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Dominican Republic

Smart Travel Tips

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Arriving & Departing |  Contacts & Resources |  Getting Around


Arriving & Departing
 
By Air

Las Américas International Airport (SDQ) (Santo Domingo, PHONE:809/549-0450) is about 20 mi (32 km) outside Santo Domingo. Due to a $50-million major renovation, this tri-level airport is significantly better than in past years, and there are many new security measures. Still, it can be daunting for the uninitiated.

Puerto Plata International Gregorio Luperon Airport (POP) (Puerto Plata, PHONE:809/586-0107 or 809/586-0219), about 15 mi (24 km) east of Puerto Plata on the north coast, has benefitted from a much needed, multiphase renovation project.

The Punta Cana International Airport (PUJ) (PHONE:809/668-4749) is an experience; the terminal building is a thatched-roof structure with cane partitions; it covers several acres and is surrounded by gardens.

La Romana/Casa de Campo International Airport (LRM) (PHONE:809/556-5565) has a creative design that replicates a sugar factory -- the area was originally a sugarcane plantation.

Barahona International Airport (BRX) (Barahona, PHONE:809/524-4109), 7 miles from Barahona on the southwest coast, is served by a limited number of private charters.

Anticipate long lines and allow 2-3 hours for checking in for an international flight, especially at Las Américas. Do confirm your flight two days in advance. Keep a sharp eye on your luggage; almost everyone checks black luggage, and between that and the many huge boxes that the Dominicans bring in from the states, the carousels are chaotic. If you fly out of a U.S. airport such as Miami -- where a shrink-wrap service is offered -- avail yourself of it (plastic-wrap your bag like meat in a supermarket, and no one is likely to tamper with it).

Choose wisely in order to fly into the airport closest to where you will be staying. It may also be possible to book an inbound flight into one airport and an outbound flight from another airport, in order to see more of the D.R. This country is larger than most Caribbean islands, and a logistical mistake could place you a four-hour bus ride away (which translates into a $100 taxi) when there is very likely an airport only a 30-minute drive from your hotel.

Sample flying times are 3½ hours from New York, 1½ hours from Miami, and 7 hours from London.

Carriers

Aeromar (PHONE:877/237-6672) flies nonstop from Miami to Santo Domingo daily.

Air Atlantic (PHONE:809/687-4569) has service from Miami and San Juan into Las Américas on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Air Caraïbes (PHONE:877/772-1005; www.aircaraibes.com) serves Santo Domingo, connecting it with the French West Indies -- Guadeloupe, Les Saintes, Marie-Galante, La Désirade, Martinique, St. Maarten, St. Barths, and St. Lucia.

Air DCE (PHONE:809/687-4569, formerly Air ALM) connects Santo Domingo to St. Maarten and Curaçao.

Air Transat (PHONE:416/259-1118) serves Santo Domingo from Montréal, Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria, and the maritime provinces; it now has three weekly flights into La Romana/Casa de Campo Airport.

American Airlines (PHONE:800/433-7300; 809/542-5151 in the Dominican Republic; www.aa.com) has the most extensive service to the D.R. It flies nonstop from New York and Miami to Santo Domingo, Puerto Plata, Punta Cana, and La Romana/Casa de Campo Airport and offers connections to both Santo Domingo and Puerto Plata from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

From San Juan, American Eagle (PHONE:800/433-7300; 809/542-5151 in the Dominican Republic; www.aa.com) has six daily flights to Santo Domingo, two daily flights to La Romana/Casa de Campo Airport, two flights daily to Santiago, and several flights weekly to Punta Cana.

Continental (PHONE:800/231-0856; 809/562-6688 in the Dominican Republic; www.continental.com) flies nonstop from Newark to Puerto Plata and Santo Domingo.

Queen Air (PHONE:809/565-4041) flies from New York to Santo Domingo four times a week.

US Airways (PHONE:800/428-4322; 809/540-0505 in the Dominican Republic; www.usairways.com) offers daily service into Santo Domingo directly from Philadelphia; flights from other U.S. cities must connect in Philadelphia. US Airways also has frequent service to San Juan, from Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Charlotte, where you can connect for flights to Santo Domingo, Punta Cana, Puerto Plata, and Santiago.

From the U.K.

Air France (PHONE:0/802802-802 / in Paris; 809/686-8432 in the Dominican Republic; www.airfrance.com) has multiple daily flights from London to Paris which now has direct service into Santo Domingo four times a week and direct flights into Punta Cana three times a week.

