Tag Archives: central america

Playa Maderas

San Juan del Sur on the western coast of Nicaragua in the country’s south is a very popular destination in Nicaragua for two reasons: drinking and surfing. It has a reputation as an epic party destination and is most well-known for it’s Sunday Funday weekly party. As such a popular tourist destination it is important to note, that the region is also catering for US tourists in terms of price!

We weren’t interested in drinking sessions, partying or surfing, but still made the trip out to the region and were happily rewarded for the effort.

Playa Majagual

Our stay at Playa Maderas

In our two days in the region we actually did very little, but the sun, sand and surf were wonderful for relaxing.

Playa Maderas

Rocky outcroppings of Play MaderasWe walked from Selinas Maderas to Playa Maderas, and explored the length of the beach and around the rocky outcroppings through to Playa Majagual.

We spent some time lazing on the beach soaking up the sunshine and enjoying fresh juice.

If you are into surfing, you can rent surfboards and/or book a surf lessons at the beach.

Exploring the area

Our second day in the region, we hitched a ride to San Juan del Sur where we rented a motorbike for $20/day. We had the intention of popping in to various beaches along the coastline, but with limited riding experience and gravel roads, we ended up visiting Playa Hermosa and again relaxing in the sun with delicious food and drink.

The highlight at Playa Hermosa was watching a tub full of baby turtles that had been obtained from the turtle sanctuary La Flor. The baby turtles were released into the ocean at sunset and it was a truly wonderful experience. The turtles were absolutely adorable!
The only downside was the number of tourists picking them up to ‘help’ them into the ocean, rather than letting them find it for themselves.

Food

At Playa Maderas The Jungle Dream is my number one recommendation for food. Their tacos are delicious, staff are friendly, it’s a super chill cafe and the prices are reasonable.

On the beach in front of Camping Matilda is a tiny beach hut run by a local family. The service was wonderful and welcoming. The food was very typical local food, and typical local price which was welcome as everything else was three or four times the price!

In San Juan del Sur we had breakfast at a cafe called Salud Kitchen and while it was certainly pricey, it was absolutely fantastic. The coffee was great, the avocado toast was delicious and the breakfast burrito was out of this world!

Accommodation

Not wanting to stay in San Juan del Sur, we found accommodation just near Playa Maderas at Selina’s Maderas. Selina’s is a chain of hostels found throughout Latin America, owned by “an Arab” (as stated by one of the employees).

The facilities at Selina’s were great, modern and clean and it was a good location. The staff, food and prices were less amazing. The staff weren’t friendly or helpful, the prices were upper end with no inclusions whatsoever and the restaurant menu was limited. When we did eat at the restaurant for exorbitant prices we were left hungry and disappointed. Your best bet is to shop at the grocery store in SJdS and cook for yourself.

We paid $16 per bed in an 8 bed dorm, and were grateful for the wonderfully hot showers.

Getting There and Away

You get to San Juan del Sur via Rivas. With a chicken bus the trip should cost only 30 Cordoba each way.

To get to Playa Maderas, you can be lucky enough to hitch a ride with someone, or pay for a shuttle ride at Casa del Oro for USD$5 return. To be honest, we bought return tickets and only ever used a one-way the rest of the trips we hitched or used our hired motorbike.

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Isla Ometepe

Isla Ometepe
Isla Ometepe is a figure eight shaped island in the centre-western section of Lake Nicaragua, with a population of 47,000 people. The island was formed by the two volcanoes, Volcan Concepcion and Volcan Maderas, connected by an isthmus.

With such a high volume of volcanic, fertile soil, Isla Ometepe has a strong focus on agriculture, with plantations of beans, rice, corn and various fruits.

With two stunning volcanoes, one active and one not-active; various beaches; natural springs; waterfalls; and beautiful nature, Isla Ometepe is also a tourist hot-spot.

Our Stay at Isla Ometepe

The main goal of our visit to Isla Ometepe was to hike Volcan Concepcion. Many claim this to be Nicaragua’s hardest hike. In addition to hiking, we wanted to see more of what the island had to offer. We spent three nights on the island, allowing us two full days on the island, one spent hiking and one spent exploring.

Despite it not being a particular hub for tourism, we stayed in Moyogalpa. For people planning to hike Volcan Concepcion, this is the best place to stay. For those more interested in simply exploring the island, staying in Balgüe would be my recommendation.

Volcan Concepcion

We booked our tour up Concepcion through our accommodation, Hospedaje Soma. The tour needs a minimum number of people to run (from memory it is a minimum of 2-3) and the cost is calculated based on the number of people in the group. With a party of six people we paid USD$21 per person for the tour, plus USD$3 entry fee to the Volcan Concepcion nature reserve. No food or water is provided so you must pack and carry your own.

The full hike to the crater at 1610 metres takes 9-11 hours, and is a reasonably extreme incline, so be prepared for some hard work!

Howler Monkey in the canopyWe were collected from our hostel by our guide Wilmore at 06:30 and driven the 10-20minutes to the base of the volcano. We registered and paid our entry fee, grabbed some walking poles and headed off up the mountain.

Our guide Wilmore was absolutely brilliant and absolutely the best guide we could hope for. He had a focus on safety, the environment and sharing knowledge about the area, it’s history, flora and fauna.

The hike is approximately 7.5 kilometres. The first 2.5 kms are reasonably flat terrain, the remaining 5 kms are a 25-30% incline. If we didn’t have walking poles we would have spent a great deal of time using our hands as well as our feet!

The lower section of the hike is through beautiful, dense, green jungle. We were lucky enough to see some white-headed capuchin monkeys and some families of howler monkeys. At the end tail end of the hike, we spent a half hour just watching the families moving about the trees.

From approximately 900 metres altitude the trail incline increases and the vegetation disappears. At some point the clear skies turned to cloud and we spent a large proportion of the hike walking through misty, wet clouds. Reaching the craters edge was exciting, not to mention a little scary as the high winds seriously affected our ability to stand upright. Despite the complete lack of visibility, it was incredibly exciting and rewarding to reach the crater’s edge at 1610metres. Quite the achievement!

The crater's edge of Volcan Concepcion, 1610m

Ride the Island

A great way to see the island is to rent a scooter, motorbike or ATV. We paid around USD$20 to rent a motorbike for the day. Due to leg pain from the hike, we had a late start and didn’t get to see much – but what we did see was fabulous!

