A Commercial Break
On Saturday I’m leaving the country with a friend for a girls get away. Just saying it like that makes it sound so glamorous.
I was going to just include this as an aside in another type of post, but as I started writing I realized that I had a lot to say and that you might enjoy a little window into traveling to the Dominican Republic. There’s a chance that some of what I know might also be useful. Maybe? :)
*Check out the comment section for answers to questions about things I forgot to mention!
One of the up sides to living on an island shared between two countries is that you can take a bus from one to the other, so while I would love to say we’ll be “jetting” off to the DR (as we “locals” like to call it) we’ll be riding in the lap of coachline luxury. scoff In all reality, it’s not a bad way to travel. For $75 US and $40 immigration fees you can get a round trip ticket from Port au Prince to Santo Domingo. That includes a bottle of water, juice, and a small sandwich for lunch. Not bad, eh? The best part is that the bus company takes care of all the border crossing stuff, and we just ride. It takes 6-7 hours, depending on border times, but it’s comfortable so no complaints. Also, I always love seeing the country and seeing the differences in everything between Haiti and the DR.
Naomi and I have both been to the Dominican Republic twice before, once together and once on separate trips with different friends. We had a lot of fun travelling together last year, so we’re excited to maybe make this an annual thing. The fun thing about this year is that because we’ve both been twice, we’ve seen all the major things there are to see, so we don’t feel the pressure to cram stuff in. If there are things we want to do again, we can, but we’re mostly planning on wandering, shopping, sleeping, and eating delicious food.
Maggie, Naomi and I last year.
Where to Stay
We’ll be staying in the Zona Colonial – the Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo, and honestly, this is where you want to be if you’re planning on spending time in the city. The majority of the things that most people will want to see are in this area, which is the heart of the old city on the port. You’re going to find all the major historical sites in the entire city all within blocks of each other in this area. It makes more sense to make this “home base” and then go out to the other things you want to see. When I say things are literally blocks from each other, I’m not kidding. If you find a guide book, you’ll often see walking tours with about 20 different stops and it’ll take you a couple of hours, just going slow and meandering. Last year we did one of the walking tours and it took us 4 hours or so, but in that time we stopped at several places, did the tours inside and then kept going.
There are a TON of places to stay in the Colonial Zone, at all price points and comfort levels. There are very nice, expensive hotels, and there are a bunch of hostels, and of course mid-range stuff. You can really choose what you want, and the easiest way to see the assortment is on Expedia. For Naomi and I the priority is cost over comfort, but we’re not going to stay in a dive. For my first visit I stayed in a hostel, as did Naomi, but different ones. When we booked last year we decided to go with the one I had gone to before because the location was good, and it was $50/night split between 3 people and included breakfast! Yep. It wasn’t fancy, but it had everything we needed, was clean and quiet. And it had air-conditioning. Nuf said.
This year when I was looking I was thinking more about what we wanted to do. Because we’ve been twice, we know where we want to spend more of our time, where we want to eat, where we want to shop, etc, so I looked at places that were closer to those areas. I found a great boutique hotel that was only $10 more per night and was nicer and also included breakfast. When I asked Naomi about it there was no hesitation. We know that we won’t be doing some of the things we’d done last time, and our goal this time is more on the relaxation end rather than go-go-go, so it feels like a special treat to stay in a place thats a bit nicer, and yet know that it’s only $5 more per person each day. #winning
As far as transportation goes, it can be a bit challenging if you don’t speak Spanish. Thankfully Naomi speaks enough that we were able to get around fairly easily last year. But, this year we’re going to try doing something different – using Uber. Yep, Uber has gone international and is now available in Santo Domingo.
For those of you that don’t know what Uber is, it’s basically a taxi alternative. You put an app on your phone and create an account that’s connected to your credit card. When you need a ride you enter your location in the app, and where you want to go. You get a price for your trip right then, and if you want to go ahead you send your request. An Uber driver gets designated to you and you can track the cars arrival at your location. You hop in and ride. Because your driver already knows where you want to go you don’t have to worry about giving directions. Because your account is tied to your credit card when you arrive at your destination you just get out. You don’t exchange any money. Uber bills your account and pays the driver for you.
I’m going to get a local SIM card and put some data on my phone so we’ll be able to hail a car whenever we need to go somewhere that’s not in walking distance, like
Krispy Kreme IKEA the bus station. The idea of not having to a) hail a taxi, which are typically small cars not in the best condition, b) negotiate a price in another language, and c) not have to worry about giving directions, is very appealing. And, just for curiosity sake I tried out some sample trips and the rates were on par with what we paid for local taxis before. The other upside with Uber is that they let you choose the vehicle size. In our case we’ll probably need a bigger vehicle to go back to the bus station to accommodate our relaxation through shopping therapy that will be done… Anyway, I’ll let you know how it works!
What To Do
There’s SO much to see, and it fascinates me to see how much history has been preserved on the DR side, versus what hasn’t been preserved in Haiti. Big nod to culture and development right there. It’s amazing to be able to touch buildings that are over 500 years old.
