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Dominican Republic

Dominican Republic: Santo Domingo.... I love this city

Tales of my love for the Capital of the Caribbean....the emerging cosmopolitan megatropolis.

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Santo Domingo is the largest city of the Caribbean islands, with roughly five million inhabitants in the sprawling tropical megatropolis.
From the super swish upmarket areas with twinkling towers of first class apartments and malls to the gritty yet boisterous areas to the east, the city offers a full spectrum. Perhaps sadly, Santo Domingo is overlooked by visitors in favour of the beach resorts - though really, the city is an undiscovered gem.
I stayed here for roughly six weeks in total and loved every moment.

Lifestyle

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The weather is always warm and usually sunny.
There are many outdoor restaurants by the sea, in the gorgeous tree lined streets or by the ancient plazas in town.
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Dominicans love their malls - and the ones here rival anywhere else in the world. They also love to party and have fun, and there are many nightlife options and always some kind of fiesta going on.

It's one of the most welcoming cities I have ever been to.
If you're looking for a great, warm and very affordable city to spend time in, then SD is a great option.

Accommodation

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There are many wonderful hotels in the city, mostly clustered in Zona Colonial - the beautiful historic area, which is probably the oldest of the new world.... Santo Domingo was founded in the late 1400's!!

I rented an apartment in Zona Universidad, close to where I studied Spanish.
The building had a private rooftop pool and fantastic gym. Even if you're staying just a couple of days, I recommend using Airbnb - there are many great options there.

Nightlife

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Zona Colonial has a myriad of amazing options - great restaurants, discoteques, bars and everything in between.
This area is safe to walk around at night.

If you're feeling a bit more adventurous, you can venture to Avenida Venezuela on the east side of town - this area is a lot more local and arguably a lot more fun. You will hear only Dominican music here - bachata, merengue and salsa - whereas the posher areas cater to more international music tastes.

Dominicans love also to gamble. There are more casinos here per capita than probably anywhere else in the Caribbean. Each one has a nightclub and restaurant attached that hold late licences. You'll find they get busy after the discotheques close.

My favourite nightlife venues are Jetset (live Salsa) and Merengue Club (owned by legend Juan Luis Guerra).
The baller, high roller club in town is definitely VIP Room. The carpark here is full of Porsches, Bentleys and even Lambos on a Saturday night. It'ds super flashy and pretty "urban".
No traditional Salsa or Bachata here... strictly modern banging electronic music and Reggaeton beats.
I lived across the road from this place and often just dropped by to observe the "make it rain" chaos of spoiled brats falling over themselves in overpriced clothes with a skin full of France and Peru's finest exports.

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For a truly Dominican experience, visit almost any colmado (off licence/bottle shop) around 6pm, sit down on a plastic chair amongst the many, share a cold longneck and get up once in a while for a bachata dance; as Dominican's do most nights after work.

Music and Dance

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Music has been an intrinsic part of Dominican culture for 700 years!!!!
If you like Cuba, you will love the DR in that sense. Merenque and Bachata are the most popular forms invented here. Bachatero, Romeo Santos is probably the biggest Spanish singing star in the world right now. He literally brought bachata from it's humble beginnings as Dominican "country music" to the billions. You can hear bachata and find dance classes in almost every country in the world these days... good work Romeo!
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If you want a real taste of Dominican music culture, then attending the weekly concert at the San Fransisco ruins on a Sunday night is a must.
Every Sunday night literally thousands of Dominicans go to the ruins, and buy beer and barbeque from the stalls and watch/listen to legends Grupo Bonye play marathon sets of Merengue and Salsa. The whole crowd mingles, dances and socialises. It's really, really amazing and one of my favourite experiences in Santo Domingo.
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Throughout other nights of the week smaller ensembles play free concerts throughout Zona Colonial, so keep your ears to the ground.

I studied Salsa at the University Autonoma of Santo Domingo in the evenings. I loved energy and the enthusiasm of the classes.
It was great to learn from the many master who participated, like these two:
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Sports

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Dominicans dominate world baseball. They have the most players per capita in the A League in the USA, and crush in world tournaments. There are many options to play, even casually. If you're staying a while, I recommend signing up at one of the universities. Normally they just charge a small fee for non students to join sports and dance classes.

