(LifeWire) - Welcome to the Dominican Republic
The DR is part of the second-largest island in the Caribbean, Hispaniola, which it shares with the impoverished country of Haiti. The DR side of the island is Spanish-speaking, and has enjoyed a relatively stable government for decades. Tourism has fuelled recent development.
The DR, as it's affectionately called, was claimed as a Spanish colony in 1492 by Christopher Columbus and fought over by France and Haiti until its citizens declared independence in 1844. The island's culture maintains its mixed heritage today. Known for such adult pleasures as cigars, rum, and merengue, the Dominican Republic also has great resorts for families. DR resorts have had a reputation for value, but more properties are (re)positioning upscale.
The Dominican Republic has multiple international airports. Depending on your resort of choice, you're likely to fly into Puerto Plata on the north coast, or La Romana or Punta Cana in the southeast of the island. Many airlines offer direct flights from major cities in the US, Canada, Latin America, and Europe.
Be sure to fly into the airport closest to your resort. If, for example, you fly into La Romana but you're staying at a Punta Cana resort, you'll have at least an hour-long taxi ride - not the greatest start to your vacation, especially with kids in tow.
How's the Beach?
The Dominican Republic'sugary beaches are rightfully its primary attraction. Punta Cana, on the island's eastern tip, has long beautiful beaches (Punta Cana, Playa Bavaro, Uvero Alto, and more), and many resorts popular with families.
The North Coast has choppier seas but is popular for surfing, windsurfing, boogie boarding, and offers some nice opportunities to leave your resort and get out'n'about. The town of Cabarete is comfortable for tourism; many expats have settled here for sports, including kiteboarding. Susua and Samana are other tourist beach areas on the north coast. Further west on the north coast, Puerto Plata is an area an array of resorts; many of the "name-brands" are located within the Playa Dorado complex. The capital city of Santo Domingo, meanwhile, is the oldest European settlement in the New World, and is on the south coast; the lavish Casa de Campo resort is on the south coast too but further east, near La Romana.
Keep in mind that as beautiful as the waters around the island are, they're not all suited to swimming; the currents can be quite strong, especially at Samaná, a popular winter whale-watching spot on the northeastern coast.
The Dominican Republic has more than 150 hotels, inns, and villas, many of which welcome children. The DR is known for all-inclusive, amenity-packed resorts that are friendly to families and their wallets. Some choices:
Casa de Campo: Located near the town of La Romana and near an international airport, this is the DR's most well-known all-inclusive luxury resort. The children and teens' programs cover a wider age range than most (from 1 to 17 years), and there are scheduled family activities such as beach volleyball and Spanish and merengue lessons.
Club Med Punta Cana: On the eastern end of the island, Club Med Punta Cana has amazing kids programs including a giant Mini Club Med with its own pool and playground, and "The Ramp", a unique exclusive space for teens. Kids love to rehearse acts to perform in the professional-style theater; and the whole family can participate in circus school trapeze.
Iberostar Hacienda Dominicus: Located 15 miles southeast of La Romana, this beachfront all inclusive resort has a children's pool and children's programs (ages 4 to 12) in a quieter setting than more resort-dense areas such as Punta Cana.
Viva Wyndham Tangerine: On the North Coast just a short walk from the wide sweep of Cabarete Bay (great for boogie-boarding), this value-priced all-inclusive has kids' club, watersports, and other all-inclusive amenities.
Gran Ventana Beach Resort: On the northern coast at Playa Dorada, this moderately priced all inclusive resort offers children's programs (ages 4 to 12) and amenities you'd expect as well as access to a golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr.
Attractions & Fun Outings
The Dominican Republic's coasts are primed for watersports, with excellent snorkeling for small children and beginners. Surfing, windsurfing and kiteboarding are offered on the northern coast for older kids and adults. The island is also a favored golf destination; the Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed courses at Playa Dorada and Playa Grande on the north coast are world-class.
Outback Safari: A great way to get out'n'about and explore the island.
Other adventures: horseriding, whitewater rafting, "canyoning".
Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic's capital, is the oldest city in the Americas, and it's worth a day trip to explore the Zona Colonial (its preserved core and a UNESCO World Heritage site).
Kids will enjoy the Ocean World Adventure Park at Playa Cofresí on the northern shore. There's even a casino at Ocean World for the grown-ups.
If you visit between January and March, don't miss the opportunity to watch the humpback whale migration at Samaná.
More Tips for Visiting the DR
- In addition to a passport, travelers from most countries (including the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and Australia) must purchase a 30-day tourist card upon arrival in the Dominican Republic. Arrive with $10 per person in cash on hand to buy the card.
- Although English is spoken at most major resorts and attractions, try to brush up on some basic Spanish and bring a phrasebook for your trip.
- Stick to drinking and brushing your teeth with bottled water while you're in the Dominican Republic.
- For resorts and major attractions, always check recent visitor comments at a site such as TripAdvisor.com.