This post is part of a series on Emina’s adventure in the Dominican Republic. She visited the country independently with our sis Nerma and her best friend Ajla (girls trip, wohoo!). Start here for our general impressions, entire trip overview and costs. Then check out this post on our first stop in the DR: Bayahibe, read here about the small hidden paradise in Las Galeras, and our biggest adventure in Barahona. Stay tuned for the next episode!
I can’t wait to share with you:
- My pictures that will make you go look up flight tickets this second
- The most beautiful beach in the world (under UNESCO protection)
- The most awesome accommodation in tents at the beach
- Why it pays of get off the beaten path
- Why I’m using so many superlatives
The ultimate Caribbean road trip
After all the hustle of leaving La Cianega, we started our journey to Pedernales with our small economy rented car. Not the best idea!
It started off alright. After leaving La Cienaga the street was still OK and we had some beautiful views of the sea.
But soon after the palm trees were replaced by huuuuge cactus. This is the hottest part of the country and they even have a desert (we didn’t get to see it).
The street first turned into huge pot holes…
and then – into a dirt road!
We did read that a 4×4 vehicle is recommended for this part of the country but renting one was just too expensive for us. If you have a bigger budget, go for the 4×4!
What about the military zone?
At one point we were driving 20 km/h on a dirt road with an outside temperature of almost 50 C/122 F (or that is how it felt). No one behind us and no one in front of us. Every turn was painful and we didn’t know if we could trust our GPS because we found ourselves in a desert without any road signs.
Well, there were some signs that we found suspicious. Like this one:
Or this one (“Dangerous Explosives”:))
This is where you want to stay!
After over an hour on the dirt road, we found paradise (I know, I’m overusing the word but as soon as you make your way to this part of the world, you’ll also reduce your vocabulary to superlatives and clichés:)).
We came here because we read that the most beautiful beach in the world, Bahia de las Aguilas, under UNESCO protection, is hiding here in a national park. I also found out online about Eco Del Mar, a very unique accommodation option just next to this beach: tents with beds. They call it glamping (glamorous camping). Oh, yeah!
We arrived late and after all the drama with leaving La Cienaga, all we needed was beach time. We spent the evening at the open air bar with our feet in the sand, dancing merenge and bachata. Since it was a working day, there was only one more French couple here. They told us that the weekend gets busy with Dominicans.
The night spent in the tent was magical. We fell asleep to the sound of waives. The sky was full of stars (no light pollution). The beds were super comfy.
We paid for a VIP tent 4100 pesos (around EUR / USD 73) in total. This includes breakfast in the open air restaurant. The tent fits 4 people and the “VIP” factor is the fact that it is right in front of the beach. You can get cheaper tents behind the VIP tents.
We booked a cheaper tent on booking.com but when we arrived they showed us this tent and we immediately agreed to take this one instead.
Yes, it is technically a camping place. But, just look at this cute open air shower, the beautifully decorated toilet, the open air bar and restaurant area. They thought of every little detail. We LOVED it (Yes, I’m shouting, there is no other way to express my excitement!:))
The best beach in the world: Bahia de Las Aguilas
The next morning we first had coffee and breakfast (included in the price).
Then we took a 20 minute boat ride to Bahia de las Aguilas. The boat ride is organized by Eco Del Mar and costs 2500 pesos per boat (around 50 USD / EUR) for up to max 6 people. There were no other people in our boat. They dropped us off at the beach and later picked us up at a time we told them.
This beach is another world! 8 km of white sand and the most special turquoise water you will ever see. There are no palm trees but rather cactus.
Now get this, we were the ONLY people here! This is the benefit of traveling off season.
Oh man, whenever I feel stressed, I just mentally transport myself to this heaven on earth.
Road tripping the DR: Part 2
After the entire day in Bahia de Las Aguilas, we got into our (at this point- very dirty) car and made our way up to Barahona city, where we spent the night. On the way to Barahona, which is an around a 3h drive, we stopped wherever we felt like.
One of the places we liked was a local restaurant at the beach in Paraiso. We had lunch here, together with Dominican families. Here you see the point where the river connects with the ocean. So beautiful!
We paid around 330 pesos (5 USD / EUR) per person for a full plate of fresh fish and fried banana. Yum!
A huge help for finding Bahia de las Aguilas and Eco del Mar was the travel guide from Nathalia, the girl behind the lifestyle blog The Key Item. I stumbled on it by chance and used it while we were on the road. You can download it here.
My final vote on Pedernales
This was by far one of the top highlights of our trip. The hustle of getting there makes it even more special (and makes for a fun story!). If you only have a week in the DR, just skip the rest and make your way to the Barahona province and Pedernales!
HAVE WE CONVINCED YOU TO PUT THIS MAGICAL PLACE ON YOUR BUCKET LIST?
