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Travel bargains abound in the Dominican Republic

SmarterTravel

Many travelers believe that indulgence comes with a high price tag. A relaxing beach vacation spent lounging on a chaise, pina colada in hand, gazing out at the turquoise Caribbean waters must be prohibitively expensive. Wrong. You can find all this at reasonable prices if you choose the Dominican Republic as your island destination.

The Dominican Republic is a great value for American travelers for a few reasons. The country’s economy is not thriving, despite tourism, and the currency is very weak against the dollar. As a result, food, transportation, and accommodations costs on the island can be quite low.

The country is also one of the best Caribbean spots for all-inclusive resorts. At any such resort, once you pay the package cost up front, you will hardly need to take out your wallet after you’ve arrived. Plus, vacation providers buy accommodations space in bulk and pass the savings on to you. Combine these deals with the Dominican Republic’s low cost of living and the result is some of the lowest package prices in the Caribbean market.

When and where to go

The Dominican Republic’s high season is in the winter when cold East Coasters from the U.S. flee to the Caribbean to find some sun. The cheapest times will be September through November, typically the Caribbean low season. These months are also hurricane season, and though storms are not likely, the island does lie in the hurricane belt. May and the summer will have middle-ground prices.

The main Dominican tourist destinations are Punta Cana, Puerto Plata, and La Romana. Punta Cana has the most resorts and many of them are new or recently renovated. It’s one of the most popular destinations with Americans, mostly because of its stunning beaches and clear Caribbean waters. Some people think it’s the next Cancun. La Romana is also on the Caribbean side and is a good base for exploring, as there is a lot to do nearby.

Puerto Plata is on the Atlantic side of the country. Larry Fishkin, president of eLeisureLink, believes that “you’ll generally get more for your money in Puerto Plata than in Punta Cana.” It’s an up-and-coming tourist destination and perfect for more adventurous travelers who want to leave the resort and visit towns such as Sosua, known for its fishing and crafts, and Cabarete, a hotspot for kite-surfing and other water sports.

All-inclusive versus independent travel

The all-inclusive vacation has its clear benefits, but some travelers prefer a more independent vacation. The Dominican Republic can accommodate both types of vacations.

According to Pauline Frommer of the Frommer’s Travel Guides, “Most Americans go for the beach vacation at an all-inclusive resort because of the tremendous value.” One price includes airfare, transfers, accommodations, meals, drinks, kids’ programs, and entertainment. The resort Frommer chose for her recent vacation even included horseback riding, an activity that’s usually an extra cost. She reported that although these special inclusions vary by resort, your entire package price is bound to be cheaper in the Dominican Republic than what you’d find on another Caribbean island.

All-inclusive vacations are best if you want a relaxing trip spent sunning on the beach and staying within the resort grounds. But certain travelers find these vacations too isolating from the country they came to visit. And while some people speak highly of the incredible choice of restaurants available to resort guests, others complain of bland and repetitive meals.

If you’d prefer a do-it-yourself trip, you’ve got a few options. Peter Capper, senior vice president of BVK (the marketing agency that represents the Dominican Republic), says you can save by getting inexpensive air/hotel deals and air-only deals if you can travel during the shoulder season from a market with a strong air presence (New York, Miami, Boston, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Chicago, or Dallas). American is one of the biggest carriers in the region, but low-cost airlines JetBlue and Spirit now fly there as well, increasing your chances of finding airfare bargains.

Sean Harvey, author of the Rough Guide to the Dominican Republic, also recommends booking an air-and-hotel package that does not include meals—what some resorts refer to as the European plan. “You’ll get a great deal,” he says, “and you can explore the country during the day, and then come back at night to the Western hotel that serves as your home base.”

The deals

If you’re looking for a great price on your Dominican Republic getaway, you may find what you’re looking for with an air-and-hotel inclusive vacation from an online vacation provider or travel agent. When we checked, Liberty Travel was offering a package that included five nights at the all-inclusive Casa Marina Beach & Reef Resort, airfare to Puerta Plata, airport transfers, and taxes. Prices start at $499 per person from Miami.

We also found a La Romana vacation package at Vacation Travel Mart, with prices starting at $378 from Miami. The price includes airfare and three nights at the all-inclusive Suncape Casa del Mar. Five-night and seven-night vacations are also available for higher prices.

The best way to choose which package is right for you is to do your research up front. You can find more than 4,000 resort reviews on Debbie’s Dominican Republic Travel Page and message boards with travel advice and trip reports on DR1.com.

Or, if you’d rather book your vacation components separately, check SmarterTravel.com’s Air section for the latest airfare deals, or compare fares with SmarterTravel’s price-comparison tool.

No matter how you choose to book your getaway, you can be confident that you’ll be able to create a relaxing escape that will fit your budget. So if you’re planning a few days or weeks of sunbathing and pampering and want to keep costs down, consider the Dominican Republic for your next Caribbean vacation destination.

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