We are planning a move out of the US sometime in the next 12-15 months. We’ve considered several countries in South and Central America and although most have been wonderful places to visit, we’ve found enough reasons to think “but we wouldn’t want to live there.” Our most recent trip to Colombia is a perfect example: we absolutely loved the country, but the government is not making it easy for foreigners to take up residence.
We recently shifted our focus to the Caribbean and specifically the Dominican Republic. Having never been there, we researched as best we could the cost of living, healthcare, safety … all those things you need to think about when contemplating a move like this. On paper, the D.R. looked promising.
Tuesday – Shorthorn It Is
Our flight left from Orlando at 5am, too early to make the drive from Okeechobee that morning. We drove up the evening before and stayed the night at the Hyatt inside the airport. And I mean literally inside the airport – an escalator ride down from the lobby and you are at your gate!
Santo Domingo is a short two-hour flight and we were outside waiting for our ride in no time. First surprise: we had been warned that the “touts” at the airport are relentless, constantly harassing you to carry your bags or get you a taxi. Not one person bothered us as we waited for our driver, Michael.
Michael took us to the Radisson Hotel, our home for the next five nights.
It is a lovely hotel with attentive staff, spacious rooms, and a wonderful breakfast buffet. It is located in the central part of Santo Domingo, convenient walking distance to many of the areas we wanted to explore.
TG had created detailed routes that included things like checking out the local grocery stores. He had also found restaurants we’d hit each day around lunchtime. Today we headed towards the Botanical Gardens but first zig-zagged our way through every aisle of a National (grocery store) and Pricemart, which is like a big Costco.
We found the prices slightly less than the US, and the stores carried most everything we’d want. We continued our walk past the “Jardin Botanico Nacional” – a beautiful park I could spend years exploring.
The streets were relatively clean, for the most part. There was a lot of traffic, but the drivers were courteous and more often than not, stopped to let pedestrians cross the street.
Our first impressions of Santo Domingo:
No one stares at us – people are friendly and helpful
Very few loose dogs (we did see a few but not like in Ecuador)
By now we were getting very hot, tired, and hungry. And the Mexican restaurant TG had picked out was closed! As vegetarians our options were limited. We kept walking, hoping we’d spy something suitable. A steakhouse “Shorthorn” was open up ahead. It looked cool and inviting and we thought surely they’ll have something we can order. The menu offered a veggie parradilla, which we assumed was some sort of shish kabob. It was actually a table-top hibachi, piled high with still-steaming vegetables: tomatoes, onions, peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, and eggplant. Washed down with an ice cold El Presidente beer, it was perfect.
Refreshed and ready to go, we found our way back to the Radisson. Total mileage: 13.8 kilometers.
Later that evening we walked to a Mediterranean restaurant for dinner. The food was delicious, but it was the sign across the street that caught our attention. Yes, we both did a double take!
Wednesday – Fat Bottomed Girls
Today’s plan was another full day of exploring. Unbeknownst to us, Tuesday was a national holiday and the energy level this morning was considerably higher.
There was a lot more traffic, including ever-present motorcycles zipping between the cars, paying no attention to the rules of the road.
There were also a lot more people out and about, but no one seemed to give us a second glance as we wound our way towards the Zona Colonial.
The Colonial Zone is the oldest European settlement in the Americas and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A pedestrian-only street is lined with tourist shops and stalls selling amber or larimar jewelry, gaudy artwork,
And Dominican cigars.
This street spills onto a main square, bordered on one side by the impressive Catedral Santa Maria la Menor, built in the sixteenth century and the first cathedral in the Americas.
It was a kaleidoscope of colors and sounds and we were ready to sit in a cool spot and relax for a bit.
Even in this busy touristy area there were very few “touts” – no one bothered us after our simple “no gracias.” Once again, the restaurant we’d picked for lunch was closed so we headed south towards the Malecon.
The Santo Domingo Malecon starts at the Rio Ozama and continues west for over 14 kilometers, bordering the Caribbean Sea the entire way. The sidewalk is wide with plenty of areas to rest and so beautiful you’ll forget the bustling traffic beside you on George Washington Avenue.
We stopped at Adrian Tropical for lunch. This restaurant sits overlooking the sea, with good food and even better people-watching.
It was here that we finally took notice of an interesting aspect of Dominican culture: the appreciation of feminine curves. Even I was impressed and gave TG permission to stare!
