delicacies, all encapsulated in a rich and captivating Spanish culture. Follow the guide.
1 – DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: PASSPORT
- Capital city: Santo Domingo de Guzmàn
- Main language: Spanish
- Currency: Dominican Peso
- Political regime: Presidential democracy
- Continent: Hispaniola Island, shared with Haiti
- Unesco Heritage: Colonial City of Santo Domingo (1990)
2 – The map
The mythical Punta Cana
Located on the East Coast that’s beautifully renamed the “Coconut Coast“, Punta Cana is known for its idyllic beaches, ocean-defying palm trees and clear waters. Here, swimmers are protected by a coral reef that stretches over about 60 kilometers along the coast, same as the length of the beach. The coconut trees and the festive atmosphere at nightfall make Punta Cana the ideal place for enjoying a relaxing family holiday.
Santo Domingo, colonial capital
Santo Domingo is certainly one of the most exciting cities in the Caribbean. Its colonial city, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to beautiful monuments, lively alleyways and cafés with a local flavor. Discover the intrigues of its history amidst a population which is appreciated for its hospitality. Warm glances, smiles showing tobacco-blackened teeth, rum-colored noses, a sensual air of Bachata and the smell of sea spray constitute the peculiar riches of this colonial city.
The South, a facade that opens towards the Atlantic
A true nature paradise with its classified parks and solitary beaches, the South offers all that’s needed for an exotic experience. Between its famous “Capital of the South”, Bani, its sweet seaside resort, Casa de Campo, and its charming fishing villages, Bayahibe and Bavaro, let yourself be rocked to the merengue rhythm, a musical genre that is an integral part of Dominican Republic’s identity.
The wild Barahona
Much less known than the rest of the island, the southwestern region of the Dominican Republic shows off paradisiacal lagoons and offers breathtaking green landscapes. The natural parks and the mountains with vertiginous peaks that rise to an altitude of more than 3000 meters stretch as far as the eye can see. Not a single resort perturbs this exceptional picture, it is the dream place for small hikers, as well as for wildlife lovers. Off the built tracks, Barahona is home to unspoiled and little-known nooks, as well as rivers that are nestled in the lush forests of the Sierra de Bahoruco, wherein you can bathe with your children.
Puerto Plata, the Northern city
More peaceful than Punta Cana, the Puerto Plata tourist resort is renowned for its water activities, fishing ports and humpback whales that can be observed from the coast, between mid-January to late March. It was Christopher Columbus whom in 1493 gave the city its name, “Puerto Plata” which means “the port of money”. The passage of settlers in the area was marked by the presence of Victorian-style houses also known as Gingerbread. The Independence Park, whereon we will find the beautiful San Felipe Cathedral is a picturesque kiosk, worth visiting.
3 – The musts
- Indulging in water sports. A cradle of innovative and varied activities, the coconut coast (Côte des cocotiers) has all that is required to enthrall sea lovers. Between snorkeling, kayaking, sailing and catamaran, it is almost difficult not to be embarrassed by the number of available choices. The all-inclusive hotels, such as the Michès Playa Esmeralda Club Med *****, which borders Samana Bay, offer activities that are specially designed for the kids.
- Sailing towards the island of Saona. Known for its postcard decor, Saona was voted one of the Caribbean’s 5 dream islands by the popular Caribbean Travel & Life magazine. The island owes this title to its pristine white sand beaches that overlook a turquoise water and are lined with coconut trees. It is the most popular excursion site in the Dominican Republic; however, by moving away from the tourist spots, you will discover more pleasant nooks where there is hardly anyone. A real delight for both the young and old.
- Venturing into the cobbled streets of the colonial city of Santo Domingo. Make sure to greet Christopher Columbus, the great explorer of the New World, who is depicted on many buildings that have been erected since the sixteenth century. You will have the opportunity to visit ‘Faro a Colòn’, a remarkable lighthouse that was built in homage to Christopher Columbus. The highest point of the old town, the ‘Place d’Espagne’ (Spanish Square) has lots of terraces whereon you can savor delicious Dominican dishes such as Sancocho (pot-au-feu (beef stew) with seven meats) and small cafés wherein time seems to have paused. The street of Las Damas, the first cobbled street in America, where Diego Colombus’ wife and the ladies of that time loved to walk, makes it possible to go from the Spanish Square to the fortress of Ozama. This impregnable fort with high walls against pirates, will certainly impress the little adventurers.
- Walking through the small country roads of the central region of Cibao and discovering the way of life of Dominicans who live outside the cities, far from the astonishing concreting of Punta Cana. The locals’ welcoming nature will put your children at ease and make them feel at home.
