Paradisus All Inclusive Luxury Resorts - Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
 
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Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Lonely Planet Travel Guides Lonely Planet ®

The DR’s hundreds of miles of coastline – some of it picturesque white-sand beaches shaded by rows of palm trees, other parts lined dramatically with rocky cliffs or backed by wind-swept dunes or serene mangrove la-goons – define the country. Whether it’s fishing villages where the shoreline is used for mooring boats, indulgent tourist playgrounds with aquamarine waters, small towns where the social glue is all-night merengue blasting from modest corner stores, or cities like Santo Domingo, the Caribbean’s largest, the sea is the common denominator, symbolizing both limits and escapes. Even with their glory days behind them, former engines of industry like crumbling San Pedro de Macoris or Puerto Plata still see waves crash over their Malecóns. Some of the bays and coves where pirates once roamed are the temporary home of thousands of migrating humpback whales, and part of an extensive network of parks and preserves safeguarding the country’s natural patrimony.

Beyond the capital, much of the DR is distinctly rural: driving in the vast fertile interior, you’ll see cows and horses grazing alongside the roads, tractors ploughing large fields, and trucks and burros loaded down with produce. Further inland you’ll encounter vistas reminiscent of the European Alps, rivers carving their way through lush jungle and stunning waterfalls, small towns where life revolves around the Parque Central, and villages ruled by the sun’s rhythms. Four of the five highest peaks in the Caribbean rise above the fertile lowlands surrounding Santiago and remote deserts extend through the southwest, giving the DR a physical and cultural complexity not found on other islands.

The country’s roller-coaster past, a history of migrations of various peoples, is writ large in the diversity of ethnicities, not to mention the physical design of its towns and cities. Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial exudes romance with white-washed and pastel-colored buildings, flowers blooming through wrought-iron filigree, beautifully restored monasteries and cobblestone streets where conquistadors once roamed. The crumbling gingerbread homes of Puerto Plata and Santiago remain from more prosperous eras, and scars from decades of misrule are marked by monuments where today people gather to cele¬brate. New communities have arisen only a few kilometers from the ruins where Christopher Columbus strode and where the indigenous Taíno people left physical traces of their presence carved onto rock walls.

Language Spoken

Spanish

Timezone

UTC/GMT -4

Customs Regulations

Customs regulations are similar to most countries, with restrictions on the import of live animals, weapons and drugs, and the export of ancient artifacts and endangered plants or animals. You can bring in 1L of liquor and one carton of cigarettes or 50 cigars. Customs inspections can be vigorous.

Visa Overview

The majority of would-be foreign travelers in the Dominican Republic do not need to obtain visas prior to arrival. Tourist cards (you don’t need to retain this for your return flight) are issued for US$10 upon arrival to visitors from Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the US, among many others. Whatever your country of origin, a valid passport is necessary.

Tourist Card Extension

A tourist card is good for up to 30 days from the date of issue. If you wish to stay longer, it’s unnecessary to formally extend – instead you’ll be charged RD$800 when you depart the country for any stay up to 90 days. Another way to extend your time is to leave the DR briefly – most likely to Haiti – and then return, at which point you’ll be issued a brand-new tourist card. (You may have to pay entrance and departure fees in both countries, of course.)

To extend your tourist card longer than three months, you must apply in Santo Domingo at the Dirección General de Migración ([tel] 809-508-2555; www.migracion.gov.do; cnr Av 30 de Mayo & Héroes de Luperón; [tel]8am-2:30pm Mon-Fri) at least two weeks before your original card expires. You’ll be required to fill out a form – usually available in Spanish only – and to present your passport, a photocopy of your passport’s information page(s) and two passport-size photos of yourself. The fee is US$10; your passport and new tourist card will be ready for pickup at the same office two weeks later. The process is a good way to blow an entire day.

Telephone Overview

Remember that you must dial [tel] 1 + 809 or 829 for all calls within the DR, even local ones. There are no regional codes. Local calls cost US$0.14 per minute and national calls are US$0.21 per minute. Toll-free numbers have [tel] 200 or [tel] 809 for their prefix (not the area code).