The national Olympic training centres are in the heart of the city.
I was lucky enough to visit the martial arts centre there.
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Spanish Classes

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I studied Spanish at Dominico Americano. It's the most reputable language school in the country, primarily for teaching English to locals. They run courses for kids and adults. Their Spanish for foreigners course was great. I had a private teacher for four hours per day at a very reasonable cost of roughly USD$100 per week.
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Shopping

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The malls here are first class. Most of the popular brands are here too from Zara to Prada.
Blue Mall in Piantini is posher than posh, with elevated prices, valet service, etc. At the other end is the enormous everyman mall Megacentro, in the east side.
Agora Mall is my favourite. It's one of the biggest, with all the usual brands and a great food court.

Transport

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Santo Domingo is the only city in the Caribbean with a metro system. It is underground, clean and perfectly safe to use.
Uber is also in the DR. I strongly recommend using it here. The drivers take their jobs seriously and have clean cars, etc. The rates are quite cheap.

Safety

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I didn't have a single problem during my time in the DR. It's best to follow simple common sense regardless of where you are - don't walk anywhere alone at night, keep the bling to a minimum when walking around and try speak at least some Spanish.

Adieu Republica Dominicana

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Well, three months in the DR went mighty fast and it was a blast.
It was sad to say farewell to both my friends and the great places there.
I can't wait to go back!!

Posted by SkinnyFists 08:20 Archived in Dominican Republic Tagged baseball dominican_republic santo_domingo merengue bachata dominicano_americano Comments (1)

Dominican Republic Part 2 (South Coast)

This article details my time in the magnificent and stunning south of the Dominican Republic; including Punta Cana, Barahona, Las Aguilas, the border at Haiti and more.

Intro

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The north and south of the DR are dramatically different, especially in terms of terrain. The north is lush and mountainous, whereas the south is pretty dry and desert like in some parts.

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The sea patterns also differ greatly coast to coast. The north has big waves fit for surfing and sports and the south is where you see the picture perfect, absolutely still, crystal blue water and bright white sand.

Punta Cana

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Punta Cana is the DR's most famous area, and is jam packed with resorts.
All of the beaches are incredible however Bavaro beach really takes the cake.

It's absolutely breathtaking - no wonder there are a myriad of high end all inclusive resorts here.
Whilst Punta Cana is amazing, finding Dominican culture requires stepping out of the resorts and going to where local people actually live.

I stayed at MT; an Italian run small hotel away from the beach, which was the best decision I made for the region.
I got to meet and hang out with local folks who work at the big hotels, and also went to the crazy, raucous clubs where the real parties are.
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Drink Point in Bavaro is one of my favourite spots in the world to have fun.
The vibe is loud, boisterous and unpretentionous in true Dominican spirit, and the drinks are pretty cheap.
The dancefloor is active!! No point being shy here.
When Drink Point closes, the party continues at Legacy until well after sunrise.
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I met people from all over the world, including a crazy bunch from St Martin and Guadalupe, who inpired me to travel more in the undiscovered Caribbean.

Whilst the beaches are overcomercialised, and the area is devoid of any real Dominican culture, I still had a great time in Punta Cana.
I haven't been to Cancun but many people say Punta Cana has the same vibe - there is even a Coco Bongo here.
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Whithout doubt Punta Cana is gorgeous, and great if you want to just switch off.
The DR is so big and varied it would be a shame not to check out the other places written about here too.

Bayahibe

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Bayahibe is a tiny little village with an amazing beach and the gateway to Isla Saona.
There are a tons of dive shops here with dive masters and staff from all over the world - so it's a very mixed vibe where everyone knows eachother. Integrating as a visitor is easy. The whole town congregates at the local colmado where there is loud music and flowing conversation and Presidentes (local beer).

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I did several awesome dives in the area.
The visibility was outstanding in these waters.... you can literally see for miles, and there is plenty of coal and oceanlife.

Isla Saona

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Isla Saona is something to behold... it's simply stunning.
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This is a MUST stop in the DR and likely to be a bucket list item for acquatic folks.
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There are many companies that ferry people out to the island from Bayahibe (staying on the island is forbidden) on party or luxury boats and usually include packages for lunch and stopping at snorkelling sites on the way back.

La Romana

As you get further away from Punta Cana towards Santo Domingo, things get a lot more local.
La Romana is a busy industrial city with not much to offer the visitor.
However if you are here to meet locals and experience real Dominican culture, you can blend in and have a blast.

The cab driver who ferried me around, took me out one night with his mates.
In the DR, people party at car washes after hours.... where almost anything goes.

