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Little Corn Island – Isla Pequeña del Maíz

The Corn Islands are a pair of islands roughly 70 kilometres off the western coast of Nicaragua, in the Caribbean Sea. They are known as Big Corn and Little Corn Island.

As the name suggests, Big Corn Island is the bigger of the two. It is geographically larger than Little Corn by 3 times, at roughly 10 square kilometres. It has an airport, cars, shops, ATMs, resorts etc.

Little Corn Island is 2.9 square kilometres, has some beach shacks, basic hotels, restaurants, and all traffic is by foot or bicycle. The island runs on generator power and can only afford diesel to run the generator for part of each day. As a result there is no electricity on the island between 06:00 and 13:00, though some restaurants run their own generators for this time period.

View from Otto Beach, north Little Corn

Our Stay at Little Corn Island

Visiting Little Corn Island was actually the trigger for wanting to visit Nicaragua. I saw some spectacular pictures and since then I have been wanting to visit. We decided to conclude our Nicaraguan adventure with some beach time. Taking life back to basics, is a great way to relax and visiting Little Corn Island is one of my highest recommendations for a trip to Nicaragua.

There are several activities on offer on the island, including kite-surfing, snorkelling, diving and fishing trips. A number of people we met had travelled to Little Corn Island to achieve their PADI diving certificates at an affordable cost. In the evenings there are always things happening such as live bands, quiz nights and so on.

The Lighthouse Hostel have a day tour “Island Trip” which includes a boat ride, snorkelling, fishing, a beach BBQ to cook the fish you caught and beach party to watch the sunset from the beach.

Exploring the Island

On the whole, the island is so tiny, there isn’t that much to see or do except relax. There are many beaches to choose from where you can swim, snorkel, sunbathe or soak up the atmosphere from the shade.

We decided to walk as much of the island as possible, and as long as you are prepared to get your feet wet, you can walk a large chunk of the islands perimeter. The southern tip and northern easter corner have some rocks and cliffs which make walking a full perimeter impossible.

View of Southern Little Corn IslandFrom the centre of town we walked across the trail from West to East. We walked along the Eastern beaches, through some of the beach bungalow accommodations and up to the kitesurfing school. At the kitesurfing school, you need to go inland for a section to get around a rocky outcropping. Following the trail, you pop back onto the North Eastern beaches and can continue along through to the main Northern beach, Otto Beach. From Otto Beach it is best to walk back through the island main trail, back to town.

If you do this island walk you can do it in less than three hours easily, but I’d recommend taking your time to enjoy the scenery, stop by some of the beach bungalows for a drink or a snack, or take a dip in the sea.

Snorkelling

You can rent snorkelling equipment from your accommodation or from a few different places in town, for around USD$3-$5 per day. There are a few spots on the island where you can go snorkelling from the beach. We were advised that the best place to go was the northern Otto Beach. The staff at the Otto beach bar can advise you exactly where to go. This is not a recommendation but more of an necessity due safety, because it is also near a boat route.

Snorkelling Excursion

To see a greater variety of underwater life, I would highly recommend taking a snorkelling excursion for USD$20. Boat’s leave from the town and an excursion takes around 3 hours. We were taken to three different reef spots around the northern tip of the island.

By taking the boat further off the coast we were able to see a much greater variety of sea life than by swimming from the shore. It was absolutely spectacular. We saw various types of fish of all sorts of colours, shapes and sizes; one or two breed of sting ray; and the highlight were the sharks.

Food

Being in the Caribbean Sea means that fresh seafood is a popular menu item on Little Corn Island, with various species of fish on offer and what I consider the highlight: Lobster!

Lobster Tail Meal at Rosa'aAlmost the entire population of Little Corn is on one main strip on the islands eastern side. This is where you will find the vast majority of the restaurant.

The best meal for the best price that we had was at Rosa’s, a short way off the main strip in the direction of the west side of the island. It is a very local, family run restaurant. The staff were so friendly. We both ordered a dish with a full lobster tail, it came with a starter and a dessert and was only USD$7.

The Beach Bar, Tranquilo and Desideri were among our favourites places to eat, though they were in the higher price bracket.

