In general the Dominican Republic is one of the most affordable destinations in the Caribbean -- hence, its great popularity.
The catch is to plan a vacation way in advance. If you just show up, you'll be charged the "rack rate," and some of these deals can be expensive. However, if you book at an all-inclusive resort, with a package that includes both airfare and accommodations, you can live at a rather moderate per-diem cost, even though staying at a government-rated four- or five-star hotel. Many of these package deals, offered even in winter, can amount to as little as RD$2,100 per person per day.
Even if you do arrive independently, you can often find lodgings -- and rather decent ones at that -- for as little as RD$1,000 a night in a double room. Many meals cost only RD$350 if you avoid expensive items such as lobster or steak.
Cigars are plentiful and cheap, especially if you stick to those made in the D.R. Cuban cigars are still moderate in price here compared to most of the world. However, if you purchase a Cuban cigar, smoke it in the D.R. Americans are not allowed to bring Cuban cigars back to the United States.
If you're watching your pesos, stick to such national drinks as rum or the local beer, El Presidente. If money is no object, all the first-class hotels and bars sell expensive imported liquor, such as Scotch. The high import taxes hoteliers or bars pay are reflected in the price of your drink.
Heads-Up: A Note on Pricing -- Nearly all hotels in the Dominican Republic list their rates in U.S. dollars, while most restaurants and shops deal with both U.S. and Dominican currencies. Accordingly, our hotel listings will reflect only U.S. dollar prices, while our restaurant listings will quote Dominican peso prices -- that is, if the establishments quote in pesos. Many establishments in popular resorts quote prices only in U.S. dollars.
Credit cards are another safe way to carry money. They also provide a convenient record of all your expenses, and they generally offer relatively good exchange rates. You can withdraw cash advances from your credit cards at banks or ATMs but high fees make credit card cash advances a pricey way to get cash. Keep in mind that you'll pay interest from the moment of your withdrawal, even if you pay your monthly bills on time. Also, note that many banks now assess a 1% to 3% "transaction fee" on all charges you incur abroad.
Although there are ATMs at most banks in the D.R., and at other locations as well, some prudent travelers still carry traveler's checks for emergencies in case there is some malfunction with their ATM cards, which can happen anywhere in the world. Hotels, of course, accept traveler's checks as they would American dollars. You can buy traveler's checks at most banks. They are offered in denominations of $20, $50, $100, $500, and sometimes $1,000. Generally, you'll pay a service charge ranging from 1% to 4%.
The most popular traveler's checks are offered by American Express (tel. 800/807-6233 or 800/221-7282 for cardholders -- this number accepts collect calls, offers service in several languages, and exempts Amex gold and platinum cardholders from the 1% fee), Visa (tel. 800/732-1322 -- AAA members can obtain Visa checks for a $9.95 fee, for checks up to $1,500, at most AAA offices or by calling tel. 866/339-3378), and MasterCard (tel. 800/223-9920).
Be sure to keep a record of the traveler's checks' serial numbers separate from your checks in the event that they are stolen or lost. You'll get a refund faster if you know the numbers.
Another option is the new prepaid traveler's check cards, reloadable cards that work much like debit cards but aren't linked to your checking account. The American Express Travelers Cheque Card, for example, requires a minimum deposit, sets a maximum balance, and has a one-time issuance fee of $15. You can withdraw money from an ATM (for a fee of $2.50 per transaction, not including bank fees), and the funds can be purchased in dollars, euros, or pounds. If you lose the card, your available funds will be refunded within 24 hours.
ATMs are linked to a huge network that, most likely, includes your bank at home. Cirrus (tel. 800/424-7787; www.mastercard.com) and PLUS (tel. 800/843-7587; www.visa.com) are the two most popular networks. ATMs are available in Santo Domingo and throughout the principal tourist resorts of the D.R., including Punta Cana, Puerto Plata, and La Romana. Note: If you journey into the more remote areas of the country, they are not only far less plentiful but may not exist at all.
Be sure to check the daily withdrawal limit before you depart, and ask whether you need a new personal identification number (PIN). Warning: The use of ATMs should be minimized as a means of avoiding theft or misuse. One local ATM fraud involves sticking photographic film or pieces of paper in the card feeder of the ATM so that an inserted card becomes jammed. Once the card owner has concluded that the card is irretrievable, the thieves extract both the jamming material and the card, which they then use illegally.
It's always a good idea to carry around some cash for small expenses, like cab rides, or for that rare occasion when a restaurant or small shop doesn't take plastic, which can happen if you're dining at a neighborhood joint or buying from a small vendor. U.S. dollars are accepted everywhere. Perhaps $100 in cash (small bills) will see you through.
The Dominican Peso, the U.S. & Canadian Dollars & the British Pound -- At press time, the prevailing exchange rate between the peso and the most frequently traded currency, the U.S. dollar, was RD$37 = $1 US. (Inversely stated, that means that 1 peso = approximately 2.6 US cents.) Euros, British pounds, and Canadian dollars are less frequently traded, and in most cases, are accepted only at banks and at very large hotels. Just before writing, 1€ was the monetary equivalent of RD$56; £1 was the equivalent of RD$63, and C$1 was the equivalent of RD$40. For the occasional denizen of Australia and New Zealand who might want to trade their national currencies on-site in the D.R., the Australian dollar, at press time, traded at RD$41, and the New Zealand dollar traded at RD$30.
Remember that currency conversion rates can and will change, as reflected by a complicated roster of political and economic factors, so check the rates from time to time as a means of staying abreast of the cost of your holiday.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.