Riding through BalgüeFirstly it’s important to be aware that there are few sealed roads on the island. The road from Moyogalpa to Balgüe in an S shape (west then east across the isthmus) is sealed and easy enough to travel. Basically anywhere else you need to be prepared for slow, off-road travel. This being said, places I would have liked to have visited include Volcan Maderas’ crater lake and San Ramon waterfall.

One of the funniest things about riding around the island is crossing straight over an active, functional airstrip without any kind of warning signs. Hopefully they actually put security at the road crossing when plane landings are anticipated!!

Ojo de Agua

A site that we visited in our adventure around the island, was Ojo de Agua, Eye of Water. There are mixed reviews of the place, and I would have to say that I thought it was wonderful – but I will explain.

Ojo de Agua is essentially a man-made public swimming pool in the jungle that is fed by natural spring water. The fact that it is a natural spring is quite clear in what you read, but there are fewer references to the fact that the spring water feeds into a man-made constructions. So many people are disappointed with their experience.

Entry costs around USD$3 per person, there are change rooms, toilets, a restaurant and many sun lounge chairs on site. There’s also a banana plantation and trails through the agricultural area of the site.

The pool has deep and shallow sections, a tarzan swing and a slackline. After a seriously epic hike, I found it relaxing and rewarding to enjoy some time by the pool.

Food

We had two fantastic meals out in Moyogalpa that are worth mentioning the restaurant Mar Dulce and the random, hard to find, local restaurant.

Reviewed as the best place to eat in Moyogalpa, Mar Dulce can be found on the main street in town. They have a decent range of food options covering both Italian, Mexican and Latin American dishes. We had a two person serve of mixed, chicken & beef, fajitas that were simply divine. The serving size was massive and we barely managed to finish it all.

The other restaurant that we ate at was a local restaurant with very typical Nicaraguan food at a great price. You  can find it on Google Maps under the name Pollo Cervecero bar y comedor. The staff only speak Spanish, but are more than happy to help you as much as possible with their snippets of english. The food was fresh, delicious, a great price (222 Cordoba for 2 people including beers – USD$7) and a great location by the beach.

We enjoyed our breakfasts at our accommodation Hospedaje Soma, included in the room cost was a choice of four breakfast menus, all of which were delicious and hearty.

Accommodation

Wanting to stay in Moyogalpa and not in the centre of town limited the accommodation options, however we managed to find a place called Hospedaje Soma and made a booking via Facebook Messenger.

We splashed out on a private room with shared for three nights at USD$30 per night including breakfast. The facilities were modern and clean. The staff were absolutely wonderful, knowledgeable and helpful. They were ready to answer any and all questions we could think of, and were happy to arrange our tours and motorbike rental.

They were an easy 10 minute walk out of town and it was a very peaceful place to stay. I would highly recommend staying there if you plan to stay in Moyogalpa.

Getting There and Away

As mentioned in my post about Granada, Rivas is the central transport hub for getting around southern Nicaragua.

Granada to Moyogalpa, Isla Ometepe

We travelled to Isla Ometepe from Granada, which meant first taking a chicken bus from Granada to Rivas for 50 Cordoba per person.

Passenger ferry from San Jorge to Isla OmetepeFrom Rivas you need a taxi collectivo to San Jorge Ferry Terminal. a Taxi Collectivo is just a taxi that functions similarly to a bus, when there are enough people to fill the vehicle, they depart. It should be quite cheap per person, but we got screwed over into paying 450 Cordoba (USD$14) for two of us for a 10 minute taxi ride!

There are two ferry types travelling between San Jorge and Moyogalpa, one is a smaller passenger ferry and the other for cars and passengers. The larger one is a bit slower but more stable, and slightly more expensive. In terms of scheduling, the passenger ferries are more frequent, and the larger ferry will have a scheduled time but then wait until it is full before departing. The passenger ferry cost 45 Cordoba per person.
Check this site as a guideline for ferry times.

Moyogalpa, Isla Ometepe to San Juan del Sur

We took the Car ferry to return to San Jorge for around 50 Cordoba per person.

On arrival in San Jorge we ended up taking a Taxi Collectivo directly to San Juan del Sur (rather than going via Rivas) together with another couple. We paid USD$7.50 per couple for this trip.

Note: If you are going to get scammed for transport costs it is pretty likely to be in Rivas! Bus prices are fixed, but you need to watch out for taxi drivers. You will be told things like “you missed the last bus and will have to take a taxi”. Tips for avoiding being ripped off, ask locals what the price SHOULD be for a particular trip and try to team up with others heading the same way as you to get a bulk discount or collectivo price.

Isla Ometepe

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Granada

Granada is a wonderfully colourful old colonial city positioned on the shore of Lake Nicaragua, a popular destination on the tourist route and the second stop on our Nicaraguan adventure.

Granada Cathedral

About Granada

The city of Granada in the province of Granada,  was founded in 1524 under Spanish rule.  It is located at the northern end of Lake Nicaragua and is a central point between two active volcanos, Masaya and Mombacho.

Granada’s location for settlement was a strategic choice, with access to fresh water, waterways for trade, and fertile volcanic soil for agriculture. The well positioned, busy trading port became a target for pirates and plunder. Making for a rich history.

The city is quite large, with a population of over 100,000 but, as the city is sprawled over a large geographic area, it doesn’t feel at all crowded. Granada’s city centre is buzzing with life, and is a display of well maintained, spectacularly colourful, colonial architecture.

Granada tends to compete with Leon as the most popular city for tourists to visit in Nicaragua. I feel it’s truly personality and interests that affect which one you prefer. As someone with a preference for quaint and charm, Granada was certainly my preferred city.

Our stay at Granada

During our days in Granada we did a combination of tours and self-exploration.

Get lost in the streets

My first and foremost recommendation for Granada is to get lost. Wander the streets at random, say hi to all the friendly locals, appreciate the brightly coloured buildings, the fascinating and intricate door designs and taste some of the treats for sale by street vendors (I generally stick to the fresh fruit options).The colourful streets of Granada

Cathedrals and Churches

All the churches have different architecture and colouring, and they are fascinating to visit. They each cost $1 to enter.

The main cathedral has a wonderful ceiling painting and the view over the plaza from the tower is gorgeous! Iglesia La Merced also has a spectacular view, some people prefer it to the cathedrals view, but I thought they were both equally interesting.

Mercado Municipal

The Mercado Municipal is the local market, you can buy anything and everything here: fruit, vegetables, fresh meat and fish, socks, underwear, shoes, brooms, bed linen, plastic buckets…the list goes on. It’s a really interesting place to explore, but be prepared for crowded, dark spaces.

