The Northern coast of the Dominican Republic is one of the cheapest places to visit in the whole of the Caribbean. This island is famous for having some of the best beaches in the hemisphere, mountains as high as the Alps, astounding wildlife and precious stones. The nights are filled with Bachata and Merengue in stylish bars under a haze of cigar smoke. It has been the location of many films, and the whole island is visually stunning. Far too big to see in one trip, here is our guide for what to do in the North.
All tour operators will sell a trip called ‘Paradise Island’. Situated a few miles off the coast and near to the border with Haiti, the island itself can hardly be described as paradise. This is more the sort of sandbank that you would choose to maroon a pirate captain after a mutiny. A bus will carry you from your door to the point from which you will embark the boat to take you to the island, once onboard you will be whisked at high speed, with wonderful views of the Haiti coastline and a face full of salty spray to the island. The sand is perfectly white and soft and the sea so perfectly clear. The island itself is featureless, all except that is for a shack that will sell you drinks and lend you snorkels. The reef is fifty metres from the beach and you will be led around it by your guide. Unfortunately half of the reef is dead, my theory being as a result of irresponsible tourists touching the coral and the chemical contaminants from suncream. Brightly coloured fish are very abundant however. Your return journey will feature a detour through the mangroves at rather alarming speeds and end at a restaurant where you will have a simple meal, get to play on a floating trampoline and admire the resident Pelican.
Mount Isabel de Torres cable car
Situated just out of Puerto Plata, this is the only cable car in the Caribbean. Cheap to ascend and easy to get to, this is one trip you may wish to organise yourself. Once at the top, you will have panoramic views of the whole coastline, you can visit the fragrant gardens, explore the cave, and gaze upon a version of Rio’s Christ statue. Make sure you choose a good weather day.
Rio Damajagua Waterfalls
Not for the faint hearted this one. 27 beautiful but ferocious waterfalls tear down the side of a Dominican mountain, and you can pay a guide to take you ‘canyoning’ down them. These natural waterslides twist and turn their way through immaculate jungle terrain, the place itself is a wonder to behold. Some jumping is required to navigate the larger falls, the 28 footer does have an alternative ladder route however. For the adventurous, a real must do.
The Norths main tourist town is rather forgettable to tell you the truth. It has a small ancient fort, less than impressive cathedral and the underwhelming amber museum. Much is made locally of the ‘Malecon’, but it is just a wide pavement on the sea front. Shady and seedy bars abound. Don’t make it a priority.
The Dominican wilderness features the only river in the whole of the Caribbean where it is possible to go rafting. Most tour operators don’t offer this one but you can find it quite easily. A minibus will carry you high into the mountains to the Ranch that will be your base for the day. Here you get your lunch, leave your possessions and collect your life jackets and helmets that are essential for hitting the river. The actual down river bit is 12km long, takes in perfect wilderness and some incredibly violent rapids, the biggest of which ‘the Mike Tyson’ at 3m high is truly terrifying. Adrenaline pumped day, highly recommended, take a waterproof camera.
Punta Cana Blue lagoons
Not offered by tour operators, easy to find however. An early start and a long but interesting journey with stops at a wildlife park and a stunning little cove before arriving at Punta Cana and the lagoons. There are two, one large with a rather dubious looking ‘zipline’ and another much smaller, that is half set in a stalactite roofed cave. There are other caves to explore on foot, gardens to wander and hammocks to lounge in. 150 peso’s entry fee or may be included in your package. We had a basic meal included at nearby Playa Grande, then sat in the soft sand and watched the surfers. Playa Grande looks like the perfect Caribbean beach but do take care when swimming, strong undertows are present here. Also we do not recommend having a go of the zipline, whilst we did and were fine, we have since heard that it single handy keeps several local hospitals in business. Not worth the risk. Good trip though, NLG recommended.
A Large highly commercial park with a dolphin show, sea lion show, tropical bird show, sharks show, snorkelling in the tropical reef aquarium, tropical bird sanctuary; kid’s games, swimming and relaxation at the “Pirate’s Pool”, observation of iguanas, usage of the private dolphin beach including beach chairs and waterslides. Expensive, very expensive.
It wouldn’t be the Caribbean without Cabaret apparently. It’s not our thing so we are not best placed to advise but we did get to see ‘Bravissimo’. This is the show pushed by many of the tour companies and for me was a poor version of Cuba’s Tropicana. High profitability means high pressure selling. Not bad, but not for us.
Twenty minutes east of Puerto Plata, this beach is long, white and popular with snorkellers. There’s a reef 100 metres from the shore, where you can see multicoloured fish and coral. Don’t worry if you haven’t got your own mask – you can hire one from one of shops, guides are available. The town itself is bustling and has a lively night life scene. This is one of the cheapest places on the island for just about everything, it is also the place where the sex industry is most visible.
Tour operators will push these as I imagine they have high profitability. Sit on an open back lorry, drive into the hills, visit a school and a small family plantation, a bit like a small holding I suppose. Interesting enough, you will see things like coffee and coco being grown, together with a variety of tropical fruits and get to try and buy some local delicacies. We visited a couple of different beaches and went body boarding in the waves. Recommended? Indifferent really.
The Dominican has some good opportunities for tasteful souvenir buying. In the North some of the worlds finest A
mber is mined. It can be bought raw or set into jewellery, prices vary with quality of the piece, the amount of fossil inclusions and the gullibility of the buyer. The Amber museum is by far the worst place to buy, although it will certainly be genuine. Fake amber is everywhere, it is however very easy to tell the difference. Larimar is another semi precious stone mined here. It is unique to the island and has a deep blue hue. Set into jewellery and sold raw or polished, again price depends upon quality and gullibility. Traditional masks are used in the very frequent festivals and can often be bought following them. Woodcarvings are common, price depends on craftsmanship.
Dangers and annoyances
Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing that common sense cant handle. Rip off touts are probably the worst thing most will encounter. Don’t go walking in rough areas covered in gold jewellery or flicking through a bulging wallet. Wildlife and biting critter wise, the Dominican is very safe. The only thing to give a nasty bite is a caterpillar that you are highly unlikely to come across.We were very lucky to see one. Mosquitos will give you greif but malaria is very rare. You probably don’t want to hire a car as the roads are mental. In the Dominican republic you need a licence to drive, however you are given one regardless of whether you pass or fail the test!!! You are about as likely to see a fairy as you are a police officer and the roads have no rules whatsoever. Take care.