Travel in the Dominican Republic: Santiago and the Samaná Province

Greetings everyone! I spent the past week in the Dominican Republic, exploring the city of Santiago, and Las Terrenas in Samaná Province.

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Hiking in Samaná Province

Now, half this trip I felt in sheer amazement…almost like I had stepped into a picture-perfect beach screensaver. 😍

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Playa Las Ballenas in Las Terrenas a.k.a. the picture-perfect beach screensaver 🌴💗

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The other half of the time I was in sheer amusement of the local culture…almost as if I had stepped onto a reggaeton music set! 🎵 😂

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advertisement for a reggaeton concert performing in the Dominican Republic that week

Reggaeton is a music style influenced by hip-hop, Latin and Caribbean beats. The lyrics are a mix of singing and rapping, mostly in Spanish. Popular artists include Daddy Yankee, Wisin y Yandel, and Nicky Jam. 

And here I am, trying to decide if we’re talking about a musician or a fruit spread…🧐🧐😂😂

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No, in all honesty, I had listened to reggaeton before, but this atmosphere was just on another level. You see, there were concerts in both Las Terrenas and Santiago during my visit, and these concerts attracted all sorts of crazy crowds from across the country. Groups of Dominicans would roll down the streets in pricey jeeps, ATVs and even dune buggies, blaring music with drinks in hand. Here’s a short clip I found of the event in Las Terrenas: 

Men had sculpted eyebrows, backwards hats, and gold chains, while women had colorful braids and skimpy outfits to show off their voluptuous curves. I almost felt compelled to buy some booty shorts and crop top that said “Mamacita” just to fit in! 😂

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local shop in Santiago

Needless to say, I was never short on breathtaking views and wild entertainment during this trip. Anyway, let’s get back to discussing the Samaná Province, an area which I am even reluctant to speak about for fear of it becoming the next tourist hot spot. 😮 🤫

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While visiting in the province, I stayed in the town of Las Terrenas- undoubtedly the best place to base yourself. Here are just a few reasons why!

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beach within a 5-minute walk of the town center

Why Las Terrenas is Tops!

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  • Beach access

From the center of Las Terrenas, the beautiful Playa Las Ballenas is only a 10-minute walk away.

IMG_6806DSC_2048IMG_7174Alternatively, you can walk 45 minutes or take a motoconcho (motorcyle) to the nearby Playa Bonita or Playa Coson for only 2 USD.

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locals on their bicycle giving the peace sign ✌️ ☮️

Playa Bonita is a cozy, crescent shaped beach with lots of surf shops and eateries, so you can start your visit by getting in a good workout on the water, then unwind on one of their outdoor patios. 🏄

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Carolina Surf School

IMG_7235IMG_7243IMG_7242IMG_7237IMG_7250Now, after visiting so many beaches around the world, from Thailand to Tanzania, and Mexico to Maui, I found these to be some of the most spectacular I had ever seen! Not only was the sand soft and fine, the water was crystal clear and great for surfing and kite surfing, or swimming and snorkeling, depending on the spot.

IMG_7057IMG_7093 Also, and almost unheard of in most tourist spots, especially in the busy beaches of Barcelona, is the lack of people hassling you! Nothing really ruins a beach trip like hundreds of people trying to sell you water, hair braids and a massage incessantly, and you won’t find that here in the slightest. You can really have your own plot of sand in silence. Wow! 🤩

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  • Plethora of local and international cuisine

Dominican cuisine tends to be heavy on rice, beans, and fried meat, but near Las Terrenas, they are also blessed with plenty of seafood options with their proximity to the ocean. 🐙 🐠

IMG_7260In Las Terrenas there is an area called Playa de los Pescadores where you can find boats pulling right up on the sand to fillet the fresh catch of the day.🐟

IMG_7060IMG_7059Offerings tend to be quite reasonable, with ceviche or fried fish entrees costing less than 10 USD. Plus, they’re usually served with plenty of rice, avocado and fried plantains. 