All the beach days aside, it’s this adventure that will stick in my mind forever!
Here’s what you’ll read today:
- Is it dangerous outside the touristy parts of DR?
- Here’s a place you’ve never heard of before in the DR – and how to get there
- How you can directly help the community in the DR
- What to do in case of a strike (and why the world (of the telenovelas) is so small:)
- Should you go to Las Cienaga?
Ever heard of Barahona?
This part of our trip was such a challenge! From Las Galeras we went all the way back to the capital, Santo Domingo, and rented a car there. After we managed to get out of the city, we went on to the most adventurous part of the entire trip! Here’s a part of the country that doesn’t get almost any tourist: the Barahona province in the South-West.
(Btw, the GPS said it was 15 minutes to get out of Santo Domingo and to the highway. Well, it turned out we needed almost two freaking hours! The traffic is CRAZY. Seriously, we thought that after the traffic in Bosnia we were equipped for any part of the world. Nope, Santo Domingo is a traffic hell! It was still fun though, even after getting lost zillions of times:))
We stayed three nights in this part of the DR; changing places every night. The first stop was the tiny village La Cienaga.
A hipster alternative to stay in the Dominican Republic
How did we end up here? Well, not by chance.
While I was researching the DR before going there, I was looking for options to stay in the home of a Dominican family. On a random forum post on tripadvisor I read something about Cooperativa Coopdeci situated in a remote village called La Cienaga. It is an initiative to empower the local women of the village. They offer several services. They run a small cafe where the local women cook. They also make homemade marmalade and they offer tours and accommodation.
I looked up their website and wrote them an e-mail*. I didn’t get any response for days and almost gave up on the idea. But they got back to me after a couple of days. I announced that we will be coming and that we’d like to stay with a local. The communication didn’t go quite well since they wrote in Spanish and I used google translate:D
BUT, long story short, after finding our way here from Santo Domingo (we stopped a few times and asked around where to find them), we parked before the small cafe. It seemed as if they didn’t really expect us (as I said, communication issues:D).
Thankfully, we got invited by a volunteer from the US. We explained everything and he set us up with our host for the night – Paulina.
Here I am with our host Paulina and Frank, the US volunteer of the NGO Peace Corps:)
Here’s Paulina making us coffee.
*UPDATE: I wanted to link the website of Cooperativa Coopdeci but it seems that the website is no longer online. Here’s their Facebook fanpage and their e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sleeping in the home of a local
We spent our night in the home of our host Paulina. We paid 500 pesos (10 USD/EUR) each for the sleepover and breakfast.
Paulina spoke no English so we communicated with our basic Spanish, our hands and face expressions. Her home was not the cleanest and most pleasant accommodation, to say the least. But we were accepted unconditionally and wholeheartedly in this community. It will remain one of my dearest travel memories for sure.
This is Paulina’s home.
And here’s our room 🙂
Now, this was so funny! Here in Bosnia people have been watching first Spanish and now Turkish soap operas. They are crazy about this stuff. Well, the night we were at Paulina’s we heard from our bed that she was watching what we thought – was a Spanish soap opera. So I went into the living room to keep her company.
What I saw was her watching Sulejman Magnificent (Sulejman Veličansveni), the most popular ever Turkish soap opera in Bosnia, dabbed in Spanish!!! We couldn’t believe it. This world is so small! :)))) She moved on explaining me who is doing what and I was like, I’m not going to reveal any spoilers – since they’re a few seasons behind 😀
My most precious Dominican memories
It will sound like a cliche and I hate cliches. But let me tell you this. These people have so little, this village has electricity for only 12h a day and even their water supply is interrupted. And still, they don’t stop smiling and sharing what every they have.
One of the most precious memories from the three weeks in the DR was my walk through the village at 6 am. People were just getting up and ready for work, kids on their way to school.
While I was walking around, an old man called me from his house and asked if I wanted to have a coffee with him and his mother. I accepted of course! They called in the grandchildren as well and asked where I was from (it is far away you will probably not know it:)). I left with a souvenir – their family portrait.
Other kids were in front of the house and Maria and her friends showed me their homework and their favorite cartoons.
I even got a kiss that morning:)
The nicest grandma in the Dominican Republic
And then, when I was about to get back to Paulina’s (Nerma and Ajla were still sleeping), I had the most special encounter in La Cienaga.
I saw a grandma cleaning the street. I approached here and asked if I could help her (Yes, I have at least that much Spanish under my belt:)). She was surprised but still showed me where to put the trash.
Then she invited me to her home. She said she lived here alone. She suddenly disappeared inside the house and came back with the only thing she could offer me – two fresh mangoes. I will never forget this moment. Pure human kindness.
What if all roads are blocked?
