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Visiting the Dominican Republic

May 13, 2021 | Lifestyle

Towards of the beginning of this year I had the opportunity to visit an island on my LTL {Life Transition List.} I have little Spanish heritage though the culture consumes me more than I can ancestrally claim, especially the language, the people, and the cuisine. Spanish is my second language {Mexican dialect and accent}, Bachata and Merengue + Salsa and Cha-Cha-Cha are my favorite Latin dances, and is there any comfort food better than authentic Latin dishes?

The Dominican Republic also has a high population of Afro-Latinos/as/x and I longed to meet my Caribbean cousins. Considering the pandemic, it also did not hurt that the travel restrictions were reasonable. For these reasons, La Isla Española was the first voyage I booked in celebration of the world reopening. Pack your virtual bags and let’s explore the Dominican Republic together!

Aerial view of the Island from the plane!

Topics Covered:

  • Indigenous Acknowledgement {The People & The Land}
  • Where is the Dominican Republic {+country facts}
  • How I Traveled to and from the Dominican Republic
  • How to Move Around in the Dominican Republic
  • Where to Stay in the Dominican Republic
  • Things to do in Santo Domingo {+ Historical Sites & Eateries}
  • Visiting Isla Saona {Saona Island}
  • Locals, Language, & Culture in the Dominican Republic

Indigenous Acknowledgment: People & Land

The indigenous people of the Dominican Republic are the Taíno Natives. There a various groups of Taíno so the term ‘Arawak’ refers to the language and the culture that these natives shared. Taíno means “good” or “noble” in the their language and it offers insight to their hospitable identity and spiritual lives. Long before it was “discovered” by a certain Italian, it was populated by the indigenous people. The Spaniards {and other Europeans} would later occupy this land and West Africans would arrive enslaved to work on sugar plantations. As a result, the population is “mixed” with these three people groups though many “look Black” and a number report “I am Afro-Dominican.” However, the people of this island identify more with their culture than their “race.” In fact, some pay homage to the native name of the island, Quisqueya {or Kiskeya.} This name is believed to translate as “mother of all lands” in the Taíno language. Likewise, a “Quisqueyano” is a person of Dominican descent.

I acknowledge the land named Quisqueya of the Taíno people.

Where is the Dominican Republic {+ country facts}

The Caribbean is filled with tropical islands. Within this large collection of islands are three main groups: the Bahamas, the Greater Antilles, and the Lesser Antilles. The Greater Antilles includes the four largest islands of the Caribbean Sea: Cuba, Hispaniola {the nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic}, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. Hispaniola is the second largest island of the West Indies. It is politically divided into the Republic of Haiti to the west and the Dominican Republic to the east. The nation’s capital is Santo Domingo {on the southern coast}–this is the city I visited!

FYI: The Dominican Republic is on the North American continent. While I left the country, I remained on the same continent as the United States.

Hispaniola Political Map with Haiti and Dominican Republic, located in the Caribbean island group, the Greater Antilles.

How I Traveled to and from the Dominican Republic

I flew to the island landing in Punta Caucedo at the Las Américas International Airport. I needed my passport but I did not need a Covid test to fly into the Dominican Republic. I simply completed the Travel Declaration Form, e-ticket portal, and the CDC attestation to leave the States.

On the plane, all passengers completed their Customs Declaration paperwork making Immigration smoother once we de-boarded. I flew from Arlington {DCA} to Miami {MIA} to Punta Caucedo {SDQ} via American Airlines for $300 roundtrip. The total airtime was 5 hours.

A Covid test within three days of travel is required to board the plane back to the United States. My flight back to the States fell on a Tuesday so my test could not be older than that Friday. I visited a lab, Amadita, on a Monday morning and took the PCR Rapid test. {Note: There are some countries where the PCR test is not permissible to reenter.}

I went online and booked my appointment. Once the lab had processed my information, they invited me to a What’s App message where I verified my identity and they confirmed the appointment. {If you do not know how to read Spanish, the texting part will be difficult for you so it is best to ask a local to help you–most of them are glad to!} I needed my passport and my insurance card {though they do not accept American insurance.} I paid $75USD for my test. The lab was full so my total wait time was about 2 hours while the test took only five minutes. Four hours later I had my results. The airport stressed a printed copy of the results so I asked the hotel staff to print it for me.