IMG_E7129IMG_E7130Las Terrenas also tends to have kind of a European vibe in both its architecture and cuisine. It’s not uncommon to find fresh French pastries or cappuccinos at the local patisserie or wood-fired pizza and pasta at the beach side bistro.

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Accommodation: 

Personally, I stayed at Dan and Manty’s Guesthouse where they cooked up a daily all-you-can-eat feast for locals and guest alike for a reasonable 7 USD. They also provided a continental breakfast for their guests for only 3 USD

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breakfast of eggs, bananas, avocado, and oatmeal

All of the meals always included plenty of tropical fruits, like papaya, guayaba, and pineapple. 🍍

IMG_E6895Dan is an American who retired a few years back, came down to the Las Terrenas and met a local woman named Manty.IMG_6797The two fell in love, got married, and, seeing the potential of this area, Dan decided to convert her old house into a backpacker guesthouse. Currently, there is only one other hostel in the area, making their place very popular. As you can imagine, there are also many people that come here on vacation, fall in love with the town, and decide they don’t want to return back to real life. As such, Dan and Manty also take long-term volunteers who work here in exchange for free food and accommodation. Anyway, Manty loves cooking, and with lots of European backpackers coming through, aside from preparing local dishes like fish and frijoles, she likes to cook up things, like lasagna and even schnitzel! I really felt like I was living in their home during my visit, considering most times Manty would be running around the kitchen during the day, preparing food with curlers in her hair, and often times her father and sister would be there to help as well, while her sister’s kids played soccer out in the front yard. ⚽

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Manty in the corner, with curlers in her hair, and her dad sitting in the kitchen peeling potatoes

Cost: 15 USD per night, which includes free WiFi and purified water, plus unlimited coffee and tea

  • Safety and Authenticity 

Now, based on what other travelers have told me, this is one of the safest areas to stay in.

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pupper taking a nap in Las Terrenas

Personally, aside from the occasional man trying to flirt with me in the street, all the locals seemed really social and welcoming. In the morning, Dominican joggers would greet me with a smile, saying “Buenos días, amiga” or Good morning, friend! 🙂

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At the same time, in comparison to places like Santo Domingo and Punta Cana, this town felt very authentic. Locals were living in this town and going about their day-to-day routine while you were visiting. Families would gather in plastic chairs and play dominoes on the sidewalk or groups would gather and grill up some meat and dance in the streets.

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typical street scene in the Dominican (it sometimes feels rude to take photos of people, so I found this photo on Google instead)

Being a local town, souvenir shops were few and far between.

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What was more common; however, were local produce stands with fresh meat and veg, or off-brand goods being sold for cash on the streets.

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bananas, avocados, yucca, eggplant, and squash

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  • Modern conveniences

Now, if you’re not too keen on purchasing pineapples from a pick-up truck or Nike knock-offs, the town is equally civilized, with multiple grocery stores, banks, and luxury boutiques.

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Dominican canned goods

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  • Ease of booking excursions

Now, with such a wealth of natural beauty around you, it seems like you could do as much or as little as you like here, and feel perfectly content. 😊

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all smiles with this sunshine

There are tour operator in Las Terrenas, where you can book excursions to visit the local coffee plantation, Los Haistes National Park, or take part in activities like whale watching or scuba diving, but after reading multiple tour reviews, I didn’t find the tour packages to be worth the price and was perfectly content just taking advantage of these miles and miles of breathtaking beaches on a daily basis. 

