We can’t spend 3.5 weeks in the DR and not do a handful of super touristy things! 🙂
We had THREE different driving experiences while in Luperón and Samaná.
Car #1: Our first rental was with a hired driver for $35. Can’t beat that, right? The Bahamas were $75 a day. Well, he didn’t even drive us and insisted that Brent drive. So he sat in the back seat next to me teaching us spanish words and giving us a run down of his homeland. His name was Amaury, he was 38 with two kids and had lived in Luperon his entire life. I gotta say, having a “driver” was kind of odd, almost like being a third wheel. He went everywhere with us, which meant we also had to pay his way. I guess thats the cost of doing business in Luperón.
Car #2: Self driving. We decided against a hired driver and arranged a car with Papo – $35. We were directed to meet Papo near the customs and immigration buildings at 9am. I am kicking myself for not getting a picture of this but a bright yellow handicap Toyota Sienna mini van was parked out front waiting for us. Haha. That was our rental for the day! A beast of a ride that bottomed out every time we turned the corner. LOL! It was hilarious seeing this van driving around town for the rest of our time in Luperón.
We also got a flat tire in this yellow thing while in downtown Santiago on the way to the airport to drop off our friend Cap’n Don! We stuck out like a sore thumb. And guess what? NO SPARE TIRE! This was a very humbling experience, thats way too long of a story to tell. So we’ll just keep that between the 3 of us.
Car #3: Driver for the day was Jose. Sail friends SV Country Dancer asked us if we wanted to split a driver to explore the waterfalls of El Salt Del Limon. What an experience, the roads were much nicer in Samaná but it still felt like we were in a game of Frogger. This guy drove like a maniac, all while talking and texting on his phone. We were all just bracing ourselves for impact every time we passed someone and when he almost ran someone off the road my stomach flipped. It probably would have been cheaper/safer to just rent a car, it was $25 pp, the most expensive car we took while in the DR and he was only available till 3pm so the day felt a bit rushed.
Most Dominicans get around by motorcycle. It’s super common to see a 3 or 4 people on a single bike and usually toting some kind of animal, vegetables or supplies. The street conditions are poor, mostly covered in pot holes and you can forget any passing regulations – its a free for all! Then add dodging livestock. All of this combined is completely chaotic. Brent and I didn’t blink while driving for fear we’d miss something or someone. And our car headlights were questionable. I’m mean they were there but not very bright.
The best part about the drive from Luperón to Puerto Plata is the road side stands – grilled corn on the cobb and Chicharron. YUM!
Puerto Plata, DR
The province of Puerto Plata possesses almost everything: adventure, entertainment, beaches, history, AND the BIGGEST grocery store we’d seen since Marsh Harbor, Abacos. La Sirena is the equivalent to Walmart. Huge section for groceries, clothes, electronics, and more. We stocked up everything we could before returning the car. We wanted to fit in the Brugal Company Rum Factory into our sight seeing but two days before it caught fire and was not open. Both tours below were ultra cheap and definitely worth checking out.
The Cable Cars in Puerto Plata ascends up to cloud-level of the Isabel de Torres mountains for an amazing bird’s-eye view and beyond! It carries you up to a height of around 800 meters (2,625 feet). Besides admiring the views over the city and coastline you can also stroll through the botanical gardens! The open-armed Christ the Redeemer statue, which is similar to the famous Rio de Janeiro statue, is a fun photo op! $10 (a piece) entry fee.
Pro tip: go early, before the mountain clouds up! Cable-car tickets are cash ONLY.
27 Water Falls
We ventured into the tropical rain forest to explore the 27 Waterfalls of Damajagua. We were really looking forward to this and the scenery did not disappoint. We did 12 of the 27 since the water levels were too low ($8 per person – purchased at the window). Our guides were so much fun and encouraging. All in all, an amazing adventure. Adrenaline-packed. Totally worth it! Check out the video 🙂
Pro tip: Check the cruise ship schedule before you go, if not you could end up there on a day where there are 1,000+ tourist coming in. No bueno. A guide is required. As are helmets and life jackets.
