Are you ready for your vacation in the beautiful Dominican Republic? Visiting this ‘half-island’ is a beautiful experience but you might be wondering if you need a car to explore it fully. We are here to answer that question and give you some tips on driving in the Dominican Republic.
The first question that comes to mind is this: how hard is it to drive in the Dominican Republic? Unfortunately, it’s pretty hard. It’s one of the crazies places when it comes to the road and only experienced drivers should attempt to drive here.
We’ve been to a lot of places but we consider the Dominican Republic as one of the worst places to rent a car. Of course, the locals drive there daily, so it’s not unimaginable, but it’s a definitely stressful experience.
Do you need to rent a car in the Dominican Republic?
First things first. Do you actually need to rent a car in the Dominican Republic? Well, no. There is public transport between the big cities and the buses are modern and very affordable.
Don’t like buses? No problem, there are plenty of Uber and Taxi drivers who will happily transfer you around the island. Taxi and Uber are much cheaper than it is in the US or Western Europe.
The only reason we can think of when it comes to renting a car is the exploration of the inland areas. There are some beautiful hiking trails and waterfalls to explore and they are usually hard to reach. Guided group tours are available but a car gives you more flexibility.
Driving in the Dominican Republic
Driving in the Dominican Republic is crazy. It feels like there are cars and mopeds everywhere. When I was behind the wheel I sometimes wished that I had eyes on the back of my head. And on the sides too. Yes, that would have helped a lot. As it stands we only have 2 eyes and it’s hard work to keep everything in front of you, behind you, and next to you in your vision.
If you are someone who struggles with situational awareness when driving in your own country, then we do not recommend you to drive here at all.
Basic Rules of the Road
Okay now that we’ve scared you a little bit, let’s take a look at the basic rules.
- Cars drive on the right-hand side of the road and overtake on the left-hand side (at least that’s the rule but overtaking might happen on either side by locals)
- Seatbelts are mandatory and we highly recommend you use them
- Drunk driving is illegal, the maximum alcohol level allowed is 0.10%
- Speed limits:
- Inside towns – 40 kph (25 mph)
- Main roads – 80 kph (50 mph)
- Highways – 120 kph (75 mph)
- When it comes to the right of way you must know that trucks and big vehicles get the right of way. Traffic coming from bigger roads also have the right of way and downhill traffic as well.
- The driving age is 18
- You can’t have your phone in your hand while driving
- Only park in designated parking areas
These are the basics. Of course, as we’ve mentioned driving can get hectic and the rules are very loosely applied. Most are not enforced at all.
There’s one more thing to note: if you are a foreigner then getting into an accident will usually mean paying for the other person. Even if you are 100% innocent they will still try to make you pay for any injury and damages. This is an unfortunate truth about driving in the Dominican Republic.
Generally speaking, driving around Santo Domingo where most people live is the most brutal. This area is stressful even for the most experienced drivers. Punta Cana being a touristy area is a little bit better but it’s still not a very pleasant thing to drive around here.
Pay attention to these things
Apart from the basics, we have also prepared some extra things that you should keep in mind when you attempt to drive here.
- Mopeds! Always expect a moped to be right next to you. If they thought they drive their cars like crazy people then you haven’t seen locals on their mopeds. They like to zig-zag in traffic with the goal to avoid slowing down at all. Always be on the lookout for them.
- Other cars also like to zig-zag so it’s always best to just be aware of your surroundings at all times
- And also pedestrians. They will often cross the street without looking around. Make sure you don’t speed when you are near a lot of pedestrians.
- Night driving is the hardest in the Dominican Republic. People sometimes forget to turn on their headlights or they don’t work at all. Of course, they still like to see where they are going so the most common missing lamp is on the back of vehicles which makes their visibility almost non-existent.
- Some drivers also like to drive with high beams at all times (maybe their headlights are out?)
- Horse carriages are also on the road and they are on the road during the night as well.
- The main roads require you to pay a toll.
- There are only a few gas stations on the island so make sure you don’t run out of fuel.
- The local drivers usually tip people who help them while driving. This includes when someone helps with navigation, helps you park in a tight spot, helps you at the gas station, etc.
- Whenever you are making a left turn, keep checking your left mirror. You might be using your indicator, and you might look like someone that’s ready to turn, YET some people will still attempt to overtake you.
The Dominican Republic has some pretty good roads. For example, their highways are usually well-maintained and in a good condition. However, once you turn off the toll road that is the highway you can get into some unexpected situations.
It can happen that as you are driving, suddenly the asphalt ends and you will have to continue on a gravel road.
Potholes are also abundant on both the smaller and bigger roads of the country. It’s especially fun when a huge pothole suddenly appears in front of you during nighttime.
Overall, the road quality is pretty bad, with some good sections near touristy areas.
As you might guess, traffic is the hardest part of driving in the Dominican Republic. We’ve already highlighted some of the issues but let us stress one more time.
The locals drive like maniacs. They speed, they zig-zag, and they don’t really respect the rules of the road. Of course, they are also skilled drivers so usually you won’t see an accident happen on the road but when you are part of said traffic it can look very scary.
Mopeds are also preferred by a lot of locals. You will see them use mopeds everywhere. Whether it’s someone going 50 kph on the side of the highway or someone flying by a traffic jam, moped riders are everywhere and it’s very easy to hit one of them if you are not careful.
All in all, we only recommend driving in this country if you are very confident in your abilities, if you can keep your cool, and if you really want to have your own car. Otherwise, you can leave the driving to the locals.
Tips for renting a car in the Dominican Republic
Do you really want to rent a car in the Dominican Republic? Well, if yes, then just a small tip for you: try to rent a small SUV.
Small SUVs will be small enough to fit in the traffic perfectly but as you are sitting higher your will have better visibility of the surrounding traffic. We will guarantee that you will also feel so much safer in an SUV-type vehicle than in a small car.
Plus, as we’ve said the roads are of questionable quality. Whenever it gets really bumpy it’s always better to have an SUV than it is to have a sedan. 4WDs are also nice but they usually cost a bit more to rent.