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It definitely depends on what town you go to. Some towns such as Cabarette don't have any local culture at all and are quite drab while others have a French influence or are truly Dominican. The beaches vary but are mostly just what you'd expect in the Caribbean - white sand and warm turquoise water.
In general DR is very pretty, has super nice people (they actually like Americans), has a nice variety of landscape/towns, and although it is more expensive than the usual backpacker type of country, it is still cheaper than the rest of the Caribbean. It definitely creates a different atmosphere for the low-budget backpacker when the locals expect you to be the high paying all-inclusive resort type.
Getting away from the tourist areas the country is quite poor. Which means the local transportation is great! The food is fair and we were able to find rooms for $20. US dollars are accepted almost everywhere and the local rum is worth the trip alone.