Dominican RepublicWhere nature reveals it's secrets
Don’t have time to read? We got you covered. Check out our video from our trip to Dominican Republic instead.
To add a bit of diversity to our Cuba trip, we decided to spend a week in the Dominican Republic. It’s close enough we thought, and it’s sort of like seeing both sides of the tale, one stuck in the 60-ties, while the other kept up with the times. And we decided to have that week in the middle of our Cuba trip, as a break in case we get overwhelmed by the experience there. And boy, were we happy that we did.
Two short flights from Havana through Panama we get to Santo Domingo.
Copa airlines were surprisingly good. Staff was very nice, good meals and we got special treatment from the captain of the plane. He called Luka, our youngest when boarding the plane and he gave him his pilot seat and hat as he proceeded to light up the control board. It was unforgettable experience for Luka. Or captain Luka as we now call him.
Hey kid, want to fly the plane?
They call me Captain Luka!
There’s a tourist card/tax for entering DR ($10) and it should be purchased before the immigration desk. The line is big and you can avoid it if you use the self service machine, which works with small bills, so come prepared. If you don’t have any change, you have to get in line.
The exchange rate at the airport bank counters is not as good compared to the banks in Santo Domingo, so we recommend changing money in town. There is also a departure tax ($20) but it is usually included in your airfare, at least it was with our tickets with Copa airlines.
Going to the Dominican Republic after Cuba was like discovering a treasure land.
Staying in Santo Domingo
A driver was waiting for us at the airport, arraigned by our AirBnB host. The ride from the airport to the Colonial district was around 25 minutes. Our apartment was located at a condominium in the center of the Colonial District. It was by far the best apartment we had. Reconstructing an old part of the city, while keeping the original architecture intact, but adding a bit of a modern touch we felt like living at Sevilla’s’ Alcazar, with private security, fast internet, and a shared swimming pool.
The first good thing in Dominican Republic was that people spoke English, very good English. We were stuck with our spanglish in Cuba so this was a relief. The second good thing was our visit to the supermarket. A real, big, full of everything Supermarket. I felt like Dorothy in the land of Oz. If you read our post for Cuba you can guess what I bought first: eggs. There was no issue buying food or anything else here.
Ognen was in the Dominican Republic in 2007. He immediately saw the changes they went through during this past 10 years. The Colonial district seemed very well maintained, renovated and clean.
There were a lot of police officers around for which we learned that belong to special tourist police department. We felt safe during the entire stay in this part of SD.
This old district in SD is a real history example of colonial architecture. You can feel the way of life when the first colonists inhabited the city. Tour guides wearing certified tourist info badges offer a walkable tour of the colonial district for a certain negotiable price. But even if you just walk around the small labyrinth streets you can easily find all the sights.
The main sigh is Alcazar de Colon, with the main square, and the set of restaurants / cafes right across from it. This whole area is a giant museum of colonial architecture. Walking around and getting lost is a wonderful experience. See the churches, museums, squares, and sit down to enjoy a cafe or lunch.
If you are a cocoa and chocolate lover then this is the place where you can buy organic pure cocoa (find Kaw kow the famous DR cocoa brand store). They also offer an amazing lesson on how to make chocolate, and sell some home made chocolate as well.
The store is also located on the first street, in the first house built in the Americas, and is preserved accordingly.
Los Tres Ojos
The Columbus lighthouse doesn’t light up any more. It is just a big building with not so much to offer. But we realized that we have visited all of the towns where the Columbus remains may be kept. The house was deemed by a tour guide as a big waste of money from the government and nothing special to see.
Very near the Columbus lighthouse there is a park with a hidden gem inside, the Three Eyes (Los Tres Ojos). They consist of three indoor cave pools and one outdoor cave pool. Very beautiful nature around, birds, turtles and fishes in the lake, stalactites and stalagmite formations. There is an entry fee and an extra boat fee for the visit to the fourth lake that’s not connected to the rest of the lakes, but worth seeing. Local guides will approach you at the entrance offering a private tour but we found it expensive and just read everything about the cave on the internet. That way we had more time to just wander around at our pace. Amazing photo opportunities abound. The lakes are magical and definitely worth visiting.
Los Tres Ojos
Exploring DR via private tours
Our best experiences in DR were definitely the private tours we arranged with two different operators. There were so many tour offers in DR that it was hard to decide which one to take. Be aware that they fill up very quickly, so make your plans as soon as you can. The sooner the better. Booking is a smooth process, and you pay some of the price online via PayPal and the rest of it on the day of the tour by cash.