There are some food stalls where you can buy a cheap, fresh,  local meal. I was nervous ordering food when I did not know what I would get, but my local lunch was absolutely delicious! It was a server of grilled beef, served with a gallo pinto (rice and beans) and a salad for only a dollar or two.

Doña Elba Cigar Factor

North of the city centre, near Xalteva church is a tiny Cigar factory called Doña Elba. Their daily production is 300-350 cigars all hand rolled and pressed.

You can get a free (donation based) tour of this tiny factory and if you want you can learn to roll your own cigar for $7.

The staff at the cigar factory were lovely and despite not being smokers, nor having a particular interest in cigars, it was a very pleasant experience.

Las Isletas Tour

Mombacho Volcano and Last Isletas in Lake NicaraguaThousands of years ago Mombacho Volcano erupted and threw rock and ash into Lake Nicaragua forming an archipelago of 365 islands. Most of the islands are vegetation and wildlife rich dur to the rich, fertile volcanic ground.

Many of the islands are inhabited or for sale, they are largely foreign owned due to the very high price tags. Two of the islands have monkeys, but they did not come to be there naturally and are simply to appease the tourists. Sadly they get fed Oreos and other things to bring them close to the tourist boats.

It was quite interesting to zip in and around the islands, to see the huge houses, and the variety of birdlife and vegetation, but it was disappointing to see the monkey so far from their natural habitat.

The Las Isletas tour cost $18 per person for a 3 hour tour. They run from  9-12 and again 2-5pm.

Masaya Volcano

From Granada an evening tour to Masaya Volcano is quite common, you can also self tour but we booked a tour. Masaya Volcano is the smallest but most active of the active volcanoes in Nicaragua. It is 635 metres above sea level, and the lava level is currently up to 270 metres above sea level.

We had hoped to hike the lava tubes, but as they are at 250 metres above sea level, they were under the current lava level.

For the majority, the tour is spent in a van travelling, and we had a brief visit at a museum on the way up. The main event however, is a visit to the volcano crater after the sun has set. Vehicles are sent up in batches, after arriving at the car park you are given 15minutes to look around and take your photos and you must then get back in the van and leave. As the volcano is so active, the sulfur fumes are dangerous and also it’s ridiculously popular, the visit is very short.

Despite being a short visit I considered it worth the time and money. I thought it was truly a great experience to look down into an active volcano, and see the glowing red, fast-flowing river of lava below!

The Masaya Tour cost $20 per person and was around 3 hours in duration. It was operated by TransTours, but we booked through El Caite Hostel.

Glowing lava in the Masaya Volcano

What I would do if I went back…

If I went back to the Granada region in Nicaragua I would take some extra time to do some hiking and ziplining at Mombacho Volcano; explore Chocoyero Nature Reserve to see El Brujo; and visit the craft markets at Masaya.

Food

Vigoron stall in Granada's central park

Two fantastic restaurants I can recommend in Granada, are more American cuisine and prices than Nicaraguan, but the food was absolutely delicious.

For great steak, my recommendation is El Zaguan. I enjoyed the surf and turf – steak with a full grilled lobster tail on top and it was absolutely amazing.
For fresh healthy, salads and wraps, as well as modern versions of local dishes, great coffee and smoothies, then The Garden Cafe is worth a visit. They also have a great little store and an amazing selection of books to read.

A local dish recommended to us was Vigaron, this can be purchased in the central park at the cafe/stall with the colourful umbrellas. Vigoron is a traditional dish served of Yucca, chicharron (pork crackling), pickled tomato, cabbage and something else green.

Accommodation

Through relatively random travel choices, we stayed at three different places in Granada. Two of which I would happily recommend, and the third I would strongly advise against.

El Caite is a hostel two blocks back from Parque Central. It was a fairly busy hostel but with a great location and good facilities. There was a really friendly vibe amongst guests. The only downside was that the staff didn’t speak much english and this leads to some issues with booking tours,.

At the end of our trip we had another two nights in Granada before flying out. We thought we would splash out on a private room, so we booked Hotel Casa Generalife but were most disappointed to find that our superior room with a garden view was simply a painted concrete room with no view, and the ensuite was only separated from the bedroom with a flimsy curtain. We promptly booked our second night at another hotel.

The night we spent at Hotel Glifoos was not in any way disappointing. The welcome was warm and helpful the hotel itself felt more homely, clean and modern. The facilities were better and it was a fantastic location. Only a block and a half from Parque Central but with no street noise.

Getting there and away

Granada – Laguna de Apoyo

Our first trip to Granada was from Laguna de Apoyo; we took a local shuttle from Paradiso hostel directly to Mercado Municipal in the centre of Granada for US$3 per person.

Granada - Rivas Chicken BusGranada – Rivas

If you wish to head south from Granada, to either Isla Ometepe or San Juan del Sur, you will need to go via Rivas. The local chicken bus departs from a stop three blocks south of Mercado Municipal and costs 50 Cordoba per person.
Note: the chicken buses always have their route name on the front of the bus so they are easy to identify.

Granada – Managua Airport

We travelled from Managua Airport by taxi to Mercado Roberto Huembes Bus station for 100 Cordoba per person.
From the bus station we took a chicken bus to central Granada for 21 cordoba per person.

Returning to Managua Airport for a 7am flight, we took a private shuttle for US$35 organised through the hotel. We were actually driven by the Hotel Glifoos Hotel Manager, David, who was a truly wonderful man.

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Laguna de Apoyo

Laguna de Apoyo is a lake inside the caldera of an extinct volcano. It is in the provinces of Granada and Masaya with the province border crossing through the lake.

About Laguna de Apoyo

Laguna de Apoyo
It’s a fresh water lake with a volume of approximately 2.58 cubic kilometres, and surface area of just under 21 square kilometres. It is 6.6 kilometres in diameter and 175 metres deep.

Laguna de Apoyo was declared a nature reserve in 1991, and is a popular place for people to visit for both day trip and a few days away. Many people with limited time visit as a day trip from Granada, but those with more time tend to stay a night or two.

Our stay at Laguna de Apoyo

Arriving in Managua at 10pm, we had organised an airport pickup to take us straight to our accommodation at Laguna de Apoyo, and we started out vacation with two days on the side of the lake.

Sunrise at Laguna de ApoyoThis was a brilliant way to switch from work mode to holiday mode. We arrived at night time, tired from travel, and we woke up to blissful calm. We watched the sunrise; easing into the day listening to the birds chattering, the howler monkeys howling in the distance and the wind lightly rustling through the leaves of the trees.