San Pedro de Macoris

This is the only city, that I don't recommend unless you have your own car, speak fluent spanish and look Dominican.
That's not to say it isn't safe (it probably isn't though) - but it gets dark and shady at night, and even during the day, it's a bit worn out and ropey.
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Sadly, it seems infrastructure and government spending favours tourist areas, whilst the others battle along, neglected.

There is only one hotel in town!!
The only other real option for tourists is a big apartment block that rents out apartments per day.
I took the plunge there and it turned out to be awesome!! Very well appointed and really comfy.
Two nights was much more than enough though.
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On a brighter note, San Pedro de Macoris produces more professional A Leaguel baseball players per capita than anywhere else on earth.... and interestingly they also play cricket here!
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Boca Chica

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Boca Chica is the closest big beach to Santo Domingo.
The beach itself is quite nice, however the water doesn't get any deeper than waiste height.
On weekends the town is PACKED. Great if you want to experience Dominicans in all out party and holiday mode.
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Many German and Italian fellows have moved here, opening restaurants and guest houses - plenty of pizza and schnitzel options wherever you look, not to mention great coffee.

Perdenales and Haitian Border

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This was a little bit of a sad/eye opening part of the trip, at the Haitin Border. Even at the border, the contrast between Haitian and Dominican quality of life is both real and very jarring. Haitian kids cross to the Dominican side to hustle up a few pesos to take home.
Security is pretty tight, but everything was pretty calm.
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The DR and Haiti have a complicated relationship, though as a developing country itself, the DR does what it can to help Haiti. Haitians can pass to, and work fairly freely in the DR. I'd recommend visiting here if you want to see the contrast, and to remind yourself of how lucky you are in life.
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Barahona

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EVERYONE who I met in the DR said the same thing to me.... "You have to visit Barahona and Las Aguilas (the beach close by). It is the most beautiful part of the country.
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Well, I have to agree. It's just stunning!!
Because of it's tricky location and lack of direct transport options... and no surrounding hotels (it's all national park), it's relatively quiet, with few-to-no foreign tourists.
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Barahona town itself is very small, very nice, and caters to Dominican tourists - so expect great Dominican food, loud Bachata and Dem Bo music and BIG groups.
Dominicans love to socialise and when they go out, the entire extended family/neighbourhood is in on the fun.
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Las Aguilas

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It is kinda difficult to get to. You have to drive to Barahona first, and then take a chartered boat to the beach.... but even the boat journey on the way to the beach is spectacular... and when you arrive.... well it's magnificent.
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The beach is very quiet, with perfect white sand and calm blue waters. It's the stunning and quiet antithesis to Punta Cana.
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This was essentially my last stop in the DR and a gorgeous way to finish.
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Stay tuned for my write up on the Caribbean Capital, Santo Domingo...
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Posted by SkinnyFists 21:39 Archived in Dominican Republic Tagged dominican_republic bayahibe la_romana punta_cana san_pedro_de_macoris Comments (0)

Dominican Republic: Part 1 (North Coast)

This article summarises the first of three awesome months spent in the Dominican Republic. Beaches, bachata, dancing, nighlife and trekking...plus warm boisterous culture and more.

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Welcome to the DR....

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Here's my favourite Dominican salsero and his classic from last year; as heard blasting in every bar, colmado, store, loungeroom and car in the DR.

Stay tuned for more articles about the Caribbean and music; because really no region on Earth has produced such a wide variety of strong musical influence across the world- from Salsa, Bachata and Merengue to Calypso and Reggae - it all came from the Caribbean islands via ancestral African influence.

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Knowing little about the DR I had originally planned to just pass through for two weeks, but before I knew it three months had passed, (and I wasn't ready to leave then).

The DR is the oldest country in the new world.
Columbus plotted world conquest from here, and the first batch of slaves were dragged to Puerto Plata.

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Santo Domingo is one of my favourite cities in the world. It has an underground metro (the only one in the Caribbean islands), awesome malls, great nightlife, incredible restaurants.... and for long termers - apartment blocks that rival even my home town in Melbourne.

Dominicans are friendly, welcoming, stylish, jovial, outgoing, cheeky and incredibly smooth, suave cats.
Santo Domingo marks what Havana could have become. The US colonised for a while and the SD is still the city of choice for US companies to set up shop in the Caribbean.

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I'll write a separate article on Santo Domingo (where I spent most of my time) later also.
Anyway here are some notes specofocally on the north where I spent the first 6 weeks.

