You’ve seen the photos – palm trees framed against a blue sky, powdery golden sands and turquoise waters. And the picture is an accurate one: the Dominican Republic is certainly blessed with a pristine coastline. But there’s way more to this Caribbean Island than glorious beaches. There’s rainforest, mountains and desert landscapes, historical and cultural sites – not to mention a thriving music scene. So with so much to explore, when should you go?
Well, you can engage in the local Caribbean culture year round, and you’ll get sunshine even in the winter months. But it’s worth noting that the island is at its busiest from December to April and that the rainy season arrives in June. With that in mind the best time to visit the Dominican Republic is late spring. You’ll get unbroken sunshine, more for your money and a better chance of bagging a hotel room on the spot.
The island experiences two main weather seasons: the dry season runs from December to April and the wet season, which is also hotter and more humid, from May/June to November. But that doesn’t mean you won’t get a downpour in January or experience nothing but sunshine if you visit in the summer. Also, temperatures don’t change significantly throughout the year – the island has an average annual temperature of 25°C.
Then there’s hurricane season to add to the mix – roughly from June to November, with the stormiest months usually August and September. The Dominican Republic is in the centre of the Caribbean hurricane belt, and gets hit with a major storm every decade or so. Just to complicate things further, there are some regional differences in temperatures. So, to work out the best time to go to the Dominican Republic, consider not only the activities you might want to do, but also which part of the island you wish to visit.
If you’re wondering when is the best time to visit the Dominican Republic to put in some time on those glorious beaches, without getting a roasting in the process, you should head during the winter season. Between December and the start of April it’s cooler than in the summer and humidity is relatively low. Sea temperatures are also wonderfully warm – ideal for swimming and snorkelling. It is peak season, however, as visitors from countries in the northern hemisphere head to the island for some guaranteed winter sun. This means you probably won’t get that white sand paradise to yourself.
That said, even in the high season you can find quiet beaches in the more remote areas of the island, such as those west of Puerto Plata in the north. There are superb scuba and snorkelling opportunities in the waters off La Isabela Histórica, and you can go manatee spotting at the Estero Hondo Marine Sanctuary. This is also the best time to travel to the Dominican Republic for whale watching. The sight of humpback whales heaving through the water as they migrate to Samaná Bay (Bahía de Samaná) each year, is a real winter showstopper. The town of Samaná is a popular viewing point.
Some locations, such as the mountainous interior, particularly the Cordillera Central, are significantly cooler in winter. Temperatures on the mountain peaks have even been known to drop below zero, so bring that extra cosy layer or two if you’re planning on hiking.
There's usually plenty of accommodation to go around, even in peak season, so finding somewhere to stay shouldn't be a problem. If you can, go early in December before prices rocket. There are also several guesthouses and hostels available as an alternative to hotels, should you prefer a more independent vibe.
Carnival is a big deal in the Dominican Republic. Every Sunday in February is a build-up to one of the largest celebrations of the year, held on the 27th February. Festivities in La Vega are the largest, followed by Santiago. Santo Domingo and Monte Cristi are also great locations for joining in the carnival fun.
March is still peak season, but by April visitors have thinned out. Savvy travellers opt to visit the Dominican Republic at this time to capitalise on the better flight prices and hotel rates and to enjoy a more peaceful island. It’s also that perfect window to enjoy days of endless sunshine before the rainy season hits and temperatures climb.
Beaches in the southeast of the islands, such as Punta Cana, are popular destinations, but if you’re banking on a bit of tranquillity during your visit, you might think twice about going when it’s Spring Break in the US (usually lasting a week and falling some time between March and mid-April). This is when college students head for the island in groups, lured by the balmy temperatures and the chance to party.
Spring is a great time to explore the rest of the island, and if you’re looking for outdoor adventures, there are infinite opportunities within its five mountain ranges. The largest, the Cordillera Central is a prime location for trekking and the resort town of Jarabacoa the centre for kayaking and whitewater rafting. If you want to go mountain biking there are trails galore.
You’ll have to factor in rain if you take your holiday from June, although this early in the wet season there’s less likelihood of a serious downpour. Sun worshippers will love basking on the beaches in the 30°C heat, although at an average 32°C in the capital Santo Domingo it’s too hot for serious sightseeing. After sundown, however, temperatures gradually drop to around 22°C, making for a pleasant evening out.
