About the Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic is a sunny and colorful Central American island-nation in the Caribbean, close to Puerto Rico. The island, called Hispaniola, is shared by the Dominican Republic to the east and Haiti to the west. In 1492, it was the first territory in the Americas to be settled by Europeans. The Colonial Zone of the capital, Santo Domingo, houses the first cathedral, university, and church built in all of the Americas. These are now established as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
After centuries of Spanish and French colonial rule, the Dominican Republic became independent in 1844. Since then, it has grown into the largest economy of the Caribbean and is ranked as one of the fastest growing economies of Latin America. Traditional exports such as coffee, cocoa, fruits, and vegetables are still important, while telecommunications and tourism have become strong economic forces as well. Currently, the Dominican Republic is visited by more travelers than any other Caribbean country.
Visitors enjoy experiencing some of the Dominican Republic’s favorite pastimes, such as music, dancing, and sports. The friendly people of Hispaniola love to share their lively music, Merengue and Bachata, and the accompanying dances with visitors.
A Brief Overview of the Dominican Republic
Despite the many wonderful aspects of the Dominican Republic, there are great challenges in economic, health, and ethnic relations. Neighboring country Haiti suffers more poverty than any other nation in the Western Hemisphere. There are about one million Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic, and tensions between Haitian and Dominican people run high, affecting the well-being of many. About half of the population is subject to the deficient public health system, and the unemployment rate hovers around 15%.
ISL volunteers serve in communities that struggle with poverty. While our programs operate mostly in the Dominican Republic, we do take visits to the Dominican/Haitian border to serve residents of the refugee communities in the border zone. Volunteers often cite this as one of their most impactful experiences.
Where We Serve in the Dominican Republic
ISL Dominican Republic works primarily in the rural zone around Santo Domingo, focusing on many of the communities surrounding the Ozama River. People there do not have access to the national health program, leaving them vulnerable to disease and untreated injuries. They are able to visit small health centers, but they can only be diagnosed, not treated. It is common to see infectious diseases and malnutrition in these communities. Residents also suffer from a high rate of unemployment, and many face the cruel realities of child abuse, domestic violence, alcoholism, and drugs. Many people lack formal housing as well, living in makeshift homes with tin roofs.
Haitian Border Region
Volunteers to the Dominican Republic & Haiti will also spend some of their time working in a clinic a few miles across the border in the southeastern part of Haiti. Volunteers will not be lodged in Haiti, but will spend each night in the Dominican Republic, staying in towns next to the Haitian border.
As with any great work, it takes great relationships to get the job done well. That’s why ISL Dominican Republic is excited to partner with nonprofits, NGOs, and governmental and religious institutions to better serve the people of the DR.
Children’s Home and Foundations
Children Villages SOS
El Faro Home
Galvan Home Health
Rosa Duarte Asilo Home
What to Expect as a Volunteer
Volunteers who serve in Dominican Republic and Haiti always arrive at the International Airport of America, located 20 minutes from the center of the city in Santo Domingo.
After volunteers pass through Customs and pick up their luggage, ISL staff members welcome and transport everyone to their accommodations 30 to 45 minutes away.
Volunteers who go to Haiti are always lodged in Dominican territory. The communities in which we work are no more than 5 hours away from Santo Domingo by bus. When we work with one of the provinces on the border of Haiti (Pedernales, Elías Piña or Pedro Santana), we stay at hotels on the Dominican side, just a short drive from the Haitian work site.
With ISL DR, you’ll have many opportunities to experience the culture of those you serve as a volunteer. Here are some of the many possibilities:
Our volunteers have the opportunity to learn how to dance to the charming and contagious music of “Merengue” and “Bachata.”
A walking tour of the Colonial City (the most historic part of the country), affords opportunities to visit museums (costing no more than five dollars) such as “La Catedral Primada de América” and “Alcazar de Colon”. Volunteers who wish to visit the Presidential Palace need to notify the Country Coordinator ahead of time, so we can schedule a tour.
After trying Dominican cuisine, volunteers are often interested in learning how to cook some DR dishes.
DR creates famous baseball players, many who make it to the MLB. You may be able to see some of them playing for local teams. Baseball season is October through February.
Resort in Juan Dolio Beach
A day pass to one of the hotels on the beach, 45 minutes from Santo Domingo, includes lunch, snacks, and drinks throughout the day, as well as use of their private beach and pool. Cost: $50 or less
Saona is one of the most beautiful islands in the country, accessible by speed boat or catamaran. The excursion includes the day’s drinks, lunch, starfish watching and more. It is located two hours away from the city. Cost: $50
Excursion to Salto el Limón and Cayo Levantado
Located in the province of Samana three hours from Santo Domingo, “El Salto el Limón” is a beautiful waterfall and swimming area. Accessible only by a 20-30 minute horseback ride.
Cayo Levantado is a small island with a tropical vegetation, white sand and crystalline water. From January to March you can observe humpback whales.
Cost for both: $60 or less.
Bahía de Las Águilas
This beach will only be visited by those volunteers who go to Haiti and who serve in the province of Pedernales, since it is located 5 hours from Santo Domingo. This beach is considered to be one of the cleanest and most beautiful in the world. It is 23 miles long and is home to the Carey Sea Turtle, manatees, and green iguanas.
Whether lodging at a hacienda on the beach of the Sea of Cortez in Puerto Penasco, Mexico; a walled convent in the heart of Alajuela, Costa Rica; or an apartment situated above the bustling metropolis of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, ISL’s volunteer lodgings are unique and carefully chosen based on very important criteria.
Accommodations are safe, clean, and within a reasonable driving distance to service sites and recreational opportunities. Volunteers are provided their own bed, easy access to restrooms and showers and meeting spaces for training and fellowship. Many ISL accommodations are unique and may include retreat houses, guest houses or home stays, all of which provide a distinctive cultural experience. ISL Country Coordinators upload a description of your specific lodging in the Final Trip Document posted to your My ISL Portal prior to your departure.
Hostal Bella Epoca
Av. Independencia #605, Gazcue, Sto Dgo. Rep Dom
Residencial Juan Alejandro II
Prolg Deciderio Arias # 44 Apt 305
Casa San Pablo
Av. Romulo Betancurt casi esq Nunez de Caceres
Dominican Republic's Staff
We love our staff and we are positive that you will too! Each staff member is professional, courteous, and has the same passion as you do: to serve others.