Let me round this story up with drama! That morning we were about to go to our next stop – Pedernales. But then the shock: the only road was blocked because the villagers were on a strike. They demanded from the government the building of an aqueduct to solve the water supply problem. They were throwing rocks on any car they saw on the street.
Here we are waiting with everyone else:)
You need to wait, they told us. How long? No one knew. Oh, maaaan, why today? So we waited, for an hour, and another hour, and another one. Then the military stepped in! Two trucks full of DR solders drove by on us. Then we heard sounds of gun shots. Tear gas, they explained us. After another few hours, finally, the road was clean. We drove by what looked like a fighting scene, rocks all over the street, fire burning on the street side. Our first thought was that this will make for a fun story back home:)
How to get there
We got here with a car that we rented in Santo Domino. Driving here is not a problem (apart from finding your way out of Santo Domingo:D). There are not that many streets anyway so it’s quite straight forward.
Before we decided to rent the car, I was researching options to get here with public transportation. Turns out that it is possible and it is a pain in the ass. The easiest is to take a Caribetour bus from Santo Domingo to Barahona (around 3 hours). Once in Barahona, you’ll take a guagua (a local minibus). Once in La Cienaga, you’ll have to ask around. The easiest would probably be to hop on a motoconcho (a motocycle taxi). But this place is very small and people know each other. So, again, if you take it easy – and take your time, you’ll end up before their doorstep eventually 🙂
My final vote on La Cianega:
Do this! It will not be comfortable and you might get upset. But trust me, you need this. You need to see this pure human kindness. I hope it will make you appreciate your own life more. And please support initiatives like Cooperativa Coopdeci because your money will directly help the people who need it the most.
Stay tuned for the next episode on getting lost on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, sleeping in a tent and the most beautiful beach on Earth, all in Pedernales!
LET US KNOW IF YOU’RE ONE OF THE RARE PEOPLE WHO WANDERED TO THIS PART OF THE DR! DID WE MISS SOMETHING?
This post is part of a series on Emina’s adventure in the Dominican Republic. She visited the country independently with our sis Nerma and her best friend Ajla (girls trip, wohoo!). Start here for our general impressions, entire trip overview and costs. Then check out this post on our first stop in the DR: Bayahibe and read here about the small hidden paradise in Las Galeras. Then head over to our adventures in the faaaar south of the country (La Cienaga and Pedernales). Stay tuned for the next episode!
Here’s what you’ll read:
- The harsh reality at the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti (goodbye, beaches and hello, chaos!)
- Is it as dangerous as they say?
- How to get to the border market in Dajabon
- Final vote: Why should you come here at all?
The border market in Dajabon
Ever since it was clear that we were going to the DR, I was determined to make us leave our comfort zone as much as possible. This meant leaving the comfort of the picturesque beaches and face the other reality in the DR. This other side includes the centuries-old issues with their neighbor, Haiti. I’m not going to talk about history. You can google all about it. I want to write about how I experienced this very strong division between Dominicans and Haitians during our visit to one of the border cities to Haiti, Dajabon.
The special thing about Dajabon is the weekly border market. You see, Haiti and the DR share the same island but Haitians are not allowed to enter the DR without a visa and vice versa.There are a few exceptions to this rule, one being the border market. Twice a week (Tuesdays and Fridays) Haitians are allowed to cross the border without a visa and passport and to participate in the market as vendors or buyers. However, they are restricted to stay within 100 yards of the border.
In essence, Haitians come to the market to buy food and to sell many of the things that they receive as humanitarian aid (e.g. there was second hand clothes all over the place). Dominicans come to the market to both sell and buy food, clothes, electronics, hygiene products. etc.
Basically, you will not come here to buy something for yourself. This is not meant to be a tourist spot and that’s why we were there.
Is it dangerous to come here?
The market is quite a mess, to say the least.
Now, first of all, let me tell you that we had been advised against going to Dajabon. There were different reasons for this: (1) It is dangerous, especially for girls (the usual argument), (2) too many pickpockets (“Don’t your even think about taking your DSLR camera with you”), (3) there is nothing to buy of your interest (Trust me, shopping was not the reason we came here), or (4) it is stressful and disturbing (Yes, bring it on!).
But as usual, we went anyway and we were so grateful for this experience. I left the DR knowing that I have seen the good, the bed, and the ugly.
We were the only foreigners that day. But we didn’t feel threatened at any point. In fact, people didn’t really care about our presence. They were too occupied with their own harsh reality. I did have my DSLR camera with me all the time and nothing got stolen. I even had people posing for me.
