What to Know When Planning a Trip to the Dominican Republic
Though Mr. Nerd and I got married in November 2015, we weren't able to go on a honeymoon because we couldn't get time off to do one right after the wedding. However, in the last few weeks of January 2016, we found some good travel packages on Groupon and finally made plans to go on our delayed honeymoon—to the Dominican Republic!
Mr. Nerd and I had never been south of the United States before our trip (can you believe it?). So, not surprisingly, we were very excited to expand our travel horizons to the Caribbean. We spent 5 days in Puerto Plata, which is located on the north-western coast of the Dominican Republic. That's 5 days of sun, sand, free drinks, and lots of R&R!
After a frenzy of booking and champagne toasts, we conducted a lot of research and learned some interesting (or perhaps not-so-interesting) things regarding what to expect during our trip to the Dominican Republic. Looking back, I'm definitely glad we knew about these beforehand.
Planning a trip of your own? Here are a few tips we found that we wanted to pass on to you!
Don't Drink The Tap Water
We had an inkling about this one already, as we knew a lot of places in Mexico, the, Caribbean, and South America have unsafe drinking water. Still, we read countless reviews, websites, and even the U.S. Passports & International Travel website (a good resource), and the verdict was final: tap water in the Dominican Republic is unsafe to drink!
It's also unwise to use the water to brush your teeth—something we wouldn't have thought applied to the "unsafe to drink" rule. So be warned.
In order to arrive fully prepared for some fun in the sun, we booked a resort that provided us with filtered spring water (after all, keeping hydrated is highly important when you're spending most of your time basking in the heat), and we brought reusable water bottles so we could fill up at meal times and have delicious H2O with us when we left our room for the day.
Note: The refillable water bottles were the ones that have a removable lid and a straw. We decided on these because resorts usually put alcoholic drinks into disposable cups, and we wanted to save some plastic (and the earth) by using our drinkware instead.
Be Respectful Of The Culture
This should be a no-brainer for most travelers. But even so, it's a good reminder. While doing due diligence on the Dominican Republic, we came throngs of people who complained that the resort was "worn," or the waitstaff didn't fulfill their breakfast orders fast enough, or the beach was too dirty and loud, etc.
What these people failed to remember was, they chose to enter another country. The people they meet should receive the same respect and courtesies as those back home, if not more so. Every culture is different.
If you're respectful and understanding, even if you've saved up a lot of money and are on vacation, you'll inevitably have a better, happier trip. The place we stayed at wasn't a perfect, 5 star resort, but we knew that going in. And despite some setbacks (both avoidable and unavoidable), we enjoyed getting away from home and spending time on the beach. The small irritations didn't detract from our honeymoon in any way, shape, or form, and hopefully, they won't for you either.
After all, travel is what you make of it!
Know Your Boundaries
AKA - Don't be afraid to say "no."
The Dominican Republic is a great place in the Caribbean to catch some rays (we loved snorkeling and lying on the beach ourselves), but it's good to remember that many, if not most, of the people there live in poverty and will do anything to make a living. They can also easily tell an out-of-town traveler or tourist from a native, usually often just based on the color of your skin. Pasty white girl who looks like she never gets sunlight, ever = not a local, hehe.
This said, never be afraid to state your boundaries and say no. Before we left the United States, we were warned that we'd be approached by peddlers on the beach: natives who walk the sand and try to sell their wares. They could be offering beads, trinkets, jewelry, and scarves, or they could be advertising day trips, massages, and hair braiding. And yeah, it happened. Often.
If their prices are good and you like an item they're selling, don't be afraid to buy from them if you're so inclined. Most of these people are nice and just want to make a living. But if you don't want to buy, speak up. Tell them you can't afford it—or just that you're not interested in purchasing from them, plain and simple. But be polite about it. The more polite you are, the more likely they'll respect you and leave you alone. We had our fair share of run-ins with peddlers, but a smile and a "no thanks" was all it took for them to walk away.
Another aspect to watch for are people in suits who try to sell "timeshares." They often work for the resort you're staying at, and unfortunately, don't take "no" for an answer. In this case, be firm, say no when they approach you, and keep walking. Be extra suspicious if they offer you free upgrades or gifts, as that's most likely a way to rope you into a "timeshare" presentation.
We did encounter this once on our trip, but knowing about it before we left, we were able to navigate the situation with ease. We said no (politely), thanked them, and kept walking. Other people who stopped to interact with them weren't so lucky, so definitely keep moving if you don't want to waste several hours in an office somewhere.
Pack Two Swimsuits
This is a brilliant tip, one we hadn't thought of before. The Caribbean is a very humid place (average temps are in the 80s Fahrenheit), which means a wet swimsuit is less likely to dry quickly enough to wear it two days in a row.
If you bring two swimsuits, though, you can have one out drying and wear the other at all times! (And, ladies, you'll have the opportunity to show off two swimsuits while lying on the beach or lounging at the pool, instead of just one.)
Bring Aloe Vera (And Aspirin)
We tout the praises of Aspirin a lot, it seems, but there's honestly two things you need to be prepared for if you're going to an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean (or Florida, or Hawaii, or Mexico, or anywhere with tons of sun). Sunburns and hangovers. We don't know about you, but when we're on a beach vacation, we plan to lie in the sun a lot AND drink as many Pina Coladas as humanly possible. There is a high chance that, despite the amount of sunscreen we put on and water that we drink, we're going to get burned and drunk.
While we thought to pack sunscreen, we totally glossed over the idea of packing aloe vera until just before our trip (thank goodness we did; we ended up getting pretty burnt). So absolutely, 100% pack aloe vera—otherwise you might pay an arm and a leg at the resort to get a bottle of it. The same goes for Aspirin (or another generic brand of pain killers). You never know when you might need it!