JL

Travel The Dominican Republic – During The Elections & Corona

April 28, 2020
Written by: Jenny

Travel the Dominican Republic – during Corona and the elections

Things went crazy from the beginning. I spent about two weeks back home to organize and plan this trip to the Dominican Republic. I researched all the places I wanted to visit and all the things I wanted to do but in the end everything turned out differently.
Instead of traveling around the whole island by myself I decided to spend a week in a language school to improve my Spanish and kept the second week free for traveling.

Santo Domingo

After a long flight with a 3 hours layover in Atlanta I arrived around midnight in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. Luckily I got picked up by family members of a friend because it’s really dangerous to be out there at night – especially for tourists or girls in general. We passed some bridges on the highway – which is not well lit by the way – and there were gangs sitting on their motorcycles in the dark waiting for tourists returning from the airport. The moment I saw and realized that I was shocked and scared at the same time. In that case you want to feel save with your driver. If you don’t know anyone who can pick you up you should look up verified drivers online in advance of your trip!

They dropped me off at my hostel which I booked in advance on hostelworld.com (Santo Domingo Bed and Breakfast). I didn’t spend a lot on that hostel because I knew I would leave early in the morning. I think for a few nights it’s okay to stay there. If you’re planning to spend more days in Santo Domingo you should probably find a better place to stay. I was really happy when I found out about the fact, that there’s Uber (You don’t have Uber yet? Use my code 9g2emn to get discounts) in Santo Domingo and that they have super cheap fares. In the morning I took an Uber to the Caribe Tours bus station. The buses of this company are safe for tourists and take you to nearly all the places in the country for little money. They have functioning wifi on board, the seats are comfortable for sleeping and the buses are not too crowded. I found this company through a site that I always use to get around while traveling: Rome2Rio.

The language school

I arrived in pouring rain in Sosúa so I took a taxi to the school for little money. If the weather is nice it’s just a 20 minutes walk across the beach to get to Casa Goethe, where the school is located.
I booked my Spanish classes at the Insitituto Intercultural del Caribe (IIC) in Sosúa in advance through a German agency called GLS Sprachenzentrum Berlin because they offered the best fares but you can also book directly on their website. I highly recommend this place for everyone who wants to learn a new language and meet amazing people. They have plenty of teachers and they all speak English as well. In the beginning I was scared that they would only speak the fast and hard to understand Dominican Spanish but they spoke clear Spanish to us and taught us a lot. Not only in grammar and language but also in culture and about the relationship to Haiti. After only two days in the school I decided to extend my stay for one more week and I gave up all my travel plans for the second week (which I’ll show you in another post). It was not high season and due to the spreading Corona virus there were only a few other students: another woman from Germany, a girl and a man from Switzerland, a Brazilian guy with his Russian girlfriend, a guy from Morocco, another Russian guy, three Canadian sisters and an American who moved to the Dominican Republic – all coming from totally different backgrounds. I found it very interesting to meet all these people and listen to their stories and learn Spanish together with them. In my first week I only had classes with the other German woman, in the second week the Swiss girl joined us. Our teacher Gralia was really kind and understanding and asked us in the beginning, what we want to learn and at what pace. She clearly put a focus on conversations so I learned fast how to have conversations in Spanish.
 
You can start classes every Monday all year round and there’s the possibility of living in a studio, a homestay, a private apartment or a partner hotel. The nearest airport would be the one in Puerto Plata but you can also fly to Santo Domingo like I did. The school offers a weekly activity and excursion program run by Jeffry, the IIC guide. There’s activities like buggy tours through the jungle, horseback riding, hiking and many, many cool excursions. I went on a pretty cool one to Punta Rucia and Cayo Arena. You can see the pictures below the post. We passed a lot of small towns on our way there and after the boat trip to the small sandbank Cayo Arena which is located 20 kilometers off the shore from Punta Rucia we had a few cocktails on the island. On our way back we drifted through the mangroves and had Dominican dinner at the beach.
You can also book dance classes (private or group), culture courses, scuba diving and wind or kite surfing lessons directly with the school. In the Casino across the street is also a gym that you can use if you don’t want to spend every day at the beach.

The studio I lived in was right under the classrooms. There was a shared kitchen but we all had our own bathroom in our rooms. Classes started every morning at 9am and went until 12:30pm. At 10:30am there was a short coffee break where everyone got together for about 30 minutes. Some of the others booked extra classes in the afternoons but I preferred to get to know the area in the afternoons.