It was indeed hectic, loud, hot, and stressful. At times, especially close to the military check point, it almost felt as a war zone. It was sad and obscure at the same time. The Dominican army supervises the market and the border crossing. We found it disturbing to watch the discrimination that Haitians are faced with by the military. We crossed the border control on the Dominican side without any problem, by just showing our passports. Haitians, on the other side, had to bribe the military to be allowed to cross the border.
After passing by the military check point on the Dominican side, we wanted to cross the bridge over the so called Massacre River and get to the Haitian side.
(Yes, you read this correctly, the Massacre River. The origin of the name dates back to a battle in the 18th century. But in recent history it is better known for a different event. In short, here’s what happened: During the regime of the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo – from the 1930’s until the 1960’s, the Dominican Army carried out the so called Parsley massacre against the Haitians living in the DR. Estimates of the total number of deaths vary, ranging from 547 to 12,166. The bodies were dumped in, you guessed it, the Massacre River.)
At one point it got too crowded on the bridge and people started pushing around. We got scared and decided it was the safest to abort the mission, for now (khmmm, there is something coming up very soon!).
How to get to the market
Before we though that we would rent a car to come here, I was researching other alternatives. There are no organized “tours” for the market (for obvious reasons). However, I did find a public transportation route.
If you are staying in Santiago, like we did, there is a direct guagua (minibus) that connects Santiago and Dajabon – no need to change buses! The guagua stop in Santiago is called “Rotunda.” Contrary to its name, it is not a roundabout but rather a spot with big traffic lights.
At this guagua stop, there are guaguas leaving for Dajabon, Mao, and Santiago Rodrigez. The buses are lined up at the back, so not on the road. They all have a sign in the front saying where they are going.
Beware that the distance between Santiago and Dajabon is around 150 km / 93 miles and it took us over 2 hours by car to get there. So, count in at least an additional hour or more with a guagua. The first guagua leaves at 6 am. You want to be as early as possible in Dajabon to see all the action in the morning.
We had the intention to start driving as early as 6 am but that didn’t happen. We danced the night before in Santiagio until early in the morning, had a three-hour sleep and started driving around 8 am. Getting there with a car was fairly straight forward. We used google maps and didn’t even get lost once (that doesn’t happen too often:). Once we made it to Dajabon, we were super exhausted from the ride and just wanted to rest and eat. That’s the first thing we did. There are many decent places to eat, so that was no problem.
My final vote on Dajabon
This is not for everyone. If you don’t want to leave the pretty beaches in the DR, that’s fine. If you want to see what’s really happening in this country beyond the Caribbean postcard hotspots, you’ll want to consider Dajabon. In our case, we wouldn’t change this experience for anything else in the world:)
This post is part of a series on Emina’s adventure in the Dominican Republic. She visited the country independently with our sis Nerma and her best friend Ajla (girls trip, wohoo!). Start here for our general impressions, entire trip overview and costs. Then check out this post on our first stop in the DR: Bayahibe and stay tuned for the next episode!
In this episode you will read:
- What makes Las Galeras so special
- How to get there if you don’t have a car
- Where to stay in Las Galeras
- How we almost had to cancel the entire trip because of me
- My final vote on Las Galeras
Las Galeras is a remote village at the end of the Samana peninsula in the Dominican Republic. It was a must-do on our DR trip because we read that it is one of the rare places in the DR where mass tourism hasn’t kicked off yet. We spent 4 nights here.
HOT TO GET TO LAS GALERAS WITHOUT A CAR
We woke up early on our last morning in Bayahibe and we had a long journey in front of us:
(1) a local bus from Bayahibe to Romana – around an hour,
(2) a second bus from Romana to Santo Domingo – another hour,
(3) a taxi from where the bus left us in Santo Domingo to the Caribe Tour Bus station in Santo Domingo – a few minutes,
(4) the Caribe Tour bus to Samana – around 2,5 hours, aaand
(5) a guagua (local minibus) to Las Galeras – another hour (we skipped this and took a taxi instead (keep reading)
Now you understand why I say that this is a REMOTE village at the END OF THE ROAD. Yes, it is that far. But is it worth the hustle?
WHEN A BUS DRIVE AND A TAXI DRIVER TURN INTO TRAVEL HIGHLIGHTS
Already in our first bus ride we were confronted with a culture shock. First, a young gentlemen got in the bus with a pretty much alive hen – and a real party animal – she didn’t stop making sounds all until they got out in Santo Domingo:D
Second, I did tell you that the Dominicans are religious. But I did not expect that the bus driver gets up, says a long prayer on having a safe trip, God protecting us and us having long and prosperous lives. And then the entire bus goes “Amen!” 🙂
And to make the day even more special, once we finally reached Samana, a taxi driver convinced us to take us to Las Galeras, instead of taking the guagua for our final transportation (a total of 1,500 Dominican pesos / around 30 USD/27 EUR).
