- Where to Go
- The Best of the Dominican Republic
- A Nature Lover’s Dominican Trek
- The Sexiest Dominican Beaches
- Historical Dominican Road Trip
- A Dominican Culture Tour
- Carnaval and Its Masks
- Planning Your Dominican Wedding
- Dominican Adventures
- Golfing the Dominican Republic
- Dominican Music and Dance
- La Ruta del Mango
- Day-Tripping in Monte Plata
- The Best Small Resorts
Since the Dominican Republic is a very small country, most people either take the bus or drive wherever they need to go. But if you want to wing it, literally, there are a few domestic air charters available. Most flights cost under US$100. Two such companies are: Aerodomca (tel. 809/567-1195, www.aerodomca.com) and Caribair (tel. 809/826-4444, www.caribair.com.do). Both companies fly to many cities within the Dominican Republic as well as to other Caribbean islands. If you would like to charter a private plane, would like to set up a special air excursion, or need a helicopter ambulance (here’s hoping you don’t need that!), Air Century (tel. 809/426-4222, www.aircentury.com) offers those services. Take Off (tel. 809/552-1333, www.takeoffweb.com) offers daily flights within the Dominican Republic as well as shuttle service to/from airports and area hotels.
Buses and Guaguas
The first type of service is a first-class bus. Much like the Greyhound buses in the United States, these are modern and have the big comfortable seats with toilets on board. Some even have movies playing on small TVs. These buses are one of the best options for transportation if you want to move around the country. The country is so small that most trips are under four hours. There are a few bus companies, but only two truly good options. These top companies stand out above the others because of their affordability, reliability, and cleanliness. They are: Caribe Tours (tel. 809/221-4422), perhaps the best one with the most departure times, and Metro Tours (tel. 809/566-7126), which has similar service at less frequent intervals. Most tickets cost US$3–10.
Another option is to take a guagua. Guaguas are the true Dominican transportation system (aside from the motoconcho). This can be a fun way to meet the locals or a nerve-wracking experience. They are minivan-sized buses that can hold up to 30 people. To flag one down (which is the way you do it), just stand on the side of the road for the direction that you want to travel in and wave it down, or wait to find out what the cobrador (charger) says. He is the man who hangs out the side of the bus and takes the fares and says the destination of the guagua. They rarely display destination signs, so don’t feel bad if you have to flag down a couple before getting the right one. As always, most Dominicans are happy to help if you have questions. The typical fare for a ride is US$2. Try to have the exact change. They may not offer change for you if you don’t ask.
Renting a car can be a fantastic way to experience and see the real Dominican Republic for yourself. Many international companies have offices in Santo Domingo, at major airports, and in high tourist areas like Punta Cana and Puerto Plata. Avis, Hertz, Alamo, and Dollar are just a few examples. Before renting a car in the Dominican Republic, check with your credit card company to see if you are automatically covered for international rentals. If not, getting the optional car insurance through your chosen rental agency can be expensive but worth it considering the road conditions, lack of rules being obeyed by other drivers, and potential for accidents.
Renting a car, even if it might not fit within your vacation budget, might be an expense worth the trouble if what you want to do is travel to a remote part of the island where public transportation becomes less easily accessible, like Bahía de las Águilas on the Península de Pedernales in the Southwest. Try to reserve a four-wheel-drive over the Internet before you arrive if you plan to drive outside of the cities. You’ll be so happy you did (you’ll be so surprised how often roads can sometimes just end).
Driving here can be downright scary. If you don’t have experience driving in fast conditions with quick reflexes, perhaps you should consider the bus. Road conditions can change quickly; there are often pedestrians on the sides of the roads and crossing very busy thoroughfares.
But, if you really want to try it, you’re in for a fun experience. Some words of advice: Keep your eyes peeled for potholes and random speed bumps, known as policía acostada (sleeping policemen), in the middle of the highway. Always drive defensively. Trucks, motoconchos, and other cars do not follow very many rules—you have to be ready for anything. Just because there is a red light does not mean they will stop. Try to run with the pack; otherwise, you might cause a pileup.
These jalopies are found in the bigger cities. They are usually minivans, trucks, or regular cars, and they pick passengers up along main drags. Similar to guaguas, públicos can be hailed from anywhere. They will usually slow down enough for you to gesture. If you don’t, they’ll zoom past you quickly. They don’t have signs (although technically they’re supposed to), and the fare is usually US$0.30. Often, drivers cram them to the breaking point with as many passengers as the car can physically hold with the doors shut (sometimes even that is tested!). Hold your purse here—pick-pocketing can occur when it gets full. But if no one else is in the car, you might end up paying taxi rates unless you specify that you want servicio público.
Motoconchos and Motorcycles
Motoconchos are a cheap and easy-to-find transportation option. These mopeds can usually be found around main town squares or tourist-frequented areas. Flag them down and secure a price before hopping on. Never expect a helmet to be offered up—they won’t have them. Beware: The drivers can be downright maniacal. While very dangerous for trips on the highway, they are undeniably cheap and easy to find in small towns. They are more suitable for short distances, and you can always request that the driver go slowly. They are used to this request from the tourists. Samaná’s multiperson version of the motoconcho is considered safer than the more common one-passenger type because it is more like a carriage that is pulled by a motorcycle and is therefore slower-going and more visible to other motorists.
As if driving isn’t scary enough in the Dominican Republic, motorcycles are becoming more popular. But on the plus side, on a bigger motorcycle (as opposed to a motoconcho), you will be louder and bigger than the motoconchos and, therefore, more easily seen by the car drivers. Hopefully, that will make your experience safer.
Many of the same rental agencies that rent cars also rent motorcycles. However, there are more and more specialty excursion outfitters, such as MotoCaribe Adventure Tours (U.S. tel. 877/668-6386, www.motocaribe.com). They offer guided one-, four-, and seven-day trips through the country on Suzuki V-Strom 650s. Nevertheless, motorcycle riding in the Dominican Republic should be left to highly experienced riders. Beginners should never dare to start on these roads.
© Ana Chavier Caamaño from Moon Dominican Republic, 4th edition