Transfers Between the Airport and Town

If you've arranged for a hotel transfer (a good idea), a representative should be waiting for you in the immigration hall.

By Taxi

Taxis are available at the airports, and the 25-minute ride into Santo Domingo from Las Américas averages about $30. Some order has been imposed outside the airport -- taxis line up and, for the most part, charge official, established rates.

Fares from the Puerto Plata airport average $16 to Playa Dorada.

Expect to pay about $30 from Punta Cana airport to the hotels, except to the Punta Cana Resort & Club, which is five minutes away and which owns the airport.

 
 
Contacts & Resources
 
Business Hours

Banks

Banks are open weekdays 8:30-4:30.

Post Offices

Post offices are open weekdays 7:30-2:30.

Shops

Offices and shops are open weekdays 8-noon and 2-6, Saturday 8-noon. About half the stores stay open all day, no longer closing for a midday siesta.

 
 
Customs & Duties

Arriving in the Dominican Republic

Although customs inspectors in some countries inspect all baggage to allay their concerns about smuggling or drug running, many islands wave those tourists who have no goods to declare through customs inspections with only a cursory question or two. Exceptions include major hubs within the Caribbean, such as Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and Antigua. If you're yachting through the islands, note that harbor customs are often thorough, as well.

These rules generally apply throughout the Caribbean: you are limited to bringing in 2 liters of alcohol, two cartons of cigarettes, and a reasonable amount of duty-free goods for your personal use. More than that, and you'll be asked to pay a hefty import tax.

 
 
Electricity

The current is 110 volts, 60 cycles -- just as in North America. Electrical blackouts occur less frequently than in the past and tend to last only one to two minutes (when they're over, everyone claps). Hotels and most restaurants have generators.

 
 
Embassies and Consulates

Canada

Canadian Embassy (Capitan Eugenia de Marchena 39, Box 2054, La Esperilla, Santo Domingo, PHONE:809/685-1136).

Canadian Consulate (Edificio Isabel de Torres, Suite 311C, Puerto Plata, PHONE:809/586-5761).

United Kingdom

British Embassy (Edificio Corominas Pepin, Av. 27 de Febrero 233, Naco, Santo Domingo, PHONE:809/472-7671 or 809/472-7373).

United States

United States Embassy (Leopoldo Navarro esq. Cesar Nicolas Penson, Naco, Santo Domingo, PHONE:809/221-2171).

 
 
Emergencies

Ambulance and Fire (PHONE:911).

Police (PHONE:809/586-2804 in Puerto Plata; 711 in Santo Domingo; 809/571-2233 in Sosúa).

Hospitals

Centro Médico Sosúa (Av. Martinez, Sosúa, PHONE:809/571-3949).

Centro Médico Universidad Central del Este (Av. Máximo Gómez 68, La Esperilla, Santo Domingo, PHONE:809/221-0171).

Clínica Abreu (Calle Beller 42, Gazcue, Santo Domingo, PHONE:809/688-4411).

Clínica Dr. Brugal (Calle José del Carmen Ariza 15, Puerto Plata, PHONE:809/586-2519).

Clínica Gómez Patino (Av. Independencia 701, Gazcue, Santo Domingo, PHONE:809/685-9131).

Hospiten Hospital Bávaro (Bávaro, PHONE:809/686-1414).

Servimed (Plaza La Criolla, Sosúa, PHONE:809/571-0964).

Pharmacies

Farmacia Deleyte (Av. John F. Kennedy 89, Puerto Plata, PHONE:809/586-2583).

San Judas Tadeo (Av. Independencia 57, Gazcue, Santo Domingo, PHONE:809/689-6664).

 
 
Etiquette & Behavior

Wearing shorts, miniskirts, and halter tops in churches is considered inappropriate. Men in Santo Domingo never wear shorts.

 
 
Guided Tours

Amber Coast Adventures (Cabarete, PHONE:809/254-0281) is a terrific company offering ecoadventures from kitesurfing to cascading and kayaking, deep sea fishing, and dinners at unique, out-of-the-way mountain restaurants, transportation included. Horseback excursions go to caves, beaches, or into the mountains, where riders dismount, let the horses plunge into the river, then float after them in inner tubes.