When it comes to seeing the sites one of the things that I love about anything I’ve done in Santo Domingo and area is how affordable it is. When you go to the historical sites in the Zona Colonial you might have to pay an entrance fee, but typically it’s about 100-150 pesos, which is equivalent to about $3.50 US. Typically if there’s an entrance fee it includes a headset so you can learn about the displays in your own language. It’s all very affordable.
Like I mentioned, there’s already a ton to see in the Colonial Zone. You can definitely pick and choose what is the most important to you to see. I would recommend looking at sites like Lonely Planet to get a feel for the biggest sites. Things like the cathedral, Museo de la Casas Reales (Royal House) and the Alcazar de Colon – the residence of Diego Columbus as ruler of the new world, are all worth the time.
Many of the sites you find in guidebooks are things that don’t require a lot of time to visit, or are more of a point of interest as you walk by.
The El Conde is a pedestrian street right through the middle of the Zona Colonial. It runs from the water front to the Puerta del Conde (the Count’s Gate). This street is for pedestrians only and has historic sites like the cathedral at one end and is lined with shops where you can find all kinds of things. Everything from cigars and souvenirs to clothing and even a Payless shoe store. Lots of little restaurants with all kinds of food. If you like ice cream definitely stop by Bon. So good. There’s a little something for everyone and you’ll see a good mix of locals and tourists. Often there will be street performers, and in the Parque de Colon (Columbus) park there will often be special entertainers on Fridays and Saturdays.
If you’re in town on a Sunday plan on going by the Ruinas de Monasterio des San Francisco to see Grupo Bonye. Every Sunday night the group of 10-15 musicians and singers get together to play and sing while locals come out to visit and dance. The whole area gets taken up and filled with chairs, there are beer runners, food carts and people just hanging out. It’s a local thing and it’s fun to listen to the music and just be part of it. Definitely recommend it.
There are several malls in Santo Domingo, which we get excited about because Haiti doesn’t have anything like that. Last year we stopped at a mall while we waited for IKEA (yes, IKEA!!!) to open across the street, and we must have looked ridiculous at how we kept oohing and ahhing over the beauty of a mall. Look, it’s so shiny! Look, they have mannequins in the windows! Look, there’s an escalator! Look, there’s a TACO BELL!!! It was 9 am and we may have eaten tacos… #whenopportunityknocks This year we know we want to check out another mall just for kicks. And maybe as practice to remember how to behave so that we don’t look like utter fools when we get home this summer…
Yes, there’s an IKEA. A glorious IKEA. And it’s like every other IKEA. We introduced Naomi to IKEA for the first time last year and she’s hooked, so we’ll be making a day of it again. I may already have a shopping list…
We’ve both been to Les Tres Ohos (the Three Eyes), which is a set of sunken pools just outside the city. It’s really cool and worth a visit if you want to get out of town. I’ve also visited the Botanical Gardens, which were nice, but not amazing. It’s a nice place to get a break from the heat because there are a lot of cooler areas, and you can take a train like ride around the property which I would recommend.
Siesta. Siesta is the best thing ever. Haiti doesn’t do siesta because it’s not a Spanish/Latin country, but also because most people don’t have electricity 24/7, so you use daylight when you have it. When it’s hot and you’ve been touring around all morning, go have lunch, then wander back to where you’re staying and take a nap in the a/c. Then get up around 5 or 6 and get ready to go out for a late dinner. Things come alive again after the sun goes down.
We love food. In fact, one of the things that most expats in Haiti miss the most is food. Imported foods are expensive here, and it is really easy to go without a lot of your favorites most of the time because you can’t find them or you can’t afford them. We all talk about our favorite things to eat when we go home on vacation. Needless to say, we’re excited about the food. Yes, I’m excited about the choices, but also about the fact that I won’t have to cook any of it for a week!
There are a bunch of restaurants in the Colonial Zone. You can find everything from Dominican to Italian to French to American to Chinese to… Down at the port end of the El Conde there are several restaurants that have options to eat in or out on the sidewalk. Most often the inside is empty and the sidewalk is packed. One of our favorites is Sego Fredo. They have a good mix of all sorts of food, the prices are great, and they have happy hour. #mojitos We ate there quite a few times last year because it was just so good.
If you want a really nice lunch or dinner go to the Plaza de Espana/Plaza de Armas. The plaza is lined with nicer restaurants with amazing food. You’ll pay a bit more, but it’s nice for treat. One day we went and had coffee and a few appetizers, then later grabbed something lighter for lunch. We also went for supper on our last night.
Dessert is a treat, and you’ll find some good options. Bon is a national ice cream chain, and it’s really good. It’s rich like gelato. And so many flavors. Bakeries will often have things like flan and tres leches cake in to go cartons. Both yummy. Flan is the way to Naomi’s heart so I know we’ll be making a few stops along the way.
Coffee. Mmmm. There’s nothing like good, strong coffee. All those restaurants that have tables on the sidewalks are a great place to stop for a morning break between sites. You can order a coffee and sit and people watch at the park. My favorite is cafe con leche – coffee and milk :)
Well, that’s a lot of info, but I hope you find it interesting to some degree. Now that we’re days away from leaving I’m excited and am very much looking forward to a break. I love my family, but it’s nice to get away once in a while to get refreshed.
I’ll let you know how the trip was after I get back!