No matter where you stay by the lake, all accommodations provide kayaks and inner tubes for enjoying time on the lake. Some accommodations have a pontoon to which you can swim out and then enjoy the sunshine. The accommodations also typically have hammocks and beach chairs, some also have barbecues and picnic tables at your disposal.

We had a great time paddling around in the kayaks and lazing on the pontoon.

In addition to enjoying the water activities, you can walk along the waters edge to check out other accommodations, restaurants and quiet spots to soak up the scenery. I believe there are some hiking trails in the area and that the view from the crater rim is spectacular, but we didn’t get to either of these things. For those who dive, there is also lake diving.

 

Accommodation

There are several accommodation options by the lake and on the crater rim. We chose to stay on the Granada side of the lake, by the water at a place called The Monkey Hut.

The Monkey Hut is a great spot for peace and quiet, there weren’t many guests there and it was a very relaxed place to be. A dorm bed cost USD$16.10 per night, and includes coffee, tea, purified water and the use of kayaks, inner tubes, pontoon, hammocks, beach chairs. I made the booking via email and WhatsApp.

We loved the Monkey Hut for the peace and quiet, but if you are travelling solo or are a bit more social, then neighbouring Hostel Paradiso would be my recommendation.

The only downside of The Monkey Hut was the food. They did have a restaurant, but it was not on site, food was delivered plastic wrapped and the price/quality wasn’t amazing. Paradiso however was fantastic, with a huge range of options. It was a 3-5 minute walk between the two sites. At Paradiso we were able to get a day pass for free in order to make use of the restaurant (if you want to use the swimming facilities – kayaks etc. then you need to buy a day pass for USD$6)

Getting There and Away

We travelled to The Monkey Hut direct from Managua airport with a private transfer organised by Monkey Hut for USD$40 fo two people.

On their website Money Hut have directions for how to get there by car, taxi, shuttle or bus from Managua, Masaya and Granada.

Making use of the daily shuttle from Hostel Paradiso, we paid USD$3 per person for the ride to Granada. The shuttle goes between 3-5 times daily. Their website also provides some transport directions.

Laguna De Apoyo

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Looping around Nicaragua

Nicaragua has been on my “To See” bucket list for some time, so when a cheap flight popped up I had to jump on it. I then explored Nicaragua for 3 weeks with my partner.

Extended posts on each of our Nicaraguan destinations to follow.

A loop around Nicaragua

Telica Volcano, Leon, NicaraguaOur three weeks in Nicaragua took us in a clockwise loop around Nicaragua and ending with a trip out east to the Caribbean.

We flew into Managua, but being a big city and having heard negative things about it, we arranged an airport pickup to take us straight to Laguna de Apoyo.

A visit to Laguna de Apoyo was the best way to start our trip, by giving us time to slip into holiday mode relaxing by the lake. (2 nights)

From Laguna de Apoyo we headed south to the colonial city of Granada, where we explored the city and neighbouring natural sights such as Volcan Masaya and Las Isletas. (2 nights)

From there we travelled further south and a little east to Isla Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua, where we completed the steepest hike in Nicaragua, up Volcan Concepcion. (3 nights)

Playa Maderas, San Juan del Sur, NIcaraguaThe next destination was our most southern stop, Playa Maderas in the San Juan del Sur region, to enjoy some time by the beach. (3 nights)

We then headed north to Leon, in order to hike Volcan Telica and surf down the slopes of Cerro Negro. (3 nights)

From there we went to the coffee region of Matagalpa in the north-east, but when we found it wasn’t what we had hoped for we returned to Leon. (2 nights)

From Leon we bussed down to Managua in order to fly to the Caribbean for some days of sun and snorkelling on Little Corn Island. (4 nights)

To finish the trip we spent the last days in Granada writing postcards, and people watching by the plaza. (2 nights)

Budget and Bookings

Including flights, accommodation, tours, food and everything else we spent under €3000 for two people for 3.5 weeks including travel time. While the national currency is Cordobas, Nicaragua makes extensive use of the US Dollar. You can pay in either currency, but you will notice that the majority of prices are listed and quoted in US Dollars. Whenever bargaining, be sure to check what currency you are discussing!

Flights

We flew with United Airlines from Amsterdam to Managua return for €330 per person when a cheap deal came up online through TicketTippers.

The flights from Managua to Big Corn Island are through the regional airline La Costeña. We booked with a travel agent in Leon at a cost of USD$195 per person return, however if you book on the phone directly with the airline the cost is around USD$165.
Note: if you book online it is around the same price as a travel agent, but fewer of the flight times are available for booking.

Transport

Chicken Bus from Granada, NicaraguaWe predominantly travelled by Chickenbus and Microvan (UCA), where prices range from USD$1 to $3 for trips up to 3 hours.

An airport transfer from Managua to Laguna de Apoyo cost USD$40 for 2 people; and a transfer from Granada to Managua Airport for 2 people was USD$35.

Taxi’s anywhere can be ridiculously expensive as the drivers try to rip off the tourists. I have been scammed out of $15 for a 5 minute ride. Try to take Taxi Colectivo where possible as they will also pick up additional passengers and it brings down the cost for everyone.
Note: there are pirate taxi’s you need to be aware of. When taking a taxi check that the number plate has horizontal striped colouring Red, White, Red. Official taxi’s have these plates, and usually also the ‘Taxi’ bubble on top of the car. I also always take a photo of the licence plate before I get in and ensure that the driver see’s me doing so.

Accommodation

We mostly stayed in hostel dorms that we booked through HostelWorld paying between USD$6 and $14 per bed.

On a few occasions we splashed out for a private room, which we booked via booking.com paying between USD$19 and USD$30.

We saved some food costs by trying to always book a hostel that included breakfast. The best free hostel breakfast was most definitely at Hospedaje Soma on Isla Ometepe; the best paid hostel breakfast was at Hostel Paradiso at Laguna de Apoyo.

We occasionally booked rooms by sending WhatsApp or Facebook messages directly to the accommodation. This was typically a great way to find availability and costs for places not listed on the common booking sites.

Food

Laguna de Apoyo, NicaraguaIt depends on how adventurous you are with food as to what your food budget is likely to be. We enjoyed some street food, as well as some nice restaurant food. We found that some towns had really well priced meals at USD$6-9 like Granada and Isla Ometepe; but some places were closer to American pricing around USD$10-$18 such as San Juan del Sur, Leon and Little Corn Island.

