Tag Archives: dominican republic

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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Punta Cana

Relaxing on Bavaro BeachMost people you talk to about the Dominican Republic only know about Punta Cana. Punta Cana is in the far east of the Dominican Republic. It’s a coastal all-inclusive resort town that gets a huge number of tourists visiting on a regular basis.

Staying in a budget hotel in Bavaro, I really enjoyed the chilled out atmosphere of the region. I enjoyed wandering the streets to find cosy cafe’s in which to eat and drink. The beach was a great place to go for a walk, a swim and enjoying some time soaking up the sun while reading a book. Beyond that, I found there was little to do in the region.

While I enjoyed my weekend away, I decided Punta Cana is not my kind of town. Being a resort town with huge number of tourists, it lacked the cultural aspects I prefer in my travels. If you like to swim at the beach and in the pool, sunbathe, drink and do little else, then Punta Cana is definitely a great place to visit!

CocoBongo

Amazing theatrics at CocoBongoI’m not the biggest party girl, but someone told me I *HAD* to go to CocoBongo while I was in Punta Cana. I dutifully booked my ticket, put my dancing shoes on and headed out.

CocoBongo is a combination between a disco and a live show. From 11pm to 4am, they alternate between dance and acrobatic performances and  general disco/nightclub dancing.

Girls are invited to dance on the central bar and various podiums. At random intervals they give out balloons. The best part for many people though, is the open bar.

Tickets cost USD$75, it includes hotel transfers, entry and of course the open bar. While the ticket is expensive, the inclusions make up for it and I can assure you it is a night out you will not regret!

Where to stay

Punta Cana is predominantly all-inclusive resorts, prices can be exorbitant through to affordable. Most of the affordable accomodation options are at nearby beach town El Cortecito / Bavaro. I found a reasonable option on Booking.com

In the event you want to travel into central Punta Cana, taxis cost 1000 pesos for the 10 minute drive, because they know you have no other option and they can charge what they like. Taking a moto-taxi is much more affordable for getting around the area.


Getting There

Expreso Bavaro travel multiple times per day to the Punta Cana region. Buses depart daily at 7, 9, 11, 13, 15 & 16 daily, they depart at the same times from Santo Domingo and from Bavaro.
This website made a nice summary of the information and the stops along the way.

The bus station in Santo Domingo is on Juan Sanchez Ramirez in Gascue, half a block from Metro stop Joaquín Balaguer.

Tickets are 400 pesos one way, they sell out quickly and do not take reservations, so you need to arrive early. The journey takes approximately 3.5 hours.

Punta Cana

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Living in Santo Domingo

After travelling for so long, I decided it was time to slow down. At this point in time an English teaching position was advertised in my twitter feed for a position at Academia Europea in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic… so off I went.

Dominican Republic

MaleconThe Dominican Republic is a country in the Caribbean. It can be found on the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with the country of Haiti to its west. I don’t know if it is true, but according to wikipedia it is the most visited country in the Caribbean.

The official language is Spanish, but they have a bit of their own spin on it. You will come across many colloquial phrases, and you will find pronounciation is not very clear. Around the more touristic areas, you will find people who speak snippets of English, enough to help you get by.

The country has a land size over just over 48,000 square kilometres, with an estimated population of over 10 million. The capital of the Dominican Republic is Santo Domingo, this is where I live and work.

Santo Domingo

The capital city of the Dominican Republic is Santo Domingo, in the country’s south. Unsurprisingly, it is the largest city in the country and has a population of around 1 million.

Most amazing things to see and do are outside of Santo Domingo, but around the city are a few architecturally fascinating buildings, some shopping malls and the two places I would recommend seeing, Zona Colonial and Santo Domingo East.

Zona Colonial

Sculpture at the MaleconThe primary attraction in Santo Domingo is Zona Colonial, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Wandering the streets of Zona Colonial gives you a look at the beautiful old Spanish architecture dating back to the 1500s.

