Traveling the Dominican Republic with Kids
For those traveling the Dominican Republic with kids, here’s a detailed guide with tips and recommendations on the family-friendly things to do in this Caribbean nation.
Miles and miles of powdery white sand and spearmint blue water: the Dominican Republic is just as dreamy as I’d imagined. This summer, we spent two weeks exploring the Caribbean nation with our two-year-old daughter Kaleya, driving all over the country and also taking a side-trip to neighboring Haiti. It was the perfect summer trip: with a dosage of sun and sea, visits to its fascinating colonial towns, and even some adventure exploring its under-explored neighbor, Haiti.
It turns out that the Dominican Republic is a lot more than just beautiful beaches — the country is also home to a flurry of historical colonial cities, vast rainforests and pristine waterfalls. There’s plenty of things to do for kids of all ages, and the great infrastructure in the country means it’s easy to get around and explore without worrying for your kids’s safety.
People’s attitude towards kids are amazing too — everyone stops to say hi to Kaleya, and most hotels and restaurants are more than willing to accommodate young children. Whether your kids are two or 14, they’ll surely love the tropical weather, beautiful beaches and lush green nature in the Dominican Republic.
When to Travel the Dominican Republic with Kids
There are two peak seasons for tourism in the Dominican Republic: the summer months of July and August, and the winter season between December and late February, when the Dominican climate is at its optimum. While many major resorts were fully booked during our trip in August, we still found it quite easy to book on Airbnb at the last minute.
Still, you’ll find it much easier to find cheap accommodation during the rest of the year. In spring and autumn, there are considerably less tourists around and the temperature stays almost the same all year round.
But keep in mind that the Dominican Republic is in the centre of the Caribbean hurricane belt, and gets hit with a major storm every decade or so. August and September is prime hurricane season, though smaller ones can occur in the months before and after. Hurricane Irma hit Dominican Republic just a month after our trip, but luckily it didn’t cause too much damage or result in any casualties.
What to Do in the Dominican Republic with Kids
Ditch the iPads and playstation and prepare your kids for some outdoors adventure and time on the beach! Here are some of our favorite things to do in the Dominican Republic with kids:
- Explore the old town of Santo Domingo — We could have easily spent a week just wandering around the historical quarter of Dominican Republic’s capital; the cobble-stoned streets here are lined with beautiful colonial buildings, many of which have been converted into interesting museums. The museum that will get your kids most excited is probably the Museo Infantil Trampolin, which has an interesting guided tour for children aged 2-12.
- See the caves of Parque Los Tres Ojos — In the outskirts of Santo Domingo is an impressive national park with spectacular caves that are filled with clear-blue emerald waters (similar to the cenotes in Mexico). Unfortunately, swimming is not allowed here, but you can still walk all the way down to the water and even catch a hand-drawn boat to a part of the caves accessible only by water.
- Beach bumming in Punta Cana — The easternmost part of the country is touristy, but it’s also where you’ll find the most family-oriented resorts. We stayed at a quiet Airbnb there and we were surprised to find how few people there were on our stretch of the beach. Rent a car to explore all the beaches in Punta Cana: Macao beach is our favorite, with big waves and wide sandy patches that are often empty of tourists. There’s also a surf camp there where your kids can learn to surf!
- Catch a catamaran and go snorkelling at Isla Saona — Saona is a tropical island located on the southeast tip of the Dominican Republic and is part of the Parque Nacional del Este. The island has no hotel and it’s not allowed to stay overnight here. A typical excursion includes a catamaran ride from Bayahibe to the island, a buffet lunch, and a stop at a shallow sandbank.
- Whale watching off the Samana Peninsula — Every January to March, humpback whales migrate through the north coast of the Dominican Republic after feeding in the north. This is considered one of the best spots in the world to spot whales, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Base yourselves in Las Terranes and go on whale-watching trips, ATV tours in the nearby forest, or canyoning in El Limon River.
- Caving and zip lining in Scape Park — Located in Cap Cana, this is a natural theme park with numerous attractions ranging from adventurous and adrenaline-pumping activities to cultural and highly entertaining experiences. Try zip lining, visit the numerous cenotes in the area, or clamber through the vast underground network of chambers and tunnels that lie beneath.
How to Get Around the Dominican Republic with Kids
Renting a car is undoubtedly the best way to explore the Dominican Republic. We spent around two weeks driving all over the Dominican Republic, and made the most of our time by exploring all the corners we wanted to see. Our car rental cost us US$30/day, which was really affordable, but we had to pay a surcharge of US$60 for returning it at a different airport, and also a mandatory third-party insurance of $9.95/day.
It’s really easy to drive in the Dominican Republic, as roads are clearly marked and sign posts are easy to follow. It’s not a big country and distances are short, so you can easily drive from one beach town to another in two or three hours. We didn’t get a local SIM card, but we did download the map on Google Maps before the trip to access it offline.
Child safety seats are not common, even at car rental companies, and are almost unheard of in taxis or buses. We requested for one when we booked our car online, but when we showed up, the car rental company said they didn’t have any car seats (as in they never had any, ever.).
Note that there are tolls all over the Dominican Republic, and they can add up to quite a big sum if you’re driving all over the country. Most of the tolls are around 60 Pesos (1.29 USD) each — expect to spend around 320 Pesos (6.70 USD) to drive from Santiago (west of the country) to Punta Cana (extreme east). It is particularly expensive to drive to the Samana Peninsula in the north; it cost almost US$20 each way to get to Las Terrenas.