There’s a great local restaurant, Comedor San Benito in Leon where you can get more food than fits in your belly for only $4. Another one is an amazing local shack called Rosa’s on Little Corn Island where you can enjoy a spectacular 3 course lobster meal for only $7.

By comparison you can eat a ridiculously amazing lobster and steak meal (surf’n’turf) for USD$18 at El Zaguan in Granada, or the most amazing breakfast burrito at Salud! in San Juan del Sur for around $8.

Activities

Tours were always the most expensive thing we did, but were a great way to experience numerous things you can’t do solo. Tours for things like volcano hikes and snorkelling trips will typically cost around US$20-25. The cheapest (paid) tour we did was a 3 hour tour through the islands of Granada for US$18, and the most expensive tour we did was a 6.5 hour tour and sunset hike up the active volcano Telica for US$45 including dinner, snacks and a free t-shirt.

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The Low-Down on Living in Santo Domingo

When I arrived in the Dominican Republic everyone I met was so positive about the country, they all said I’d fall in love with the place and never want to leave.

After being there for a short time the cynic in me believes that people only stay because they are paid so poorly in an expensive country and they simply can’t afford the flight out. Moving to Santo Domingo was possibly one of the most uninformed, unexplained, and therefore became one of the worst, decisions of my life.

The negatives…

Work conditions and false promises

I got my job in the Dominican Republic through an online advertisement for a language academy, Academia Europea  in Santo Domingo. The company presents as professional, and I was quite excited by the prospect of teaching English internationally.

Prior to accepting and arriving I asked some questions regarding work visas, pay rates, amount of hours of employment, how that balances against cost of living, how to find accommodation and so on.

Work Visa

So I was told that no work visa was required, but once I was on contract it could be negotiated. I should enter on a tourist card and renew it every two months (I found out later it only has a 30 day validity, not 60).

I then discovered the company had no intention of providing a work visa, it was something I could do and pay for if I wanted to, rather I was told to simply overstay my tourist card and pay the ‘cheap’ fine on exit. The cheap fine is no longer cheap, it is 2500 pesos, which is a week’s wages for me. I was told that everyone works in this way on an overstayed tourist card, and while that may be the case it is not actually legal, and is something I am uncomfortable with.

Pay Rates

Lesson preparationThe hourly rate of training is 180 pesos, when you pass the proficiency exam the rate goes up to 200 and some time later if you are recognised as a good teacher (I don’t know how this is assessed) it goes up to the highest pay rate of 250 pesos per hour. 200 pesos compares to €3.87 or $4.30US or $5.62AUD on today’s exchange rates, which was my pay rate for the duration of my stay and teaching.

Once I began the two week training program I double checked on the pay rates, only to be told the three hours per day, five days per week of training is unpaid. The training wage is for the classes you teach after you have completed training but before completing the proficiency exam. As an experienced teacher I was upgraded to the proficient payment level immediately when I began classroom teaching.

Oh, and there’s certainly no paid preparation or marking time, you are only paid for in class teaching time.

Hours of Employment

The academy is open seven days a week, thirteen hours a day. I was told I could make as much money as I wanted based on how many hours I wanted to work.

Dressed formal for workAs I wanted to gain as much experience as possible, and with a need for an income I set my availability to be any time, any day over the full opening hours of the academy. I was open to teach any level any time.

The hours I was given were 8-9am Monday to Friday, 6-8pm Monday to Thursday and 1:30 – 4:30pm on Saturdays but when on one occasion indicated I could not make it to my Saturday class, the class was promptly and permanently reassigned to another teacher.

I averaged 2.6 hours per day, six days per week (originally 16 hours per week, which dropped to 13 hours).
A week of teaching my own classes would earn 3200 pesos (or 2600 after my Saturday class was reassigned).
A good week of teaching my own classes and relief teaching for others could earn as much as 4200 pesos.

Cost of living based on local wages

When you earn a local wage, the cost of living in Santo Domingo becomes unaffordable. If you are comfortable to rent an apartment in an unsafe ‘barrio’ then you could possibly make ends meet, but living in a safe suburb I could not.
Despite promises of assistance to find housing, none was provided. In the case of a non-Spanish speaker this poses a huge challenge!

Things that cost approximately the same as my hourly wage:

  • a box of cereal
  • a bottle of shampoo
  • a 6″ “sub of the day” sandwich at Subway
  • a coffee in a cafe
  • a small beer at a bar

Monthly Living Expenses
Rent 10,000 pesos
Utilities (Internet, power and water) 1050 pesos
Cell Phone 400 pesos
Drinking Water 140 pesos (tap water in the DR is toxic, all water for drinking and cooking must be purchased)
TOTAL: 11,590 pesos

Monthly Work Expenses
Grammar Textbook 1920 pesos (I chose not to buy the book but the price indicates what is required in the job. This will not be used in any further calculations)
Whiteboard Markers, Whiteboard Eraser, Pens, Pencils and Paper 700 pesos
Transport 100 pesos – 210 pesos daily dependent on how many locations I worked at in any given day. For the calculations I will average at 150 pesos per day. Total of general required expenses is 3600 pesos
TOTAL: 4300 pesos

Not including food or any other basic living expenses, my monthly expenses equated to 15,890 pesos.
After being taxed on my income, I earned 10,440 pesos
My monthly loss, before eating/general basic necessities was 5,450 pesos!

The Academy’s Profits

A daily class is one hour per day, five days per week for four weeks. I was paid 200 pesos per hour, which equates to 4000 pesos per 4 weeks for that class.
A student enrolled in my daily class pays 3,990 pesos per 4 weeks.
A class needs a minimum of 5 students to run, 19,950 pesos per 4 weeks. My typical classes had at least 8 students per class, 31,920 pesos. A daily class of 8 students results in a school profit of 27,920 pesos (less academy running expenses). The director is aiming to increase class sizes to at least 10, where in my classroom we could barely fit eight into the tiny room, when the staff are so poorly paid it makes me wonder where this money goes? And whether the primary focus is education or profit?

Objectification of Women

This is something I already mentioned in my first post about Living in Santo Domingo, many Dominican men in general have what I consider to be an antiquated view of women and their place in society. It is simply unfathomable that a woman would want to be on her own, and as such  they all ask about your boyfriend or husband; if you have neither it must mean you want their phone number. As much as I hate doing so, I resorted to lying about my marital status and I wore a fake wedding ring.

One time I had a man tell me he had been checking out my legs and then said “Mmmmmm like Bacon” genuinely left me feeling furious, but not in fear of my safety.