The easiest way to make a phone call in the DR is to pay per minute (average rates per minute: to US US$0.20; to Europe US$0.50; to Haiti US$0.50) at a Codetel Centro de Comunicaciones (Codetel) call center or an internet cafe – virtually all operate as dual call centers.

Cell Phones

Cell (mobile) phones are very popular and travelers with global-roaming-enabled phones can receive and make cellphone calls. It’s worth checking with your cell-phone carrier for details on rates and accessibility – be aware that per-minute fees can be exorbitant. If you have a GSM phone, and you can unlock it, you can use a SIM card bought from Orange or Claro (prepaid startup kit US$10). If it’s CDMA, it will work with Claro or Tricom. New cell phones can be bought at Orange with a prepaid SIM card for less than US$30; used phones at Claro can be bought for US$10.

Phonecards

These can be used at public phones and are available in denominations of RD$50, RD$100, RD$150, RD$200 and RD$250.

Internet Access

The Dominican Republic has a surprisingly limited number of internet cafes; most charge RD$35 to RD$70 per hour, more for additional services like printing or burning CDs. Most of these cafes also operate as call centers. Wi-fi access is becoming more and more prevalent, especially in cafes and restaurants, as well as at midrange and top-end hotels and resorts throughout the country. Travelers with laptops won’t have to go far before finding some place with a signal. However, the majority of the all-inclusives, as opposed to most mi-drange and even budget hotels, charge daily fees (around US$15 and up) for access. Many hotels that offer the service free for guests only have a signal in public spaces like the lobby and not in guest rooms.

Electricity

Japanese-style plug with two parallel flat blades

Embassies and Consulates

All of the following are located in Santo Domingo.

  • Canada ([tel] 809-685-1136; Av Eugenio de Marchena 39)
  • Cuba ([tel] 809-537-0139; Calle Hatuey 808)
  • France ([tel] 809-695-4300; Calle Las Damas 42)
  • Germany ([tel] 809-542-8949; Torre Piantini, 16th fl, Av Gustavo A Mejía Ricart 196)
  • Haiti ([tel] 809-412-7112; Calle Juan Sánchez Ramírez 33)
  • Israel ([tel] 809-472-0774; Calle Pedro Henriquez Ureña 80)
  • Italy ([tel] 809-682-0830; Calle Rodríguez Objío 4)
  • Japan ([tel] 809-567-3365; Torre BHD office Bldg, 8th fl, cnr Calle Luís Thomen & Av Winston Churchill)
  • Netherlands ([tel] 809-262-0320; Calle Max Henriquez Ureña 50)
  • Russia ([tel] 809-620-1471; Diamond Plaza, 2nd fl, Los Proceres)
  • Spain ([tel] 809-535-6500; Av Independencia 1205)
  • UK ([tel] 809-472-7671; Hotel Santo Domingo, Ste 1108, cnr Av Independencia & Lincoln)
  • US ([tel] 809-221-2171; cnr Av César Nicolás Penson & Av Máximo Gómez)

Business Hours

  • Banks 9am-4:30pm Mon-Fri; to 1pm Sat
  • Bars 6pm-late; to 2am in Santo Domingo
  • Government offices 7:30am-2:30pm Mon-Fri
  • Restaurants 8am-10pm Mon-Sat (some closed btwn lunch & dinner)
  • Shops 9am-7:30pm Mon-Sat; some open half-day Sun
  • Supermarkets 8am-10pm Mon-Sat

Money Overview

The Dominican monetary unit is the peso, indicated by the symbol RD$ (or sometimes just R$). Though the peso is technically divided into 100 centavos (cents) per peso, prices are usually rounded to the nearest peso. There are one- and five-peso coins, while paper money comes in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 pesos. Many tourist-related businesses, including most midrange and top-end hotels, list prices in US dollars, but accept pesos at the going exchange rate.