Apolo Tours (PHONE:809/586-5329), which is based in Playa Dorada, offers a full-day tour of Playa Grande and tours to Santiago (including a casino excursion) and Sosúa for $40; the company will also arrange transfers between your hotel and the airport, day trips, and custom and small group tours along the north coast, which include stops for swimming and a trip to Samaná ($55).

Cabemba Tours (PHONE:809/586-2177), which operates in Playa Dorada, runs various tours of the Cibao Valley and the Amber Coast, including Puerto Plata, Sosúa, and Río San Juan.

Caribbean Jeep Safaris (PHONE:809/571-1924) is an English-speaking outfit in Playa Dorada that runs jeep tours in the mountains behind Puerto Plata and Sosúa, ending up at the Cabarete Adventure Park, where you can swim in an underground pool and explore caves with Taíno rock paintings; buffet lunch and drinks are included in the $45 fee.

Go Dominican Tours (PHONE:809/586-5969) in Playa Dorada has tours to Jarabacoa for $90, which include lunch, drinks, and 3½ hours of river rafting; jumping off cliffs is optional. Jeep safaris trek to flower, fruit, and coffee plantations. Horseback riding in the Puerto Plata area is another option.

Iguana Mama, Mountain Bike, Hiking & Cultural Vacations (PHONE:800/571-0908), a company based in Cabarete, offers adventure tours with an ecological conscience: 20% of their profits are donated to local environmental projects and education; a well-established company, it puts a premium on safety.

Playa Colibri (Las Terrenas, PHONE:809/240-6434), a hotel, acts as a tour operator for excursions in Las Terrenas to such sights as El Limón Cascades and Playa Moron, jeep safaris, and trips to Santi's Restaurant, Casa Berca, accessible only on horseback.

Prieto Tours (PHONE:809/685-0102), which is in Santo Domingo and operates Gray Line of the D.R., has half-day bus tours of Santo Domingo, nightclub tours, beach tours, trips to Cibao Valley and the Amber Coast, and other excursions; prices start at $35.

Turinter (PHONE:809/685-4020) offers a six-hour trip to Altos de Chavón ($50); a full day of swimming and boating on Saona Island ($80); and specialty trips (museum, shopping, fishing), all from Santo Domingo.

 
 
Health

Though it's reasonably safe to drink water from the tap (especially in the better resorts), you're better off playing it safe with bottled water. Try to arrive at the very start of a buffet meal, before the food has sat out for a while in the tropical heat.

The staff at your hotel can recommend a doctor, dentist, clinic, or hospital should a need arise. Sometimes, particularly at family resorts, a nurse is on-site during the day and a doctor is on call. Doctor visits, incidentally, can be costly -- even on islands where the general cost of living would make you think otherwise. Doctors and hospitals may require cash payment or take a major credit card; Medicare, Medicaid, and many U.S. medical insurance policies are not valid outside the U.S.

Divers' Alert

Do not fly within 24 hours of scuba diving.

Food and Drink

Traveler's diarrhea, caused by eating contaminated fruit or vegetables or drinking contaminated water, isn't a big problem in the Caribbean, but it does occur. So watch what you eat. Avoid ice, uncooked food, and unpasteurized milk and milk products, and drink only bottled water or water that has been boiled for several minutes, even when brushing your teeth. Mild cases may respond to Imodium (known generically as loperamide) or Pepto-Bismol, both of which can be purchased over the counter. Drink plenty of purified water or tea -- chamomile is a good folk remedy. In severe cases, rehydrate yourself with a salt-sugar solution (½ teaspoon salt and 4 tablespoons sugar per quart of water).

Over-the-Counter Remedies

Island drug stores and supermarkets are well stocked with familiar over-the-counter medicines and other health products that you might need. If you don't see precisely what you want, ask the pharmacist to recommend an appropriate substitute. If you can only use a specific or an uncommon medicine, be sure to bring a sufficient supply with you.

Pests and Other Hazards

The major health risk in the Caribbean is sunburn or sunstroke. Having a long-sleeve shirt, a hat, and long pants or a beach wrap available is essential on a boat, for midday at the beach, and whenever you go out sightseeing. Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 -- especially if your complexion is fair -- and apply it liberally on your nose, ears, and other sensitive and exposed areas. Make sure the sunscreen is waterproof if you're engaging in water sports, limit your sun time for the first few days, and drink plenty of liquids, monitoring intake of caffeine and alcohol, which hasten the dehydration process.