A meal recommendation which were were given but did not follow through on is Darinia’s Kitchen.

Accommodation

Accommodation is dependent on budget and travel style. We originally wanted to stay on the northern end of the island, but due to availability this was not an option, so we stayed in town. In hindsight we were very grateful for this, as people staying on the northern end had a 30 minute night jungle hike with no light, sometimes during a tropical downpour.

In town two highly recommended hostels are The Lighthouse which is very quickly booked out, and Green House Hostel.

We stayed at Green House Hostel, which was managed by Corn Island local Georgia. The facilities were really clean, well located and had a brilliant friendly vibe amongst staff and guests. Georgia and the other staff members were absolutely brilliant in providing advice on best beaches for different things, best places to eat etc. It felt a bit like a happy family at Green House and we truly enjoyed our stay.

Money

There are no ATMs on Little Corn Island, so you need to bring your wads of cash with you. Typically everywhere works on a cash basis, even accommodation.

There are a few restaurants/cafes that will accept credit card but there’s an extra charge, around 3%. If you are really desperate for charge your credit card and give you the cash, but the commission on this is 10%.

Also be aware when planning how much cash to bring, Little Corn is very expensive. All prices are listed in USD$, though you can pay with Cordoba. The prices are in my opinion also US prices, meals can be up to USD$18 and activities typically start at $20.

Getting There and Away

The recommended way of getting to Little Corn Islands is to fly from Managua to Big Corn Island, then take a panga (boat) to Little Corn Island.

Flight to/from Big Corn Island

La Costeña are the only airline flying this route. If you book directly on the phone with La Costeña you will get the best price, booking online or via a travel agent will incur extra costs. Also via La Costeña directly more flight times are available than online. A return flight should be around USD$165 plus taxes and other charges depending on where and how you book.
Note: Airport tax is USD$2 per person each direction.

If you aren’t sure of exactly how many days you want to stay on the Corn Islands, La Costeña also offer an open return ticket where you can leave the return date open.

Ferry to/from Little Corn Island

Panga Ride to Little Corn Island

On arrival on Big Corn Island a taxi collectivo to the ferry terminal costs 20 Cordoba per person.

The panga (ferry) costs approximately 120 Cordoba per person, ID required. As soon as the ticket booth opens you need to queue for the ticket as there are limited  seats. If they decide to send a second boat the price per person increases. The ferries operate on a fixed schedule, and there are only two ‘guaranteed’ departures per day in each direction. Big Corn to Little Corn runs at 11:30 and 16:30 daily. The return trip is at 06:30 or 13:30 daily.

The panga ride to Little Corn is approximately 30-40 minutes and the sea is typically quite rough. Be prepared for a bumpy ride and to get soaking wet! Your main bag will be in the boat storage space. You will have your daypack on your lap, so I recommend protecting it with a bag coat and/or plastic bags.

Note: You can also take a panga from Bluefields on the Eastern Coast of Nicaragua, through to the Corn Islands. I heard that the trip is 6 hours of rough weather, involving crying and puking passengers. There were no positive recommendations for this transport option.

Little Corn Island

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Matagalpa, Nicaragua

Matagalpa is in the northern, hilly region of Nicaragua, known as the coffee region. We were really interested to head to Jinotega to check out the heart of the coffee region, but with limited time we opted to visit Matagalpa instead.

Our stay in Matagalpa

To be honest Matagalpa was a little disappointing for us. It was a fairly small city, densely populated and very urbanized. We didn’t really enjoying being amidst the hustle and bustle. Also being in the mountains was unexpectedly cold, for which we were most certainly unprepared. Regardless we made the most of our time there wandering the streets checking out the local architecture and the fruit from the street sellers.

Selva Negra Coffee Plantation

Beautiful old trees in the forests of Selva Negra PlantationThe goal of heading to Matagalpa was for the coffee, so we caught a bus further into the hills to coffee plantation Selva Negra. It is a large farm designed for agriculture and tourism. They offer farm tours, cacao and coffee tours; or you can simply pay the entry fee to explore their hill trails by yourself.