When you aren’t in close enough proximity to actually have a conversation, then it is common to be hissed at, whistled at and called out to. I’m not sure if it was a blessing or curse that I didn’t understand much of what they called out at me,  but  I never felt particularly threatened by any of it, though it made me feel uncomfortable and annoyed.

Safety

Security guard by Bayahibe beachHaving come from Australia, a safe country, our perception of danger is certainly on a different level to those who experience it regularly in their lives.

The travel advice from the Australian Government lists travel to the Dominican Republic as a yellow alert: Exercise a high degree of Caution. I have been to yellow alert countries in the past, and being street smart have never had any issues or felt particularly at risk.

On the ground in Santo Domingo, everyone was telling me how common muggings are, almost everyone has been mugged, typically at gunpoint at least once, but often a few times. So fear kicks in with any normal person at this point, myself no exception. In discussion with people, I found their opinions conflicting. While it’s dangerous and terrifying, it’s going to happen, but it’s fine, it’s normal, nothing to worry about.

In a conversation with a friend in the space of ten minutes, she told  me:

  • she was saddened that I felt unsafe in her country
  • it is quite a safe country, not as bad as people imply
  • she wouldn’t walk anywhere as the streets are unsafe
  • her sister was mugged twice at gunpoint in the space of two weeks
  • a friend of her was stabbed to death in his home
  • but Santo Domingo is a safe place to be

The company I worked for has three locations, and I have worked at all three. In my second week of working I got two notices that really freaked me out.
Firstly, I was told that at one of the locations there had been a bank robbery and shoot out resulting in a death and several people were injured.
Secondly, the other location I was working at every night had reports of a thief who was posing to help people with public transport, but would hold them up as his partner came on a motorbike to mug them.

Walking home from the metro station at night in the dark also freaked me out, but I couldn’t afford an Uber every day, so I just tried to be wary, listen, look around, walk quickly and hope for the best. On one occasion, I returned home just five minutes after a housemate, who had seen a girl mugged on our street just moments earlier. Since then I texted him when I caught the metro so he could walk me home every evening.

Numerous colleagues have been mugged exiting the bank just after cashing their pay cheque. When you work hard all month, for the pittance you receive and require in order to eat, the worst thing is to lose it all.

So honestly, being constantly afraid of being mugged is not a nice way to live your life!

My bus story..

My last few days in the Dominican Republic were spent sightseeing; on my final bus trip from Las Terrenas back to Santo Domingo a friendly Dominican man sat next to me with his baby. He was determined to have a conversation with me, which was all translated via a friend sitting across the aisle.

The man was returning to Santo Domingo to turn himself in to police. In a ‘crime of passion’ he had shot his wife and her lover, I think in the legs, and kidnapped his five month old baby. Evidently after some time on the run he was returning to Santo Domingo to be locked in jail and face three criminal charges (my guess is that he was giving himself to police because perhaps that was safer than being on the streets after having shot another man). As he shifted uncomfortably in his seat I did worry that he may have had a gun tucked into the waist of his pants, thankfully I did not find out either way.

Taking the positives..

As with any decision, good or bad, your attitude affects your experience. I certainly tried my hardest to make the most out of this bad experience.

When time and money allowed I went on excursions to see as much of the island’s natural beauty as I could. I knew that hiding beyond the city limits were amazing things to see, and as you would have read I made visits to beautiful beach areas of Punta Cana, Bahia de Las Aguilas, Puerto Plata, Isla Saona and Las Terrenas.

In addition to seeing the country itself, I met some absolutely amazing people. Some of my colleagues, students and random people I met along the way are genuinely beautiful, honest and trustworthy people who I hope to remain in contact with for years to come.

Isla Saona Main Beach

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Las Terrenas

Las Terrenas is a reasonably small beach town on the northern cost of the Samaná peninsula. It is a great spot to relax, and enjoy a slower paced lifestyle for a few days.

Despite my grand plans of seeing loads of things on/near the Samaná peninsula, on arrival I just decided that I wanted to relax and take it super slow. So I ticked one item off my list and otherwise enjoyed the beach, some cocktails and great company with my new hostel friends.

Places I wanted to see but didn’t include: a day trip to Los Haitses, Las Galeras, Samaná and Caya Levantado.

Las Terrenas Beaches

As it is on the coast, Las Terrenas has beach after beach after beach. On the main strip the recommendation is to walk West and spend time at the quieter area of Playa de las Ballenas.

If you are interested in surfing, then taking a motoconcho to Playa Bonita would be the recommended option.

Eating fresh mango on the beach, Playa de las Ballenas

Salto El Limón

Salto El Limón is a gorgeous waterfall in the hills behind Las Terrenas. From La Bodega in Las Terrenas it’s a short DOP$50 peso ride to a central stop and then an additional DOP$25 GuaGua ride to a park entrance.

Salto El LimonEntrance costs DOP$50 and it is only a short 40 minute hike in the tropical jungle to the waterfall. Be sure to bring water because it is crazy hot and humid.

Many people pay for a horse ride to the falls, I am not sure of the cost. There will also be many locals offering their services as a guide, but in my opinion a guide is not necessary.

There are numerous entrances into the park, we entered through one and exited through another.

Despite initial problems finding the trail in, the walk was very peaceful and pleasant as it was just our group of friends amongst the trees and rivers. The exit trail had been well trodden and pooped on by horses, while the scenery was beautiful the actual trail was horrid, for this trail you really need gumboots!

The waterfall itself is 52metres high and has a nice pool at the base for swimming. You will see people climbing the rock walls and jumping into the pool below. As there were large rock is random places beneath the waters obscure surface, I personally chose not to do any jumping.

Jumping or no jumping, the waterfall was beautiful to see and the swim was wonderfully refreshing!

Getting Around

Around Las Terrenas I would recommend walking, but transport is required if you want to go further afield.

When travelling to places like El Limón, Las Galeras or Samaná then a GuaGua is the most economical option.

For zipping around locally to places such as Playa Bonito or the main GuaGua station, then a Motochoncho is a bit more pricey, but the best option.

Getting There

Friendly bus driversMy original plan to visit Samaná had been to take a two day excursion with ATA Excursiones (the two day tour costs DOP$3,400). Unfortunately Hurricane Matthew swung by the weekend of the tour and for safety reasons it was cancelled. They didn’t offer anything else on dates that would work for me, so I undertook the adventure independently. While renting a car would have been ideal, the road tolls would have cost more than the car rental and this was simply money I did not have. So I opted for public transport.