After lunch we headed north to check out a language school and then zig-zagged our way back to the hotel. There is a bit of garbage on the streets and in the ocean. But as TG said, no worse than New York City. And due to the constant ocean breezes, very little smell. Total mileage: 14.8 kilometers.
Craving traditional Dominican food, we ate dinner at Pepito’s Arepa Bar – a delightful spot close to the hotel with plenty of vegetarian choices.
Thursday: Beaches and Whales
Roughly the same size as the state of Georgia, the Dominican Republic has a lot to offer. The middle of the island contains the highest mountain in the Caribbean and the north coast has some of its most beautiful beaches. In addition, humpback whales gather in Samana Bay during the winter months to mate and calf.
Today we had arranged for Michael to drive us to Samana Bay and the northern beach of Las Terrenas.
It was a beautiful drive through the mountains, with very little traffic and excellent roads. With an 80 kph limit (and hefty fine for speeding), no one goes very fast. We arrived in Samana in a little over 2 ½ hours.
If you aren’t going out on a whale excursion there isn’t a whole lot to do in town.
After taking a few photos we headed towards Las Terrenas. This is a typical touristy beach town, with plenty of shops, hotels, vacation rentals, and people.
Even so, we found a quiet spot for lunch.
On our way back to Santo Domingo we stopped at a beautiful mirador to admire the northern coast. While we watched, a whale splashed his tail in the water far below us.
Michael dropped us off at the Radisson around 5:30pm after another full day.
Friday: Santiago es Arte
Today we drove north through the mountains to Santiago de los Caballeros, the second largest city in the D.R. It was a beautiful drive and gave us a taste of interior of the country.
Santiago is one of the D.R.’s cultural, political, industrial and financial centers. Due to its location in the fertile Cibao Valley, it also has a robust agricultural sector and is a leading exporter of rum, textiles, and cigars.
We found it to be a vibrant bustling city, full of beautiful murals on its buildings, walls, and fences. A poster exclaimed “Santiago es Arte!” And as we drove around it certainly seemed to be.
Although we liked it very much, we determined it was not quite right for us. We prefer to live along the coast and the Santo Domingo Malecon was calling us.
Saturday: The Accidental Hagglers
On our last day, we decided to re-trace the same route we took on Wednesday but walk the Malecon first. The ocean was calm this morning and that impossible shade of blue that is the Caribbean Sea.
We zig-zagged our way though the neighborhoods, past small houses with windows open to the street, beautiful high-rises, and private homes hidden behind high walls.
We hadn’t planned on too many purchases, but I always like to pick up a little something for our dog-sitter. We headed back to the Zona Colonial with its many tourist shops.
I wanted to buy an amber necklace and some mamajuana, the local drink purported to have all sorts of medicinal properties including being an aphrodisiac. TG was taken with the local baseball team, Los Tigres del Licey, and wanted a cap.
We found a shop selling everything we wanted. The shopkeeper gave us a price, saying “todo” or “all.” TG gasped, misunderstanding her and thinking she said “solo” for just the necklace. She asked well what do you want to pay? Again, assuming it was for just the necklace I quoted what I thought was a fair price. After some furious pecking on her computer she agreed to a new, much-discounted amount.
We drove a hard bargain without even realizing it. We would have paid her original price had we known it was for everything! Total mileage: 16.6 kilometers.
For our last night in the D.R. we had dinner at the hotel restaurant. It was my birthday on Sunday so of course TG told them. They brought a little cake with sparkler and the waitstaff sang “Feliz Cumpleanos.”
Happy Birthday indeed.
Sunday: Home Again Home Again
Sunday morning, we were up bright and early for our 7am ride to the airport. It was an easy flight home and we pulled into our driveway in Okeechobee at 1:30pm.
The Dominican Republic surprised us: the friendly people, the solid infrastructure, the ease of getting around, and the security and well-being we felt walking through the different neighborhoods. It’s a beautiful country with so much to offer in terms of natural beauty: ocean, beaches, mountains, and whales! It seems everyone has a friend or relative who has either lived in the US or is married to an American. In our experience walking for three full days and driving for two, we found that Spanish is a must – perhaps 5% of the population speaks English with any fluency. Even so, there is a strong tie between our two countries and the people seem genuinely pleased to see “Americanos.”
We are hard-pressed to think of a good reason to NOT move there!