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What to Expect?
The following information is based on our experiences as Canadians taking an all-inclusive tour package (air, transfers, hotel) to the Dominican Republic. On this page you find Debbie's Review index of all tours in the Dominican Republic. You can find all-inclusive Punta Cana vacation packages for deals on your travel costs.
If you only take one travel hint from this page do this: Be sure to pack 24 hours worth of clothes and toiletries in your "carry on bag" **See note below regarding liquids, gels, etc. in carry on luggage. Your luggage may arrive late or not at all. It happened to us on our 25th wedding anniversary, our luggage was "lost" for 24 hours.
How big can the carry on be. Most airlines are now very strict in the size of carry ons and it is strictly enforced! The usual maximum dimensions per bag are 45 linear inches (the sum of height, length, and width. Some airlines have installed baggage sizers at the ticket counter and at the gate--metal frames that indicate the allowable size and shape of a bag. The charter airlines in Canada allow you two checked pieces of luggage per person and a weight limit of 20 kg. (44 lbs.) per person. Check with your airline to confirm their luggage requirements.
We fly out of Toronto and are advised by the tour companies to arrive three hours before departure time. You have to go to the airline counter with tickets and passport (if you are Canadian you aren't required to have a passport but it is better if you do!) in hand.
**Note that as of August 2006, liquids and gels are no longer allowed in your carryon baggage, and for flights originating in the United Kingdom, local policies regarding carry on baggage will apply. These policies tend to be more stringent than United States/Canada policy. Please check with your air carrier for detailed information on what is or is not allowed.
Information regarding minors:
When children travel to the Dominican Republic with only one parent, or with non-parents, the Dominican Republic does not require any special letter of authorization, as long as they leave the DR with the same people they arrived with. (Note that it had previously been indicated that minors traveling with only one parent or non-parents had to have a letter of authorization translated into Spanish and legalized by the Dominican Consulate. This in fact pertains only to Dominican minors under 18, not to foreign travelers.) If a minor child is not leaving the Dominican Republic with the same people they arrived with, the parents or legal guardians must provide to the new companion, a letter of consent, legalized at the nearest Dominican Republic Consulate to the parents' residence. If any further clarification is needed, please contact your nearest Dominican Consulate.
Check with your travel agent or tour operator to see what documentation is required at your country of origin for minors travelling alone or with one parent or non-parents. An authorization letter notarized and signed by the parent(s) or legal guardian(s) may be required.
Children should have their own passport when traveling alone or with non-parents. Birth certificates are only acceptable when traveling with one or both parents and a child is under 13. Children over 13 need a student card along with the birth certificate as photo ID, or a passport. (Note that anyone travelling via or from the United States requires a passport, even children. Only Canadians flying direct from Canada do not have to have a passport.)
You also need a tourist visa. Tourist Visa Sample This usually comes with your package. If it doesn't, get one from the tour rep at the airport when you check in. You will have to fill these out and hand in one copy when you get to the D.R. Keep the other one in a safe place. Note for Americans: Americans buying a package trip to the DR do not usually receive their tourist visa ahead of time. They must purchase it when they arrive at the airport in the DR for $10.00 U.S. and complete it before going through immigration.
Bulkhead seats offer extra legroom but no underseat storage; in emergency exit rows legroom is ample but underseat luggage must fit securely to ensure that the row isn't blocked. Flight attendants aren't likely to make exceptions there. What works for us sometimes is this: depending on the configuration of the airplane and how full it is, ask for the two outside seats eg: B & C, if the plane is not completely full you will end up with 3 seats for two people. Don't be afraid to ask for good seats. A smile and being early always helps! Some airlines have "business class" seating available with larger seats - in our opinion it's well worth the extra cost! Have a good flight and remember - EXPERIENCED flyers wear their seatbelt at all times!!