FUN FACT: The lab was at capacity with young to middle aged patients sitting in every other seat. In walks an elderly woman and everyone immediately stands to offer her seat. It was so on cue you would have thought it was planned. The security guard skimmed the room to find what appeared to be the most able-bodied male. When they locked eyes, he moved to the wall and the elderly women took her seat with respectful expectation. While I know Black people have an esteemed practice of “respecting elders”, the USA as whole does not honor their elders like this. The Dominican Republic gained a special place in my heart in this moment.

How I Moved Around in the Dominican Republic

Covid Note: Masks were required to enter into any building. It was heavily enforced in smaller stores and the supermarket.

The most popular methods of transportation is rideshare, taxi, and walking. The hotel arranged for a taxi to pick me up from the airport. Santo Domingo is divided into sectors {also called districts.} I stayed in Zona Colonial and it is very walkable. Most of my adventures kept me in Zona Colonial, so I walked. I also visited Boca Chica via car {a family friend drove me}, National Parks via rideshare, and I also took a road trip to Bayahibe. Rideshare was cheaper than in the States. I usually paid somewhere between $3-$8 USD one way. I borrowed a car from a local and drove myself {and a friend} to Bayahibe. I spent $2000 RD which is about $35 USD–much cheaper than renting a car!

FUN FACT: You can fuel your car with kitchen gas in the Dominican Republic.

Since I took a road trip, I needed to purchase gas. In the Dominican Republic, there is diesel, petro {gasoline}, and kitchen gas. Many vehicles {especially personal cars} operate on kitchen gas. There are gas stations where an attendant will service the car. My mouth fell agape! I had never heard such a thing. But apparently it is much cheaper to fuel your car with kitchen gas, so they do! It costed me about $10USD to fill up the tank.

SIDE BAR: Driving in the Dominican Republic is not for the faint of heart. But, I loved it. This is my kind of place to drive. I do understand why it is not for most Americans, though. There are no designated lanes on the streets and outside of yielding to pedestrians and obeying the officers, it is mostly free game. What driving rules? Very few exist! As the {remixed} saying goes: When in Africa, do as the Africans. So, I did!

Where to Stay in the Dominican Republic

I am not a “resorts” girl, but there are plenty of options–I just cannot help you. I prefer a local experience when I visit new countries. In Zona Colonial there are several hotel options and I personally love the historic hotels! Here are a few: Billini Hotel, El Beaterio, Casa Sanchez. I stayed in El Beaterio which is a museum itself with a private courtyard. It is conveniently located to restaurants, stores, parks, and more! I literally walked to anything I needed in the sector. My room was $77 per night and it included a breakfast with juice, coffee, or tea. It also included a king-sized bed, a desk, safe, television, and wifi. It was quaint and neat for a party of one or two, but no more.

Things to do in Santo Domingo

I spent a lot of time resting on this trip, so I did not explore a lot. But I managed to see/do the following places/things:

Visiting Isla Saona

Isla Saona {Saona Island} is a government-protected, tropical island located on the southeast tip of the mainland Dominican Republic. I was excitedly eager to visit this island! Many people take a taxi or rideshare to Bayahibe and then book an excursion on the water to visit Isla Saona! There’s music, dancing, and fun; then you can explore the island and eat lunch before you return to Bayahibe.