The first tour was arranged by Explora Ecotour to see Chavon river with zip lining and kayaking included. The guide was at our door early and very professional. The 2-3 hour drive was filled with conversation on various subjects about DR history, culture, nature and life in DR today. The time flew easily. The ride was pleasant with lots of scenery.
Once you exit the main road near Chavon river , the trip becomes an off-road adventure. We switched to a military style transport to get us to the final destination. We arrived at a ranch in the rain forest and got a light breakfast and coffee, before we were prepped for the zip lining.
The zip line kept us flying over the forest through several lines of different length and height. The two experienced guides and our original tour guide were with us the whole time. Luka was accompanied by our lady guide on the more scary lines, while he was allowed to go alone on the easier ones. After a while Luka got tired and they arranged for him to go down to the base and wait for us there. They kept an eye on him while we finished the tour.
During the walk from line to line, we got lessons on all of the plants growing there, including their organic gardens where the people from the ranch grow different vegetables, fruits and plants. They gave us information about all of them, how they grow and how they are used, making the tour not only fun, but also educational. We saw how cocoa grows from a tree and got to sample a live cocoa fruit.
After the zip lining we had a light lunch at the ranch prepared by their staff with the organic produce from the ranch.
Ready for zipping
A lesson in zipping
A quick bite and we can go
A little warmup before we go
Top of the mountain, breathtaking view
The crew on top of the mountain
Here we go!
Luka and cocoa
Cocoa fruit is as big as hand!
Educational part: This is how pineapples grow
Foodies will love this!
Home made organic chocolate, pineapple and cake!
Next on our agenda was kayaking at Chavon river. It was very hot by then so we chose to cut the kayaking shorter in order to have more time to swim in the river. It was our first time swimming in a river and we liked it. Another treat after the swim was a delicious dessert made from homemade chocolate from the ranch cocoa plants. After a short shower, we got dressed and headed back home. We give the whole experience a real A+ for the organization and friendly staff.
Kayaking through the river
Yes, that river
Amazing and super friendly staff!
Los Haitises National Park Tour
The second tour was arranged by rinconesdemipais.com to Los Haitises National Park. The guide was at the door on time, waiting for us in large comfy minivan. Departure time was very early so the kids just continued to sleep almost all of the way. That gave us time to chat with our guide who was extremely prepared and very educated about DR history, culture and nature. The ride was a bit longer than the previous tour, but definitely on the pleasant side.
Since our kids were sleeping during the ride we had breakfast when we arrived at our destination. A boat was waiting for us to take us on the tour around the Los Haitises National Park.
We start off by passing through the mangrove forest. We’ve never seen a mangrove forest before so this really took our breath. It was magical. All those tree roots were hiding different species of birds. It was very quiet and and the scenery felt like like you are in a fairytale.
We got on an open sea, heading to the first cave. We docked on a very nice beach with everything preserved clean all around. The cave itself was marvelous. Not very big but it looked like a place where you can hide and rest. Sea water comes into the cave making a little beach inside.
The weather in the rain forest was subject to change, so we had a bit of a sun, a bit of rain, some clouds and that changing the colors of the scenery. Our guide said it rains 360 out of 365 days, which is probably why they call it a “rain” forest.
The boat ride continues to the other cave, encountering a mangrove forest even more beautiful than the first one. Our guide was a very good planner and he managed to avoid all the other visiting groups, making us feel like we are the only people there.
The second cave was a lot bigger and had Taino indian art drawings. Following the drawings we learned about Taino history and some local legends. At the center of the cave, there’s an opening in the ceiling where you can see all of the vegetation from the island, and sun rays peep down on you if you stand in the center. It makes for once in a lifetime photo opportunities, and will make all your Facebook friends envious.
Mangrove - weird but magical
The Island with the Cave
Dock before second cave
Local wildlife - crabs!
Breathtaking view, amazing photo ops.
The cave complex
Birds on pillars
That piece of land is the end of the peninsula
More local food!
At the end of our journey through the National park we arrived at a secluded beach at the end of the park. Again we were the only people there. We enjoyed swimming and collecting seashells.
The journey ended with traditional lunch in a village near the Los Haitises park. They had similar dishes with our national cuisine and that made our lunch very special. Being away from home that long gets you your local dishes. On the way back we were so pleasantly tired so we all fell asleep. Los Haitises Park is a must see in DR.
Birds on pillars
That piece of land is the end of the peninsula
More local food!
Our time to go back to Cuba was approaching (we were suppose to stay 5 more days in Havana before our flight back home) and we really didn’t want to leave. We are definitely going back to DR.
There is Uber in DR and it is efficient and cheaper than a taxi. There are no dangerous animals although you can see interesting species around. We had two small lizards living in our front yard to keep us company. The flying cockroaches are present and I still can’t get used to them