ATMs

ATMs are common in the Dominican Republic and are, without question, the best way to obtain Dominican pesos and manage your money on the road. Banks with reliable ATMs include Banco Popular, Banco Progreso, Banco de Reservas, Banco León and Scotiabank. Most charge ATM fees (around RD$115 on average), but some don’t depending on the card you use; it’s worth checking with your domestic bank before you travel. As in any country, be smart about where and when you withdraw cash – at night on a dark street in a bad part of town is not the ideal spot. Most ATMs are not in the bank itself, but in a small booth accessible from the street (and thus available 24 hours).

Credit Cards

Credit and debit cards are more and more common among Dominicans (and more widely accepted for use by foreigners). Visa and MasterCard are more common than Amex but most cards are accepted in areas frequented by tourists. Some but not all businesses add a surcharge for credit-card purchases (typically 16%) – the federal policy of withdrawing sales tax directly from credit-card transactions means merchants will simply add the cost directly to the bill. We’ve had reports of travelers being excessively overcharged when paying by credit card so always check the bill before signing.

Changing Money

Moneychangers will approach you in a number of tourist centers. They are unlikely to be aggressive. You will get equally favorable rates, however, and a much securer transaction, at an ATM, a bank or an exchange office.

Insurance

No matter where you travel to in the world, getting a comprehensive travel-insurance policy is a good idea. For travel to Costa Rica, a basic theft/loss and medical policy is recommended. Read the fine print carefully as some companies exclude dangerous activities from their coverage, which can include scuba diving, motorcycling and even trekking. You may prefer a policy that pays doctors or hospitals directly rather than you having to pay on the spot and make a claim later.

Taxes & Tipping

There are two taxes on food and drink sales: a 16% sales tax (ITBIS) and a 10% service charge. The latter is supposed to be divided among the wait and kitchen staff; some people choose to leave an additional 10% tip for exceptional service. There’s a 23% tax on hotel rooms – ask whether the listed rates include taxes. It’s customary to tip bellhops for carrying your bags and to leave US$1 to US$2 per night for the housecleaner at resorts. You should also tip tour guides, some of whom earn no other salary.

Health Overview

From a medical standpoint, the DR is generally safe as long as you’re reasonably careful about what you eat and drink. The most common travel-related diseases, such as dysentery and hepatitis, are acquired by consumption of contaminated food and water. Mosquito-borne illnesses are not a significant concern, although there is a small but significant malaria risk in the western provinces and in La Altagracia (including Punta Cana). Medical care is variable in Santo Domingo and limited elsewhere, although good care can be found in many of the more heavily touristed towns. Many doctors and hospitals expect payment in cash, regardless of whether you have travel-health insurance.

Before You Go

Since most vaccines don’t produce immunity until at least two weeks after they’re given, visit a physician four to eight weeks before departure. Ask your doctor for an International Certificate of Vaccination (otherwise known as the ‘yellow booklet’), which will list all the vaccinations you’ve received. This is mandatory for countries that require proof of yellow-fever vaccination upon entry, but it’s a good idea to carry it wherever you travel. Bring medications in their original containers, clearly labeled. A signed, dated letter from your physician describing all medical conditions and medications, including generic names, is also a good idea. If carrying syringes or needles, be sure to have a physician’s letter documenting their medical necessity.

Golf

Cocotal Golf and Country Club Pepe Gancedo-designed course The 18-hole course, designed by six-time Spanish champion Jose Pepe Gancedo, uses the natural terrain of an old coconut plantation and includes serene lakes and palm trees in its landscape. In 2002, an additional nine-hole course opened. Located close to Sol Melia Caribe and Sol Melia Tropical resorts in Punta Cana, the club offers lessons at its International Golf Academy with Douglas Falconer, a British PGA-award winning professional instructor.

Par: 72
Holes: 27
Length of course: 7,183 yards
Fees and lessons: Visit www.cocotalgolf.com

© 2012 Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd. All rights reserved.

To learn more about this destination, go to: dominicanrepublic-guide.info.

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