Some of the highlights include:

  • Basilica Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor, the first cathedral in the Americas (Entry costs 40 pesos, or 60 with audio guide)
  • Alcazar de Colon, home built by Diego Colon, son of Christopher Columbus (I’m not sure if it’s free entry but I wandered in without paying)
  • Ruinas del Hospital San Nicolas de Bari (I’m not sure if it’s free entry but I wandered in without paying)
  • Plaza de España
  • Pantheon Nacional (I’m not sure if it’s free entry but I wandered in without paying)
  • Calle Las Damas
  • Calle El Conde
  • Calle Hostos
  • Parque Independencia
  • Parque Colon
  • The Malecon

Alcazar de Colon at night

Santo Domingo East

Across the river from central Santo Domingo and Zona Colonial are two sights worth visiting.

Faro a ColonLos Tres Ojos – is a national park with some beautiful gardens and simply stunning sink holes. Entry costs 100 pesos, and the little boat trip across one of the sink holes costs 50 pesos. A guide will try to rent you their services, but in my opinion you do not need a guide.

Faro a Colon – the lighthouse of Christopher Columbus, it is a museum, church and tomb. When I tried to visit it was closed, so I am not sure of the price.

The two sights are very close to each other, however it is a particularly unsafe area, take taxi’s or uber everywhere.

Getting Around

Uber

The most easy and reliable way to get around, but it can become expensive.
If you don’t have an Uber account, sign up using my code to get a free ride: cats355ue

Taxi

Very expensive, ideally you need the contact details for a specific company/driver and you need to be able to speak Spanish.

Public Taxis/Cars

Los Tres OjosPublic cars run the length, up and down, of main streets. You hop in, pay 25 pesos and jump out when you want (longer trajectories will charge up to 50 pesos). They are identifiable mostly because they toot their horn and wave their arm out the window at you to see if you want a lift, they are typically beat up cars with a street name on their roof sign or windshield sticker.
Note: These cars are usually quite full and they will happily fit 6 adults into a car, so get ready to squash in!

Buses

Buses are quite hard to figure out, some run the length of streets, like public cars, others have routes that are probably set, but there are no bus schedules or routes available online or anywhere else. In some cases you just jump on and hope for the best!

Metro

The Metro/ Subway system is very limited, there are only two lines. In the event you want to go somewhere along those lines then it is a very cost effective, safe, reliable means of travel. A single trip costs 35 pesos, a daily card or rechargeable card is more cost effective and get the value of single trips down to as low as 20 pesos.

Walking

You can get anywhere you want by walking, the only issues are that distances can be quite large so it is time consuming, it is very hot and not many the streets of Santo Domingo are safe to walk.

Cultural attitude towards women

Something I think worth mentioning is the attitude towards women. Unfortunately catcalling is something women have to put up with in many countries, it’s often not intended in a malicious way but it still makes us feel uncomfortable.

My local fruit sellerIn the Dominican Republic, as a white girl travelling alone, this discomfort most definitely continues. As I walk the streets I am regularly hissed at, stared at and called out to.
“Rubia” “Gringa” “Americana”

Engaging in conversation with people, they rarely ask how I am, the first question out of a man’s mouth is “Are you married?”, “Do you have a boyfriend?” or “Where are your children?”
It is a foreign concept, that a woman my age would choose to be single, so the assumption is that there is something wrong with me or it must mean I want a Dominican man. Every second man will ask for your phone number within minutes of meeting.

My two main tips for dealing with this are:
a) put on your biggest grin, smile, say hello and just keep walking
b) lie, say you are married and wear a fake wedding ring (if you can find something cheap and nasty to wear, because anything that looks expensive might get stolen)

Safety in Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo, and the Dominican Republic in general, is not a particularly safe place. Do not wear expensive jewellery. Limit what you carry on your person in terms of valuable possessions and money. On the streets and even in cars, avoid having your cell phone or camera visible.

Muggings at gunpoint and theft in general are very common. Always have your wits about you, aim to walk around confidently as though you know where you are going and avoid walking the streets after dark.

Despite safety concerns, do not be deterred from visiting, just stay street smart.

Santo Domingo

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