11+ something years went by since my last trip to the islands of Caribbean. And while Cuba (previous destination) might be the most famous among them, the Dominican Republic is a close runner-up when talking about popular vacation spots. Picture white sand beaches, palm trees gently moving in the tropical wind, and turquoise water stretching as far as the eye can see. This would be my very poetic, but also quite an accurate description of the Dominican Republic. After Christopher Columbus landed on the island in 1492 (kudos to you Chris, for finding this gem), the first permanent European settlement in the Americas was established here.
I’ve decided to do a 2-part travel itinerary, the first one (this one :P) talking about useful things to know before visiting the island, combined with our travel route. And the second one, dedicated solely to it’s capital, Santo Domingo. In the end, they will hopefully give you a solid glimpse into the DR’s beaches, culture, and adventure.
- I recommend renting a car – the roads are practically new, the only problem is, there isn’t that many of them. Just be sure to buy an insurance for it (at the local agency, not online). Here I also need to warn you – the gas isn’t as cheap as one would expect + you’ll have to pay the highway toll every now and then (ranges from 50-250 DOP). There are also no parking fees, so you can basically park wherever you want.
- The official currency is Dominican peso: 1 USD = approx. 50 DOP (1€ = 60RD$). The best thing to do is, to travel with USD and then exchange them at the local exchange office (try to stay away from banks and airports).
- Once you enter the country you’ll be required to pay a 10 USD per person tourist tax.
- Try not to stay in Punta Cana and all-inclusive resorts for to long, as you’ll be missing out from all the beauty this country has to offer.
- Get that sweet tooth ready: the Dominican Republic is one of the top 10 producers of cocoa in the world. It is also the leading country worldwide when it comes to tobacco cultivation.
- Prepare your Spanish dictionary, as the locals are pretty far from being proficient in English.
So what are some of the most popular attractions in the Dominican Republic?
I know I just wrote, I wouldn’t recommend staying here to long, mostly because most U.S. travellers tend to spend most of their vacation here – eating, drinking and partying. But make no mistake, it’s still worth visiting. Thousans of tourist flock to the beaches of Punta Cana, one of the most popular resort destinations in the Caribbean. If possible, find a hotel on the Bavaro Beach, know for its water sports. including surfing and kayaking. There are also a lot of excursions you can do in close proximity to Punta Cana, such as Eco Tour, zip lining, golfing, swimming with dolphins etc.
RECOMMENDED PLACE TO STAY: Los Corales Beach Village
A trip to Saona Island
Saona Island is the largest of the DR’s islands and was one of the highlights of our trip. For me the island was an embodiment of paradise. Instead of taking an organised excursion from our hotel, which was pretty darn expensive, we decided to drive down to Bayahibe bay and try to arrange our trip with the locals. After much negotiation we agreed upon the price of 90 USD/3 person (about the price we would pay for 1, if we booked a tour) for a private, 5-hour cruise around the island.
One of our stops was ‘La Piscina Natural’ or a natural pool, which forms in the middle of the ocean, just of the shore. Ever swam among the starfish? No? Well you can do that here and they are magnificent.
The second place where we booked our 3-night stay was Boca Chica, a smaller city about an hour away from Santo Domingo. I have nothing special to say about it really, just that it was a good place to stay, when wanting to explore the nearby beaches and La Capital, which I’ll talk about in the next post. That being said, I doubt we’d stay here more than a day, if we hadn’t have booked our hotel in advance.
RECOMMENDED PLACE TO STAY: Batey Hotel Boutique
Samaná is a narrow peninsula off the north coast, home to postcard perfect secluded beaches and palm forests, which made it a perfect place to spend our last third of the trip. For some reason we booked a stay in Las Galeras, a small secluded village at the very tip of peninsula. Maybe it was because Lonely Planet wrote that one of the great pleasures of a stay here, is losing all perspective on the world beyond.
RECOMMENDED PLACE TO STAY: B&B Aparthotel La Isleta
El Limon Waterfall
Not far from here lies El Limon Waterfall, one of the most famous waterfalls the island has to offer. The locals will try to convince you into horseback riding to the waterfall, but us, being a typical Slovenians a.k.a. the Mountain people, of course decided to rely on our own feet, taking us there instead. I mean it was an easy 30-minute trek, so no wonder we preferred that (free) option.
Another place worth mentioning is Rincon beach, which I almost hope stays as unknow as it is. Hands down on of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever been to. If you arrive there early (if 10am is early for you), then besides a few locals, you might be the only one there.