- Escaping the resort’s frenzy for a day in the delightful fishing village of Las Terrenas, on the Samana Peninsula. Here, every seaside plot seems to be driven by the desire to preserve the site’s soul. Beautiful craft shops, typical restaurants and romantic hotels blend in with the local decor. This seaside resort nicknamed “the French village” because of its large Francophone community, has the magical combination of capturing the children’s imagination and refreshing the ideas of parents.
- Savoring the local markets’ products and traveling to the land of 1001 colors and flavors. Awaken your senses by perceiving the smell of cigars while mom and children marvel at the jewels made of amber or larimar stones. For a total immersion, let yourself be guided by the atmosphere of the Mercado Modelo, located in the heart of the cosmopolitan area of Santo Domingo. On the stalls of the small barracks that are attached to each other, you will find many arranged Creole objects, whose prices are negotiable as is customary.
- Enjoying a “Piña Colada”, a delicious Caribbean cocktail made with rum, pineapple juice and coconut cream, while your feet are in the waters at the Uva Bar of the Eden Roc Cap Cana Hotel. In this friendly bar, children are also entitled to their cocktails, or rather mocktails: creative and colorful alcohol-free drinks to toast during the holidays.
4 – Hotels for families
The Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts
Along the Uvero Alto beach, nestled between coconut trees, the Nickelodeon Hotels & Resort Punta Cana *****, is a family-friendly facility. In a setting inspired by the fantasy world of your children’s favorite cartoons, you will find villas with contemporary architecture. Housed in a pineapple, the Pineapple Suite combines modern comfort with fantastic decorative elements. In this emblematic suite, the hotel has made SpongeBob the king of the area and paintings the hallmark of its interior design. A “Pineapple” swimming pool and a private garden frame this luxuriously designed scenery to meet the expectations of travelers who seek after serenity and fun.
At lunchtime, children will be happy to find their favorite heroes thanks to the Ninja Turtles Power Breakfast that’s served at Zest Restaurant. If you wish to savor the Mediterranean flavors, you can head to Verdello, a restaurant wherein Sicilian cuisine blends brilliantly with the endless flavors of Caribbean lobsters. At this address, all stomachs be it big or small, are treated like VIPs.
Just as Christopher Columbus, explore the Caribbean archipelago and dock on the island of Saona. Catamaran rides are organized by the hotel and are specially planned to meet the requirements of families with children. Sail with peace of mind, the captain is at the helm!
The Eden Roc, a tropical and lush setting
If you desire to satisfy Dad’s passion for golf, Mom’s love for zumba and 100% children’s activities, head to Eden Roc Cap Cana *****, a 5-Star hotel set in a private bay, away from mass tourism which founds charming and unmixed resorts that are coupled to each other along the entire East Coast. The younger guests will enjoy living for a few days in this ultra-chic décor that exemplifies the successful blend between traditional Spanish colonial style and modern Caribbean luxury.
Its name, the Eden Roc Hotel ensues from the unmissable natural cave that’s located in the heart of the bay and which welcomes swimmers who are fond of adventure. In the shade of the palm trees, the entire family will feel like being in a different world. With its spacious beachfront suites, private beach, infinity pool, bars and restaurants, the facility has all that’s required to enthrall. When it comes to activities, the hotel isn’t lagging either: kayak lesson for children, horseback rides, excursions that are suitable for the little ones, movie nights, golf, spa, …
The golf course, designed by champion, Jack Nicklaus, runs along the coast in an unparalleled natural environment. Set between cliffs, beaches and waterfalls, the hotel’s 18-hole course has been rated “Best Golf Course in the Caribbean and Mexico” by Golfweek. Dad’s really going to be happy!
5 – ACTIVITies for young and old
To the East
- Go on a geology excursion with Scape Park in one of the most spectacular natural sites of the Caribbean, around the famous Cenote of Hoyo Azul. Is your curiosity triggered? We are talking here about a hole, a blue so clear that it seems supernatural, which has been dug into a limestone cliff. To get there, you must be prepared to walk for about twenty minutes along a secure path. Practical for small hikers, provided they are equipped with adequate footwear. The hike, littered with multicolored orchids, cacti and mangroves, offers a setting worthy of a rainforest. For the less chilly family members, a zip line can enable them fly over the Hoyo Azul.
- Use a quad bike or a buggy to explore the hinterland in complete freedom. These will make your visit more dynamic with some adrenaline rushes for the young lovers of motor sports. Numerous agencies offer to rent a quad bike or a buggy for the day or for half a day
- Dive with dolphins in the natural pool of Dolphin Island Park. This park is located a few kilometers from Punta Cana and is accessible by bus.
- Learn about the history of chocolate and the local cultivation of cocoa beans at Chocomuseo. Through an interactive course, children will be able to learn about the chocolate-making process, from the cocoa tree in the middle of the jungle to the marketed chocolate bars. The museum equally offers workshops for kids in the kitchen who are eager to produce their own chocolate. An opportunity for parents to be able to savor the region’s varied products. A delicious moment to enjoy with your family.
