So when I told people I had booked flights for Dominican Republic, everybody assumed I was going to stay in an all-in resort sunbathing on the beach. These people don’t know me well. Dominican Republic is much more than that. Let me take you in a relaxed and colourful country plenty of hidden gems.
A few days before Easter I landed in Punta Cana surrounded by binational families and couples ready to be babysitted by their travel agency for a week. I tried to go by public transport to Bavaro where I was staying but I must admit that after 25minutes I had to walk back and take a taxi (for 30 $/25 €).
I had found a room for 2 nights in a small hotel right by the sea: the Capri Beach House. I went for a mojito on the beach and straight away locals started talking with me. I was tired so quickly went to bed in my big room. Still jetlagged I woke up right in time for a long walk on the beach for sunset. Such a peaceful walk… Just me, a few joggers and men from the big resorts picking the algae that wash up all day on the pristine beaches.
Nothing more really to say about Punta Cana. I went back on the beach (Playa Los Corales) later during the day to rest a bit and relax before starting to explore the real Dominican Republic. It was quite hard to find a place to eat or drink that was not part of a fancy resort but there are a few such as the Capitan Cook restaurant where I had my first (but not last!) patacones of the trip! Fried, fried, fried, everything fried!
2 nights and one day in Punta Cana were enough for me. On Saturday morning, I had booked a catamaran trip with Pro Excursion Bayahibe to go to the Este National Park and Saona Island. They picked me up at my hotel for an extra 20$. The staff was super nice and fun, always ready to answer questions, pour us a glass of rum … and teach us a bit of bachata! But no worries, it was still a family trip (I was the one solo traveller), nothing too crazy.
I picked up my luggage from the agency and walked to my lovely hotel: Hotel Villa Iguana. Super quiet place (well… when you have ear plugs on not to hear the locals listening to reggaeton all day long!) with a nice tiny rooftop pool and fresh fruit for breakfast.
On the next day I wanted to go snorkeling but as I was not in high season and travelling alone, no trip was organised 😦 I decided to go read my book on the public beach of Bayahibe. Locals seem to be wondering why a European girl was doing there! But I enjoyed the beach and the transparent water.
- Frontoni Pizza: For some reason, Bayahibe is full of Italians! Italians means pizza! Check out this place.
- Playa Banco Bar: Enjoy a cocktail while watching sunset in this cute bar/restaurant serving customers since 1872!
My plan was to go North next but the easiest way was to pass by Santo Domingo. While preparing my trip, I found a picture of a schedule posted by a Trip Advisor user on a thread from a couple of years ago. I thought about a plan B in case it wasn’t running anymore but no, I was lucky! Posting the schedule of the Bayahibe – Santo Domingo bus here as it may help someone else one day. The cost was 250 pesos and the ride went smoothly.
Be careful when you arrive in Santo Domingo. Plaza Lama de la Duarte is not the safest place and some guy on the street told me to hide my phone as I was using it as a GPS.
I booked one night at the Island Life backpackers hostel but I’ll tell you more about it. Next morning, I took a Uber to the “Asotrapusa La Semana” bus stop to Las Terrenas. The schedule should be: 8.30/9.30/11.00/13.40/14.30/15.00. The bus will leave you at an intersection and you will need to take a motorbike to go to the main part of the town closer to the beach. It’s cheap, no worries.
Las Terrenas was my favourite place in Dominican Republic. I literally fell in love with the small beach town’s vibe. Leaving the place broke my heart.
I stayed at the beautiful and cozy Afreeka Beach Hotel. I stayed in a dorm (that was never full) but there are also lovely apartments and double rooms. Every evening, I would just cross the road, lay down on a sunbed and enjoy the colourful sunset with the music of the hotel in the background.
What to do in Las Terrenas? It’s a famous kitesurfing spot but there are many other things to do:
- Los Haitises National Park: you just cannot miss the visit to this national park made of many tiny islands that look like the Ha Long Bay in Vietnam! You will also find intriguing mangrove forests and caverns with pietroglyphs. I travelled with Arena Tours. The trip was lovely, the guides very nice, they chose a beautiful and relaxing eco-lodge for a delicious lunch buffet and… we had a surprise visit during our boat trip from Sanchez to the park!
- El Limón waterfall: a pretty typical excursion that agencies organise but you can actually go yourself with a guagua, the charming local bus, to El Limón. When I arrived there, the locals find me someone that drove me for free with a bike to take a horse ride to the waterfall. The ride was nice and exotic but I then realised my young guide was not treating the horse very well, was flirting a bit too much and also blocked me on the horse in the middle of the water shortly before the end of the ride to ask me for a biiig tip. I wasn’t at ease at all. Maybe better to go walking or go through a trusted agency.
- Las Terrenas: the small town is a nice place to hang out in the Fishermen Village (only a name), go buy a cigare in local shop or a French bread at the Boulangerie Française, have at drink at Mojitos, danse all night long at the Mosquito Bar or eat a delicous steak at El Lugar.
- Snorkeling: I did a morning snorkeling session around Las Ballenas islands with Turtle Dive Centre. The team was super nice but the sea was quite rough on that day and all the tourists of the day got sick… Not the best souvenir of my trip! If you like diving, the company is running a coral nursery that you can discover underwater. Money well spent!
After staying one extra day in Las Terrenas, I decided to go towards my last stop on the Northern coast of the country: Cabarete.
I took a guagua from Las Terrenas to Sanchez, and took a bus in front of the Texaco gas station. I had found that the bus was going to stop at 10:20 but it was actually later, just ask the girls at the gas station’s bar. There’s also an very early small bus leaving directly from Las Terrenas to Cabarete at 6.30am.
Cabarete is a big beach town with restaurants one after the other and beaches packed with families. I’ll be honest: it was quite a disappointment after my pretty Las Terrenas. I would recommend to go if you like this packed atmosphere or if you would like to do kitesurfing, which Cabarete is very famous for.
I stayed in a super nice hostel that looks like a mini-castel: the Laguna Park hostel. It’s very big house with a swimming pool, large inside and outside chilling areas and comfortable dorms. The only ‘down’ side is that you will need to call a motoconcho to go there as it’s a good 10 minutes walk from the main road and another 5 to the bars and restaurants zone.
After a short stay in Cabarete, I took a guagua to Sosua and a Caribe Tour bus back to the capital. It leaves every hour (450 pesos). Take a big coat: I was freezing so much for 3 hours that my neighbour offered me a coffee! The Caribe Tour bus station in Santo Domingo is not located in the centre. I advise you to take a taxi or a Uber.
Santo Domingo is probably not the most exciting city I’ve visited but there are some nice areas to discover in the Zona Colonial. Go for a walk around Parque Colón, visit the Catedral, take a look at the Convento y Iglesia de Los Domenicos, stroll along El Conde and have a drink on Plaza de España in front of the Alcázar de Colón (my favourite place!)
As mentioned above, I stayed in the lovely Island Life hostel: the entrance is a big welcoming bar, the owner has sweet animals, the bathrooms are very clean, the breakfast is very good and the inside area is relaxing and beautiful. A must-stay!
Time to leave and take a ride (booked by the hostel) to the airport in Santo Domingo. I’m glad I discovered what’s behind the famous but shallow resorts of Punta Cana!