Even experienced swimmers should exercise caution in waters on the windward (Atlantic Ocean) side of the islands. The unseen currents, powerful waves, strong undertows, and rocky bottoms can be extremely dangerous -- and lifeguards are rare. Even in the calmest water, watch out for black, spiny sea urchins; stepping on one is guaranteed to be painful for quite some time.

The small lizards native to the islands are harmless (and actually keep down the bug population), and poisonous snakes are hard to find. Beware of the manchineel tree, which grows near the beach and has green applelike fruit that is poisonous and bark and leaves that can burn the skin. The worst insect problem may well be the tiny no-see-ums (sand flies) that appear after a rain, near swampy ground, and around sunset; mosquitoes can also be annoying. Bring along a good repellent.

Shots and Medications

No special shots or vaccinations are required for Caribbean destinations.

 
 
Language

Spanish is spoken in the D.R. Staff at major tourist attractions and front-desk personnel in most major hotels speak some English, but you may have difficulty making yourself understood. Outside the popular tourist establishments, restaurant menus are in Spanish, as are traffic signs everywhere. Using smiles and gestures will help, and though you can manage with just English, people are even more courteous if you try to speak their language.

 
 
Mail

Airmail postage to North America for a letter or postcard is RD$2, to Europe RD$4; letters may take up to three weeks to reach their destination. Or you can pay almost US$1.45 to buy a pale green stamp for "fast mail" in a gift shop (outside Santo Domingo, post offices aren't easy to find). The main branch of the post office in Santo Domingo is on Calle Heroes del Luperon at Rafael Damiron La Ferla.

Airmail between Caribbean islands and cities in the United States or Canada takes 7-14 days; surface mail can take 4-6 weeks. Airmail to the United Kingdom takes 2-3 weeks, to Australia and New Zealand, 3-4 weeks.

Courier services (such as Airborne, FedEx, UPS, and others) operate throughout the Caribbean, although not every company serves each island. "Overnight" service is more likely to take two or more days, because of the limited number of flights on which packages can be shipped.

 
 
Money

ATMs

Banco Popular has many locations throughout the country; many have ATMs that accept international cards.

Credit Cards

Major credit cards are accepted at most hotels, large stores, and restaurants.

Currency

The coin of the realm is the Dominican peso (written RD$). Sometimes, independent merchants will willingly accept U.S. dollars, but don't count on it, though most of the all-inclusive resorts will. Always make certain you know in which currency any transaction is taking place. Carry a pocket calculator to make conversions easier.

Exchanging Money

You'll find cambios (currency exchange offices) at the airports as well as in major shopping areas throughout the island. At times they offer better rates than banks; at others el banco is best. Check the posted rates for any given day. In addition, some hotels provide exchange services, but as a general rule hotels and restaurants will not give you as much for your money as cambios and banks.

Taxes

The D.R. has a $10 departure tax, included in the price of your ticket. This has nothing to do with the cost of the tourist card, which you just purchase in cash upon arrival.

A 10% service charge is usually added to restaurant checks and hotel bills, as is a 12% government tax. Don't hesitate to add more propino if you enjoyed the service. These people are very appreciative recipients.

Tipping

Generally, a 10% service charge is included. The bill will say, propino incluido. When in doubt, ask. If you found the service to your liking, tip an extra 5%-10%. It's customary to leave a dollar per day for the hotel maid regardless of whether or not your resort says that tips are included. Taxi drivers expect a 10% tip, especially if they've had to lift luggage or to wait for you. Skycaps and hotel porters expect at least RD$10 per bag.

 
 
Passports & Visas

When traveling internationally, carry your passport even if you don't need one (it's always the best form of I.D.) and make two photocopies of the data page (one for someone at home and another for you, carried separately from your passport). If you lose your passport, promptly call the nearest embassy or consulate and the local police.

Entering the Dominican Republic

U.S. and Canadian citizens must have either a valid passport or proof of citizenship, such as an original birth certificate with a raised seal. Legal U.S. residents must have an alien registration card (green card) and a valid passport from their home country. Citizens of Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom need a valid passport. Additionally, upon arrival all U.S., U.K., Australian, Canadian, and Irish citizens must purchase a tourist card, which costs U.S.$10, in cash unless it is included in your package price. You must return the receipt for this tourist card when you leave or you will be charged an another $10 fee.

Passport Offices

The best time to apply for a passport, or to renew your old one, is in fall or winter. Before any trip, check your passport's expiration date, and, if necessary, renew it as soon as possible.

