Happy new year, DR readers! I hope you’ve all had a great start to 2019 and that you’re busy planning your next trip to the DR. The weather has been simply phenomenal since the New Year kicked in – and thank God, the hurricane season came and went without so much as a sound. I’m currently in Santo Domingo, in the ever-buzzing and growing Colonial City.

What’s the outlook for 2019? Well, there’s a lot to look forward to in the Dominican Republic this year. I’ll have new video clips, reviews, and articles coming to the blog.

In a nutshell, tourism continues to sky rocket in the Dominican Republic, and shows no signs of slowing down. The DR’s first place in Caribbean arrivals and overnight stays continues. And what’s more, a host of exciting events are on a roll for the year. 

Below are my top 7 initial picks of the most anticipated 2019 Dominican Republic events and hotels — plus an update on your favorite trip planning resource.

1. Carnival Season Is Coming

Carnaval Dominicano kicks off in February — right around the corner. I didn’t attend as many parades last year as in the past. But this year I’m looking forward to the devils prancing in the streets again in their intricate costumes, but I’m also looking forward to the overall festive atmosphere that fills the DR in February — I find it much more energizing than December.  I’ll post details on dates for Carnival close to February. For now, know that it’s every Sunday of the month until the first weekend of March.

To understand what Dominican carnival is all about, check out this story I wrote on Medium, and this historical account I wrote for Moon Guides.

Also look out for events taking place around Carnival month, from lecture series to art exhibits.

2. New Resorts, Ecolodges and Hostels

There are so many new hotels either opening or under construction, that even I’m finding it difficult to keep up. Below are the ones worth nothing.

On the all inclusive side, the new kid on the block of note is the ClubMed Miches — opening as we speak on stunning Playa Esmeralda. ClubMed sure knows how to scout and select the right corner wherever they go, don’t they? I visited this virgin beach and the Miches area again right before construction was starting, and the whole region is a stunner. Let’s hope that development and more crowds won’t change it for the worse.

A corner of Playa Esmeralda, an over one-mile stunner. – Image by Lebawit Girma, All Rights Reserved.

The list of adults-only all inclusive resorts also continues to grow in Punta Cana. But you know what? Sometimes it’s the one resort boasting an astounding number of repeat visitors (some have been back to it 23 times) that catches my eye — and this year that’s Ocean Blue & Sand (more on that later) in the Arena Gorda Beach area of Punta Cana.

In Puerto Plata, I recently stayed at and enjoyed my swim up suite at the new Emotions by Hodelpa Playa Dorada, run by the same hotel chain that manages Nicholas de Ovando, among other properties.

Southeast, I found the new (if six months is new anymore) Whala!Bayahibe to be quite a different property to experience -— former private condos turned into a resort, perched on the cliff side of Bayahibe, with three infinity pools, ladders for cliff swimming, and a shuttle to Playa Dominicus throughout the day.

Sunset from one of the infinity pools at the new Whala!Bayahibe.
Emotions by Hodelpa Puerto Plata – Image by Lebawit Lily Girma, All Rights Reserved.

In the most exciting hotel news yet, the Ministry of Tourism recently announced the future opening of three Marriott luxury brands on the North Coast, in and around Puerto Plata province. Slated to begin construction this year is a W Hotel (in kitesurfing hub Cabarete), a Luxury Collection, and a Ritz-Carlton Reserve. Quite impressive, and good news for our North Coast friends.

Santo Domingo, the capital and cultural pulse of the country, is perpetually upgrading and boasts a host of renovated hotels as well as new properties, particularly in the Colonial City.

The historic Nicholas de Ovando launched a new Club Imperial level earlier in 2018, with upgraded suites, private check in and access, and a lounge. They’re also super lucky to have Chef Martin Omar on site at Dos Mundos restaurant (worth a visit).

Another favorite of mine, El Embajador Royal Hideaway, has never oozed more charm since Barcelo’s renovations.

Have you seen the Colonial City’s latest upgrades?

