Last year (2018) I visited Cuba, a country which shares many similarities to The Dominican Republic. This will probably come as no surprise as they are obviously, geographically speaking, very close to each other.
As with both countries, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. With both countries I was completely wrong. My opinion on both would probably be very different had I stayed in an ‘all inclusive’ hotel. However, I wanted to ‘back pack’ round these two islands to try and get a better understanding of the culture and it’s people. This I failed to do, both countries proved extremely complex.
Santo Domingo or “La Capital” as it’s typically called, is a collage of cultures and neighbourhoods. It’s where the sounds of life – domino pieces slapped on tables, backfiring mufflers and horns from chaotic traffic, merengue and bachata blasting from corner stores – are most intense.
At the heart of the city is Zona Colonial, where you’ll find one of the oldest churches and the oldest surviving European fortress, among other New World firsts. It’s an easy place to explore on foot. 3-days is enough to visit the many attractions that are on offer.
A Caribe Tours bus comfortably whisked me north to the delightful town of Jarabacoa (pronounced arabacoa), where I enjoyed a visit to the waterfall – as featured in one of the Jurassic Park movies. I also went white water rafting – a truly exhilarating and ‘white knuckle’ experience.
I then travelled further north to the coastal town of Cabarete. My hotel was gorgeous, as were the beaches. The town itself was hideous – VERY touristy and VERY expensive.
I then moved on to Río San Juan, a small town with a lovely hotel (Bahia Blanca), a nice beach, and a multi national (middle aged) clientele who were extremely sociable. After a day relaxing and a day scuba diving I traveled further east to my next port of call – Las Terrenas.
If I thought Cabarete was bad, well ratchet things up considerably. Traffic here was on another level. As well as a plethora of motorbikes, we also had overweight tourists ripping up and down the street on quad bikes.
Some positives: the beach in Las Terrenas is very long and very nice. I stayed in a lovely boutique B&B, very clean and very spacious. Again, there was a multi national clientele. Breakfast was served in a communal area, which proved to be a great place to meet and chat with fellow guests. It also had a gorgeous garden in which to relax. My hosts were an Italian wife and Dominican husband. The B&B was unfortunately a 20 minute walk from the beach but this suited me just fine – it was well away from the noise and pollution of the town centre.
Travel around the island of The DR is relatively straightforward, and cheap – using buses, GuaGua’s (mini buses) or Moto Concho’s (motor bike taxis).
Some negatives: I have witnessed complacency, for a country that relies so heavily on tourism, on a level that I never thought possible. Whether in a hotel, a restaurant or in a shop, it felt like that my very presence was really just a major inconvenience. As for pollution (garbage); I thought India was bad. The DR is not far behind. I guess if you are bubble wrapped in an all inclusive hotel you would think quite highly of this country (?).
The goose that lays those golden eggs, tourists filled with dollars, could well be on her last legs.
Next stage: Puerto Rico.