This man was so much FUN! As soon as we got in the car we asked him to turn on some bachata and merengue and turn up the volume. He loved this and started singing immediately. And this man DID NOT STOP SINGING until we reached Las Galeras – which is an entire hour:)
The taxi driver Miguel
On our way back from Samana, we met him again at the bus station. He gave me his number for just in case. Here’s the number: 809 827 5470. He’s called Miguel. If you need a driver while you’re here, he’s your man!
THE HIGHLIGHTS OF LAS GALERAS
Here’s what we’ll never forget:
1. Playa Fronton
This will sound cheesy but I’m very serious: This is one the most beautiful beaches in the Dominican Republic.
Playa Fronton is only accessible via boat. We paid 1000 Dominican pesos (21 USD/17 EUR) each for the boat ride and a total of 1000 Dominican pesos for the three of us for lunch (7 USD/6 EUR each): fresh Caribbean fish prepared for us right at the beach.
2. Sleeping in paradise for 20 EUR/night
Our accommodation in Las Galeras was one of the highlights of this trip. I will make sure to dedicate an entire post just to the Chalet Tropical and the friendly Italian owner, Sarah. For now, let me tell you that we didn’t want to leave this tropical paradise. And we paid only 22 USD / 20 EUR per night per person for it!
Just look at our room!
And the breakfast (8 USD per person per day)
And the garden!
We shared the neighborhood with locals.
3. Riding motorbikes to Playa Rincon
Playa Rincon is another awesome beach here. But what we enjoyed even more is getting there. It takes you almost an hour on a motorbike.
You’re driving through small villages where locals are sitting in small kiosks on the road side with merengue blasting all day.
One of our bikes broke down and locals immediately gathered around to fix it.
We were pretty much stranded:)
A very cool thing about Playa Rincon is that here you’ll see where a river enters the sea. The locals actually prefer coming here because of the river.
4. Ever heard of dambow?
We spent our nights dancing in the local village disco where we were the only tourists. This was probably because it was off season.
This is also where we learned all the popular songs in DR and found out that there is something called dambow, a Dominican sort of reaggeton music. I wished you’ve seen the faces of Dominicans when they saw us singing and dancing to dambow:)
MY INJURY IN LAS GALERAS
Las Galeras was also where our trip was almost over. I had an accident that I still haven’t recovered from completely.
It all started with me asking Nerma to take a “spontaneous” picture of me jumping at the beach with my hair in the air and the turquoise water in the background (Yap, very original. There are only 4,558 similar pics out there on Instagram:D).
Ajla took this picture of me before Nerma took over.
While I was about to jump for picture number 46, I didn’t see that a hole was formed in the sand (probably from the waves). I stumbled on my right ankle right in this hole and craaaaaaaaaaak, what a paaaain! I couldn’t say a word.
We immediately stopped someone on a motorbike to take me back to our house. I spent the next three days in a hammock with icing and Nerma’s home made remedy: a mix of apple vinegar and crushed red onion (how very sexy:D)
After our time in Las Galeras was up, I somehow managed to get myself to our taxi, then the bus, then the next taxi in Santo Domingo, then our rented car, all the way to the other side of the country: La Cienaga. And yes, the entire time I had this smelly onion and vinegar mix on my foot (Love you, Nerma, you saved me from a serious injury – and any human interaction :D)
MY FINAL VOTE ON LAS GALERAS
Recommended! They say that here you will see one of the most beautiful beaches of the DR. We surely haven’t been to all the beaches but from the over 13, Playa Rancon is our number 2. We liked how laid back it was as well as the fact that most of the time we were the only tourists around.
FOLLOW UP ON THE INJURY
Back home I went to visit a doctor. My ligaments were damaged and I had to wear a walking support (You can see it here because, as irresponsible as I am, I went hiking with the damn thing:D). But it was still all worth it:)
Stay tuned for the next episode on sleeping in a local home, watching Turkish soap operas in the middle of nowhere and almost getting attacked in a strike (including a blocked road and military intervention), all in La Cienaga.
The Dominican Republic or DR (that’s how they call it and I like it, it has more swag) is so much more than all-inclusive resorts and sandy beaches.
I spent three weeks in the DR with my sis Nerma and best friend Ajla and we explored the country independently. We fell in love with it and I want to show you why you will too! In fact, you will be on your way searching for flight tickets by the end of this post, guaranteed:)
In this first article I will give you a general overview. But since the DR really took me by surprise, I’ll make sure to write separate posts of our ultimate DR highlights.
Here’s what you’ll read today:
- Why bother going to the DR – if you’re not into all-inclusive resorts (like us)
- Where to go
- Intro on accomodation and how to move around
- How much we spent – I know you all want to read this one first:)
To give you a hint of what is to come in my next posts: On this trip we saw paradise on earth, almost crossed the border with Haiti, got stuck in a remote village, and took surf lessons. We slept in the home of a local, a tent, a tropical cabana. We survived getting lost in the middle of nowhere and me seriously hurting my leg. And so much more!
