Planning Your Visit to the Dominican Republic
When planning a trip to the Dominican Republic, a major consideration should be seasonal and regional weather variations. Despite its year-round warm and relatively humid climate, its varied landscapes and elevations lead to regionally distinct changes in temperature and rainfall throughout the year (though hours of daylight stay essentially the same).
In general, you should plan for mostly warm, clear days in winter months, and hot, rainy and potentially stormy weather (even hurricanes) in summer, when humidity soars. In general, the northeast gets the most rainfall as it receives the tradewinds head-on. The southern coast is somewhat drier and cooler in summer, while the cactus-studded southwest lies in a rain shadow that broils in summer.
The warm, dry winter months comprise the peak tourist season, especially in Punta Cana and other popular beach resorts. Then, the beach resorts are packed, many hotels elsewhere also fill, and prices are at their highest, including for car airfares and car rental. More remote areas, such as Barahona, let you avoid the crowds and provide a more authentic experience regardless of the season.
|Seasons||Pros||Cons||Best for||Where to Visit|
|Nov-Feb (Winter)||Good weather, warm with clear skies. Carnival festivals||Peak season crowds and prices. North shore and Cordillera Central can be rainy||Sunbathing on the beach and attending festivals, hiking Pico Duarte||La Vega and Santiago de los Caballeros for Carnaval. Samaná for whale-watching|
|Mar-May (Spring)||Cheaper prices after March, and fewer crowds than in winter||Fickle, warmer, and sometimes rainy weather. Beaches get packed with locals at Easter||Exploring cities and sunbathing on the beach||Cabral for the Cimarrón Festival|
|Jun-Oct (Summer & Autumn)||Least expensive time of the year||Rainy, humid weather and potential for hurricanes; southwest DR can be extremely hot||Exploring cities, museums, and indoor sites||Puerto Plata for Festival de Merengue|
Winter (November to February)
November to February (ironically called ‘verano,’ or summer, by locals) are the busiest months in the Dominican Republic for tourism. In the peak months of January and February, the beaches of Punta Cana, Sámana, and the north coast resorts can seem overrun. Christmas and New Year weeks are the busiest of all. February is a peak month for popular festivals, and the country is abuzz with celebrations; almost every town in the country has its own carnival featuring distinct representations of the devil, as well as Dominican folklore characters and comparsas (dance troupes) unique to each city.
Hotel rates spike during these months, as they do for car rentals and many other travel services (unlike many neighboring islands, such as Cuba, the Dominican Republic has very few private B&Bs). Early planning is advised to secure preferred hotels, as well as car rental and domestic air reservations.
There’s a reason that midwinter is the Dominican Republic’s peak season: it has the best weather of the year, with mostly warm tropical temperatures beneath gorgeous blue skies while your neighbors in North America and northern Europe are shoveling out from under the snow. Especially by the shore, trade winds from the east help keep the edge of the pirate sun. There’s little reason to pack any rain gear, although rain can occur, especially along the north coast, and notably so in the highlands, which around Jarabacoa (the main base) average about 15°F cooler than, say, Punta Cana. You’ll want to pack a fleece jacket, and perhaps even warmer clothing if you plan on hiking to the summit of Pico Duarte.
Dominican Republic Jazz Festival, Cabarete, Puerto Plata, Sosúa, & Santiago de los Caballeros. Dominican and international artists alike rock these beach towns during five days of jazz each November.
Colonial FEST, Santo Domingo. This celebration of Dominican cultural heritage spans the arts, crafts, music, gastronomy, and history of the Dominican Republic, and includes outdoor concerts and fairs throughout the Zona Colonial.
Merengue Típico Festival Guananico, Puerto Plata. Dominicans are mad for merengue, and flock to town for this annual celebration each November.
Festival El Santo Cristo de Bayaguana, San Juan Bautista de Bayaguana. This “Offering of the Bulls” is held over four days, beginning on December 28 when vaqueros (cowboys) lead young bulls into town for sale on the last day. In-between, the small town comes alive with song, improvised verse, and poetry sung a cappella, plus dance, and even fireworks.