Learn some Spanish before coming to the Dominican Republic
We have a print friendly Spanish page check out: Spanish Phrases
As soon as the plane lands in The Dominican Republic and open the doors you will know you are in the Caribbean. A summer thunderstorm always reminds me of this time. You will usually disembark the airplane on the tarmac and walk to the terminal guided by an airport employee..just follow the crowd. When you reach the terminal there will likely be a photographer, who will take your picture with two pretty Dominican girls. These photos will be available to purchase when you leave the DR. d
Then on to Immigration where you show your passport (ID), and tourist visa. (Americans: buy your travel visa before going to immigration.) Have these ready, it'll save a lot of time. Immigration is fast and efficient. Then you walk into the terminal and wait for your luggage to come down the luggage carousel/conveyer belt. Once you have all your luggage you go through customs. Surprise here! Our experience as Canadians is we just get waved through. As soon as you exit customs and the airport you will see a person holding a sign that has your Tour Company's name on it. eg. Sunquest. Go to them and they will tell you what bus to get on for your particular hotel.
You may have heard or read horror stories about the baggage handlers at the airport. These are mostly exaggerated. As soon as you start to exit the airport you will have people coming up to you trying to take your baggage for you. A very firm no, two or three times will dissuade them. If you do decide to let them carry them, always keep an eye on your luggage and make sure you know what bus your bags have to go on. As disorganized as it all seems the baggage handlers are competent and know what they are doing. Keep your carry-on! If they carry your luggage it is only fair and proper you give them a tip. We usually give $3 to 5$ US. depending on the amount of luggage and how far they carry it. Some will demand $5 U.S. or more per bag - don't be intimidated into paying that much! They can't use coin so paper money only please. Another way is to have one person find your bus while the other waits with the bags and then just carry the bags yourself. This baggage handler problem is really not as terrible as its reputation .
When the baggage is on the bus. get on the bus-- and yes it is usually air conditioned. When everyone is on the bus you will go to your hotel. As you go to the hotel you will see how the Dominicans live. One of the first things we noticed is that unlike North Americans, Dominicans seem to enjoy each other's company. People actually talk to their neighbours and there is always a group of people outside homes. You will have noticed at this time that driving is an experience you will not forget :) Normally on the bus a guide will give you a brief orientation and hand you a packet containing basic information.
As a matter of interest, we personally find the Dominican Airports more efficient, interesting, and generally a favorable experience compared to the Toronto airport.
When you arrive at the hotel have your hotel voucher ready (this came with your tickets). You will be told to go to the reception desk and register while they are removing the luggage from the bus. It is important that everyone in your party goes to the reception desk at the same time because it is at this point that you get your plastic wrist bands which identify you as a guest and entitle you to all the services of the hotel (not that there are some hotels where wristbands are not required) In some cases you may received your wristbands on the bus enroute to the hotel. Depending on the system your hotel has, you will be asked to identify your luggage and either follow the bellhop up to your room or be told your luggage will be up shortly. We usually give the bellhop $3 to $5 US as a tip but remember this is your option. All tips are included in your package.
DO NOT DRINK THE TAP WATER.
The major hotels provide bottled water in your room daily and bottled water can be purchased in the hotel shops, or is available at the bars or restaurants. When you see your room make sure it is what you requested. If you are not happy with it now is the time to complain about problems or request a room change. If you have trouble being understood, wait until your tour company represenative or Hotel Guest Services personnel are available. They should be able to help you out. Usually the hotel tries to be as accommodating as possible, space permitting.
Quite often in the newer hotels air conditioning can only be turned on with your hotel key. Usually this switch is on the wall by the main door. Also air conditioning might go off automatically if the sliding door to the balcony is open. (Also note some balcony doors lock automatically when closed!) Water pressure is not the best at some of these hotels so please keep that in mind. Room safes are located in the closet in your room and you usually have to pay for a key at the front desk, or in the case of electronic safes, have it activated. (The cost of this is sometimes included in your package.) I highly recommend that you keep your valuables in the safe! There are many cable channels available on the TV, including movie and news channels. If you want a remote channel changer, (men seem to be lost without them). go to the front desk, they will give you one, but will require a deposit. (At some hotels the remotes are already in the room)
Where do I go. How do things work?
