I just got back yesterday from a quick jaunt to Puerto Plata in the Northern Coast of the Dominican Republic (Puerto Plata, Sosua, Cabarete). I rented a car and spent one night in Cabarete and one night in Puerto Plata. It was my first time driving in the Dominican Republic even though there were a lot of online warnings not to drive in the DR. Good thing I’ve had prior experience driving in rough countries like Panama, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Honduras because it helped a lot. Here are 10 Things I Learned From My Recent Trip to the Dominican Republic:
1. There’s a Taxi Cab Mafia upon arrival – At the arrivals hall of Puerto Plata International Airport (POP), the taxi cab mafia swarmed everyone who looked like a gringo. I almost felt like as if I was back at the Lima International Airport (LIM) arrivals hall where I got asked if I needed a taxi for the millionth time. The prices aren’t that great either because a taxi ride to Sosua is $25 USD for a 5 minute ride even though Puerto Plata airport is located in Sosua). A taxi ride to Cabarete or Puerto Plata city center would be close to $35 which is a complete rip-off for a 15 minute ride.
2. Never exchange money at Puerto Plata International Airport – From the moment you land at POP International Airport, you will be greeted with money exchange touts in addition to the taxi cab mafia. These touts give horrible exchange rates where I was quoted 40 Dominican pesos for $1 US Dollar whereas the official exchange rate is 44.71 Dominican pesos to $1 USD. The best place to exchange money is in town where I got RD$44.20 : $1 USD at Janet’s Supermarket in Cabarete.
3. Rental Cars are expensive in the Dominican Republic – I’ve previously written a series about renting a car in Latin America. A typical rental car in the Dominican Republic is $50 a day with the mandatory supplemental liability insurance (SLI) included which is quite expensive for the Caribbean. The daily SLI insurance was $21.18 ($17.95 + 18% tax) which was more expensive than the daily base rate of the rental car! I only rented a car for two days which totaled to $100, but it sure beats paying for a taxi each and every time I went out.
4. Driving is dangerous in the Dominican Republic – According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Dominican Republic Tops List Of World’s Deadliest Countries For Drivers. The report also states that “Dominicans have a 1 in 480 chance of having their lives taken by some gas guzzler”. Driving is really no joke in the Dominican Republic because you share the road with a ton of motorcycles on tight roads. They will come up to you on the left and right side of you all while you’re trying to dodge pedestrian jaywalkers, animals, and potholes on a two lane divided highway where you’re also expected to pass slower cars.
5. Gas is displayed in gallons instead of liters – This was the first time I rented a car in the Caribbean and I was surprised to see gas stations display their prices in gallons instead of the conventional metric system in liters. Regular gas in the Dominican Republic was RD$170.10 ~ $3.85 USD a gallon which is quite the norm for the Caribbean and Latin American countries.
6. The beaches are gorgeous – There was crystal clear water on the Atlantic side of the Dominican Republic, particularly on the beautiful beaches of Puerto Plata and Sosua.
7. Prostitution is legal in the Dominican Republic – A lot of people visit the Northern Coast of the Dominican Republic because of its famous sex tourism. Whenever I was walking around Cabarete, Sosua, and Puerto Plata, I was hit up for a massage, strip club, brothel, or sex. There are a lot of hookers and sex workers roaming around the red light districts during the daytime and nighttime because prostitution is legal in the Dominican Republic. Massage parlors are fronts for prostitution enticing people with a half hour massage for RD$300 ~ $6.70 USD where they’re expected to up-sell their clients for sex.
8. When it rains, it really pours – I’ve really lucked out with the weather every time the weather forecast calls for rain. Somehow, it’s always sunshine during my stay and it rains whenever I leave. On the last day in the Northern coast of the Dominican Republic, I saw firsthand of the horrific rain. It’s not like LA rain where it sprinkles. When it rains, it really pours down hard in the northern region of the Dominican Republic because of its sub-tropical climate.
9. Gringos are a walking dollar sign in the DR – Every time I took a walk out in Cabarete, Sosua, and Puerto Plata, I was encountered with touts whether it was a prostitute, taxi cab driver, or a street hustler. Street hustlers basically want to sell their services whether their working as pimps (getting a cut of the commission) or overpricing you on tours and souvenirs. You can’t take a leisure stroll down a street without being cat-called upon for unneeded services. Even more so, there are touts stationed on the beach so you’ll be nagged there as well. One souvenir hustler wanted to sell me a necklace on the beach for $25 USD! (Do they think I’m stupid?) Bottom line: If you look like a gringo, prepared to pay gringo prices since we are a walking dollar sign in the Dominican Republic.
10. Dominicans are really friendly people – I know I’ve probably bashed Dominicans more than I wanted to because they’re natural born hustlers and see dollar signs every time they see a gringo. I want to say that not all Dominicans are that way and some are generally really nice. I’ve talked with many hard working Dominicans that actually despise the scam artists, they’ve come to a realization that it’s the nature of the Dominican Republic.