Between June and August the island is at its hottest and you’re bound to get some heavy rainfall. But it doesn’t mean the island will be hit with torrential rain on a daily basis. Rather heavy downpours may suddenly appear, but are just as likely to be followed by sunny spells. If you’re planning on trekking in mountainous areas, such as in the Cordillera Central, bear in mind your adventures could be scuppered by heavy rains.
Rainy days are ideal for dipping into the city of Santo Domingo, the oldest colonial city in the Americas, in particular the Zona Colonial, with its delightful old buildings and pretty squares for whiling away an hour or two over lunch. Or duck out of the rain and discover the city’s biggest museums in Gazcue.
If you’re in the city in the last week of July you can’t fail to notice the bursts of merengue music playing along the waterfront, accompanied by couples twirling to the energetic rhythms. The Merengue festival is a close second to Carnival when it comes to exuberant celebration, so this is perhaps the best month to visit the Dominican Republic for all night music and dancing.
Note that hurricane season runs from June to November, with the stormiest months often being August and September. Tourists shouldn't be overly concerned, however, as major hurricanes only occur every decade or so.
If you’re looking to make your money stretch, think about heading to the Dominican Republic in the autumn. As in spring you’ll find better deals on accommodation and you can afford to be more spontaneous.
As autumn comes around, temperatures drop, although they vary across regions. For example, the average temperature in Constanza in September is 20°C, while in Puerto Plata it’s more likely 27°C. Punta Cana has a similar climate to Puerto Plata and has an average temperature of 28°C in September. Late autumn sees the average temperature across the island fall, but only by a degree or two.
Come November, it starts to heat up again and the rain begins to tail off. This is the best time to visit the Dominican Republic for a combination of warm, dryish weather and bargain prices.
Punta Cana is hugely popular with tourists from the US, looking to banish the winter blues back home. So, when Punta Cana gets its best weather, between November and February, unsurprisingly this is also when it is busiest. If you can, you're better off going during the shoulder season between March and May. As long as you avoid coinciding with Spring Break the majority of crowds have dispersed and the water is still warm.
The Dominican Republic has a bewildering barrage of festivals. On every day of the year, there seems to be some kind of celebration somewhere and these traditional fiestas are one of the great pleasures of a trip to the Dominican Republic.
The majority are the regional fiestas patronales, festivals celebrating the patron saint of a town, which vary across the island. Remote areas lean towards traditional religious ceremonies, featuring large processions and folk songs accompanied by enormous palos drums fashioned from tree trunks. Major towns and cities tend to hold lively outdoor parties with a lot of drinking and a few traditional contests, such as a race to climb up a greased pole. And the southeast goes in for cattle festivals, with processions of cattle and cowboys. In addition to the actual saint’s day, there will often be a nine-night celebration, called a novena, leading up to it. Regardless of how they’re celebrated, the festivals are invariably lively affairs and well worth seeking out.
So, if you want to know the best time to visit the Dominican Republic for its festivals, check out our calendar of events.
Santo Cristo de Bayaguana (Jan 1 ). A major procession of local bulls to the church in Bayaguana, where some are given to a local priest as a sign of devotion and thanksgiving.
Guloya Festival (Jan 1 ). The famous mummers of San Pedro de Macorís run a morning procession through the streets of San Pedro’s Miramar barrio. A great opportunity to see this unique sub culture’s music, costumes and mini dance dramas.
Three Kings’ Day (Jan 5–6). The major gift-giving day of the Dominican year, which carries as much importance as Christmas. Many adults are given time off work to celebrate Three Kings' Day. So, if you visit the Dominican Republic during this time, be aware that some businesses and attractions may be closed.
Virgen de Altagracia (Jan 21). By far the most important religious day on the Dominican calendar, a prayer-of-intercession day to the country’s patron and a massive gathering of celebrants in Higüey.
Duarte Day. (Jan 26). Holiday in honour of the Father of the Country, with public fiestas in all major towns, biggest in Santiago and La Vega.
Carnival. February is the best month to travel to the Dominican Republic to join in with one of the largest celebrations of the year. Every Sunday in February is a build-up to the big one, on 27th February. Festivities in La Vega are the largest, followed by Santiago. Santo Domingo and Monte Cristi are also great locations for joining in the carnival fun.
