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On a trip to the Dominican Republic – from chaos to paradise


Aussicht auf Boca Chica
The Dominican Republic is a country of violent contrasts.


Affectionately known to us as “Domrep”, the large Caribbean republic has the reputation of being a pure holiday and beach paradise. For the average package tourist, complete with children and all, this impression may even be confirmed. Alternatively, if you are out and about and dare to look deeper behind the smooth facade, things look different. We dared, indeed had to, take this look and would like to tell you about it. For this reason, the following text is no ordinary “fair weather travel blog”.

 

Despite all the problems, you shouldn't let them stop you from visiting this country, because the paradisiacal side of this island makes up for all the hardships. More on this in our next blog.

 

Damned! Our originally booked flight with the Caribbean Air Antilles from Guadeloupe to Santo Domingo was canceled a few months before the start of the trip - for organizational or health reasons? Aha, they can probably look into the future. In any case, our emails requesting a replacement flight remained unanswered, as did our demands for reimbursement of the flight price. This is off to a good start, we thought. From today's perspective we know: It is quite typical for life and the people of the Dominican Republic. At least our intervention with the credit card company Card Complete was successful and we got the flight costs back. What luck, because we can use every euro.

 

Oh wonder, flight found!

Since we can't quite believe the health reasons for the unilateral cancellation of our flight, we did a little research. Surprise: Air Antilles has gone bankrupt and maybe, just maybe, will be taken over by another airline. Great, our flight was canceled and finding a new one wasn't that easy. The best alternative was with Air Carribes on the same day. Fits, even if the flight was ultimately operated by the eloquent “Fly High” line. After four weeks in Guadeloupe, we finally landed in the Dominican Republic - albeit a little late. If you fly high, you just need a little longer.Affectionately known to us as “Domrep”, the large Caribbean republic has the reputation of being a pure holiday and beach paradise. For the average package tourist, complete with children and all, this impression may even be confirmed. Alternatively, if you are out and about and dare to look deeper behind the smooth facade, things look different. We dared, indeed had to, take this look and would like to tell you about it. For this reason, the following text is no ordinary “fair weather travel blog”.

 

Despite all the problems, you shouldn't let them stop you from visiting this country, because the paradisiacal side of this island makes up for all the hardships. More on this in our next blog.

 


Sky High Airline
It was our premiere with Sky High.

An arrival in the dark

When we landed in Santo Domingo on March 1st it was already dark. Not a good prerequisite if you still have four hours to drive to the booked hotel on the Samana peninsula. We still wanted to try and failed miserably. The reason has a name: Chaos, or as we call it “Sodom and Gomorrah”. Anyone who has ever had to drive a car in the area around the Dominican airport and the capital on a Friday night might know what we mean. It’s a law-free zone on the streets – that’s what it felt like to us. For us, the biggest adventure so far on our long-term journey began on these roads.

We already had the first hustle and bustle when we arrived at the airport. During an unnecessarily long rental car pick-up, we were told that we absolutely needed a few hundred Dominican pesos for the road toll to Samana. No problem, right in the arrivals hall there are a few ATMs from different banks waiting for the traveler who is willing to pay. Unfortunately they were not willing to give us money. Firstly, we didn't understand a word (despite months of Duolingo torment) and secondly, we didn't know that in the Dominican Republic you can almost only make withdrawals with credit cards.

 

NOTE “Withdrawing money in the Dominican Republic”: Here you can only withdraw money from an ATM using credit cards. If you want to withdraw with ATM or debit cards, you have to have it activated first, according to a notice (probably at your local bank - we don't know any more). It is therefore advisable to always have your credit card's four-digit PIN with you. The withdrawal limit at ATMs is not particularly high at 20,000 pesos (around 315 euros). In the larger towns you can also easily exchange euros or dollars, even if the exchange rate is not great. If you want to withdraw more money, you have to go to a bank with your card and passport, but be careful: the rush on Dominican banks is astonishing - waiting times of one to two hours are not uncommon. It's best to walk by often and see when the queue is shortest. Attention: Sometimes you will be approached by somewhat dubious people who want to help you, even with withdrawing money (!). In the best case, they want a tip afterwards, in the worst case, they want the money withdrawn. Always refuse help unless it is an official bank employee.

 

Picked up a rental car and headed into the chaos

Our start on the streets of the Dominican Republic was extremely adventurous. We planned to drive to our hotel on the Samana peninsula and wanted to take the four hour drive - small spoiler - unfortunately that wasn't possible for us.

Anyone who has ever driven a car in other countries probably knows that things are not as civilized everywhere as they are here in Austria or Germany. We've been traveling a lot ourselves, but the traffic in the Domrep was a challenge even for us, especially in the dark. The streets around the international airport and the capital Santo Domingo were crowded this Friday evening. There didn't seem to be any rules here and we were pretty overwhelmed trying to find the right way and drove past the inconspicuous exit twice - luckily. As we found out, there was a serious accident and a fight shortly after the exit.