If you’re uncomfortable driving abroad or you’re on a tight budget, I would suggest using the bus to get around Dominican Republic. The bus networks in Dominican Republic are surprisingly efficient and comfortable. The most popular bus company in the country is Caribe Tours, which connects every corner of the Dominican Republic. Metro is another bus company that is bit more high-end and thus slightly more expensive. Both companies provide services to neighbouring Haiti — Caribe Tours runs the route from Santiago to Cap Haitian (5 hours each way), and Metro goes from Santo Domingo to Port-Au-Prince (10 hours each way).
How to Get Travel Insurance for Kids
If you’re hiring a car, you will have to pay the mandatory insurance that covers third party damage or loss in an accident.
I highly recommend getting travel insurance as well as it covers personal loss, theft, and medical on top of damages that may incur on your vehicle in the Dominican Republic.
Many travel insurance providers offer free travel insurance to cover kids who are traveling with their parents, or even grandparents. There is usually a one-to-one ratio, that is you usually have to have at least one insured adult per traveling child to earn the free coverage. Travel insurance plans usually have a minimum (around 6 months) and a maximum age (17 to 20s) for traveling kids to qualify for the free coverage.
I personally have an annual travel insurance plan from Travel Guard and have used them for many years now. Even if you’re not a frequent traveler, it’s advisable to get travel insurance just for your trip to make sure your losses will be covered in case of mishaps.
Safety for Kids in the Dominican Republic
Safety is always an issue when traveling with children, but the Dominican Republic is relatively safe and easy to travel with kids. As compared to other parts of the Caribbean that we’ve been, the DR is rather affluent and most beach towns are relaxed, calm and safe. Only parts of Santo Domingo (being the largest city in the Caribbean) can feel quite dodgy, but stay in the old town and you’ll be absolutely fine.
Tap water is not safe to drink in the Dominican Republic. Some local foods can pose as health hazards, just be careful with what you order. We didn’t have any problems at all, even at cheap street side eateries. In fact, the best food we had was at a truck stop along the highway from Santo Domingo to the Samana Peninsula — the barbecued pork belly was ridiculously succulent and tender, perfectly matched with rice and bean stew.
What to Eat in the Dominican Republic
In comparison to other Caribbean islands, Dominican Republic has a huge variety of food and restaurants available. You’ll find anything from Italian taverns to Japanese sushi joints, American chains (including Denny’s) and big food courts, especially in the resort areas and major cities. It won’t be difficult to find something your kids will like.
If you’re looking for something local though, try Dominican Republic’s staples like fish, barbecued chicken or deep-fried conch meat with rice and beans. Arroz and habichuelas (rice and bean stew) are omnipresent in every local restaurant here, whether it’s an upscale restaurant or a simple eatery. A menu del dia (set lunch) at a local restaurant usually costs around 200 pesos.
We stayed at apartments most of the time, so we could cook as much as possible to make sure Kaleya ate healthy and to save some money. There are several supermarket chains in the Dominican Republic and it was easy to find them everywhere we went (except in Las Terrenas). Our favourite chains are Nacional and Jumbo, which have the biggest variety. In other parts of the Caribbean that we’ve been (like Jamaica, Cuba or Saint Vincent), it can be quite difficult to find supermarkets that are stocked with affordable baby supplies.
Where to Stay in the Dominican Republic with Kids
There’s a huge variety of accommodation available in the Dominican Republic, many of them are kids-friendly. We mostly stayed at Airbnb apartments that had fully-equipped kitchens and enough space for Kaleya to run around. Most of them are really affordable — we spent around US$50-70/night on Airbnb apartments.
We’re not fans of all-inclusive resorts, mostly because we don’t like the concept of staying within the resort boundaries and not going out to explore. But I’d admit that all-inclusive resorts have the best child-friendly facilities and services, from high chairs in the restaurants to shallow pools, kids’ clubs and child care. That said, not all resorts cater to families with young children (some even have adults-only policies).
We only stayed at one all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic, and we were very glad we did. Sunscape Bavaro Beach was located on a gorgeous stretch of Bavaro Beach, the atmosphere there was relaxing and laid-back, and we were floored by just how many swimming pools, restaurants and bars there were. We stayed there on the last two days of our trip after exploring all over DR, so we were happy to just chill at the resort, swim everyday and enjoy the facilities.
What to Pack for the Dominican Republic with Kids
My mantra has always been, “the less you pack, the happier you’ll be.” Packing light makes it easier to move around, and allows you to explore more without the extra weight. Especially for a beach destination like the Dominican Republic, you really don’t need anything more than a few sundresses or lightweight t-shirts, shorts, bathing suits and flip-flops.
Don’t forget your sunscreen, a hat, waterproof bag and towels for snorkelling trips and beach excursions. For your kids, remember their floaties and waterproof t-shirts and you’re all set. If you do plan to go hiking in the jungles, then pack socks and hiking shoes (I always bring my KEENS as they’re waterproof so great for kayaking and jungle hikes).
In terms of food for babies, you might want to bring a few jars of puree and yogurt for the flight and stock up at the supermarkets in the Dominican Republic. We actually found the same brands here as those in Spain, and even at the same prices (US$1+ per jar). Most of the time, we just bought fresh ingredients and cooked. Other baby necessities like diapers and formula are pretty affordable here and cheaper than in US or Europe.
Are you planning a trip to the Dominican Republic with kids? Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll be happy to help!
Source: Wild Junket