But for now, let’s start with the basics!
WHY BOTHER GOING TO THE DR
I’ll be honest with you. At first, I was not happy with the idea of going to the DR. For those of you who are not familiar with the DR as a travel destination, let me explain the stereotype. Out of the entire country, almost all holidaymakers (predominantly from Europe, Canada and the US) go to the 1% with nice beaches, Punta Cana and Puerto Plata. They usually stay their entire holiday in all inclusive resorts (Think of it as Antalya in Turkey.) Not. Our. Thing.
Out of desperation (we couldn’t find cheaper flights to anywhere else in the Caribbean the time- and it had to be the Caribbean) we still booked the tickets to Punta Cana (Punta Cana, how booooring this sounds!) and decided to make the best of it.
I am so GLAD that we went. Here is why:
1. The Nature is AMAZING: Virgin beaches, mountains, and deserts
[Cheesy cliché coming up:] Sure, they have some of the most beautiful beaches we have EVER seen (And we have seen quite a few, trust me!). I’ll just leave you here gaze at the pictures for now. But the beaches deserve a special post that is coming up!
Bahia de las Aguilas: The most beautiful beach in the world
Playa Fronton: Still can’t believe I was here!
A beautiful Dominicana at Playa Los Patos
Buuut, did you know that they have so many mountains? (Trekking opportunities overload!). Here the temperatures even drop BELOW MINUS. Seriously, their highest mountain peak Pico Duarte, with an elevation of over 3.000 km, is HIGHER than the highest mountain in Bosnia. And trust me, in Bosnia we take serious pride in our high mountains!
The mountain village Jarabacoa in Central DR
And then out of a sudden, you get to the south and see that they also have a desert with real sand dunes and huuuuge cactuses. It looked surreal!
On our way to Cabo Rojo in South West Dominican Republic
2. It is a dancing heaven
Did you know that in DR they invented bachata and merenge (Hello there, fellow dancers!). You hear music from the strangest places at any time of the day. Seriously, these people are crazy about dancing (and partying): dancing nights start on Thursdays and don’t end before Sunday. They don’t sleep.
Getting ready for dancing in Cabarete
3. There is so much history
The DR is not an artificial resort destination – which is what you’d think if you only stay in Punta Cana.
It was in fact the first permanent settlement of the Spanish empire in this part of the world (in other words – BEFORE any other Spanish speaking country in Latin America). I still can’t believe that in the capital, Santo Domingo, we walked down the same streets that Christopher Columbus once walked!
Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo
4. These people are so freaking friendly
As a girl on the road the first question I get is – is it safe? Yap, the DR was super safe. We travelled to quite some remote places with no other tourists around and we never had any problems. In the contrary: the locals are pretty cool and relaxed.
In Santo Domingo
Two sweeties at the beach in Las Galeras
Sure, Dominican men love to flirt. BUT, here’s how it goes: if you show no interest, they’ll excuse themselves and leave. That is so much classier than many European men!
Still, don’t let me start with the friendly police officers who used every opportunity to stop us (in our rented car) just to let us know that we are mamasitas hermosas (Don’t need a translation for this one, right?:)).
ALL THE PLACES WHERE WE HAVE BEEN
We divided our 20 days onto 8 stops, thereby covering all regions of the DR. This is how it looked like:
4 nights Bayahibe
4 nights Las Galeras
1 night La Cienaga
1 night Pedernales
1 night Barahona
2 nights Santo Domingo
2 nights Santiago
3 nights Cabarete
1 night Santiago
We also paid a visit to Los Patos (where the river meets the sea), Dajabon (the border city with Haiti), and Jarabacoa (the mountain village in central DR).
Here is also a (very ugly – but that’s how far my designing skills go) map to show you that we have really been all over the place.
Of all the places, I will forever remember Las Galeras, La Cienaga, Cabo Rojo, and Dajabon. We had some crazy time in the other places as well but when you go to the DR I hope you’ll get to see at least one of these 4. I’ll make sure to write more about them in my upcoming posts.
Mangoes everywhere in La Cienaga
Chaotic scenes at the border market in Dajabon
Wasn’t it too much, you might ask. It was NOT exhausting at all. In fact, we could have included even more places. We were happy with this route but if I could go back I would probably scrap a few days in Bayahibe and instead include another stop in the mountains. But that’s us, we like to move around:)
INTRO ON WHERE TO SLEEP IN THE DR
In the three weeks we slept in 8 different places and out of it, 3 of our accommodations were among the highlights of our trip: the home of our Dominican friend Paulina, a tent at the beach, and a lovely tropical cabana in Las Galeras. Stay tuned for a separate post on these 3 jewels.
