Relaxing in the Dominican Republic...Que Vacano!
My trip to the Dominican Republic began with a flight from La Havana to Santo Domingo. I had plans to do nothing but simply relax on the beautiful beaches, listen to bachata, and have some delicious Dominican food and drinks. I ended up doing that and so much more! I had such an amazing time in the DR.
The flight from La Havana to SD was pretty expensive. It was over $200 with Cubana Airlines (local Cuban airline); however, there are only so many locations you can fly from to the DR. You can fly from Miami, Cancun, Panama, or Puerto Rico. I suggest that if you are not visiting Cuba during your trip, try to find another alternative for the flight in order to save some money.
Due to high tourism, transportation is expensive in the DR as well. If you are staying for at least 5 days in the island, I suggest that you rent a car. It is cheaper than taking multiple taxis and if you are going to other cities it allows you flexibility. The total car rental for a week was about $150 for me. Be careful where you make a deal though. As soon as you land while you are still inside the airport people will give you a "deal" if you book there with them but in reality you can get about 20%-30% cheaper prices if you book right outside the airport. The agencies there are walking distance and although they are the same companies as the ones inside the airport, they will quote you lower prices. I chose to go with nationalcar.com - National® - Santo Domingo - Instant Savings Today and I had a great experience.
I quickly drove to my apartment rental in Boca Chica, which is a quiet beach city about 30 minutes from Santo Domingo's city center but only about 8 minutes from the airport. I arrived at my apartment Condo Hotel Residencial Las Palmeras and it was just what I needed. Beachfront apartment, with a view, pool, restaurant, bar, car parking, and 24 hour security at under $50/night. I loved the amenities and the size of the apartment but my very favorite was the location. If you plan on staying in Santo Domingo and have one extra night to spare after landing or right before departing from SD airport please stay at least one night in Boca Chica. It is so undermined but I personally loved it even more than other popular beach destinations in the DR.
Right across the street from my apartment there is this Boca Marina | Restaurant & Lounge, which was just spectacular! I had heard of Neptunos. Menú, teléfono y precios del restaurante - Boca and intended to go there but the apartment owner really recommended Boca Marina. I was not only satisfied with the menu variety and exquisite food but also with the service and especially the view and the setting of the restaurant. It sit on a pier and you get a 360 view of the beach and the ocean. It is simply breathtaking! As if that's not enough, they have stairs for you to take a quick dive while you wait for your food or after you are done. I went for a dive while waiting for my meal and after two mojitos! I was completely... as Dominicans commonly say... Chillaxing!!!
I recommend going here for dinner as well... It's a completely different experience than during daytime. It's an all white party every day at this restaurant so put on your best white attire and enjoy a beautiful night here. Just one quick note for those wanting to take a night swim, usually if you go during hurricane season it is not allowed due to high tide.
My journey continued into Punta Cana. I drove east on the main highway for about 160km until I reached my next apartment in Bavaro beach Capri Beach House | Punta Cana. I try to stay away from those overpriced all inclusive resorts for two reasons: first, saving money in hotel will allow me to spend that money on other activities and travel to more places and second, I like to stay at private family owned or small hotels and apartments because it allows me to interact with the locals and I get to find all about the cool secret places they don't tell you about at all inclusive resorts.
So I arrived to Capri Beach House and immediately befriended the hotel manager, the cook and bartender and turns out that they are all related or friends. They quickly recommended me what things to do during my stay and although I had only planned on chillaxing, I ended up booking a few adventures for the next couple of days. After setting my schedule for the next few days I did nothing but enjoy a pina colada and enjoy the sunset. Oh... did I mention that this bartender makes the best piña coladas ever had?!
After tasting my first meal at Capri Beach House, I was convinced that this is where I wanted to have dinner; therefore, I enjoyed a delicious seafood meal while overlooking the ocean and feeling the ocean breeze... and of course... another piña colada.
I woke up early the next morning to enjoy a dominican breakfast and a view. Right after that I was picked up by the tour company to go ride dune buggies around the beach. This was such as fun experience. I ended up covered in mud but it was all worth it. We visited a cave (cenote) where we got to swim and cool off for a bit after the adventurous drive.
The tour also included a stop at a local home, where a family showed us how they make coffee and chocolate from scratch. Let's not forget the most important one... Mama Juana! This is a typical Dominican spirit that is concocted by allowing rum, red wine, and honey to soak in a bottle with tree bark and herbs. The taste is similar to port wine and the color is a deep red. I really enjoyed interacting with the locals and learning how they live.
Lastly, we ended up going to the beach and riding along the coast. We took a break and went "surfing" with the locals in a surf zone. Waves here were much larger than any other place in Punta Cana, it was a fun experience as well.
Lastly, I enjoyed a zip lining tour. It was a bit expensive in my opinion (around $80) but it was so worth it. The place we went to had 8 cables and had beautiful views. I ended the day relaxing at the beach and watching the sunset once again. All I could say is ... "Que Vacano!" Dominican slang for "how cool!"
After a couple of relaxing days in Punta Cana it was time to head back to Santo Domingo. I arrived to my hotel HOTEL CASA DEL SOL, SANTO DOMINGO, a small B&B in the center of the zona colonial (colonial zone). It was comfortable, offered great value, and is in a good location. It is walking distance to all the museums, the town square, and plenty of bars and restaurants. I only had one day to explore Santo Domingo and I had to strategically plan my day in order to see all the places in my priority list. Below are some pictures of my day tour in SD.
I loved the colonial touch throughout the whole city. Being from Antigua, Guatemala this type of architecture makes me feel at home. I visited the National palace and various churches. I also visited Christopher Colombus's last house, where he lived and died. Yes, he died in the Dominican Republic and no he was not born in Portugal or Spain as most people think. He was Italian born in Genoa, Italy, where his first house still stands.
As you probably already know by now, my favorite part about traveling is interacting with the locals. I enjoyed walking around and see how people live their day to day lives. I met these girls playing on the street and were excited to see me (tourist) and talking to them. I shared some school supplies with them and they were so excited.
I was able to visit all the sites I wanted and finally back to my hotel to rest and dinner. Although I rushed visiting the whole city in one day and was exhausted I felt accomplished. From this day I coined the sentence "I pulled a Santo Domingo" meaning that I visit a place at such high speed to be able to complete a visit in a limited amount of time. Little did I know that this would be my last truly relaxing day of the trip. The next day I was headed to the other side of the island... Haiti... oh what an adventure this was. The most stressful and adventurous day of my life (at this point). This story will be continued on the next blog post. For now, I enjoyed a lovely meal at a restaurant in the city center and some bachata music...Que Vacano!