Unfortunately due to the rain the coffee tour was cancelled (it was kind of a bonus since the tour was a lot more expensive than we actually wanted to pay USD$22). So after enjoying a cup of the Selva Negra coffee in their lakeside cafe, we explored the hill trails in the forest – which were absolutely wonderful. Lush green vegetation, monster trees and some interesting species’ of funghi. Despite being on the lookout for monkeys we weren’t lucky enough to spot any.

Entry to the farm is 100 Cordoba, or 200 Cordoba which is redeemable but it was unclear in which situation it was redeemed.

The bus ride to Selva Negra was 13 Cordoba on the bus route to Jinotega, and the bus driver was so kind as to tell us when to get off.

Accommodation

We stayed at Hostal Martina’s Place. It was a very large dorm room, though they also offer private rooms. Considering there were so few guests the large dorm was not an issue. The hostel was very clean, with a good location and good facilities. The only strange thing was having to pay a deposit for plates, and cutlery if you chose to cook your own meal.

Hostal La Buena Onda also looked good and also had a tour desk for asking questions about tours.

Getting There and Away

Express buses travel regularly between Matagalpa and Leon. The journey is 81 Cordoba and approximately 3 hours.

Matagalpa

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Leon, Nicaragua

After Managua, Leon is the largest city in Nicaragua with a population of approximately 145,00 people. It didn’t feel like a busy city, though the city vibe was more buzzing than Granada.

We stayed in Leon for several days, left and then returned for another day or so. Leon is a good central point to use as a base for a short while. From Leon there are loads of cool activities to do, some of which we enjoyed and others we would have done if we had more time.

Catedral Basilica de la Asuncion in Leon

Our Stay in Leon

As with any city my ideal way to explore is on foot, take random streets, wander and get lost.  The city of Leon is wonderfully charming, it is full of  bright colours and colonial architecture, peppered with grand cathedrals and green parks, with volcanos and forests in the distance.

The revolution museum is a place I heard good things about and would like to visit if I were ever to go back.

Aside from some exploratory wanderings around the city,  most time spent in Leon was doing tours.

Free Walking Tour

To get to know a bit about the city and the history we did a free walking tour. It was roughly 90 minutes exploring the inner city,  and learning the history through the political murals painted in various places. The guide Sebastian was from France but had been a Leon resident for quite some time, and while the accent was a little hard to understand, he had a true passion for sharing the history of culture of this beautiful colonial city with a rather turbulent past.

The tour starts in a small office near the NW corner of the cathedral, opposite the park with the huge mural.

Catedral Basilica de la Ascunsion

Rooftop views from Catedral Basilica de la AscunsionThe main cathedral of the city is the size of a full city block and faces Parque Central. It was built to survive earthquakes and so far has held true to construction as it is the only church to have remained in tact during several earthquakes over time. It is perhaps the largest church in Central America and is a beautiful old building that is free to visit.

The most fascinating aspect of the cathedral are the five doors on the cathedral floor. These do not lead to a basement, crypt or cellar, rather they are escape tunnels leading to other churches. The were constructed during the time of pirate raids to help preserve life during pirate attack.

In addition to exploring the interior of the cathedral, I would recommend a visit to the rooftop. Tickets are USD$3 and purchased from a random door found outside at the back of the church. Entrance to the rooftop is from the NW corner. The cathedral rooftop has a beautiful display of domes to wander around and and offers spectacular views of the city and to volcanoes in the distance.

Quetzaltrekkers

Quetzaltrekkers is the name of one of the many adventure tour operators in the city. We booked our adventures activities with this company as they have a safety first attitude and a community focus. All profits feed directly back into the community to fund education and rehabilitation programs for the children.
All guides are volunteers.
Note: Quetzaltrekkers discount if you do multiple tours.

Telica Sunset Hike

Looking over the rim of active Telica VolcanoTelica Volcano is one of the tallest volcanoes in Nicaragua, and it is where you can hike directly to the rim at 900metres and peer into the belly of the volcano. We did the sunset hike up Telica to see it both during the day and at night, with a spectacular sunset in between. Unfortunately there were so many sulfur clouds we could not see the lava, but walking the rim of an active volcano was really quite the experience.