Our bead and breakfast in Las Galeras
Tents with beds in Cabo Rojo
Sleepover in the home of Paulina, La Cienaga
Btw, we booked all the accommodation on Booking.com and Airbnb, as we usually do.
INTRO ON MOVING AROUND IN THE DR
We travelled by public transportation (guaguas-local mini bus, Express buses, and Caribe Tour buses), taxi, and we rented a car twice.
We had been told NOT torent a car because it is dangerous to drive in the DR. We did it anyway- one of our best decisions. I’ll post a detailed overview of how to rent a car (we were pretty scared off by all the scams at first) and how else exactly we got from point A to B. I was super easy and I have no horror stories to report!
Bus station of Caribetour Bus in Santo Domingo
Our first care rental ever
HOW MUCH WE PAID FOR THE ENTIRE TRIP
I know, I know, you probably scrolled down right away to see the numbers:)
You see, I keep record of all my travel expenses for the bigger trips. I am not as cheap as I used to be as a student (read: like Nerko) but I still hate to spend money if I don’t have to.
Below is a rough breakdown of all our total costs per person for 20 days:
- ROUND FLIGHT Cologne (Germany) to Punta Cana: 520 EUR
- ACCOMMODATION 450 EUR (23 EUR/night on average; cheapest 10 EUR/night, most expensive 40 EUR/night)
- EXCURSIONS 150 EUR (5 excursions, cheapest 12 EUR, most expensive 50 EUR)
- FOOD AND DRINKS (alcohol not included*): 200 EUR (average 10 EUR/day, cheapest 1 EUR empanada, most expensive 18 EUR lunch in expensive restaurant)
- TRANSPORTATION IN DR: 330 EUR (of which 210 EUR car rental and 45 EUR gas – for 9 days)
- HEALTH INSURANCE: 15 EUR
- TOURIST CARD ON ARRIVAL**: 10 EUR
*We did not drink alcohol
** No visa required for Bosnian citizens
Total: 1675 EUR (excluding flights from Bosnia to Cologne– 180 EUR)
This is more expensive than what I am usually used to pay for my travels and it is way more expensive than what Nerko pays when he backpacks in South East Asia.
BUT, it is SO MUCH CHEAPER than a package with a travel agency that only takes you to the resorts.
For example: A local travel agency in Bosnia offers a “deal” of 1500 EUR to stay a total of 9 days in a resort in Punta Cana, excluding airport taxes, excursions and everything else. I can’t believe there are people who fall for such “bargains.”
Anyhow, I can’t wait to share with you the highlights of our trip. Stay tuned!
HAVE YOU BEEN TO THE DR – OUTSIDE THE RESORTS? WHAT DO YOU RECOMMEND AS A MUST?
This post is part of a series on Emina’s adventure in the Dominican Republic. She visited the country independently with our sis Nerma and her best friend Ajla (girls trip, wohoo!). Start here for our general impressions, entire trip overview and costs. Stay tuned for the next episode!
In this episode you will read:
- Where we stayed and how much we paid for it
- First impressions of DR outside the resorts: locals and (-surprisingly) religion
- Bayahibe beaches review
- The popular excursion to Isla Saona: is it worth it and how much it costs
- MY FINAL VOTE on Bayahibe: to go or not to go?
WORST JET LAG EVER!
Our entry point to the DR was the airport in Punta Cana. As explained, we didn’t want to spend any of our precious time in Punta Cana. Instead, we spend 4 days in the tranquil fisher village Bayahibe.
We needed this time to get over the jet lag, which hit us hard. We woke up every day at around 4 am to listen to the roosters (Take care, light sleepers, the village is full of roosters. I LOVED IT, though.).
The jet lag also made us watch the sunrise 4 days in a row (The first one was cool and maybe the second one. After that I desperately wanted to finally sleeeep!).
Sunrise over Bayahibe
OUR HOTEL AND ROMANCE
In Bayahibe we stayed in the hotel Villa Iguana (19 EUR per person per night including breakfast). We booked it via booking.com. It was the best deal we could find for this price. The highlight was the roof top with the small pool.
From our balcony we could see the front yard of our neighbours. Husband and wife. They spent every evening on rocking chairs, listening to bachata. How lovely (Deep down I’m a cheesy romantic. There it is, I let it out:))!
The hotel is situated right in the center of the village, surrounded by houses of locals. You step out to a real neighborhood with kids playing at the street and locals chillin’ in the local “comedor” (a strange mix of a kiosk and cafe, blasting merenge music as if people are deaf so it needs to be turned on on max volume).