Australian Citizens

Australian Passport Office (PHONE:131-232; www.passports.gov.au).

Canadian Citizens

Passport Office (Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0G3, PHONE:819/994-3500 or 800/567-6868; www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca/passport).

New Zealand Citizens

New Zealand Passport Office (PHONE:04/474-8100 or 0800/22-5050; www.passports.govt.nz).

U.K. Citizens

London Passport Office (PHONE:0870/521-0410; www.passport.gov.uk).

U.S. Citizens

National Passport Information Center (PHONE:900/225-5674; travel.state.gov/passport_services.html). Calls are 35¢ per minute for automated service, $1.05 per minute for operator service.

 
 
Safety

In general, the island is very safe -- even for women traveling alone -- and you rarely hear about violent crime against tourists. Thefts and pickpocketing, however, occur with some frequency. In Santo Domingo, in particular, be conscious of your wallet or pocketbook, especially around the Malecón.

At night you may see men in civvies with shoulder rifles standing outside businesses or homes. Don't be unnerved by this. These men are the Dominican equivalents of private security guards.

Always lock your car and never leave valuables in it even if it is locked. If you have a safe in your hotel room, use it.

 
 
Telephones

To call the D.R. from the United States, dial 1, then the area code 809 and the local number. From the D.R. there's also direct-dial service to the U.S.

To make a local call, dial the 7-digit number.

International Calls

To reach the United States and Canada, dial 1, followed by the area code and number; to the United Kingdom dial 011, the country and city codes, and the number.

The country code for the United States and Canada is 1; for Australia, 61; for New Zealand, 64; and for the United Kingdom, 44.

 
 
Visitor Information

Tourist Offices

In the Dominican Republic

Secretary of Tourism (Av. Mexico, corner of Av. 30 de Marzo, Santo Domingo, PHONE:809/221-4660).

Ministry of Tourism (Av. Mexico, Santo Domingo, PHONE:809/221-4660).

Puerto Plata Tourist Office (Playa Long Beach, Puerto Plata, PHONE:809/586-3676).

At Home

Dominican Republic Tourist Office (136 E. 57th St., Suite 803, New York, NY, 10022, PHONE:212/575-4966 or 888/374-6361; www.dr1.com/travel.shtml).

Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) (80 Broad St., New York, NY, 10004, PHONE:212/635-9530, FAX: 212/635-9511).

 
 
When to Go

The Caribbean high season is traditionally winter -- from December 15 to April 14 -- when northern weather is at its worst. During this season you're guaranteed the most entertainment at resorts and the most people with whom to enjoy it. It's also the most fashionable, the most expensive, and the most popular time to visit -- and most hotels are heavily booked. You must make reservations at least two or three months in advance for the very best places (sometimes a year in advance for the most exclusive spots).

Hotel prices drop 20%-50% after April 15; airfares and cruise prices also fall. Saving money isn't the only reason to visit the Caribbean during the off-season. Temperatures are only a few degrees warmer than at other times of the year, and many islands now schedule their carnivals, music festivals, and other events during the off-season. Late August, September, October, and early November are least crowded.

In summer the flamboyant trees are at their peak, as are most of the flowers and shrubs. The water is clearer for snorkeling and smoother for sailing in May, June, and July.

The Caribbean climate is fairly constant. The average year-round temperatures for the region are 78°F-88°F. The temperature extremes are 65°F low, 95°F high; but, as everyone knows, it's the humidity, not the heat, that makes you suffer, especially when the two go hand in hand.

As part of the late-fall rainy season, hurricanes occasionally sweep through the Caribbean. Check the news daily and keep abreast of brewing tropical storms. The rainy season consists mostly of brief showers interspersed with sunshine. You can watch the clouds thicken, feel the rain, then have brilliant sunshine dry you off, all while remaining on your lounge chair. A spell of overcast days or heavy rainfall is unusual, as everyone will tell you.

Holidays

Public holidays are: New Year's Day, Our Lady of La Altagracia Day (Jan. 21), Duarte's Birthday (Jan. 26), Independence Day (last Mon. in Feb.), Good Friday, Labor Day (1st Mon. in May), Corpus Christi (June 14), Restoration Day (Aug. 16), Our Lady of Las Mercedes Day (Sept. 24), Columbus Day (Oct. 26), Discovery of Hispaniola Day (Dec. 5), and Christmas.