Remember your carry-on bag which has the stuff I told you to pack. While other people are still waiting for their luggage, you had a quick shower and changed into your fresh clothes! Already you are ahead of the game. Depending on what time you arrived this might be the time to explore the hotel and get an idea of the layout. You might be in time to have lunch, supper or a late night snack.
Some hotel restaurants require men to wear long pants at dinner (most of the a la carte restaurants and even some of the buffet restaurants)- although this rule has been greatly relaxed in the last year or so since more North Americans are going there. (Apparently we don't like to dress up)
This would be a good time to talk about staying healthy. The best way to ensure a great vacation is not to overindulge. Imagine being at home for a week during a really hot and humid week in July. Now do nothing but lie in the hot sun without sunscreen, drink lots of alcohol, eat an enormous amount of food, especially fresh fruit, and wash everything down with water from the local creek. You're gonna get sick. And if you do this here you will also get sick. Please do everything in moderation and you should be OK. Your hotel uses only purified water for cooking and ice - if they don't they will tell you otherwise. Most hotels have strict quality control procedures in place regarding food and drink and the cleanliness of the resort. If you travel outside the resort drink only bottled water and drinks with no ice in them. The bottom line here is if you are not sure of something do not eat or drink it. Don't take chances. (All food at the resorts is safe to eat, yes, even the lettuce, raw fruit, and salads). Immodium, Alka-Seltzer/Pepto-Bismal/Tums, and Tylenol will take care of most problems.
Yes, they have bars - usually several - in the lobby, at the beach and by the pool. Just ask for a drink and you shall receive. Specif if you want alcohol in your drink or not. The beer is local (Presidente) as is the liquor in most resorts – some 5 star resorts do have International brands of liquor available. And, of course, all those tropical drinks are available - Banana Mama - Strawberry Daquiri’s - Pina Coladas … Remember that a lot of the tropical drinks contain coconut milk – a natural laxative!
Shopping and Money to pay for it
On one trip Pat ran out of books to read and went to the gift shop to buy a paper back and came back empty-handed. He saw a great paperback by Ken Follett, but not great enough to pay $30 Canadian for.
Don't forget to bring some books to read!
Don't leave home without everything you need. Most hotels have a well-stocked store, but the prices are out of this world for everyday items including candy, books, and toiletries like shampoo and suntan lotion.
Stores you can expect to find at hotels are gift shops, convenience stores, hairdresser, photo shop, jewellery store, clothing,leather goods, and swimsuit stores. You cannot bargain at these stores - prices are as marked. Everything will be priced in Dominican Pesos. It is best to be sure of the exchange rate by using a Currency Converter on the web.
I really enjoy bargaining with vendors on the beach or in town. It is fun and part of the Dominican experience. Ask how much an item is and offer half the price and bargain from there. But remember these vendors are there to make a profit and will not sell to you at an absurdly low price just because you are a tourist - on the other hand they will be glad to sell you something at an absurdly high price so be forewarned! The vendors can be aggressive but are just ordinary folk trying to make a buck.
There is usually a Bank Exchange at the hotel and you can exchange your money there for Dominican pesos, and cash traveller's cheques. Note they will only change traveller's cheques into pesos. You need ID to cash travellers cheques. You cannnot exchange U.S. traveller's cheques for U.S. cash. (Note you can sometimes get a slightly better rate at money exchanges in town.)
Please be careful when and where you use your credit card. There have been incidents reported of double billings and other charges being billed to credit cards used by tourists while in the DR.
We have two reliable first person accounts on money exchanging on the street. Here is the advice from two people who live in the Dominican Republic.