Feb 2 Virgen de Candelaria (Feb 2). A religious procession in the capital’s barrio San Carlos, in honour of this aspect of the Virgin.
Independence Day (Feb 27). Celebration of independence from Haiti and the culmination of the Dominican Carnival. Battle reenactments in Santo Domingo and major parties in other big Carnival towns.
March 19 de Marzo. The major fiesta in Azua, in honour of the battle in which the Haitians were defeated here, ensuring Dominican independence.
Semana Santa (Variable, usually early to mid-April). The Christian Holy Week is also the most important week of Haitian and Dominican Vodú. Traditional gagá festivals take place in the Haitian bateyes. Meanwhile, the town of Cabral holds its famous Carnival Cimarrón, in which townspeople adorned with demon masks descend on the city from the lagoon and castigate passers-by with whips.
Santa Cruz (May 2–3). A popular nine-night celebration in El Seibo, with a cattle procession to the sixteenth-century church on the final day and a very different spring festival in Azua and Baní, where all of the crosses in the area are covered with bright-coloured paper.
San Felipe (May 3 – Seven weeks after Semana Santa). A huge cultural celebration on Puerto Plata’s Malecón, with lots of live music.
Espíritu Santo (May 3). In honour of the Holy Spirit, syncretized to the Congo region’s supreme deity Kalunda. Best in Santo Domingo’s Villa Mella barrio.
San Antonio (June 3). Great, authentic celebration in the town of Yamasá, two hours north of Santo Domingo.
San Juan Bautista (June 17–24). A religious festival in San Juan de la Maguana in honour of John the Baptist and his African counterpart Chango, plus a smaller fiesta in Baní that features a distinctive style of music called sarandunga, a rapid-fire African drum-and-chorus rhythm that’s beaten out in drum circles.
San Pedro Apóstol (June 29). A magnificent Cocolo festival in San Pedro de Macorís, with roving bands of guloyas performing dance dramas on the street.
Santiago Apóstol (July 24–26). Celebrating Santiago, the warrior patron saint of the Christian armies that conquered Moorish Spain. A large civic festival in Santiago with a lot of requisite partying around the Monument.
Merengue Festival (end of July/Aug). If you want to know when to go to the Dominican Republic to hear traditional merengue music, Santo Domingo has one of the biggest celebrations of the year. Head for the Malecón and around.
Festival of the Bulls (Aug 14). This is quite a spectacle, involving cattle, cowboys and women carrying icons of the Virgin Mary whilst singing rosarios, which are similar to hymns. There is another Festival of the Bulls held on December 28th if you miss this one.
Restoration Day (Aug 16). Nationwide celebration of independence from Spain, with large parties in Santiago around the Monument and around Plaza España in Santo Domingo.
Virgen de la Merced (Sept 24). A traditional fiesta patronal in the small Santo Domingo barrio Mata Los Indios, beginning mid-month, plus nationwide festivities.
San Miguel (Sept 29). This saint’s also known as Belíe Belcán and is honoured with major festivals taking place in the capital’s Villa Mella and barrio San Miguel, Haina and across the country. Look for the green-and-white-frosted cakes consumed on this day.
Santa Teresa de Ávila (Oct 14–15). The patron saint of Elias Piña, where you’ll see a wonderful syncretic celebration using palos drums, rosario processions and gagá, plus a less traditional merengue party around the Parque Central.
Merengue Festival, Puerto Plata(usually third week of October). Sister festival to the one held in the capital in the summer, and a major music event, with major acts playing all over town; lots of partying on the seafront.
San Rafael (October 24). If you enjoy a procession followed by a party, the San Rafael festival in Samaná should be on your to-do list. The event ends in a huge party and features a bambulá dance battle.
Todo los Santos (Nov 1). A major Vodú festival in the San Juan de la Maguana and southern border region, especially in nearby pueblo Maguana Arriba, where locals proceed to the cemetery to ask for the release of their relatives for the day.
Fiesta patronal, Santa Bárbara de Samaná(Dec 4). Fans of bambulá music will enjoy the procession featuring the music of the queen of the bambulá, Doña Bertilia.
Festival of the Bulls (Dec 28). Traditional cattle festival in Bayaguana, featuring unique traditional “cattle songs” that are sung to the bulls in order to bless them and prepare them for the January 1 procession to the local church.