 
 
Getting Around
 
By Air

Air Century (Herrera Airport, Santo Domingo, PHONE:809/566-0888 or 809/567-6778), flying out of Herrera Airport and La Romana/Casa de Campo Airport, offers charters, transfers, excursions, and sightseeing.

Air Santo Domingo (Herrera Airport, Santo Domingo, PHONE:809/683-8020) offers service between the capital (Las Americas and Herrera Airports) and Puerto Plata, Punta Cana, La Romana/Casa de Campo, El Portillo, and Santiago. Each hop is about $60.

Jimmy and Irene Butler of Air Taxi (Herrera Airport, Núñez de Cáceres 2, Santo Domingo, PHONE:809/227-8333 or 809/567-1555) charter planes for trips around the island or to neighboring islands.

Caribar (Herrera Airport, Av. Luperon, Santo Domingo, PHONE:809/542-6688) has both planes and helicopters and offers general air service, ambulance service, and aerial photography trips.

 
 
By Bus and Van

Privately owned air-conditioned buses make regular runs to Santiago, Puerto Plata, and other destinations from Santo Domingo. You should make reservations by calling Metro Buses or Caribe Tours. One-way bus fare from Santo Domingo to Puerto Plata is about $6, and it takes four hours.

Metro Buses (PHONE:809/566-7126 in Santo Domingo; 809/586-6062 in Puerto Plata; 809/587-4711 in Santiago) has more of an upscale clientele. Although the coffee and cookies are complimentary, there are no movies.

Caribe Tours (PHONE:809/221-4422), which shows bilingual movies, is favored by locals and families; buses are often filled to capacity, especially on weekends.

Frequent service from Santo Domingo to the town of La Romana is provided by Express Bus. Buses depart from Revelos Street in front of Enriquillo Park every hour on the hour from 5 AM to 9 PM; the schedule is exactly the same from La Romana, where they leave from Camino Avenue. There is no office and no phone, but a ticket-taker will take your $3 just before departure. There is general chaos, a crazy kind of congestion (allow time in a taxi), horns blowing, diesel fumes, but it all comes together. Don't be dismayed, remember that you are spending $3 instead of $80 or $100 by taxi, which might be an aging vehicle without air-conditioning. Travel time is about 1¾ hours, and if luck is with you you'll get the larger bus, which will show a first-rate American movie. Once in town you can take a taxi from the bus stop to Casa de Campo ($7) or Casa del Mar or Iberostar Dominicus ($10).

Drivers of colectivos (privately owned vans) coast around the major thoroughfares, leaning out of the window or jumping out to try to persuade you to climb aboard. It's a colorful if cramped way to get around. The fare is about RD$1.

Voladoras (fliers) are vans that run from Puerto Plata's Central Park to Sosúa and Cabarete a couple of times each hour for RD$10. They have a reliable schedule, but aren't always labeled with their destination.

 
 
By Car

If you are staying at one of the all-inclusive resorts, which are self-contained compounds, you will probably not need a car.

Car Rentals

Rates average $60 and more per day, and the asking rate is seldom negotiable. To get a lower rate you will usually have to rent a car for a week or more.

You'll need a major credit card (or cash deposit) to rent a car. Your credit card will be used to secure a deposit of $200. This should be torn up upon safe return of the vehicle. Make certain that it is.

Both international and local companies rent cars in the D.R. Some local agencies give better rates than the "big guys." However, you may feel more confident in going with one of the name brands -- there is more recourse, for example, in case of an accident. If you do not receive insurance from your credit card, you will need to buy insurance, which is expensive.

In the Dominican Republic

Avis (PHONE:809/535-7191).

Budget (PHONE:809/562-6812).

Hertz (PHONE:809/221-5333).

McBeal (PHONE:809/688-6518).

National (PHONE:809/562-1444).

Nelly Rent-a-Car (PHONE:809/544-1800; 800/526-6684 in the U.S.).

At Home

Alamo (PHONE:800/522-9696; www.alamo.com).

Avis (PHONE:800/331-1084; 800/879-2847 in Canada; 0870/606-0100 in the U.K.; 02/9353-9000 in Australia; 09/526-2847 in New Zealand; www.avis.com).

Budget (PHONE:800/527-0700; 0870/156-5656 in the U.K.; www.budget.com).

Dollar (PHONE:800/800-6000; 0124/622-0111 in the U.K.; where it's affiliated with Sixt; 02/9223-1444 in Australia; www.dollar.com).

