SPECIAL NOTES & TRAVELLER TIPS
When you come to the Dominican Republic, come with an open mind. Come ready to enjoy yourself among a people who have a world-renowned reputation for being sincerely warm-hearted, open and friendly. But do remember that this is a "developing world." The majority of the people here are not middle class, like they are in the U.S., Canada and Europe. There is a small Dominican middle class, a very small upper class, and a vastly huge class of poor people. You will definitely see some things here and have some experiences here that are very different from "back home."
That doesn't mean the Dominican people or their ways are wrong--just different. Don't spend your precious little time here lamenting how things could be so much better "if only they did it like back in ______." After all, learning something new, having new experiences and meeting new people is what you came for, isn't it?
Garbage & Sanitation--One of the biggest complaints that tourists have about the Dominican Republic is the garbage. True, there is a lot of litter strewn about, especially in the Capital. This is partly due to lax anti-litter laws (in the Trujillo Era, the country was squeaky clean under penalty of death!), partly due to a shortage of garbage cans (garbage cans cost money, which is a scarce resource here), and to too many people living together too closely in too small a space. It's also due, in part, to lack of interest.
Who cares about litter when you and your family are trying to scrounge up enough money for food and rent? Do like Dominicans do. Step over or around the garbage and ignore it as best you can. But please remember your manners and carry your own litter with you until you find a garbage can--hopefully you'll set a good example. (Note that garbage IS picked up on a regular basis here in the Capital. It just accumulates quickly.)
*Toilet paper & sanitation--The Dominican sewage cleaning system cannot handle much paper. In the bathrooms of private homes, in hotel bathrooms, restaurant bathrooms, bar and nightclub bathrooms, airport bathrooms... in every bathroom here, there are waste receptacles beside the toilet. These are for used toilet paper. Please fold your used toilet paper in on itself and place it in the wastebasket, not in the toilets.
Safety--How bizarre. Some travel personnel (and even some Dominicans) warn tourists that the Dominican Republic is not a safe destination. Untrue! The Dominican government and the Dominican people go out of their way to make certain that their country remains one of the safest, most crime and violence-free tourist destinations in the world. There is even a special branch of the National Military Police called Politur that is dedicated to helping tourists and to keeping the level of street vendors, beggars and prostitutes down in the most heavily touristed areas so as not to offend the tourists.
Yes, if you wear expensive gold jewelry on the street it might very likely be stolen, but you won't be beaten or killed for it. The prevention is not to flaunt your wealth in front of poor people. Leave expensive jewelry back home or in the hotel safe. Don't take expensive cameras or loaded wallets and purses to the beach and leave them unguarded, either. That's only common sense. And do take care when leaving a casino late at night. Thieves may be lurking in the darkened parking lot to relieve you of your winnings--better to hail a taxi in the well-lit area in front of the hotel or casino, where guards are on duty. In general, however, Dominicans are not thieves figuring out how to rob you or hurt you. They are a poor, but honest and hard-working people. They are warm-hearted and open, returning a smile for a smile, friendship for friendship.
Walking alertly--Particularly in the Zona Colonial of the Capital, or in residential neighborhoods, walking can be dangerous if you do not remain alert. Tiles and cement blocks along the sidewalks, cobblestones, sewer covers, water access covers and the like may be loose, broken or missing completely. Not to watch your step could lead to twisted ankles or worse. Also be aware that pedestrians do not have the right of way. Do not step boldly into a street expecting cars to slow down and allow you to cross. Few will do so. At busy crossings in the touristed areas, policemen will often be stationed to stop traffic while you cross. Smile and say, "¡Gracias!"
Dressing Dominican--Dress is casual in the Dominican Republic, especially during the day and particularly at resorts, where bathing suits are what most people wear, perhaps with a wrap-around. European females are accustomed to going topless at their own beaches, and often do so here as well; if it is a public beach, however, it is not advisable, for it is offensive to Dominicans, who are quite conservative. Dominican women's bathing suits are very modest, usually one-piece, and men and boys commonly swim in their underwear.
Just about anything goes out on the street, from jeans or shorts and t-shirts to mini-skirts and tank-tops, or sexy ankle-length dresses. Some older Dominican businessmen still wear the traditional guayaberas, short or long-sleeved cotton shirts that do not tuck into the waistband of their pants, but lie comfortably loose over the hips, while others suffer in Western suits and ties. You'll note that Dominicans do not wear shorts out on the street, even on the hottest days--shorts are for tourists, or for use at home or the gym.
Women in shorts or skirts above the knee, and men in shorts, are not permitted to enter a church, especially not the Cathedral--skirts and pants must be knee-length or longer. (Enterprising Dominicans outside the Cathedral rent uni-sex wrap-arounds.) At the casinos and night clubs, Dominican women, in particular, dress up "to the teeth." As a tourist you're acceptable even in jeans, as long as they are clean and not tattered or torn, but you might feel more comfortable in evening wear. Note, too, that the evening breeze can be cool from November through January, so women might want to carry a light shawl or jacket, men a long-sleeved jacket. They're also handy for over-airconditioned restaurants, bars, buses, etc.
And remember that cottons, linens and other natural fibers, as well as some light rayon blends, are the most comfortable materials for clothing in the tropics because they "breathe." Clothing should not be too tight, either. Looser fitting clothing is cooler, as are light and pastel colors.
Things to bring with you:
Drink lots of water--It is important not to get dehydrated, which is easy to do in a tropical climate, especially when you are not accustomed to the heat.
Drink lots and lots of water. The gallon bottles of drinking water are the same price as the smaller ones! (Though admittedly they are not as handy to carry with you.) Beer, too, is thirst quenching--try the local Presidente--but softdrinks, because of all the sugar they contain, are not. Remember, you can drink the water in restaurants, at least in the Capital and larger cities, because it comes from 5-gallon bottles of purified water. And don't be afraid to order drinks icy cold, for commercial ice is also made from purified water.