Santiago

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Santiago is the second largest city in the country, but noticeably smaller, quieter and more manageable than Santo Domingo.
There are great parks and a few small malls to keep shoppers busy, and incredible nightlife.
Dominicans know how to party and have fun. There are a myriad of clubs and outdoor bars here.
People get around in collectivo taxis which are safe and fine to use.
Uber also operates here, which is highly recommended.
Uber drivers here are very serious about their work and keep their cars in top nic. Maintaining solid reviews is important to them.
Santiago is great for a few days.

Sosua

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It's notable here that during World War 2 the DR government granted asylum and safe passage to all Jews facing persecution. Most of those Jews came to Sosua. There is an interesting Jewish museum here outlining this interesting piece of history and with information about the DR's Jewish community.

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Sosua was once also known as the Pattaya of Latin America/Caribbean. A wild west of naughty clubs where big white wales would fly down from the US and Canada for "golfing holidays" and spend time with holiday girlfriends.
The DR government has since cleaned the place up in view of making the areas more family friendly.

Otherwise it's a great little town with a fantastic beach (note enormous waves), and an interesting walking street along the coast with restaurants, cafes and bars.

The town is interesting because it caters to both families and (still to) North American single men. Hotels have all of the sports/movie channels and you can choose from finer dining, American style burgers n fries, and traditional Dominican food.

Cabarete

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Literally 20 minutes down the road is the kitesurfing capital of the world, Cabarete. It is very, very different to Sosua.
Rather than the lads on tour, Cabarete has the young sports nut adventure seekers.
The beach is lined with kitesurfing/surfing/sailing schools, and there are a few "Sports Resorts" that offer yoga, cross-fit, acrobatics, skateboarding and much more.
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At night, many of the restaurants on the beach become clubs, and i have to say it's fantastic.
Get your merengue and bachata moves on with tourists and locals alike.
Dominicans are very proud of their music and will gladly help you dance to it.

The accommodation in Cabarete is incredible and affordable. I rented a beachside apartment within a five star condo/complex with pools/restaurant, etc. for US$50
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As it's more of a town for sporty folks, the cuisine offerings are decidedly healthy with plenty of vegan and vegetarian options.
I had a great week here, and left feeling lighter, stronger, healthier with better dance moves in toe.

Las Terrenas

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This is a gorgeous little town with an extremely large European expat population. Many sea-changers came here and did the area a favour by opening quality bakeries and restaurants.

I did a great mountain bike excursion with the German fellow who owned a bike shop and his Spanish mate. Both guys in their 50's and fitter than me. We traversed the huge mountains in the area and across the amazing beaches. They also schooled me about Dominican girls. Invaluable info.

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Las Haitises National Park is close by and a tour is absolutely recommended. We took a boat out across the gorgeous Samana bay and hiked through some of the incredible caves and alongside the mangroves.
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Las Terrenas is THE place to learn any kind of Spanish Caribbean dancing. There are large number of schools teaching LA and Cuban style Salsa and of course Bachata and Merengue. I noticed a large number of European ladies living here long term for the dancing.

There are great hotels and guest houses here.

I stayed at a nice beachside resort for a while, but really enjoyed my time at an Airbnb apartment owned by a local family who really took the time to show me Dominican culture.

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The nightlife here is very much geared towards dancing. All of the schools have instructors in the clubs as a bit of promotion and to help tourists and locals alike improve their moves.

Playa Bonita, close to town is absolutely incredible!
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I did some surf lessons with the local school, which I highly recommend.
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Las Galeras

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Located the the remove east end of the coast, Las Galeras is very laid back, with stunning beachside hotels.
My pals and I took a boat from the pier outside of our hotel to the gorgeous Playa Rincon

Whales congregate in the area during mating season.
We joined a boat trip, and saw a LOT of whale activity... whales were breaching and rolling around.
It was fantastic.
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Wrap Up

The north side of the DR is very laid back, tourist friendly with great surf, incredible terrain and pretty decent nightlife.
When (not if) I go back to the DR, I'll definitely stay in Santiago for a long while.

The sputh of the country is just as awesome, but so very different, so stay tuned!!

I'll leave you with the other Dominican salsa hit of last year... highlighting the jovial and cheeky side of Dominican culture.. again blasting everywhere.

Until next time....

Posted by SkinnyFists 17:18 Archived in Dominican Republic Tagged beaches dominican_republic republica_dominicana whale_watching bachata las_terrenas las_galeras santaigo Comments (0)

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