Some people in exchange business send guys out on to the streets of Santo Domingo, Sosua, Cabarete. They offer highly attractive exchange rates. You have to be careful because some of them double-count the same bill by folding it in half inside the pile while counting. People often get ripped off this way. There are also a lot of counterfeit pesos floating around. All this to say that everyone is well advised to change their money in at a chartered bank, or at an exchange house that comes recommended.
A note from a Canadian who lives in the Dominican Republic: it is NOT against the law to change money in the street, however it is very unwise due to the large amount of false currency floating around. The official banks and larger change banks have methods of detecting false bills so your chance of receiving bad stuff is less. We quite often get reports that when people use their credit card, the exchange rate is terrible. We have only used our credit card once in the DR and found the rate favorable, but be forewarned. Be sure to keep all receipts from money transactions in case you want to convert pesos back to dollars at the end of your trip! (This is very difficult to do and they will only exchange a portion of your pesos with receipts)
The pool, beach, and the nasty habit of saving chairs!
At the pool is where you can find your towels. When you check in they will give you a "towel card". Depending on the policy what happens is you use the card to get fresh towels every day. The best system is when they keep the card and you just exchange dirty towels for clean ones whenever you want. Don't lose the cards or the towels - they will charge you for them. Towels, games, and books can usually be found at the activity center at the beach or pool.
Saving chairs - You come down to the beach or pool hoping to find a nice spot and you see dozens of chairs covered with towels but no one around. The hotels have signs posted saying you can't save chairs but this doesn't seem to make any difference. The best thing to do is check out the beach and pool area around 8:30 a.m. If it looks like there will be a lot of free chairs don't worry about it. If it looks like every chair has a towel on it. when in Rome do as the Romans do. But please do not save chairs in the a.m. if you aren't planning to use them within a reasonable amount of time. If I see chairs with towels on them and no one comes to claim them within an hour, I have no hesitation in setting the towels aside and claiming the chairs.
At the beach is where you will find water sports, the bar, snack bar, and sometimes vendors. It seems more and more the hotels are not allowing vendors on the property. Snorkelling is usually not the best from the beach. The beaches are normally cleaned every morning
The sun is incredibly hot. Please be carefull and make sure your vacation is not spent in your room. Bring lots of sunscreen .
Beaches in the Dominican Republic are public property, as
they should be. On Sundays families come and spend the day at the beach and have a good time.
Sometime during your first day the Tour Company representative will hold a briefing. It only takes an hour at most and you will find the information an excellent source for making your stay easier and more enjoyable
Some resorts have casinos on the property or they are within walking or cab distance. The casinos are one large room, not like Vegas at all, and have most table games and slot machines. The slot machines seem to pay back very little. We only play blackjack and find the tables friendly. By this we mean a relaxed atmosphere. The dealers are usually women and are switched constantly especially if the customers win a lot.
My husband enjoys blackjack and usually does well. But he finds the game fast compared to Las Vegas. The dealer speaks a lot of Spanish and quite often "holds" for you unless you say something. This is because the more hands they deal the more money the casino makes.
You are paid your winnings in the currency you play with. I would suggest you bet US$ because you are gambling to win money and you don't want to go home with thousands in pesos - right?
There have been allegations against various hotel casinos in the DR about certain games that are scams, often run by Americans, where people have lost thousands of dollars. Be careful! Stick to the games you know, always keep track of your cards/points - don't rely on what the dealers are telling you - We have experienced cases where blackjack dealers make mistakes in counting. And above all, don't bet more than you can afford to lose!
Tours can be arranged at the activities center or at the Tour Desk. We won't go too much into this because each area has its own attractions. If you like to snorkel we suggest you take a snorkelling tour and if you are a first timer at snorkelling be prepared for a amazing view of the world underneath. Horseback riding is usually free and the horses are safe---experienced riders will want to inquire into longer rides. We once went on an eight hour trip up Mt. Isabel de Torres on horseback we will never forget. Bring jeans for horseback riding! Taxis are expensive in the DR - the hotel will have a listing of what the taxi fares are to various places. City tours are interesting and are recommended if you are not comfortable going into town by yourself. There are museums, shopping, rum factory and cigar factory tours. For the more adventurous there are the "jeep' tours.
