Welcome to the Dominican Republic

Veni, Vidi, one time is enough. Came back from the Dominican Republic a week ago and somehow can’t make up my mind about this country. Well, there are ups and downs of that Caribbean tourist paradise. If you don’t fancy reading, just jump to the diving pic slideshow at the end 😛

Impressions

Sunrises and sunsets are just gorgeous. All shades of gold, yellow, orange, pink and purple. You could just sit on the beach from dusk till dawn. Palm trees thin and tall rising from the powder white and soft sand. Paradise on earth. Well maybe for the first two hours after sunrise. Closer to noon and till sunset it’s hot as hell… and I do mean hell. To complete all that it’s incredibly humid. Five minutes after walking on the beach you start sweating everywhere. After ten minutes you notice that the sweat is running down your spine straight to the place where the sun doesn’t reach. Applying sunscreen is an absolute must. Without it, you are sunburnt… And apart from the weather? It was OK I would say. The Dominican Republic didn’t make so much of an impression like Thailand, Mexico, or the Maldives. Couple of observations

Safety

It seems safe. No dodgy corners, no suspicious people trying to sell you fake watches on every corner. Roads could use an upgrade… pretty normal BUT! Somehow every condo compound was surrounded by a high wall with barbed wire and guided by security guards. Hmmm… In Santo Domingo, most apartments had bars in the windows. Hmmm… Generally, I didn’t get any funny run for your life feelings but also didn’t feel completely comfortable.

Fresh food

Amazing! The avocados, papayas and pineapples were juicy, sweet, soft… omg simply delicious. Super good ceviche, fresh fish and BBQ meats. Man, food is huge plus point of the Dominican Republic

Prices

Ehem… it’s definitely not Thailand or Indonesia where you can live like a king for 50 Euros. I thought that for a Caribbean country it would be cheap as hell. I was so wrong. Restaurant prices were similar as in Germany. Scuba diving prices are higher than in Cabo Verde. Parasailing prices are much much more than in Zanzibar. Good thing is that you nearly don’t have to carry cash with you as you can pay with your card in 90% of places. Even street artists who can do your portrait in 15 min accept credit cards… hmmm Germany could learn something from the Dominican Republic in this matter. Was wondering why it is so expensive. Probably because the closeness to the USA makes it a desirable vacation destination for American who bring the all mighty American dollar. Or maybe because most of the country’s income comes from tourism and they want to squeeze as much as possible from people who come in search of paradise on earth. Which brings me to the next point.

Resorts

Resort next to resort, next to resort, next to resort. Think that never before have I seen so many all-inclusive resorts as in Punta Cana and Bavaro. OK fine maybe in Cancun but Zona Hotelara was designed to host all those hotels in one place so that they are not spread across the city. Maybe that’s why the prices are generally so high as the majority of people who visit the Dominican Republic stay at fancy, expensive resorts. Didn’t notice opportunities for self-organised travels or backpackers. Personally, I stayed at an AirBNB. Not a fan of top end resorts. Also, my wallet doesn’t allow it 😛

Annoyances

When walking on the beach every five minutes somebody approaches you trying to sell you an excursion. When walking down the street every three minutes you get harassed to enter a gift shop to “take a look”. Every two minutes someone asks if you need a taxi. For crying out loud it’s just damn exhausting. How many times can you say – no thank you… only a limited number of times. Then you start to get angry and just say NO! Another thing that annoyed me were the excursions. Booked an excursion to Santo Domingo hoping for a professional guided tour to get to know something of the country’s history but it was a total flop. Yes, we did take a stroll through the colonial zone but very briefly. Instead of doing interesting stops we toured around gift shops <sic!> three gift shops and each stop lasted at least 30 min. F*****g really! After Santo Domingo I was looking at other excursions – quad tour, cacao and tobacco plantation, waterfall trips and a long gift shop stop was in the itinerary of each one. Seriously, people are interested only in gift shops?! Let’s not forget the Dominican Republic is also one of the ports of call on lots of Caribbean cruise ships. As the majority of the passengers from those ships like to take shore excursions, maybe that’s the reason for all those day trips to be so gift shopping heavy. Anyway, the impression here – extremely commercial heavy.

Scuba Diving

The highlight of the trip was scuba diving. Surprise, surprise my biggest love and my 10th scuba diving anniversary. So how was diving in the Dominican Republic? Not bad I would say but also not a big WOW. The dive sites rarely go below 20m, which makes it perfect for beginning divers. The deepest dive I had was to St. George’s wreck, which was at 30m. The waters are also calm, so in case you suffer from seasickness, you don’t have to worry about it in the Dominican Republic. Things to see underwater. Average would say. Nice and healthy corals, lots of lobsters, crabs, and shrimps. There was even one turtle, eagle rays and barracudas. If you are a fan of big stuff like sharks and mantas, the Dominican Republic is not your place to go. However, if you wanna see seahorses, yes that’s the place to be. In 10 years of diving, I saw a seahorse once, last year in Zanzibar. In the Dominican Republic I saw three of them! A hint from my end if your main holiday objective is scuba diving. Pick Bayahibe as your hotel base, not Punta Cana or Bavaro. The dive centre I booked my diving with informed me that the visibility and the conditions in Punta Cana are not very good for diving hence we will be going to Bayahibe every day. Well, that’s the beauty of the ocean. It’s unpredictable however if you wanna save time pick Bayahibe. Also, night dives can be done in Bayahibe but not in Punta Cana… soooo if you’re a fan of night diving the choice should be obvious. If you have a desire to go diving to Isla Saona or Catalina, please do so… super dive sites, decent visibility, and very healthy corals. Additionally with a diving excursion to those Islands you get a beach lunch included and after can marvel at the stunning palm trees and powder white sand. Very much worth it. 

What amazed me negatively in the dive centres in Bavaro and Bayahibe is the infrastructure. Normally wherever you go in the world for diving you either get a basket where you put all your gear. That basket gets then taken on the boat and back to the dive centre after diving. OR you assemble your gear at the dive centre, get on the boat and disassemble the gear at the dive centre after diving. However, in both situations you wash the gear at the dive centre in sweat water basins or under running water. After you leave all your gear at the dive centre and take only your camera, mask and your dive computer with you, everything else stays till your last diving day. In the dive centres I’ve been to in the Dominican Republic it was not the case. No sweat water basins and no possibility to wash your gear. Apparently, the dive centre people were washing it for you, but I doubt that judging by the conditions of the gear the next day. Each day on top of the mask, camera, and computer I was taking the regulator with me to wash it at the apartment I stayed in. What’s even more bizarre… There was no bucket with sweat water on the dive boat. Till now everywhere I dove, regardless of the size of the boat there was a bucket of sweat water to wash your camera and computer straight after getting out of the ocean. You must wash those two items crucially as the seawater can damage those quickly. Here no… meaning I had to use drinking water. Not very environmentally friendly I know but the dive gear always comes first.

As I said in the beginning. Veni, vidi, one time is enough. The vacation was good. All went well. Good food, beautiful beaches and generally a positive vibe. However, if I had to rank the Dominican Republic on my list of fabulous countries to visit and to dive, it would be close to the end of the list… even behind Oman. There are countries I would love to visit again – diving again in the Maldives yes, Mexico yes, Indonesia hell yeah. Dominican Republic is more of a one-night stand rather than a candidate for a long term travel relationship. 

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