Bus Schedule from Santo DomingoBuses go direct from Santo Domingo to Las Terrenas six times per day. The bus station is behind Plaza Lama Duarte in a reasonably sketchy looking area, however the bus costs DOP$350 one way and the bus company is reliable with friendly and helpful staff. On arrival in Las Terrenas I took a Motoconcho to my hostel for DOP$50

Accommodation

Marc helping cook the hostel BBQI found a brilliant family run hostel in Las Terrenas on booking.com, Dan and Manty’s Guesthouse.

It was absolutely a home away from home; cosy, welcoming and comfortable. Dan was super helpful for helping me plan my stay and gave information on how to get places and what to expect to pay.

Due to the low season I had a dorm room and bathroom all to myself. The provided breakfast and purchased dinner was amazing, I hadn’t eaten so well in months!!

Las Terrenas

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A caribbean island adventure to Isla Saona

Isla Saona Main BeachIsla Saona is the stereotypical Caribbean island you picture when someone talks about Caribbean islands; white sand, clear blue water and palm trees. Whether there is truth in it or not, I have heard people say that it is one of the islands that has featured in at least one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Because it sounds better, I’m going to roll with it and say I visited one of the islands from the movies!

Isla Saona is off Southern Coast of the Dominican Republic, in the Far East of the country accessible by boat from Bayahibe. I would consider it a Must-See activity for any visit to the Dominican Republic.

Sea stars in the Caribbean SeaTo access the island we took a speed boat ride. We made a brief mid-way stop at a remote beach for a quick dip in the water to cool down. We had some time to enjoy a rum punches, before all jumping back in the boat to continue through to Isla Saona.

With the spectacular views of tropical white sand beaches whizzing past it wasn’t long before we reached our destination.

On arrival, I selected my deck chair in the shade of a palm tree and ordered myself a rum and coke. I spent a couple of hours alternating between relaxing on the chair and relaxing in the water and sunshine. I enjoyed a delicious typical Dominican lunch, and enjoyed a few rum and cokes in true Dominican style.

As the day came to an end we all boarded a luxury catamaran, The crew played Dominican dance music and danced the afternoon away. For me it was a magical finish to a brilliant day, to lay on the nets of the catamaran with the water flowing past underneath me as I listened to the dance music, and enjoyed the warmth of the afternoon in the shade of the sail as we sailed through the Caribbean.

Isla Saona Day Tour

Drinking rum and coke in the Caribbean SeaIn order to undertake this adventure I signed up for a tour with the local tour company, ATA Excursiones. They offer a variety of tours and have something on every day. Their office can be found in Calle El Conde near the corner of Calle Santome in Zona Colonial. They are contactable via Facebook or Whatsapp. One or two people in the office speak a very limited amount of English, but if you have any Spanish and an adventurous spirit then I would highly recommend travelling with them.

The tour cost DOP$1900 (approx US$40), this is the standard price but sometimes they have discounted departures on weekdays.

The price includes transport from Santo Domingo to Bayahibe. You then use a speedboat and catamaran to visit the island.

Drinks and lunch are also included, this means that if you really want to immerse yourself in the Dominican culture, you may enjoy a steady flow of rum punch all day long.

Note: Bayahibe itself is a popular beach that is worth a visit. There are many tour operators offering snorkelling and diving trips as well as trips out to Saona.

Isla Saona

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Puerto Plata, the Port of Silver

Fun at the 27 waterfallsWhen talking with friends about places I wanted to see in the Dominican Republic, I mentioned my desire to visit Puerto Plata to go adventuring at the 27 Waterfalls of Damajagua, check out the beautiful beaches and ride the Teleférico for a great view of the coast. Upon hearing this my friend Sheila, who is originally from Puerto Plata excitedly offered to go with me…or rather take me, since she has a car.

So we packed up and headed North for a weekend of adventure!

Puerto Plata

Puerto Plata is a large province on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, the capital of this province shares the name, Puerto Plata.

When Christopher Columbus first found the region he saw a silver mountain. It had a silver appearance due to the fog shroud, but also the white undersides of the leaves of the trees gave a silver appearance. He named the mountain Montaña de Plata, mountain of silver. It was through this name that the port city earned it’s name Puerto de Plata, Port of Silver. Now it is simply referred to as Puerto Plata; and the silver mountain has since been renamed to Montaña Isabel de Torres.

Within Puerto Plata city, make sure to check out the historical centre. I didn’t quite get there myself.

Beaches of Puerto Plata

Being a coastal city, Puerto Plata has many beaches. Central to the town is the Malecon region and beaches. Due to their proximity to the shipping port, the water in this area is polluted and not safe for swimming. A little further West or East however, is no problem.

We headed East to Playa Dorada and Playa Chaparral for an afternoon dip in the Caribbean Sea. Followed by a delicious pizza dinner with Sheila’s cousins at Playa Dorada mall.

Fortaleza San Felipe

Fortaleza San Felipe and the MaleconAt the west end of the Malecon, the city’s port used to be guarded by a fort, Fortaleza San Felipe. While manning the fort with canons and guns is no longer necessary, the building remains and is open most days of the week as a museum.

Having visited on a Sunday the museum was not open, but I enjoyed a stroll around the area to see the Fortaleza San Felipe, other old buildings that were part of the fort complex and a statue of General Gregorio Luperon. Contrasted against the beautiful old buildings are a modern amphitheatre for open air events and a highly reflective rectangular building whose purpose is not yet known.

This would be the ideal place to have a picnic and watch a sunset.

Teleférico up Montaña Isabel de Torres

One of the main attractions in Puerto Plata is the Teleférico, a cable car to the peak of Montaña Isabel de Torres.

Puerto Plata TeleféricoThe Teleférico ride costs 350 pesos for tourists (and 200 pesos for locals). It’s a reasonably short ride in a super old and quirky cable car. Contrary to my assumption that the peak would just have a viewing platform, the peak has a number of things to see within sprawling gardens.

Firstly the view from the viewing platform extends over lush rainforest, and over the city of Puerto Plata to show just how big the ‘small town’ really is, continuing on over the Caribbean Sea. On a hazy day the silvery water blurred into the silvery haze, and the boat we saw at a distance appeared to be floating in the sky.

After the view, the most notable site on the mountain top is the Cristo Redentor statue. It’s size is not even close to the one in Brazil, but it is certainly photo worthy. There are many people hanging around who will offer to tour you around the area, or take your photo, remember that nothing is for free.

From the statue, Sheila and I wandered along the garden paths checking out the cave, lagoon and replica traditional homestead, before seeking out some hydration at one of the cafes.
If you can bring your own food and drinks I would recommend doing so, as the cafes overcharge in the extreme.