A note regarding purchasing tours from sales people on the beach and in the plazas. Some have illegal insurance, or no insurance at all. The tours may be cheaper, but if someone is hurt, their medical bills will be outrageous. Legitimate tour operators consider these tours to be very dangerous. They may tell you they have insurance, purified water, and whatever else you want to hear to make the sale - all tours are not created equal, you get what you pay for!
Rent a car or scooter if you wish - but keep in mind driving can be treacherous in the DR and insurance problems after an accident can be a nightmare. For your own safety as well as others DO NOT drink and drive. Your problems with the police will be multiplied many times over if you are in an accident and you are drunk. Check the car or scooter out before you go and make sure you and the car rental agency agree on the condition of the car - scratches, dents, etc.
Explore the island and its people - you will be pleasantly surprised !
First I would like to mention a couple of things to remember when packing to go home. Since 9/11 security at Dominican airports will not allow any 151 proof rum to be taken on the airplane. As well, they will confiscate any batteries you have in your carry-on luggage (I don't think they'll take batteries out of your camera, but if you have spare ones loose in your carryon, they will take those, as well as any lighters they find.
You will need $20 US for each person to be used as a departure tax. MAKE SURE you have this in the exact amount in cash, suggest you put it aside at the beginning of your vacation. (I believe they will also accept Dominican pesos). However, they will not accept traveller’s cheques or other currency. (Note to Americans: I have found out that in the U.S. you pay the $20.00 departure tax to your travel agent when you book your trip, so you don’t have to pay this when you leave the DR, it has already been paid for you.) Also some Canadian tour companies now collect the $20.00 U.S. departure tax at time of booking, so check with your travel agent to see if it has been paid or not.
Departure is fairly simple and we will be quick with the description because it is not a happy time for you.
Check on the Tour Company's bulletin board about departure information and times. The luggage will normally have to be left outside your hotel room about four hours before flight time. When you go to check out be sure to have:
remote for TV
This is the time when you pay your bill. Look it over carefully. The only charges you should have are for the safe key and maybe phone calls. Hopefully you won't have a long wait for the bus. Confirm your luggage is on the bus before you go. At the airport you have the baggage handlers greeting you again. This time you know where you have to go and it can be as short as 30 feet to the checkin counter so carry the bags yourself if you want. Once you are checked in at the counter you must pay the $20.00 U.S. departure tax. At the check-in counter you will be told where to pay the money (sometimes you pay it right at the checkin counter). Then you go through customs and security. There is no need to go though customs and security right away, though most people do. There are duty free shops inside. Then you wait for the plane to arrive, praying it’s on time, and you sadly go home.
To read about what you can and can't bring back to Canada, and the limits, go to the Canada Customs Site
To read about what you can and can't bring back to the U.S. and the limits, go to the U.S. Customs Site
Be sure to bring pen and paper to take notes about the resort, so you can send us your review!
We sincerely hope you have a great and safe vacation in the Dominican Republic
Travel Tips from our Readers
This is the part I want to warn about traveling through Punta Cana airport. My sister was called over to a side area for an additional security check. This time they opened and went through here carry on items including camera and purse. In the confusion of explaining the camera had film and shouldn't be opened one of the inspectors knocked my sister's tickets and passport off the table. Of course she bent down to pick those items up and when she did the inspector lifted a $100 bill out of her purse. My sister did not notice this until fifteen minutes later when she was in the duty free shop and opened her purse to find the money gone. So, if you are called out for the second inspection limit the bag search to one at a time, do not let the inspector handle your wallet or purse and watch closely what they do handle. Even with these precautions watch for any kind of created distraction that could result in you taking your eyes and attention off of one of your possessions.