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Driving in the Dominican Republic

Should you actually drive a car here as a European? The answer is yes, but you have to adapt and be careful. There are motorcycles everywhere. They overtake left and right and often come out of side streets without paying attention. By the way, almost nobody wears a helmet here. In addition, the motorcycles are used as pack donkeys. Three adults are not uncommon on these smelly machines - not to mention children of all ages. Everything you can imagine and more is transported here by motorbike: we saw a woman with a washing machine, several drivers with large gas bottles, garden tools and two men with a live goat, to name just a few.

 

You have to be particularly careful on the roads around Santo Domingo. These multi-lane highways are full of cyclists, pedestrians and dogs. At one point there were even rollerbladers riding in front of us on a driveway. When you sit behind the wheel for the first time, it's not easy to just concentrate on driving. Again and again people jump onto the street or you drive past burning garbage dumps that smoke heavily. We decided to get a room and not drive to Samana until the next day. Even in retrospect, it was certainly the right decision.



 

A somewhat dubious area

After we drove past the only attractive hotel, Hampton by Hilton, twice while looking for the right exit to Samana, we asked if there was still a room available for four. None. At least we were allowed to use the WiFi in the lobby and were able to book a relatively cheap room in Boca Chica, the place where we will spend two nights before our departure - according to the Internet, the city with the highest crime rate in the entire republic (like we found out the next day).

 

However, the Batey Boutique Hotel was a good stop that evening. We had a secure parking space for our rental car, a room with two bedrooms and a restaurant in the building where we could have a quick snack and a beer to wind down.


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Oldtimer Batey Boutique Hotel
This beautiful vintage car has been parked at the Batey Boutique Hotel parking lot for a long time.

The street in front of the hotel reminded us a little of the well-known Soi Bangla in Phuket (Thailand) - sex tourists will especially know this place. Prostitution and associated crime also appear to be a problem in areas of the Dominican Republic. None of that mattered to us. We finally had somewhere to stay where we could spend our first night in this country. At this point, we were no longer sure if we would like it here. The surprise was even greater when we arrived in Samana.


The dark side of the Domrep becomes visible in Boca Chica.

 

Second time in Boca Chica

Before our onward flight to Costa Rica, we spent two more nights in Boca Chica. This time we took a closer look at the place - but we were also told not to leave the hotel after dark - for one

So the wrong place for a longer stay. During the day, however, you can easily walk through the small town - here we went to a large supermarket for the first time in two weeks. It was a highlight.

We were lucky the second time around with our accommodation in Boca Chica. At the Hotel Magic Tropical we were warmly welcomed and extremely well looked after. The host Camilla surprised us because she speaks perfect German and six other languages. It was very exciting to talk to her about her life in the Cathedral - she previously lived in Vienna and has been in Boca Chica for over 23 years. A strong woman, hats off to you! We found out that the owner of the Batey Boutique Hotel where we stayed when we arrived is her best friend. What a coincidence.


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The Magic Tropical Hotel was a very good choice for Boca Chica.


Our room was a bit tight for four people, but very clean and perfectly fine for two nights near the airport. There was also a wonderful breakfast at the Magic Tropical Hotel. Even if we don't necessarily recommend Boca Chica, we can recommend Camilla's Hotel Magic Tropical to anyone who wants to stay near the airport and see the other side of the Dominican Republic - it is a reputable hotel (there are quite a few other accommodations where you get ripped off as a tourist). And just chatting with Camilla is worth the trip!

 

The dark side of the Dominican Republic

During the 10 days on the Samana Peninsula we tried to capture something of the dark side of this island, but we didn't really succeed there. No matter which direction we went, it was simply paradise everywhere.

BUT we are also aware that this is not the case across the country. As is so often the case, education is the basis of everything, and the Cathedral Council definitely has some catching up to do here. Although school attendance is compulsory, around 10 - 15 percent of children do not attend school due to the high cost of the required school uniform alone. That's really a lot. There are also around 1-2 million (no one knows exactly how many) refugees from Haiti here, and only those who have a birth certificate from the Domrep are allowed to go to school. So there are entire generations of refugees who grow up without any education, a vicious circle.

In the annual PISA study, the Dominican Republic regularly ranks 72nd and last among all participating states in several areas. In concrete numbers: Around 72 percent of 15-year-old students have not reached the basic competency level in reading, and in mathematics there are even 90% who cannot meet the minimum requirements.

 

Conclusion

The Dominican Republic is a place of stark contrasts. Poverty meets swanky hotel complexes, well-off tourists drive their big rental cars past corrugated iron huts in which families of several people live on just a few square meters. Bringing many children into the world is still normal here. Even if package tourism hasn't brought the people here much luck (we hear of mafia-style methods to lure locals out of properties), you shouldn't miss out on going here. Our tip: Come to the Dominican Republic, for example to the Samana Peninsula, which is still largely untouched by mass tourism, and book your accommodation and tours with local providers. This way, your money will reach the people who really need it and you will go on vacation in a Caribbean paradise with beaches that can no longer be found in this form anywhere else.


You can find out more about the paradise of Samana in our next blog.

 

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kind regards from Steffi, Max and the kids


Our shopping tip for the Dominican Republic


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