Upscale eco-lodges, boutique resorts, and budget hostels are slowly expanding as well. This is particularly true on the Samana Peninsula, attracting the adventurous and cultural traveler. You can read about my new picks — including the lively Dan and Manty’s Guesthouse and Hostel in Las Terrenas, where a communal Dominican home cooked dinner is a daily affair — in the 2019 edition of Moon Dominican Republic, releasing later this year.

By the way, who remembers the charming old Hotel Frances, which tragically collapsed during the first phase of Colonial Zone renovations? It’s been rebuilt and renovated as a wedding reception venue and event space. I got a sneak peek preview from Hodelpa, the venue’s managers, and it’s quite the stunner.

The rubble of the old Hotel Frances (left), turned into a wedding reception venue.
You can find out where this delightful boutique hotel is in the upcoming Moon Dominican Republic 2019 edition. – All images by LebawitGirma.com

3.Oscar D’León at Hard Rock Live SD – February 15

I think I screamed when I first saw this news. El Leon de la Salsa — the lion of salsa, as he’s known — will perform in Santo Domingo at the Blue Mall’s Hard Rock Live. Now that’s an event not to miss, especially in the city where there are numerous avid salseros despite merengue and bachata dominating the music scene.

4. Master of the Ocean 2019 – February 23 to 29

Great news for water sports athletes and lovers: the most popular professional competition in the country is officially back this year. Master of the Ocean 2019 is scheduled to take place February 23 to 29 in Cabarete. Find all the information on their website and Facebook page.

Book your rooms ASAP.

5. Dominican Rum Festival –July 19 to 20

A second edition of the Dominican Rum Festival will take place July 19 and 20 in Puerto Plata, on the grounds of the oceanfront, outdoor amphitheater. If you remember, I had a blast at the first edition last year.

Stay tuned for more details. And keep the dates in mind if you’re planning on a Puerto Plata escape this summer. Combine a stay in the hills with a beach escape, plus the rum festival — Puerto Plata remains the most diverse destination in the DR.

6. Feria del Libro 2019 (Annual Book Fair)

For the first time, the 2019 edition of the annual book fair or Feria del Libro — probably more of interest to DR residents than tourists, but still worth checking out if you’re a book lover — will take place in the Colonial City. Dates to be confirmed.

The event will be set up along the length of Calle de las Damas, up to Plaza España. More details will be shared as they become available.

7. Moon Dominican Republic Guidebook – October 2019

That’s a big event too don’t you agree?! Last but not least, the 2019 edition of my Moon Dominican Republic guidebook (published by Moon Guides/Hachette Book Group) is in its final stages and will be releasing to the world around September/October of this year. I will share more details as they become available.

Note that the current edition is still a great resource to learn about the DR and plan your stay. See this recent Amazon review below (so chuffed!).

“I’ve purchased many, many travel books before, and this is one of my favorites. It reads like a friend who knows the area very well, giving you the most useful and helpful info. And it’s so well written; I could easily visualize what she was describing and almost felt like I was there! I have other travel books of the DR, and this one is by far the best.”

– By Virginia A. Jacobsen on Amazon, December 2, 2018

I also hope you enjoyed my dispatches from around the country in 2018, including my Behind the Scenes video series on Youtube and Facebook.


Which of the above updates are you the most excited about? Sound off in the comments below.


Lebawit Lily Girma

A former corporate attorney, Lebawit Lily Girma is an award-winning travel writer, photographer, and author of several Caribbean guidebooks for US-publisher Moon Travel Guides, including Moon Belize and Moon Dominican Republic. Originally from Ethiopia, Lily calls herself a “culture-holic”–fluent in four languages, she has lived in eight countries besides the U.S., including Belize, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic. Her articles and photography focusing on culture, adventure, and sustainable travel in the Caribbean region have been published in AFAR Magazine, CNN, BBC, Delta Sky, The Guardian, and others. She is the recipient of the 2016 Marcia Vickery Wallace Award for Excellence in Travel Journalism from the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.