The island of Hispaniola is the second largest island in the Caribbean behind only Cuba. The island is one of only two islands in the Caribbean broken up into different countries or administrative regions-the other is St. Martin/St. Maarten. Hispaniola is of course made up of Haiti and its much larger neighbor, the Dominican Republic. I entered the DR overland on a bus from Port-au-Prince, Haiti bound for the capital Santo Domingo. Among other good things about the DR, I was happy to switch from French and Creole in Haiti to Spanish as my Spanish is much better.
After a long ride, 11 hours door to door, we finally arrived at the charming Hotel Beaterio in the Zona Colonial. The hotel had only 10 rooms and was very well kept. It was very highly recommended in Lonely Planet and it didn’t disappoint, except for maybe the air conditioning and the showers built for midgets! However, the courtyard, lobby, high ceilings and friendly staff made up for it. It was also very well positioned in the old city steps away from the main square and also across the street from Duarte Square.
I love the old city in Santo Domingo. In my view, it’s better than the one in San Juan, Puerto Rico because it is more real. There aren’t ten million tourist shops and it’s not overpriced. You can see and interact with the real Dominicans hanging out of a Friday night. You get the usual people hanging in the squares and playing music and chatting. Also, you see the usual prostitutes running around after the tourists and expats while you watch to see who bites; meanwhile I was fortunate to be there during the baseball playoffs which is of course the national passion of the DR. The Yankees did prevail, of course, when we were there and the eyes of the nation were glued to the TV watching some of their own. As a massive baseball fan, I love that about the DR and the Latin people in general.
The DR has the highest number of minority players in the US major leagues. Several of the absolute best players in baseball are Dominican. Guys like Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez, Robinson Cano, Bartolo Colon and Vladimir Guerrero just to name a few. Additionally, many teams have set up camps in the DR to help develop young talent and of course sign them young at rock bottom prices. However, compared to what the average Dominican makes, it’s a steal for them no matter what they get paid.
The rest of Santo Domingo is really pretty nice. I had been to Santo once before about 4.5 years ago on a day trip from Punta Cana and didn’t have a very good experience because of the weather and some bad company. Needless to say I was very happy to get back and explore the Malecon and the old city.
The Malecon is similar to the one in Havana and I think nicer as the surrounding areas are nicer and more developed. The waves crashing the azure water into the steep cliffs and creating mist streams are very cool and make it a very pleasant place for a walk. Also, many locals hang out here at night and drink beers, play their music and dance. Now I’m not much of a dancer but I like to watch and listen.
The best part for me of Santo Domingo aside from just walking around was a dinner we had one night at La Bricola which was right around the corner from Hotel Beaterio. It was again highly recommended by Lonely Planet and didn’t disappoint. (I generally don’t look much at what LP has to say but I find for restaurants they are usually pretty spot on-especially with their top picks for food) The Italian and Dominican a la carte menu was fantastic and very reasonably priced. I had the Ossobuco and it was fantastic but really-when is Ossobuco not awesome. The restaurant itself was open air and very classy. Most people get really decked out to go there and the waiters wear tuxedos. We of course showed up in shorts and tee shirts like gringos tend to do but in our defense it was like 100 degrees and humid even at night! I also recommend an appetizer meat sampler which was really good as well.
The next day we decided to drive out to Punta Cana on the east coast of the island and about a 3.5 hour drive from Santo Domingo. This, as I said was the second time I did this drive and much more pleasant as the weather was perfect and the scenery was great. After getting slightly lost at Higuey we finally found our hotel, the Melia Caribe. It was an all inclusive as all the hotels are in Punta Cana.
Now I hate mass tourism and hokey hotel deals and all-inclusives generally but you really can’t argue that for $85 you get a nice room at the Melia and all your meals, drinks and activities included. It is a real value and to be honest the food was pretty good. Not great but pretty good. The hotel itself was massive, laid out over several hundred acres (if not more) and pretty nice. The restaurant staff, especially at the Japanese restaurant, were fairly rude but I guess I’d be pissed off too if everyone was eating and nobody was tipping me because all food is included.
Bavaro Beach is a very nice beach. The problem is there are too many hotels on it nowadays-even more than just a few years ago. However, you can’t argue the scenery is not nice as the white sand and clear water are gorgeous. The large groups of guys from Long Island drinking, shouting and peeing in the water I can do without though.
All in all, I am very happy I went back to the DR and look forward to getting back again sometime and exploring the north of the island and some of the tucked away beaches that are supposed to be so nice. For now I am on a plane to Turks and Caicos to finish off the Travelers century Club list of Caribbean countries. Luckily for me, it’s close to get to the Caribbean and there are still many unexplored islands in the groups that make up some of the countries so I will never really run out of places to go and besides, there are plenty of awesome places to get back to!
As with my previous entry for Haiti, I forgot the chord to my camera to upload pictures so I will do that when I get back.