I borrowed a car and drove about 2 hours from Zona Colonial, Santo Domingo to Bayahibe. Then, the boat ride was another 40 minutes to arrive at Isla Saona, also known as “Little Paradise.” I took the trip with a local friend, Nouan. We paid a captain to take us to the island. Our captain was AMAZING! We had the chance to:

  • See where the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea meet. The captain stopped the boat for us and I paused to remember the Ancestors and to respect the People. It was a chilling scene that greatly sobered me.
  • Meet some of the island locals and connect with them. The men were personable, hardworking, and gentleman-like. The women were chatty, bubbly, and about their business!! {I was so engaged talking with the women that I forgot to snap pics with them.}
  • Swim in the Caribbean Sea and play with the starfish. There are also an abundance of sea turtles that you are sure to meet as you navigate the Caribbean waters.

Locals, Language, & Culture in the Dominican Republic

In my travel experience, the more time spent with locals {or the further you move away from the airport area}, the more culture and language {including dialects} you will encounter. There’s no way I can list it all, but here are a few highlights that I noticed or learned as I explored the Dominican streets like I was from the place! LOL!

LOCALS – I like to “live” as a local and spend most of my time with them when I am visiting a new place. Dominicans are helpful, hospitable, and busy! I am not sure that they ever slow down. Everything, including talking is done at rapid speed. If you are walking the streets in Santo Domingo, many vendors will attempt to lure you into their stores–and they are so good at it. Also, tips are more than recommended–they are required in most cases. It is borderline offensive to not tip them for their work {any work they do.} They are not shy about it either! They will flat out standby waiting for you to offer it or straight up just ask you for their tip.

LANGUAGE – The official language is Spanish. If you are near the airport or participating in anything tourist-like you will usually meet a bilingual {Spanish/English} person who you can speak with or who will volunteer to translate for you. I recommend learning any language {to the degree that you can} before travel but it’s good to know that if you need some help the Dominicans have your back. I learned “Mexican Spanish” years ago; however the dialect is different so I had to pick up on how Dominicans spoke their Spanish. For the most part I was understood and I understood them but I had to ask for slower conversation from time-to-time. Dominicans speak so quickly! Whew!

For example, when I ordered my lunch I asked for: pollo con frijoles y arroz. I soon learned that in the Dominican Republic it is: pollo con habichuelas y arroz. I had never head of this word “habichuelas” before. Even though it points to ‘kidney beans’ it is used for beans in general. I wanted pigeon beans {which are green in color} so I asked for “habichuelas verde,” but this term mean ‘green beans.’ I was taught to say ‘habichuelas guisadas.’ No one was impolite or rude to me with language nuance. They gently corrected me until I said it just right and it was well understood.

Dominican Spanish is a Caribbean dialect of Spanish based from southern Spain with influences from English, African languages, and Taíno and other Arawakan languages. There are also many Haitian-Dominicans in Santo Domingo so there are some Creole accents too. I will spare you the history and linguistics lessons, however it’s interesting to note that Dominican Spanish is also called “Castellano.” Apparently, it’s the oldest dialect of the Spanish language and from it all other Spanish dialects have surfaced. I asked around a lot about various linguistic nuances and this is what most people had to say back to me. It was said with pride and boast–as to say–damn right, Dominican is the first and the oldest. Interesting enough, when I toured the National Park the guide told me that Hispaniola was the beginning of North America–that the Italian sailor landed there first! And my guide owned that like he was on the boat himself as the island came to be “discovered.”

CULTURE – There is just so much! The energy in the air is very vibrant, connecting, and driven. In Zona Colonial, I witnessed everything from street mime, impersonations, musicians {drums, horns, stings}, and dancing. Dominicans congregate everywhere to do anything but especially to talk, eat, dance, and enjoy life. I visited the barbershop for a cleanup of my ‘kitchen’ and the barber did a great job! It was just like sitting in any Black barbershop in America. I was at home in the Dominican Republic. I was greeted, accepted, and celebrated. I even visited ‘the hood’ and it was just the same. Black folk are Black folk wherever we are and wherever we go.

A special shout out and blessing to my new friend, Nouan, for taking care of me on the Island. A double portion and blessing to sistah-friend, TiTi, for inviting me to her home and showing me the way of the Dominican people.

Thank you Dominican Republic for having me! I cannot wait to visit again.

Love, Light, & Lessons

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