The hike up was relatively short, approximately 45 minutes. We spent some time at the crater edge before walking further away to have a better view of the full volcano. Before sitting on the side of the volcano enjoying a packed dinner, watching the sun set in the direction of the ocean. One of the most beautiful sunsets of my life!

Sunset from Telica VolcanoWe ended our hike with an attempt to see the glowing lava in the volcano after the sun had set, but the billowing clouds of sulfur weren’t working with us. We hiked to the base of the volcano by torchlight and bumped our way back into town in the 4WD.

The Telica volcano is absolutely beautiful. Being so close to the rim, looking in to the belly of the beast so to speak, is pretty amazing!

The tour cost USD$45 per person (cost varies on group size). The full excursion is approximately 6.5hours and includes transport, water, snacks, dinner and a free t-shirt.

Volcano Boarding

Cerro Negro is a young and active volcano a short drive out of Leon. It’s quite a small volcano, only 500-600metres high, with a wide open top consisting of two craters and a very steep hike up. An eruption spewing fine ash enabled the creation of a new activity Volcano Boarding.

Cerro Negro in Nicaragua is, to my knowledge, the only place where volcano boarding exists as an adventure activity. As such, this activity has been on my bucket list for some time.

The hike up to the crater edge is reasonably challenging with a volcano board strapped to your back, hot weather, a steep climb and high winds. I actually found the last stretch along the rim of the crater quite scary. However the hike is worth the effort. At the top you can see into the crater, feel the heat in the ash and see spirals of sulfur escaping the hot ground. After taking in the wonderful view and active volcano experience it’s time to suit up and go over the safety talk.

With clear instructions the group split into two and lined up behind the ‘lanes’, one by one on the signal of our guide we took turns on our volcano board sledding down the side of the active volcano. The speed is dictated by you, using your body position and feet to control acceleration. As a bit of a chicken I went reasonably slow, I found the experience a little bit frightening but incredibly exhilarating and fun!! So much so, that I opted to risk the scary, windy, walk up for a second ride.

There’s nothing quite like sledding down the side of an active volcano, with wind and volcanic ash in your hair. WOW!

The tour costs  USD$30, and is approximately 6 hours. Quetzaltrekkers are the only company who allow the group to make two rides down the volcano. Included in the cost is transport, all protective clothing, equipment, water, snacks, lunch and a free t-shirt.

Food

Taco food truck in central LeonI didn’t really have any outstanding meals in Leon. Though I can still manage three recommendations.

The taco truck parked on the street 1ra Av. NO between Calle de Ruben Dario and 1ra Calle NO.

Comedor San Benito also on street 1ra Av. NO is brilliantly priced buffet style local food. We ate there numerous times, the food quality and quantity was great. We ate with the locals, and with such a busy location the food was always incredibly fresh.

Antonino’s had some great pizza at a reasonable price. It’s certainly not typical Nicaraguan, but nevertheless tasty, good food.

Accommodation

We had two stays in Leon, three nights and later one night.

We spent three nights at Hostal El Jardin. Location was good, prices were reasonable, some staff were great and others less so. We were very unimpressed with the cleaning. Our private room was not cleaned for our entire stay. I consider this unacceptable since all toilet paper is thrown in an open trash can in a room that is poorly ventilated and close to 30 degrees celsius. Also we used the laundry service for our clothes and we received them back just as dirty as we sent them in, though smelling mildly better.

Our single night stay was at Blue House Hostel when transiting through from northern Nicaragua to Managua. Blue House was also very well located, staff spoke fantastic english. Rooms were better ventilated than at El Jardin and were more spacious. The hostel had quite the party vibe, which didn’t bother us too much as it was only one night.

Getting There and Away

We travelled to Leon from San Juan del Sur, via Rivas and Managua; then we travelled north to Matagalpa before heading back south to Leon and then Managua.

Connecting between Managua and Leon the UCA buses depart from Mercado Israel Lewites Oeste and cost 61 Cordoba. The trip is around 2 hours.

Between Leon to Matagalpa, we travelled with an expreso bus, for 83 Cordoba. You need to buy a ticket and you are given an assigned seat. The ride takes approximately three hours.

Leon, Nicaragua

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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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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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