The vibrant, colorful Spanish-speaking country on the eastern side of the island of Hispaniola draws a diverse crowd of open-minded travelers who are eager to embrace new terrain and experience paradise. The Dominican Republic’s overall energetic, celebratory nature is balanced by a laid-back, mellow Caribbean beach vibe. And despite the flashy all-inclusives that dot the coastline, a getaway to the DR can be an incredible deal for Americans, thanks to its proximity to the States and the USD/Peso exchange rate.
Check websites like Groupon for budget travel packages and all-inclusive stays, just make sure you read the fine print and a few reviews. To save even more money, book your trip for summer, which is considered the “offseason,” although there’s no “bad” time to visit the Dominican Republic.
Once you’ve made it to the destination, follow our guide to keep expenses at a minimum.
Stay in Santo Domingo
Santo Domingo, the first major European settlement in the New World, is the Dominican Republic’s bustling capital city brimming with historic architecture that dates to the late 1400s. Santo Domingo spans 40-plus square miles—taxis can get pricy, and renting a car and driving in the city is not for the faint of heart (unless you enjoy being honked at by otherwise friendly locals for actually stopping at red lights and dodging speeding motorbikes). So, how do you see the area filled with free or cheap must-sees like the Colonial Zone, Fortaleza Ozama (pictured above), Alcázar de Colón, Parque Colón, and Catedral Primada de América without wasting money? Park yourself there and pack your walking shoes. This way you can get to and from the best sites in the city with minimal taxi rides (and life-threatening drives) especially in the pedestrian-friendly Colonial Zone. Plus, since everyone’s running to Punta Cana, Santo Domingo can be less expensive.
If you’re traveling with a small group, an Airbnb can be about the same price as a hostel but with better amenities and more privacy. For example, this three-bedroom unit starts at $55 / night.
Hang Out With Locals
Restaurants and bars that attract tourists hike prices way up, and we don’t blame them. Everyone knows that hanging with the locals can save you a lot of money, so hit up the local bodega. The DR’s bodegas are like convenience stores that encourage loitering, and they can be found on almost every block in the residential neighborhood next to Santo Domingo’s Colonial Zone. At these low-key joints you’ll find 40-ounce Presidente lager-style beers that cost bout 40 Dominican pesos (that’s just under $1 USD). If that’s not the cheapest “pregame” ritual of all time, let us know where you’ve been hanging out. If you’re not much of a beer drinker, most bodegas also have rum, one of the DR’s main exports—and since it’s not served in a fancy glass under strobe lights, it’s not ridiculously overpriced. At dusk, the bodegas liven up, blasting music and broadcasting both domestic and American baseball games—locals take the sport seriously. Beyond the bodegas, nightlife is boisterous. After dark, Parque Colón becomes a gathering spot for locals, so brush up on your Spanish and make some friends (whenever “making friends” in a foreign city, keep your wits about you). They’ll lead you in the right direction or even accompany you to their favorite local nighttime hangouts like El Sartén. If you’re in the spirit for a late night, head over to Bio, a popular two-story club that blasts thumping music until the early hours of the morning, for a super cheap neon-colored “bucket” drink and a merengue dance lesson.
Rough it in Punta Cana
OK, there’s no real way to rough it on these glorious beaches, but you can save some dough by going the less glamorous route. After you get your urban sightseeing and bar-hopping out of the way, recover and relax on one of Punta Cana’s breathtaking beaches. Forgo renting a car and take an Expreso Bavaro bus, which will only cost about $10. If you’re staying overnight, Hotel Vista Sol on Bávaro Beach (pictured at top) is appealing for its easygoing atmosphere, cabanas, guarded beaches and lower prices.
Sarah Ravits is a New Orleans-based entertainment and lifestyle writer who is usually plotting her next adventure. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.