Guloya Festival, San Pedro de Macorís. This carnival-like Afro-Dominican revelry kicks off every year on January 1 with Junkanoo-style costumes and dance that are recognized by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Patrimony of Humanity.
Pilgrimage of Virgen de Altagracia, Higüey. Held each January 21, the nation’s most important religious pilgrimages include many of the devout crawling on their knees, come to pray to the nation’s patron saint.
Día de Juan Pablo Duarte, nationwide. On January 26, public fiestas are held in all major towns to celebrate the birth date of the ‘Father of the Country.’
Carnaval de Santiago, Santiago de los Caballeros. This lively carnival, in February, is second only to that of La Vega in size and import. Its masked figures of renown are devil-like lechones (piglets) with long bull-like horns.
Carnaval Vegano, La Vega. The biggest and most vibrant among the nation’s carnivals, not least for its exotic and exaggerated devil masks and use of vejigas (rope whips) on anyone in their path.
Independence Day, Santo Domingo. The capital city holds raucous street celebrations and even a military parade along the Malecón on February 27, 1844, when the Dominican Republic regained its independence from Haiti.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Spring (March to May)
The Dominican Republic warms up gradually from March onward and by May the possibility of prolonged afternoon downpours is significant, announcing the approach of the wet season ahead. Even the semi-arid southwestern corner of the country typically sees a slight spike in rainfall in May. March is still considered high season, and beach resorts will still be crowded with tourists.
Easter Week is a peak time, when locals escape Santo Domingo and other towns en masse to head for the beach and much of urban activity shuts down. For travelers interested in local culture, most cities also host Easter celebrations complete with elaborate religious processions.
Cimarrón Festival, Cabral. Part religious procession, part carnival, Cabral’s syncretic Easter celebration merges Catholicism and African religious elements into Afro-Dominican santería, and features cachuas—festive devils in horned masks.
Semana Santa parades, Santo Domingo. Solemn Easter Week processions wind through the Zona Colonial, typically ending with evening mass at the Cathedral.
Summer & Autumn (June to October)
The bulk of rainfall occurs during the five-month ‘wet season’ (called ‘invierno,’ or winter, by locals) which understandably is also the low season for tourism. Although most rain falls in predictably heavy afternoon downpours following sunny mornings, long-lasting storms can also linger for days. This is also hurricane season, though the Dominican Republic is only struck by a hurricane once every four years on average (with September and October the peak months), and most travelers return home after enjoying a storm-free vacation. During this time of year, the air is saturated with humidity, and even the nights can feel like you’re in a sauna.
The Cordillera Central and other upland regions receive the highest rainfall of all, feeding their lush rainforests. When the clouds clear, the southwest is typically the hottest region of all, often insufferably so, and the sun beats down hard.
In spite of the weather, you'll find there are some major advantages to off-season travel. Budget-conscious travelers will be glad to see lodging rates plummet, and the beach hotels fill up with Dominican families taking advantage of discount packages. Car rentals are easier to come by at this time of year, and you’ll have a greater chance of securing a reservation at Santo Domingo's most in-demand restaurants.
Summer and Autumn Events
Feria Expo Mango, Bani. This out-of-the-way town grows more mangos than they know what to do with, hence this festival celebrating everything there is to celebrate about this delicious fruit.
Festival del Merengue y Ritmos Caribeños, Santo Domingo. Every August, the city’s Malecón shuts down at night for dozens of artists to perform during a weekend-long celebration of merengue and other iconic music and dance features of Dominican culture.
Festival del Merengue, Puerto Plata. Not to be outdone by Santo Domingo, this north coast city hosts this annual festival in late August with top Dominican artists.
Feria Ganadera El Cupey, Puerto Plata. The Dominican Republic’s past lives on, as this September festival demonstrates. Cowboys and other equine fans hit the town for horseback riding competitions, games, and family-oriented musical revelry.
Festival Presidente, Santo Domingo. A biennial celebration filling three nights in October, this musical extravaganza held in the Estadio Olímpico Félix Sánchez is billed as the biggest party-hearty Latino musical concert in the country. Performers have included Carlos Vives, Enrique Iglesias, Juanes, Ricky Martin and Mark Anthony.