Santo Domingo & Los Mosquitos & Cabarete, Dominican Republic- Danae
A little bit of backstory before jumping in. Right after I graduated college in 2014, I joined the Peace Corps where I lived in the Dominican Republic for a year. I ended up having to leave service early due to a safety and security incident in my site. Honestly, right after this happened, I wasn’t sure if I would travel again. At the time, the terrible memory of that incident overcame all of the wonderful memories I had. It took me a while to remember all of the positives from my time there and all of the people I had met who were helpful, loving, caring, and supportive.
I decided to return to the Dominican Republic in 2016 with my boyfriend. For me, this trip was about facing my fears and getting closure. I wanted to see the friends I didn’t have an opportunity to say goodbye to.
The first city we visited was Santo Domingo, located in the Southeast of the country. We flew into the Santo Domingo airport and took a taxi to the Hotel Bella Epoca. It was about a 45 minute ride into the city. The Bella was a short carro publico ride away from the historical Calle Conde and walking distance from the metro. We spent 4 days in the capital, seeing the Calle Conde and visiting the Agora mall. This is also where I picked up some mamajuana. It’s a local Dominican drink made of up rum, red wine, honey, and spices brewed together. It is definitely a staple and you can even buy packages of the spices to brew your own mamajuana at home. Let’s just say I may have my own little brewing system set up here in the states now. I also learned it is important to keep your eyes open at all times. Probably the wackiest thing that happened to me was I was rushing to cross a street and stepped off a curb only to feel half of my body fall straight into a giant storm drain! I think Santo Domingo is a great place to stop if you are interested in seeing more of the history of the Dominican Republic.
Next, We visited a small campo called Los Mosquitos in Monte Plata, where I lived when I served in the Peace Corps. When I lived there, part of my role was helping to create after school activities for the kids. They were really excited about volleyball so I purchased one and started a few teams. However, there wasn’t a place to play, so we would play on road, drawing a line in the street where the net would be. The parents noticed how enthusiastic their kids were about playing and went out into the jungle with machetes and cleared an entire field where the kids could play volleyball. The kids found giant sticks to use as poles and the local school let us use an old volleyball net. When I went back in 2016, it was great to see that the volleyball court was still in use and we spent an entire day playing volleyball with the kids.
The last place I visited was Cabarete. This is more towards the north of the country in Puerto Plata. I got there by taking a Caribe Tours bus, similar to what would be a Greyhound in the US. Cabarete is definitely more of a beach town so it was pretty unfortunate that it rained most of the time we were there. At Cabarete I stayed in two different hotels. The first was Surf Break, which is more off the beaten path. If you want to get into town of the grocery store, Surfbreak is a moto ride away from everything. However, it is close to good surfing. This was the most expensive place I stayed and the least bang for the buck for sure, but I would still recommend it because it had more of the hostel atmosphere. This is where I met fellow travelers and made the most new friends on the trip. While staying at Surfbreak, we spent most of our time surfing the waves at Playa Escondido and hanging out at the beach, during the breaks in the rain.
The second place we stayed was Hotel Alegria. This spot was right near the center of Cabarete where all of the bars and nightlife are and right next to a grocery store as well. It was also right on the beach. I loved Cabarete because there are a series of bars located right along the beach. Cabarete is a spot to go to for the nightlife. There’s also a HUGE New Year’s event out there. We went during the off-season so it was quite a bit less packed. We also went on a couple of tours in Cabarate. First, we went on an ATV tour. My boyfriend and I took turns driving our ATV while our guide led us through spots in the campo, the jungle, the city, and along the beach. It was a fun way to get out and see more of the area. We also stopped by the Monkey Jungle Zipline Tour. In this tour, we went to a monkey sanctuary. Here, they guide you through a series of ziplines, one in which you can go upside down and one which is a straight drop! After the ziplines, you are able to see the monkeys. The spider monkeys are friendly and the guides will give you a plate of fruit and nuts and they will jump onto you while they eat off the plate. This was definitely a highlight of the trip for me!
After this trip, I feel like I found closure and was able to overcome my fears. I felt safe again being with the friends I made and the people who welcomed me into their family, just a couple of years before. I’m looking forward to continuing my travels and sharing my travel stories with you!
Is there anything you wish you knew before the trip?
-Definitely pack enough sunscreen! It is hard to find in the DR and you won’t come across it at any colmados. If you need some, you may be able to find it in a pharmacy or a La Sirena (similar to a Walmart).
-Mosquitos are plentiful, especially if it is raining. Bring some bug repellent.
-For communication, I went to Agora mall and purchased a cheap cell phone. There are two major service provides, Orange and Claro. You can load minutes to your phone for a cheap price out there.
-Try to know prices in advance, or you can expect to pay the tourist tax. In general, if it doesn’t have a price tag, you can bargain the price.
-It’s common for men to shout out to women on the street in the DR. Out there, it is known as “piropos” literally translates to “complement”. In the US, we would consider this behavior catcalling. I noticed a big difference between my treatment when I was with my boyfriend and when I was out on my own. I was approached far more frequently in his absence. Consider the cultural context. When I was living out there, my neighbors had a young son, maybe five years old, who had a crush on me. His mother and sisters egged him on telling him that if he liked me he should say something and tell me. They would say “if you think she is beautiful let her know, shout it at her so she hears!” Essentially, they were teaching him how to catcall. Culturally, there is a big difference in how in the US we see these as catcalls, and in the Dominican Republic, it is considered normal (to an extent of course).
Where to stay
-The Bella Epoca: Located in Santo Domingo, close to the metro and the Calle Conde. Economically priced for the day with hot water, wifi, and other amenities.
-Surfbreak: Located in Cabarete. It’s a little pricey for what you get, but it has a true hostel environment and community feel.
-Hotel Alegria: Located more in the center of Cabarete on the beach by the bars and a grocery store. This is perfect if you are hoping to experience the Cabarete nightlife.
Best way to get around
If your Spanish is limited, I think the best bet would be to find a taxi driver who speaks English and use them consistently throughout your trip. Most taxi drivers will have a business card that they will give you so you can reach them directly.
This the equivalent of a motorcycle taxi. You can fit multiple people on one moto and they will take you wherever you need to go, cheaper than a taxi would
This is like Greyhound bus and I used it to travel across the country from Santo Domingo to Sosua. Then I took a taxi from Sosua to Cabarete.
This is a public car that travels up and down a single route (typically one road). These cars are a cheap travel option but are shared. Seating is typically two people in the passenger seat and four people in the back seat. If you get into a carro, expect the driver to pick up other people who will find the room to squish in next to you.
In the DR guagua is the term for a bus. The need to know about a guagua is that it doesn’t have designated stops, just travels down a route, so you will need to flag it down. After you sit down, there will be a driver and a cobrador, who will take your fare.
The metro will get you all around the capital for a great price.