- Check out the giant starfish in the translucent waters of “piscina natural” during a Catamaran trip to the island of Saona. A magical moment for children who will return with eyes full of stars.
- A small train, Chu Chu Colonial, carries tourists to the heart of Santo Domingo’s historic district, for a 45-minute trip that’s full of history, architectural marvels and culture, in the narrow cobblestone streets with a local flair. Immerse yourself in 500 years of history through mysteries and tales told in seven different languages by the audio-guides who accompany you during the visit.
To the South
- A small fishing village, Bayahibe, in a natural haven with unconditional charm, with its charming colorful houses are worth visiting. Although the village has experienced a strong expansion with the arrival of tourism, it has still managed to retain its traditional character. Stroll through the small streets between the glitter of roses and trumpets of angels, delicate flowers with surprisingly sweet fragrance. Itinerary
In the South West
- Bathe in the fresh waters of the rivers that flow through the verdant forests of the Barahona region. An unusual forest-bathing experience. Admire the waterfalls that descend the majestic mountains to reach the desert beaches of the southwest coast. Note that transportation is scarce, and it is advisable to rent a car or take a taxi to reach the hiking trails.
To the North
- Take to the sea and dive in to discover the colorful underwater Caribbean life or visit Ocean World Park in the depths of the sea. Swim with jaws (sharks), an exciting experience in search of these dreaded creatures.
- In Puerto Plata, take the Cable car that flies over the city to the statue of Christ the Redeemer at the top of Mount Isabel de Torres. Once at the top, stroll through the sumptuous botanical gardens with breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean. These will offer lots of stunning views to your children.
6 – EVENts
Get your fill of culture and history through the Dominican Republic’s annual events: a colorful carnival, party nights punctuated by Bachata and Merengue or a seafood festival.
The Santo Domingo Carnival
Crazier than ever, the Carnival in the Dominican Republic is “a food opera whose stage is the street and whose actors and protagonists are the people” according to Jose Guerrero, which takes place over the entire month of February. On February 27, the Dominican Republic’s National day, the carnival is at its fullest. The inhabitants take to the streets disguised as, Diablo Cojuelo, a lame demon wearing a costume adorned with cow bell; as Roba La Gallina, a chicken thief with huge breasts and a huge backside; or as Lechones, a devil with a pig face, to mingle with the colorful parades. The costumes can scare the little ones, so be warned.
The Bachata festival in Santo Domingo
From the 10th to the 18th of December, the Bachata puffs, a Dominican rhythm that has over the years dethroned the merengue, escape from the narrow-cobbled streets of the old city, floating in the air and mixing with the distant sound of the waves. While the Merengue is rhythm-filled and danceable, the Bachata is full of sensuality and romance. Out of the bass and the drums emerges the languorous and plaintive voice of a man who sings of his lost loves and conquests.
7 – Weather and climate
The best season to travel to the Dominican Republic runs from December to April, in order to avoid the rainy season that runs from May to June and from October to November. The island has a tropical climate that is tempered by trade winds, with temperatures ranging between 20 to 30 °C all year and 26 to 29 °C in the water. The is no doubts you will be enjoying you swimming sessions.
Between September and October, hurricanes crisscross the Caribbean blowing dangerously along the coasts, however, being sheltered in the hotels, the tourists do not run any risk except that for playing cards or hide-and-seek.
8 – HEalth
Even though no vaccine is required to travel to the island, it is advisable to check in with your doctor for the hepatitis A vaccine, especially for pregnant women. What’s always in and around whenever it comes to traveling to exotic land are the mosquitoes that frequent the seaside and mountain valleys. So, you should always be cautious that you do not expose yourself when it gets dark, do not forget mosquito nets and think of repellent-repellent-repellent whenever you go out. If Baby is traveling with you, do not hesitate to consult this overview of simple and effective methods of fighting against these pesky insects.
As in most tropical countries, it is recommended not to drink tap water. Prefer bottled mineral water. Besides, Jeffrey will not be giving you ice cubes, in fact he will not give you any at all. If you order drinks outside your hotel, avoid requesting for ice.
9 – How to get there?
Getting to your place of vacation in the Dominican Republic has never been easier. Every corner of the island has its airport, in all there are 8 airports(!), enabling you to travel in the best conditions to any part of the country within 1 hour. Located at a 10-minute-drive away from the Punta Cana International Airport, the Eden Roc Cap Cana organizes the shuttles for your family from the airport to the hotel.
10 – In my luggage
“I’m going on a trip to the Dominican Republic – my luggage should contain…” sunscreen, headgear, sunglasses, mosquito repellent, outfits for a hot climate, swimwear, flip flops, rubber shoes for water sports, as well as hiking shoes and a light raincoat for sea trips
Have a safe trip!
Audrey, 25 years old, journalist, from Brussels, Belgium