Meet Me in Santo Domingo

For Lori’s grad school spring break we head down to the Caribbean to do some backpacking through the oldest Western settlement in the New World, and visit a friend teaching English in the Dominican Republic.

It’s the first time to the Caribbean for both of us and we are hopeful the DR will not disappoint. It seems to have everything we’re looking for in a backpacking trip — a good balance of cross-cultural experiences and beach time in the warm tropical sun.

Even more, though we’ve backpacked many times apart, the Dominican Republic will be the first time backpacking together, and we couldn’t be more excited!

caribbean sea map
Map of the Caribbean, with the Dominican Republic front and center.

My journey down to the Dominican Republic was a bit long, but very pleasant.

I left Seattle Friday night, got four hours of sleep on a smooth B757 flight to JFK, then enjoyed another smooth five-hour flight down the Atlantic coast, taking in the bright turquoise waters surrounding the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos before touching down at Las Américas International Airport shortly after noon Saturday (four-hour time change from PST).

dominican republic backpacking route

Over the next seven days we plan to spend time in Santo Domingo, the DR’s capital in the south; Jarabacoa, a mountain town in the central part of the country near Pico Duarte, the Dominican Republic’s highest peak at 10,164 ft.; and the beach-dotted Samaná Peninsula in the Northeast.

The taxi ride from the airport to the Zona Colonial where we were staying cost US$40, a seemingly non-negotiable price listed on an official looking sheet. Lori tried her best to get us a deal utilizing her impeccable Spanish but to no avail.

Our first stop in the capital was Hostal Dominico Mundial, our home for the next few nights.

Backpacking Dominican Republic Santo Domingo

Lori had called ahead to make reservations, but not-surprisingly the lady working at the front desk had no record of our reservation. Luckily, we had printed out a copy of the information that Lori had typed and the lady treated it like an official document.

Our room was basic and clean, through a small gate in the courtyard and up some stairs. It had a balcony with a few chairs that overlooked the simple courtyard, a TV, fridge and fan (that didn’t work). The bathroom was detached, down the stairs, but private as we had the only key.

The room was typically US$25 per night, but the management dropped five bucks off the price due to the hassle (you may have gathered by now that the Dominican Republic isn’t exactly what you call a shoe-string backpacker travel destination).

We left the hostel to walk around for a bit and get our bearings. We were surprised at the lack of people and activity in general on a Saturday afternoon and attributed it to the unseasonably cold weather. Our suspicions were confirmed when we returned to the capital the next day to find the sun shining and the city bustling.

The Chapel of the Third Dominican Order at the end of Av. Duarte–the only colonial structure in Santo Domingo to reach the present fully intact (1729).
Backpacking Dominican Republic Santo Domingo

But for now, we found ourselves quite hungry with very few places open. We found a quiet eatery with a nice walled-in courtyard, ordered ceviche and two Presidente cervezas (the official beer of the DR) and whiled away the next 15 minutes until the rains came.

presidente beer santo domingo

Even in the rain, the old colonial district is an agreeable and charming place to amble, as many of the outdoor cafes have large umbrellas and people (mostly in the evening) still eat, drink and wander around.

drinking presidente beer santo domingo

We spent the evening running from awning to overhang in the pouring rain searching for restaurants recommended by our guidebook that were actually open. The one we had planned to go to was closed for a private party, and others weren’t exactly what we were looking for.

Backpacking Dominican Republic Santo Domingo

We eventually settled on a place off the Parque Colón with excellent comida typica (local food) and good prices.

The experience was tainted a bit by the pouring rain and our overly attentive waiter and his friend who crowded in under our sun-brella the entire time we dined. It may have remained an uncomfortable situation if the Cuba Libres Lori and I ordered hadn’t been as strong, and the rain (actually music speaker crackle that we had mistaken for rain) hadn’t been as loud.

Despite a few minor setbacks, all in all, a very pleasant first day backpacking through the Dominican Republic.

Backpacking Dominican Republic Santo Domingo

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