Once you’ve traveled to several different countries, especially those within the same region, they start to blend together. For example, when I traveled throughout Southeast Asia, it seemed every country had the same temples and statues. This is why every country I go, I’ve tried to find 5 unique places or things that make that country stand out from the rest. This list is solely based on my experience and may not cover certain well-known traditions or tourist sites.
Gua-Gua- While cheap transportation can be found throughout the underdeveloped world, no one tries to squeeze every penny out of a trip like a Dominican gua-gua driver. Gua-gua are passenger vans that run pre-determined routes picking up and dropping off passengers along the way. A trip on a gua-gua will cost between .50 cent to $1 USD for longer trips. However, don’t get too excited because while the rides are cheap, in no way are they comfortable. During peak hours (9 AM or 5PM) a gua-gua will likely hold 20 people with the driver looking for space to fit another person. Riding in a gua-gua, I’ve done everything from sit on a woman’s lap to hang out an open door.
Los Tres Ojos- Nestled deep in the heart of urban Santo Domingo is probably the best kept national park in the country. Translated as The Three Eyes in Spanish, this park is tucked away in East Santo Domingo about 20 km away from the tourist hangout in Zona Colonial. The worse thing about the park is trying to get there as you will either have to take a relatively expensive taxi or navigate your way through Santo Domingo’s complicated public transportation system. Once there you pay $200 DPO ($4 USD), and you get access to several caves filled with several crystal blue tidepools. For an additional $25 DPO (.50 cents) you can take a ferry across the cave and take a picture of the natural marsh at the center of the park. Because it is off the beaten path, you won’t find this park filled with tourist as you would in other parks throughout the country.
Las Galeras- Located at the northern tip of the Samana peninsula, Las Galeras is the textbook definition of a place you can get away. The towns center is positioned along one intersection that directly leads to a beach. Don’t bother bringing a credit card because none of the businesses or hotels accept them and bring plenty of cash because you can only withdraw $2000 DPO ($40 USD) a day from the one ATM in town. While Samana City has everything you need, it is an hour drive south. For what it lacks in infrastructure, Las Galeras makes up in beauty as it is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world including Playa Rincon.
El Comedor- While the Dominican Republic has its fair share of international cuisine and fast food restaurant chains, there is nothing that captures the local experience like eating at a local comedor. These restaurants are usually open-air cafeteria style establishments that have local Dominican music blaring instead of the traditional dinner bell. For about $150 DPO ($3 USD) you can order the Plato Del Dia which includes chicken (fried/baked), rice (white/fried), a bowl of beans, and a small salad. Comedors can be found throughout the country whether in modern tourist towns or in rural neighborhoods.
La Banca- Throughout the country, you will notice little shacks that have the word’s La Banca on them. You will probably get excited if you are looking for a cajero to get more cash but will soon be disappointed when you realize it’s not an actual bank. It is actually a place where people can go buy lottery numbers for the Dominican National Lottery. With the risk of stereotyping, they are always small shacks with a computer staffed by a young bored Dominican woman. They make this list because they are EVERYWHERE. In a city you will find 3 on the same block. In the country side, you will find one before you find a supermarket or restaurant. While I don’t know much about how the countries lottery process works, I would assume playing the lottery has rivaled baseball as the national pastime.