In the afternoon men gather to play the inevitable dominoes (I asked if I could join them and apparently this is not “a game for girls.” Daaah!).
The empanadas (deep fried pastry – a local snack) stand is open all day.
RELIGION CARIBBEAN STYLE
One evening, while walking down the village, we stopped by what turned out to be a church of Jehovah witnesses. They were singing and dancing and invited us to join them.
We spent the next hour with this cheerful bunch of people in the church. Of course, they never heard of Bosnia before. They learned that nope, Bosnia is not Boston, US (a common mistake as we experienced later).
The Jehovah Witness church
We later learned that, to our surprise, the DR people are very religious. You can see prayers written on cars and buildings. We were also surprised to find out that there are so MANY different protestant churches, in addition to the predominant catholic church.
Another Caribbean style church
Now, what’s interesting is how they mix faith with the laid back Caribbean lifestyle of music, dancing, and rum and beer. It reminded me a lot of the Bosnian Muslim population:)
THE BEACHES AROUND BAYAHIBE
We spent our days at the public beaches of Bayahibe and Dominicus, and we took a full-day boat trip to the island Isla Saona.
1. ISLA SAONA
We were not sure if we should do the popular Isla Saona trip. This trip is actually the only reason tourists flock to Bayahive daily (and return in the evening, turning this place again into a sleepy gem). They come from Punta Cana and hop on the boats to Isla Saona.
Although a touristy affair, we decided to do it anyway.
OUR VOTE: We liked it BUT, thankfully, we did it at the beginning of our trip. You see, the island (“Isla” is Spanish for “island”) is breathtakingly beautiful!
The catamaran was also fun. We danced on the deck and the captain even let me navigate the boat:)
BUT seeing it on a tour with lots of other people, many of which got drunk even before getting to the island, well, that was the not so fun part.
Also, later on our trip we saw even more beautiful virgin beaches with no other people around. Therefore, it was a good starting point but not one of the highlights of our trip because of the crowds.
Plus, I felt time-pressured. Just like it is usual for organized trips, you get said that you have two hours to eat, relax, and explore one of the most beautiful places you have ever seen. Then you wait around an hour for everyone to get to their boats.
Photo shoot on the catamaran
Therefore, I would recommend you to ask around for a private trip where you will have all the time in the world to wander around this oasis. The extra charge is definitely worth it.
COSTS AND BOOKING: Arranging for the trip was super easy. This is the top 1 thing to do here and the trip is offered at every corner. We paid around 50 USD/50 EUR per person for the trip.
We arranged it with the driver of the shuttle who picked us up at the airport. He said it would cost much more if we booked it via our hotel. He was right. The hotel offered it for around 80 USD/80 EUR.
WHAT IT INCLUDES: It was not super cheap but it does include a two-hour ride on a catamaran (including open bar), lunch and open bar on Isla Saona and return ride in a speed boat, with making a stop in a natural pool full of sea stars (again with drinks). They picked us up in the morning and we were back at around 17h.
2. DOMINICUS BEACH:
OUR VOTE: The beach was nice. The turquoise color of the water was breathtaking (No, I can’t ever get enough of the colors of DR beaches!).
I just wished it wasn’t too close to the nearby resorts. We managed to find a spot away from the open bar full of people. We still got asked many times if we wanted to buy something and there was an entire market for souvenirs and paintings at the beach.
But at this point we were still too tired from the jet lag and just needed a place in the sun to recharge. And this beach fulfilled these needs sufficiently.
HOW TO FIND IT (LOCAL STYLE): The Dominicus beach is easy to reach with a guagua (small local mini bus) for around 25 pesos (around 0.5 USD/ 1 EUR). It is a 15 min drive to get there from Bayahibe village.
You can find the guagua bus stop by asking anyone. However, people will be surprised since they are not used to see tourists driving in guaguas. They immediately offered us taxi transfer instead. We insisted on the guagua and we had so much fun trying to put our basic Spanish into use during the drive.
Once in Dominicus, anyone will point you to the beach.
Making friends in our first guagua ride
MY FINAL VOTE ON BAYAHIBE
It was picturesque and quite, perfect for recharging our batteries after all the hustle of getting to the DR.
But we should have stayed 2 to 3 days max, since all other places were more exciting – not much going on here. Plus, we only stayed here because we flied in via Punta Cana and this seemed to be the best place not too far away from the airport.
If we were to fly to the DR via a different airport (e.g. Santo Domingo) we would not have made the extra effort to come here.
Stay tuned for a report on our stop number two, LAS GALERAS: Staying in a tropical paradise, driving a motorcycle (breakdown included), and almost having to return home because of an accident. AND one of the best beaches in the WORLD.
HAVE YOU BEEN TO BAYAHIBE? DO YOU AGREE WITH OUR IMPRESSIONS?