Dominican Republic is the home of the all-inclusive package vacations. All day massages, eating at the buffet until your tummy hurts, clear turquoise infinity pools and cocktails made right under your nose. But if the price tag hurts your bank account, have you ever thought about backpacking across Dominican Republic?
With the ease of travel, cheap buses and food, beautiful beaches, uncrowded surf, waterfalls in the jungle; this Caribbean Island is sure to be the next backpacking hotspot.
And do it quick before the world knows our secret!
For us, the Dominican Republic was an unlikely and unplanned destination that we knew nothing about. The only information we could find on the internet was mostly about the abundance of the all-inclusive resorts. Honestly we were worried about attempting to backpack Dominican Republic as we had safety concerns, didn’t know about the transport situation and thought the cost of accommodation was going to blow our budget. But instead, we discovered deserted beaches, luscious jungle, cheap hostels and a backpacking trip to remember.
Holding the title of the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the Americas and one of the most populous cities in the Caribbean, Santo Domingo was a great place to start our journey. The city is a mix of old Spanish charm and modern Latin flair.
We had the dog from Island Life Hostel named Hamilton lead us across the city. He had us weaving in and out of all the sneaky back streets, with his nose always stopping to smell the food. We enjoyed (over and over again) the 50 cent cheesie empanadas which can be found on the corner of every street.
The hustling city streets had an overload of barber shops blaring gangsta rap with funky barbers taking 5 out the front. There was enough take-away fried chicken restaurants to feed America. Every little street stall also sold a bright blue stone called Larimar which is unique to Dominican. The open aired vintage books stores stacked their books high on top of each other like a Harry Potter library. These old books tempted us with their charm, but as the weight of our backpacks continued to increase with time on the road, we decided to spend that money on more cheese empanadas instead.
The Gua Gua’s (pronounced wah wah’s) make traveling Dominican Republic cheap and easy. This $6 bus may have you cuddling your backpack and squeezed beside a stranger, but this reliable method of transport will get you to your final destination. Cabarete is a kiteboarding paradise and a surfers secret haven. This little seaside village will get your booty shaking late into the evening with the main beach lined with sandy bars and clubs overlooking the water.
The friendly folk at Hostel Laguna Park will pack your minds with fun local activities. With our hired scooters we darted in and out of the traffic trying to dodge the excessive number of pot-holes. On our way to Sosua, we took for the dirt tracks and were rewarded with secluded white sandy beaches fringed with coconut palms. Once we reached Sosua, the small turquoise bay dotted with anchored sailboats, had a row of white houses viewing down upon it similar to those in Greece.
We teamed up with two cool Aussie dudes in Cabarete and jumped off the Gua Gua at 27 Waterfalls. We had to bribe the bus driver to stop on the highway at the entrance (ask for la entrada de 27 Charcos) and trek up the hilly dirt road with our backpacks to the ticket station. Including entrance fee, guide tip, bribes, buses and taxis, this ‘backpacker’ method was about a quarter of the price of an organised tour.
Even though our guide spoke minimal english and our Spanglish is terrible, he had us squealing with fear and in continued fits of laughter. Apart from leaping out of the bushes with an assortment of fruit from the ground, we jumped from the top of cliffs and slid down the rock slides into the ice-cold river water.
The seaside village of Las Terrenas is tucked away high up in the mountains on the northeastern peninsula of Dominican Republic. It’s inland palm trees, luscious green jungle, picture-perfect Caribbean beaches, artsy studios’s with outdoor galleries, make Las Terrenas great place to unwind. Our cosy hostel-style accomodation at Dan and Manty’s Air BnB, was nested amongst the jungle making us forget how close we were to down-town.
El Limon Waterfall
The highlight of not only the peninsula, but of Dominican Republic was Cascada El Limon; a beautiful waterfall falling 52 metres down from the pristine jungle and into a waterhole.
One thing to note is the mass amount of tourist scams thrown in your face quite aggressively. Simply put it, protect the horses, save money and adventure alone by taking the DIY hiking approach at El Limon like we did.
We took a Gua Gua from Las Terrenas to the entrance. We hiked the track alone, huffed and puffed the humid air, got muddy feet from the sludgy terrain and zig-zagged across the river in knee deep water. The view along the path was outstanding and worth the pain our totally unfit bodies endured.
The jewel at the end of this exhausting but scenic hike was a stunning waterfall with water gushing down from high into the jungle. Our sweaty bodies had been dreaming about this moment since our first hill. The water certainly was refreshing, and jumping off the cliffs into the churning water was such a thrill.
Dominican Republic surprised us.
We arrived expecting the all-inclusive resort deals and were handed a backpacking journey across a Caribbean island for a fraction of the expected price tag. No matter if you are seeking an adventure vacation filled with jungle waterfalls and surfing hotspots, or want a relaxing holiday with picture-perfect beaches and cocktails, this Caribbean island has it all.
And it won’t hurt your budget!