Independent travel in the Dominican Republic couldn’t be easier. Which is why I’m confused by the droves of tourists who come to the D.R. to stay at the many fenced-in all-inclusive resorts, the sterile havens that offer all-you-can-eat buffets, watered-down cocktails and organized family activities in a “secure environment.” Which is tourism-speak for “complete isolation from real Dominican life.”
Is that really what people want these days? Or has the tourism industry managed to convince everyone that travel is dangerous outside an organized tour?
These last three months in the Dominican Republic, our goal has been to get off the boat, recharge our batteries and get in serious shape for the next chapter of our adventures: the Clipper Round the World Race. And though I’m packing up my life and getting ready to leave the D.R., I’m already thinking of all the things I want to do and see when I return. Because, even after three months, I can’t get enough of this island.
And every time I spot a group of pale, sunburnt tourists wearing matching wristbands, I think “They have no idea what they’re missing.”
Driving along the coast on a motorbike, eating cheap fish dinners by the roadside, jumping off cliffs to go swimming, playing in the streets with Haitians kids, befriending the local banana vendor, playing soccer with Dominicans, learning to make morir soñandos from fresh mangos, hitchhiking, laughing with Dominicans as 20 people squeeze into a guagua for 6 passengers and finding an unnamed bar where locals dance Bachata until sunrise. These are the experiences I will remember of my travels on the north Dominican coast.
And when we return from our fun, stressful adventures racing yachts to Brazil and Australia, I have no doubt we’ll be ready to explore what the south coast of the Dominican Republic has to offer.
I just wish I could convince the rest of the traveling world that the Dominican Republic is a safe, friendly country to explore independently. Made even friendlier for those not tethered to a sun-blistered herd of vacationers with newly braided corn-rows.
But to get to know the real Dominican Republic, you have to get away from the all-inclusive resorts and step out into the unknown. Speak some bad Spanish, get lost, eat four-dollar meals, take the wrong bus, dance with old ladies and drink too much rum with a guy named Felix who tells gruesome stories about Trujillo’s reign of terror.
You might regret the hangover. But, trust me, you’ll never regret the experience.