I just want to warn everyone that the banks here are phasing out "defaced money". Do not accept any pesos that have been written on, you will not be able to use it.
Just a word of advice to people going to the Dominican Republic we went to bavaro last year fantastic. But be aware of the wooden carvings (bowls dishes etc). We purchased quite a lot last year from different outlets including the hotel and have recently found they are riddled with woodworm. fortunatley for us we caught it in time. It was not just the pieces bought on the beach but also pieces from the hotel. all have which have now had to be destroyed. We did have to get experts in to check everything else floors, tables everything, at a cost of Ј200 but it would have been a lot more expensive if it had spread. we were told we we very lucky.
Your readers should be warned about the Puerto Plata Airport. I had jewellery stolen from the bag which I checked in at the airport on my return flight home. My daughter's bag was also obviously rummaged through, however nothing was stolen (she had no jewellery).
As well, the security guards at the metal detectors seem to have their own ideas about what items you may be allowed to take on the plane - one gentleman was told he could not have his cellphone and it was confiscated.
"If you book over the internet for your vacation and receive your tickets in the mail. check them. make sure that they have the correct resort name that you paid for. People do make mistakes. Our friends left this past Saturday for La Romana, headed for two fantastic weeks at the highly acclaimed Viva Dominicus Palace. When they arrived and were driven to the resort they found that they were dropped off at a lower star hotel. When they asked the front desk why, they were told in broken english that this is what they paid for. It certainly was not. The World of Vacations company had misprinted their ticket! Though now resolved two days later, it took 4 calls to us back in Canada to find and forward their final sale invoice to World of Vacations who in turn admitted the error. Unfortunately this took 2 full days of their vacation away in worry and long distance calls. I suppose another good thing to do is take a copy of all bills as well as a contact number for the agency who did the booking. one that allows calls in that country. A 1-877 or 1-866 number is hard to complete in the Dominican.
Hope this helps others avoid this problem. I'm sure it doesn't happen on a regular basis but no one wants to be the 1 in a 1000.
I've been coming here for years and now am married to a fine Dominican lady. Advice, insect repellant, stay away from the Western part(malaria), make sure that all dishes etc. are washed well, don't eat food from vendors, take along handi-wipes, In other words clean is very important. Use bottled water, hotel resturant water is ok, tap water is a no no Most of the workers are from the farm areas and try to do their best. Food is going to be Dominican or European, try it, you might like it. Please have patience. If you get a cheap bargain you just might get what you paid for.
I have read several posts regarding "la tourista" and recommendations for bringing Cipro on a trip. I'm not sure what countries those posts came from, but no doctor I know worth his salt would prescribe an antibiotic for something you don't have yet, "just in case." I hardly think a traveller on vacation is qualified to decide what prescription medications he/she requires. That should only be diagnosed by a doctor once the symptoms present themselves. In addition, Cipro is an extremely strong antibiotic that can actually cause physical harm if taken when not necessary or for the wrong infection. Having just come off a two-week course of Cipro for a kidney infection, I can also tell you that it makes a person very tired, weak and nauseas, as well as causes headaches in some people.
Anyway, we have had great success with a method that was suggested to us by our travel agent before our first trip to Mexico. She told us to take a dose of Pepto Bismol (2 tablets per dose) twice a day starting two days before our trip and stopping two days after our trip. We would take it in the morning and in the evening before dinner. Theoretically, the way the Pepto Bismol coats your stomach and intestinal tract, it helps prevent bacteria from settling there. The chewable Pepto Bismol tablets will turn your tongue red, but now there are caplets that you can swallow eliminating this problem. You can buy generic store brand now as well. We eat everything when we travel, including eating in some little food shack near Tulum in Mexico where no other tourists would eat and in the "local" restaurants, and have never been sick.
We just returned from a one week vacation at the Riu Merengue in the DR and wanted to warn all the other travellers based on our experience at one of the Duty Free shops in the Puerto Plata Airport.