Hertz (PHONE:800/654-3001; 800/263-0600 in Canada; 020/8897-2072 in the U.K.; 02/9669-2444 in Australia; www.hertz.com).

National Car Rental (PHONE:800/227-7368; 020/8680-4800 in the U.K.; www.nationalcar.com).

Gasoline

Fill up -- and keep an eye on -- the tank; gas stations are few and far between in rural areas. Make certain that attendants don't reach for the super pump. You don't need to be putting that expensive liquid in a rent-a-car.

Requirements

You'll need a valid driver's license from your own country to drive in the Dominican Republic.

Road Conditions

Many Dominicans drive recklessly, and their cars are often in bad shape (missing headlights, taillights, etc.). It's strongly suggested that you don't drive outside the major cities at night. If you must, use extreme caution, especially on narrow, unlit mountain roads. Watch out for pedestrians, bicycles, motorbikes, and the occasional stray cow, goat, or horse.

Before setting out, consult with your hotel concierge about routes and obtain a good road map. Although some roads are still full of potholes, the route between Santo Domingo and Santiago is now a four-lane divided highway, and the road between Santiago and Puerto Plata is a smooth blacktop. The highway from Casa de Campo to Punta Cana is also a fairly smooth ride -- not too long ago it was like a moonscape. Surprisingly, many of the scenic secondary roads, such as the "high road" between Playa Dorada and Santiago, are in good shape.

Rules of the Road

Driving is on the right. The 80-kph (50-mph) speed limit is strictly enforced: there is even radar in areas like Punta Cana. The "old days" of getting stopped for speeding, even if you weren't, and handing the cop the equivalent of $3, are slowly coming to an end. Now you really will get a ticket and have to pay a much higher fine.

 
 
By Motoconcho

Motoconchos are a popular, inexpensive mode of transportation in such areas as Puerto Plata, Sosúa, Cabarete, and Jarabacoa. You can flag one of these bikes down along rural roads and in town; rates vary from RD$3 to RD$20 per person, depending upon distance. You can find a pair of them, one to take you, the other your luggage. A typical motoconcho sight is, for example, a woman on a desperately dilapadated bike, with a massive stalk of green bananas in front of her. Then she picks up another woman with a tote bag overflowing with groceries. She jumps on the back and holds her little girl off to the side.

 
 
By Público, Taxi, and Limo

Traditionally, públicos or conchos are small blue-and-white or blue-and-red cars that run regular routes, stopping to let passengers on and off. But now everyone is getting into the act. Anyone who owns a car can operate it as a público, and after 5 PM many do. The fare is RD$2.

Taxis, which are government-regulated, line up outside hotels and restaurants. They're unmetered, and the minimum fare within Santo Domingo is about $4, but you can bargain for less if you order a taxi away from the major hotels. Some taxis aren't allowed to pick up from hotels, so they hang out on the street in front of them. On the average, they're $1 cheaper per ride. Avoid unmarked street taxis, particularly in Santo Domingo -- they're a little risky.

Hiring a taxi by the hour -- with unlimited stops -- is usually $10 per hour with a minimum of two hours. Be sure to establish the time that you start; drivers like to advance the time a little. Always carry small denominations, like 5-, 10-, and 20-peso notes, because drivers rarely seem to have change. Taxis can also drive you to destinations outside the city. Rates are posted in hotels and at the airport. Sample fares from Santo Domingo are $80 to La Romana and $150 to Puerto Plata. If you're negotiating, the going rate is RD$5 per kilometer. Round-trips are considerably less than twice the one-way fare. These are two good cab companies:

El Conde Taxi (PHONE:809/563-6131).

Tecni-Taxi (PHONE:809/567-2010 in Santo Domingo; 809/320-7621 in Puerto Plata).

Radio taxis are not only convenient but also a wise choice if you don't speak Spanish. The fare is negotiated over the phone when you make the appointment. The standard charge is about $10 per hour during the day and $11 at night -- no minimum, and with as many stops as you like.

The most reliable company is Apolo Taxi (PHONE:809/541-9595).

Call P. Green Taxi (PHONE:809/251-0571) for a courteous, English-speaking driver.

Another option is to go in high Dominican style and hire a limo, even if it's just for a night.

Call the Limousine Connection (PHONE:809/540-5304 or 809/567-3435), whose rates run around $50 per hour.

 
 
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