Sosúa

Sosúa is a small town close to Puerto Plata in the north of the Dominican Republic. It has two beaches, Playa Sosúa and Playa Alicia but there’s also a private beach belonging to the Piergiorgio Palace across the street, that you can use. I also recommend this Victorian style hotel as a photo spot. The supermarkets and banks are about 5 minutes away and everything is easily reachable by foot. There’s always women walking around with fruit baskets on their head selling fresh pineapples, coconuts, papayas or more for little money.
There are small kiosks called “colmados” in the neighborhoods (“barrios”) where the Dominicans live and they sell everything cheaper than in the touristy areas. You can easily find a whole dish for only 2$ while you would have to pay way more in other restaurants. These are the places where you get to try real Dominican food like chicken, rice and beans the way they prepare it. Sounds basic but tastes delicious!
At the Texaco Gas Station you’ll find all the taxis (“caritos”) that can either take you in the direction of Puerto Plata (orange) or Cabarete (blue) for little money. A trip to Cabarete during the day is about 35 pesos and at night it’s 50 pesos (so less than a dollar/euro). If you want to get around within a city/town you can also take a motoconcho but it’s too expensive and uncomfortable for longer distances since the roads are really bad and dangerous over there. You can easily burn your legs on the exhaust of the motoconcho and that’s what people call the “Dominican tattoo”. Dominicans drive super crazy and that’s why you should never walk or ride a bike at the side of a busy road. Many accidents happen daily.
If you wish to go somewhere else you always have the option to take a private taxi and it drops you off wherever you want but it’s also more expensive and costs about 750 pesos (13 euros/dollars). During the night it’s the safest option for sure. Sosúa has a few restaurants and bars in the centre but also along Playa Sosúa. For a better nightlife I recommend Cabarete where you can live la pura vida.

Cabarete: Surfers Paradise

Cabarete has more to offer than plenty of bars and clubs at the beach. It’s one of the best wind and kite surfing spots in the world and offers a variety of sports’ activities. My favorite beach was Playa Encuentro where I went surfing with Dominican surfschool. But even if you don’t surf you should go there and just enjoy the relaxed vibe that this place exudes. For nightlife I can recommend the Voy Voy Bar (especially on Mondays for karaoke night), Onno’s Bar and Ojos (Latino Nights on Thursdays).

Playa Encuentro, Cabarete

About the Dominicans & their country

What I love the most about the Dominicans is that they are always happy and dance all the time. Everywhere is music, even in the taxis or on the streets. Typical dances are bachata and merengue and nearly everyone knows how to dance them. Some also dance salsa. Dominicans are willing to help you at all times even if they don’t have much. Compared to Cuba, they don’t ask for money a lot but of course every service has its price. A guy told me that he was saving all his coins so he was able to pay his phone bill at the end of each month.
In the tourist areas most of the Dominicans know English, some of them even know German or French.
Some don’t have a good education and have bad paid jobs just to get along. Even the Haitians come to the Dominican Republic to work because they get paid better here. Others go to university which requires a lot of self-discipline, hard work and money. I also noticed that most of the Dominicans (also the men) know how to cook very well and that they cook a lot. There’s a few typical dishes in the Dominican Republic like chicharrón de puerco, mofongo, mangú or empanadas. There’s also a chocolate factory in Puerto Plata that produces the delicious Del Oro Chocolate. In Puerto Plata you can also find the factory of the Brugal rum. The other Dominican rum, Barceló is made in Santo Domingo. Another national drink is Mamajuana which is made out of rum, red wine and honey and comes in a bottle full of herbs and tree bark. The taste reminded me of the typical port wine I drank in Porto (Portugal).

Elections & Corona crisis in the Dominican Republic

When I left Germany there were a few corona cases in Europe but I didn’t expect the whole thing to get that crazy. So I left without any concerns – actually I was being more concerned about being robbed in the Dominican Republic than anything else. So everything went fine for a while but then the general elections took place and there were a few protests and celebrations on the streets. That was the first time when all bars, clubs and restaurants were closed for a few days. There was no alcohol sold or served anywhere to prevent aggressions.

Once things had settled down again, the first corona cases popped up in the country and they started spreading fast. A lot of flights got cancelled, of course mine as well. I was in touch with the German embassy and the airlines to figure out what to do. 
 
Here’s what you can do if you’re stuck in another country during such a crisis:
 
  1. 1. If you have booked with an agency, contact them to see if they have new plans for you.
  2.  If not and your flight got cancelled, try to reach the airline to rebook you on a new flight.
  3. If nothing helps, contact the embassy of your country in the country that you’re in – they must help you!
  4. If not even the embassy is willing to help, try to reach a family member or friend at home and have them make some calls to help you. 
In my case all flights got cancelled, even though Delta Airlines rebooked me on a new flight so I had to get in touch with the German embassy in Santo Domingo. They told me that the German government and the airlines were currently discussing how to get back all the Germans that were stuck in the Dominican Republic. So all I could do was wait and take my Spanish classes. On Wednesday night I finally got an email saying that I got a spot on a plane sent by the government – leaving from Punta Cana the next day. I had to pack within a short time and left 3 hours later to get to the airport in time.
A private taxi from Sosúa to Punta Cana is about 350$ to 400$ (it takes 5 hours) but it’s the only option if you don’t want to spend 8 hours in 2 different busses traveling to Santo Domingo first and Punta Cana after. Luckily I wasn’t alone since the other German woman joined me on the way to the airport.
On our way to Punta Cana we passed some beautiful beaches and we could see the lights of Puerto Rico at the horizon.
Once I arrived at the airport I had to wait for a few hours until a lady from the embassy made an announcement and we were able to check-in. The check-in took about 4 hours and then we were finally able to board. After 2 hours of delay, 10 hours of flight and a 4 hours train ride I made it back home safely.
 
This short time in the Dominican Republic was a valuable experience for me and I can’t wait to be back soon! The country is underestimated by many and it has much more to offer than just hotels and white beaches. Due to all the distractions I sadly didn’t have enough time to take a lot of pictures but in my Photo Gallery you can find at least some impressions.
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