Trip Advice for Santo Domingo and the Dominican Republic

I rarely write up travel tips, mainly because I travel mostly for work and it’s not my role to evaluate establishments when there for professional purposes. But since I went on vacation this time, I thought I’d give some advice. I traveled by myself this time, and therefore opted to stay in Santo Domingo as I thought it would be easier to find things to do there. I wanted to spoil myself a bit this time so I stayed at Boutique Hotel Palacio in Zona Colonial, i.e. the old part of Santo Domingo. Hostels are probably the best places to stay when traveling alone because it is easy to meet people there, but Hotel Palacio seem to attract a lot of Americans my age, so I did meet people to go out with. The hotel was a little pricy compared to most other places here (although cheap compared to the US or Western Europe) but I chose it because it looked quite genuine and had a roof top pool. And I really liked staying here! It was perfect to have the pool to come back to after sightseeing tours around town. The only thing was that breakfast wasn’t included in the price of my room, and they only had quite expensive offers which didn’t match the price, so I went out for breakfast instead severals days. Can recommend Cafe Paco Cabana just around the corner: french inspired pastry with good coffee and a variety of fresh juices.

The hotel arranged for someone to pick me up at the airport for 40 dollars. Quite expensive but I checked with a colleague who travels here for work and he recommended arranging airport transport prior to arrival said US$ 40 was pretty standard. However, a group of guys at my hotel took a cab for 30 dollars directly from the airport and that seemed to work fine.

There are a lot of licensed guides around offering their services. I never hired someone but it seemed like a lot of people did. The guys at my hotel hired a guide with a car who took them around town also at night, and then dropped them off at the airport their last day. I talked a bit with the guide and he said he preferred working with Americans because of the tip, so it seems like tip is expected. Otherwise, tip is often included in the check at restaurants.

To be honest, I didn’t really go out to eat to any places that i would recommend, except for Cafe Paco Cabana El Conde and another pastry, also on El Cone, on the block after Calle Arz. Merino, but that I can’t remember the name of. I booked my boat trip with Colonial Tours (office on C/Arz. Merino 209) and they were really helpful except that they forgot to tell me to wear bathing clothes when getting on the boat as the first dip in the water was directly from the boat. Our tour guide didn’t mention this either and was, to be honest, not super friendly. Like I wrote earlier, the tour was more free drinks in plastic cups and lots of people trying to sell things at the beach, than an experience of the Nature Reserve but in it was a good way for me to get out of the city since most tours have pick up outside Santo Domingo.

I managed to see most sites in Santo Domingo that were indicated in my guidebook, including Casas Reales, El Alcazar de Colón, El Pantheon, and Cathedral Primada Americas. Entrance fees were around 100 pesos (2 dollars) and it included an audio guide in all places except for the Pantheon. My favorite was by far the Cathedral. It was so peaceful and so full of history, including as a place for slaves to meet and organize themselves. My guidebook wrote that el Alcazar de Colón, the vice royals residence Governing House from the 1500s, was the no 1 place to see, but I would recommend taking time to see the Cathedral.

Needless to say, I found people really nice! But then again, I normally do. It’s probably possible to manage in Santo Domingo without speaking Spanish, but knowing the basics certainly helps. I went to several bookstores (of course, as the bookaholic I am!) and I couldn’t even find a guidebook in English.

As for me, I loved my six days in the Dominican Republic! Here are a few more pics (the last is from my hotel):










Louis Emanuel and the Larimar Stones

For me, one of the best things with traveling are all the people I meet. Like yesterday, when I met Louis Manuel who sells jewelry on the corner outside my hotel. He sells the blue larimar stones, which can only be found in the Dominican Republic and since blue is my favorite color, I couldn’t resist browsing a bit when I passed by his stand the other day. I was low on cash and I hadn’t had a chance to withdraw money, and I told him so directly. But we started talking and he told me that he actually goes down in the caves underground to fetch the stones that he makes the jewelry with. I’m not staying long enough this time, but he told me that if I came back, I could go with him to Barahona and get the stones. I asked if it wasn’t dangerous, and he said that it was a little dangerous and that he had two friends who had died in the caves. But, he said, what is life if we don’t live a little dangerous sometimes? True! He told me he had worked with making these jewelers for more than 20 years and since he didn’t have any children himself, he gave some of the proceeds to an orphanage. We talked a bit more about the stones and how they are marked by other minerals, and he gave me a small stone. He asked me to write down my name on a paper and then he wrote it in metal thread with a cutter. I asked if I could pay a little since I did still have a couple of dollars in pesos, but he said it was a gift. Needless to say, I went back the day after and bought a set of larimar jewelry from him. Here is Louis Emanuel in the corner of Calle Conde and Calle Duarte in Santo Domingo:



Fifty Shades of Blue

Yesterday I took at boat tour to Saona Island, which is part of a national park a few hours away from Santo Domingo. To be honest, it wasn’t the best arranged tour I’ve been on, and it took three and half hours before we even got to the place where the boat picked us up (including a 20-minute stop at a low-quality but expensive souvenir shop with commission for our tour guide). But I forgot all of that as soon as I saw the water! The colors shifted from from turquoise to deep blue and green, and it was warm, calm, and soothing. I was completely hooked and am already planning for my next vacation in the Caribbean: a beach holiday with day tours to towns instead. Here is paradise overload:






Turning Forty in Country Number Forty

So I just turned forty in country number forty for me. Well, at least if I stretch it a bit (and not count Sweden where I was born and grew up). Not my age, that is, but the numbers of countries I’ve been to. A colleague and I recently discussed how one should count the number of countries visited. A stop at an airport is of course a no no. (I have eight of those.) We also agreed that really tiny states such as the principalities and the Vatican don’t really count either, although we made an exception for Monaco. (I have two of these, the Vatican and San Marino, plus Transnistria, Moldova’s break-away region since 20+ years, which isn’t a recognized state although you do need a passport to cross the border.) We also agreed that going by bus or train through a country doesn’t really count unless you stop for coffee or a meal somewhere. And this is where I really bend the rule, because I did have a coffee break at a roadside restaurant some years ago when driving through Kosovo between Macedonia and Montenegro. So technically, I’ve been to more countries than the forty that I count, but I hope that some flexibility can be allowed here to make it even for my birthday!

Where I am? In the Dominican Republic. I always wanted to go to the Caribbean ever since I was a little girl and read adventure books about explorers and pirates, but I’ve never gotten around to go. So what better than to visit the first island that Christopher Columbus set foot on in the Americas? I’m staying in Santo Domingo, which was conquered by the Spanish over 500 years ago, and there is so much history and culture here! Over the next couple of days, I’ll head to the beach and a boat tour to one of the islands. So more pics to come!