We purchased two bottles of liquor and the clerk took what we assumed were our bottles, bagged them and handed the bag over to us. As we had approximately an hour's wait, just by chance my husband took out one of the bottles to look at. Imagine our concern when we noticed the seal was broken and the bottle had been tampered with (the other bottle also had a broken seal). Who knows what was in the bottles. When we tried to alert the airport security, they were totally unconcerned and just told us to return to the duty free shop and ask for an exchange; which leads me to believe that this is a common occurence. When we returned to the Duty Free Shop, the clerk exchanged both bottles immediately.
However, had we not noticed that the bottles had been tampered with, we could have been in a lot of trouble. As we had also purchased an additional bottle of rum, our Customs Official at the Toronto Airport asked to see all the bottles that we had purchased. Believe me, I'm sure that we would have had a lot of explaining to do if we had tried to bring bottles in that had been tampered with.
One thing I think someone should add for comments is that you can't bring back conch shells nor coral as the Air Transat rep told us as long as we didn't take the black ones we were alright yet I had my confiscated at the airport as they're considered endangered species.
My doctor said they suggest using yogurt regularly instead of taking a prescription for diarrhea medicine. Two weeks in advance she said to eat 2 a day and then a week before you leave increase to 3 a day. This helps build up the good bacteria in your system. I must admit I only did one a day then ate 2 a day that week I was leaving. I had no problem with food infact my resort Punta Cana had yogurt on their breakfast buffet.
We found that Waterproof sunscreen is not good enough. Make sure the sunscreen is rated as sweatprooff as well. We had two bottles of a name brand product of the same SPS factor and one did not work very well and it turned out to be the one not rated as sweatproof.
I would also recommend baseball caps, hats and lots of T-shirts to wear over your bathing suits as the sun is soooooooo HOT.
Lots of little ants in the room (beats the cock roaches of San Juan to be sure) an employee told us to put pennies in the areas where we saw ants and lo and behold it really did work!
A warning for visitors not to rely or wait on buying duty free and other goods at Santo Domingo airport. Even more than duty frees at Heathrow, London, travellers are better off getting their rum and cigars in the city prior to traveliing to the airport - the airport shops are a rip-off.
For those returning to Canada - Guylaine
The information should be given out to travellers as to what they are allowed to bring back and not in order to avoid a lot of disappointment.
We though we were pretty well informed and we know we're not supposed to bring back things like seashells, animals, vegetation, black coral, etc. We see people wanting to buy those things all the time and we're the ones who keep warning them saying "no, you're not allowed to bring those things back to Canada".
However, we have brought back from our trips (Cuba and DR) things like maracas, walking sticks, wood carvings. etc. We never really thought of them as "vegetation" or "plant products".
When we came back from our last trip, we were asked by the custom officer if we had brought back any plants, animals, etc. and we said "no". Then he asked if we had bought some carvings and we said "yes". Then he said well these are "plant products".
Then we had to line up to see the Agriculture Canada guy who was inspecting all the carvings people brought back looking for insect holes. We were lucky, ours were fine and we got to keep them. A friend of ours had one that had some wholes in it but it wasn't clear whether they were insect holes so they kept it to disinfect it and he was told he could get it back two weeks later so he was happy about that.
Unfortunately, other people were not as lucky as their carvings clearly had insect holes in them so the Agriculture officer kept them and they were to be burnt on the spot. We saw people loose some carvings and jewellery boxes, a couple lost a beautiful walking stick for which they said they had paid a lot of money. A young woman lost a bongo she had bought for her toddler. These, they seize automatically without bothering inspecting them as they say the insects hide in the bark and skin. Those people were upset and wished they had known that before their trip.
So, a word of advise for all travellers, if you're going to buy carvings or other wood products, make sure you inspect them carefully for holes or anything irregular. Stay away from bongos, drums, etc. anything made of bark and skin. I don't recommend trying to hide them from the custom agent either because if there are bugs in them, trust me, you don't want those things in your house.