Location: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Date: May 2012
Length: 6 days, 7 nights
Santo Domingo, capitol city of the Dominican Republic, is a 3 to 4 hour flight from the east coast of the United States. After visiting Charleston, SC (with a brief stop in Atlanta, GA), the view flying over the Mar Caribe is breathtaking – clean, clear blue waters, sandy beaches and lush forests provide a natural feast for curious eyes. Upon arrival to the Aeropuerto Internacional de Las Américas (SDQ), armed guards provide travelers with a feeling of security as well as a touch of caution, as if to say: “This is no ordinary Caribbean Island.”
A short and inexpensive taxi ride – driven by the personable and friendly Maiyi to the Hotel Conde de Penalba was fast and filled with Spanish chit-chat; Dominicans have a delicious accent all their own. The grand, historic hotel, adjacent to the plaza Parque Colon and located in Zona Colonial, offered hospitable reception (ask for Nudie) and a welcome as warm as the weather. I was offered a large, top floor room for the same price as a regular, with the view from the 4th floor balcony: the perfect persuasion after travel.
On the first day of my visit, my friend Abel took me to Boca Chica, a gorgeous white-sand beach about 20 minutes from downtown Santo Domingo. We hired a private taxi for the day driven by the gentle giant Raffi, which proved to be a good choice. Arriving in the early afternoon, we found a tourist-free beach with welcoming tables and chairs under grass-topped shelters. Vendors passed by with fresh pulpo, salty-sweet ceviche, and fried crisp “Johnny Cakes,” similar to a carnival funnel cake but more savory than sweet. Swimming in the clear blue water was like being in a giant mineral bath, with the sun adding just the right amount of light and warmth. Fantastic.
After a day at the beach and a delicious dinner on the Malecón, we went out dancing on Avenida Venezuela. Salsa, merengue and bachata are all popular rhythms of the Dominican Republic, and it helps if you are up-to-date on Reggaeton music. Artists like Tito El Bambino, Don Omar, Daddy Yankee, and De La Ghetto are all quite popular, mixing dub style beats with tropical influences and catchy lyrics. The sound is almost addictive; we easily danced until 5:00 am, fueled by table side bottle service and buckets of iced cervezas. Although it is true Dominicans love their rum, it appears that whiskey (Johnny Walker red, black or blue label) prevails as a chosen spirit, mixed with Coca-Cola and fresh lime. ¡Danza Kuduro!
On the tourist side, highlights of visiting Santo Domingo included a visit to Cathedral Primada de America, the oldest in the Americas, dating back to 1514. Catholic or not, attend a beautiful Mass here on Sunday; the regular patrons welcome visitors of all faiths from around the globe. An afternoon walk along the shop-lined streets of Calle de Conde reveals charming souvenir shops and vendors with carts of fried plantains and fresh coconut water. Finally, be sure to make time for the Larimar Museum. With a vast collection of the precious blue stone formed by volcanoes under the sea, the museum includes extensive history, samples of mined rock and an irresistible gift shop, all managed by a very friendly and knowledgable staff.