Racially, the population of the island (more than 7 million) is a mixture of black, white, and mestizo. The African and African-Cuban influence is deeply present in the song and dance of the island, with merengue the dominant beat, typically played by a three-person group. There are festivals throughout the year, and international merengue celebrations that attract music lovers from all over. Due to political unrest and an unstable economy 7(not to mention high unemployment) there is, sad to say, a level of violence that underscores society here; in the last few years, unruly demonstrations and strikes have marred the island’s equilibrium. Because of the hard economic conditions, great care should be taken with your valuables (from luggage to camera to purse) at all times. Crime is quite prevalent, and tourists are often conned into various compromising situations (big and small). About a quarter of the population is employed in agriculture, and the further you go from the main city, the more simple and less harried will be the people you meet. Almost all profess Christianity and 80 percent are Roman Catholics. There are small Protestant and Jewish communities.
The official language is Spanish, so do as much as you can to bone up on Spanish before you go. Officially, nearly everyone involved in tourism speaks English, but in fact many dominican people have trouble understanding English. Waitresses in coffee shops may simply drop their jaws when you speak to them in English. In the outlying areas, it is absolutely necessary to speak Spanish. Do bring along a phrase book and keep it handy in your bag.