Lunch at Los Charros
Post waterfalls we had an excellent lunch at this little spot near Ocean World with a great view. Sadly, they were out of the guacamole (heard it was amazing here) but the margaritas were 5 star. Well worth the stop. This was our first meal outside of Luperon.
Our business here was to drop off our friend Cap’n Don at the Airport – Cibao International Airport (STI) but since we had some time to kill before his flight we wanted to venture around and see the sights. Wow. Was this overwhelming. Santiago is like the New York City of the DR. It was the country’s first capital before it suffered an earthquake in 1562 and ranked the second largest city in the DR. Besides the airport, it has a McDonalds, Baseball stadium, Basketball Arena, Town Hall, and multi-level shopping mall!
This is also where we got a flat tire…in the middle of downtown! Aside from that the highlight of our visit was at Constanza Ice Cream
Ice cream?! Whatttt. Yes, please. Hand made by pouring a base of sweet milk on an extremely cold plate used to rapidly freeze and mix the ice cream. Using metal spatulas they scrape it at an angle to create rolls of ice cream and topped with items like whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and fresh fruit!
The primary jump off point for boats looking to cross over to Puerto Rico. Nestled between the mountains and the sea, the northeastern shore is lush with coconut palms lining the sea, isolated beaches, and 5 star resorts. A lot of its land is still wild and undeveloped, which is why Samaná Bay was the main filming location for Pirates of the Caribbean! Completely different from the simple life of Luperón and more expensive. (Miss those cheap empanadas and chicken shack).
Marina Puerto Bahia
$1 a foot! Full service marina in the north end of Samaná, DR. Shared with the Luxurious Bannister Resort that features tennis courts, several swimming pools, restaurant, mini market, gym, and inexpensive spa – $40 for 60 min massage. The marina staff hosted two sangria nights for all the cruisers. Gavi, the dockmaster is such a nice guy. The most amazing perk of this marina though is Café del Mar’s Infinity pool! After 15 hours of sleep and a tasty pizza for lunch we spent the day here just lounging. It was heaven! As much as we love the ocean, nothing beats relaxing in fresh water.
We had a great 5 day stay. However, for it being considered “luxury” it was super disappointing that the laundry machines were sometimes working and the women’s shower heads were broken and there was never any hot water. After 22.5 hours of overnight travel getting here all I wanted was that…boo. Check-in/Despacho process was much easier here, and everyone’s very friendly and speaks good English!
Parque Nacional Los Haitises
Sadly we didn’t make it here, it rained quite a bit and seas didn’t look the greatest for moving the boat. But we’ve only heard phenomenal things about this coastal marine park that protects 1375 sq km of subtropical humid forest, 100 species of birds and numerous mangroves and limestone caves.
El Salt Del Limon
Cascada Del Limón is a nice little gem in Samaná! People mostly opt for riding a horse to the falls, but we opted the 45 min hike by foot, It’s a fairly nice hike with some stunning views! It can be little muddy and there will be some hills and stairs (280 up and down)! So it’s one hell of a work out but once you get to the falls you will forget all about it…until you have to go back up! The water is crystal clear and great for a dip but chilly. Theres a 2nd waterfall below, we liked this one a lot more since there was no crowd and we had it all to ourselves.
Pro tip: Bring comfortable shoes and water bottles! The hike is a lot more treacherous than it leads on, I would say its not intermediate. It’s also a bit of a tourist trap, and we’ve heard some try to charge you for parking and guides.
After the waterfalls, we enjoyed an awesome Dominican lunch with all the staples; yummy fried chicken, rice, beans, and salad. Jose then dropped us off at the grocery store and local market that was LOADED with lots of fresh veggies! Look at the size of those carrots!!!
Our experiences traveling have really been quite eye-opening lately. We are still planning and waiting to cross the Mona Passage and will make it to Puerto Rico in the next couple of days!
Cheers from the Atlantic/Carribean!