27 Charcos de Damajagua

Natural waterslide at the 27 Waterfalls of DamajaguaApproximately 30 kilometres out of Puerto Plata are the 27 Charcos de Damajagua, often referred to as the 27 Waterfalls of Damajagua. Damajagua is the name of the river, and the term Charco refers to the natural pools at the base of each waterfall.

Unfortunately due to drought, there is not much water flowing down the river and waterfalls 20 – 27 simply have no water at all. Together with our guide Richard, Sheila and I started at Waterfall 19 and worked our way down.

Many of the waterfalls were so small we could only walk through the river or swim in the pool. However some had enough water to provide a bit of adrenaline. We took every opportunity to leap from the rock walls into the water below or whizz down a natural waterslide. The 3.5 hour tour was absolutely fantastic!

The tour costs 800 pesos per person, you get a guide just for your group and you are provided with lunch.

Cabarete

Mofongo con CamaronesCabarete is a town and beach area roughly forty kilometres west along the coast of central Puerto Plata. It’s an area well known for surfing and kite surfing. It’s a busy area, with loads of hotels, shops and restaurants.

I spent some time swimming in the surf and soaking up with sun, while enjoying a cold beer. I chased this challenging afternoon with a traditional Dominican lunch of Mofongo con Camarones, mashed plantain with shrimp. On hearing the description of Mofongo I wasn’t super excited about it, but determined to try traditional Dominican food, I gave it a go and it was delicious!

As well as beach and water sports, the area has many other nearby attractions including some caves that I would have loved to have time to visit. Cabarete is definitely a place I would recommend staying a few days.

Relaxing with a beer at Cabarete Beach

Accommodation and Transport

Travelling with a friend we took her car and stayed with her family, so I don’t have any first hand advice on how to get around or where to stay.

Getting There

Buses travel regularly to Puerto Plata from Santo Domingo, the two companies I would recommend are Metro and Caribe.

Getting Around

In discussion with other tourists, it seems that many hotels will offer to organise taxis and/or tours to get you where you want to go.

Accommodation

In deciding where to stay I would recommend either central Puerto Plata or Cabarete. Cabarete would probably be my primary recommendation as it is much smaller, it is easier to get around on foot, the beach is fantastic, there are loads of restaurants. Some of the adventure activities are based in Cabarete, and it simply provides a more chilled out vibe than the city itself.

For booking, I would recommend my usual go-to, booking.com.


Puerto Plata

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Bahia de Las Aguilas

Sunbathing at Bahia de Las AguilasBahia de las Aguilas

Bahia de las Aguilas is a remote beach in the Jaragua National Park. It can be found in the far South-West of the Dominican Republic, just a stone’s throw from the Haitian border.

While I can’t say it is an untouched beach, I can say that by being remote and difficult to access, it is much quieter and cleaner than any other beach I have seen in the Dominican Republic. It really is the quintessential Caribbean beach: crisp white sand, crystal clear vivid blue water and the golden sun bathing you in warmth.

It is a great place to spend a few hours alternating between lounging in the sun and cooling off in the water. You need to bring food and drink with you, as there are no facilities/services at the beach. Also make sure to pack your sunscreen as shady spots are very hard to find!

Pedernales

A local boy having a play with our body boardPedernales is the gateway town to Bahia de las Aguilas, it is here we spent a large chunk of time. It is a small town on the coast, with some beaches, restaurants, corner stores and bars.

We enjoyed a few afternoon hours of lounging on the beach, playing with the locals and enjoying our home made rum punch.

The locals are generally friendly, but if they offer you anything, be aware that it comes at a price.

Where to stay

Eco del Mar is the only accommodation option that is very close to Bahia de las Aguilas. It appears to be tents and appears to cost anywhere between $30 and $1500 per night.

The standard accommodation option is to stay in the reasonably nearby town of Pedernales. We found accommodation on arrival, and shared a twin room with four people for 700 pesos.

I’m not sure what the standard prices are, but be ready to bargain!

Looking on the internet (in English), I have found it challenging to find properties to book online.

Getting There and Back

Santo Domingo – Pedernales

Departing at 6am we got a bus from the Caribe Bus Station to Baharona. It took 3 hours and cost 260 pesos per person.

Four people crammed into the backseat of a minivanFrom Baharona we jumped in a mini-van on the main street and travelled to Pedernales, the gateway town for Bahia de las Aguilas. The ride took approximately 2.5hours and cost 250 pesos per person. Be prepared for extreme discomfort! The minivan is unmarked and I honestly have no idea how we knew it would take us where we wanted to go, at times like these you are grateful to travel with a local!

Returning to Santo Domingo was just one bus departing from the main street in Pedernales. A 22 seater bus filled with around 40 people. The bus was stopped numerous times for military checks on the way, they check for Haitian refugees. Even if you are clearly not Haitian, be sure to have some form of ID with you.
The travel was approximately 7 hours and cost 500 pesos per person.
NB: The last bus departs at 1:30pm.

Pedernales – Bahia de las Aguilas

When taking the public transport option, here is where the true negotiations begin and where anyone with white skin is at a distinct disadvantage.

Riding in a pickup truck to Bahia de las AguilasFor a ride to and from Bahia de las Aguilas we were offered a ‘deal’ for 4000 pesos. We managed to find a better option, riding in the back of a pickup truck for 2500 pesos. Granted we also had to work for it as the truck required a push start on several occasions. The truck took us to a restaurant just past Cabo Rojo and refused to take us further, despite having agreed on a price and destination (we ended up refusing to pay the full amount, and only gave 2000 pesos).

From the restaurant we organised a boat for 2200 pesos to Bahia de las Aguilas. They dropped us off at the beach at 10:30, with a pickup time of 12:30. Despite the agreed time, we were picked up at 12, as you really have to go with the driver whenever they appear.
NB: All prices mentioned here are for four people.

Strong recommendations for visiting Bahia de las Aguilas

I would strongly advise you not to take public trasnport to visit Bahia de las Aguilas. It genuinely detracts from the experience. The travel times were ridiculous, the comfort level was agony and any negotiations for transport deals left us feeling ripped off to the extreme.

The two recommendations for travelling to Bahia de las Aguilas are:
a) Rent a car and take yourself, but be aware that there are very few road signs and cell service for using maps is reasonably limited.
b) Take a tour, where everything it is a fixed price, everything is included and organised for you. Ata Excursions provide a very reasonable deal, but no one in the company speaks English.

Bahia De Las Aguilas

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