IMG_7168IMG_7047I spent most mornings with coffee and DIY yoga on the beach, then spent the afternoons swimming in the ocean with fellow backpackers from the hostel or walking in peace listening to some inspirational podcasts. ☮️ 🧘

IMG_7131IMG_7169As well, although I never went on any organized excursions, I did take a “guagua” or shared transport to the town of El Limón to check out this breathtaking waterfall. 😍

DSC_1999IMG_6969The ride from Las Terrenas costs 1 USD and takes thirty minutes. Once you arrive, you can walk to the falls, which takes about an hour, or if you don’t want to walk, you can go by horse. 🐎

IMG_6912IMG_6964I went with a Dutch programmer who came here for his brother’s wedding. His brother had recently experienced a mid-life crisis, left his wife in Amsterdam, and came here only to fall in love with a woman half his age. My Dutch friend was worried that this was just a phase, and that his brother may have regrets later, but he was still here to support him in whatever way possible. For example, he said he went to visit his new sister-in-law’s family, and their daily routine was simply sitting in a plastic chair on the porch, drinking beer, and gossiping about everyone. He’s not sure how long that would sustain his brother after his stimulating and challenging life back in Europe. 😟

IMG_6908Anyways, the two of us decided to walk to the waterfall together, which involved a nice jaunt through the local village, an adventurous trek through a river, but rewarded us with stunning views of the surrounding countryside and the rushing waterfall.
IMG_6907IMG_6906IMG_6927IMG_6923My friend was convinced that he could get a better view of the area from above the treetops, but he never managed to get up the tree. 😂😂

IMG_6961Honestly though, I don’t think it could get much prettier than this!UDAOE0448IMG_6962As well, once we got to the waterfall, the excitement didn’t stop there. We found lots of Caribbean lizards scurrying about, I almost stepped on a snake, and there were crazy locals who had climbed up the side of waterfall and were jumping off into the shallow and slippery pools! 😱🐍

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luckily these black racer snakes are nonvenomous

Cost:

1 USD for entry to the waterfallsIMG_6917

  • Incredible nightlife

Now as the sun begins to set in Las Terrenas, the city and its citizens surely do not go to sleep.IMG_7082Surprisingly enough, although many people come to Las Terrenas for its beaches, they end up staying for its bachata.💃Bachata is a sensual Latin dance, which originated in the Dominican Republic and is similar to salsa and meringue, but involves more upper body movements and a characteristic hip pop. Local men there are even paid to go out to the bars and dance bachata with the women. This makes the nightlife and dancing in Las Terrenas absolutely spectacular, because the men really know how to sweep the ladies off their feet! ❤️

come-with-me-if-you-want-to-dance-bachataNow if clubbing and partying isn’t your thing, have no fear. The natural nightlife in Las Terrenas is equally as exciting. You can find lots of cute and creepy critters outside at all hours of the night, like this frog and big toad I found ribbeting outside my hostel. 🐸

IMG_7096IMG_7213FYI- the cane toad is apparently incredibly poisonous and is commonly ingested by dogs who need to be urgently sent to the vet afterwards
Now, after you stack up all these perks of staying in Las Terrenas, the other surrounding towns simply don’t compare.

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street art in Las Terrenas
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spring flowers in the Dominican Republic

What’s the most difficult part about visiting Las Terrenas?

As with most hidden gems, the hardest part about visiting this province was just getting here. Transport from Santiago does not leave from the main bus station, but rather from an unassuming side street, plus, they only offer 3 departure times each day. (6:45 AM, 11:30 AM, and 3 PM)

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bus stand on a random side street
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the bus stop is even listed as a shipping company on Google…how confusing!

This bus schedule is apparently a huge upgrade, as up until recently, the only way you could access the province was by horse or boat! Anyway, riding the local bus was a good way for me to interact with the locals and practice my Spanish.

IMG_6782After a few brief minutes on the bus, I quickly learned that many men here share that same machismo attitude as other Latin countries. For example, after casually mentioning out load that the temperature on the bus was cold, a man suggested that I cozy up next to him to warm up.🤮 I always seem to attract the “finest” men and this guy was a real “winner” with his tattered shirt neither fully covering his beer gut nor his butt crack, and with an old coke bottle in-hand for spitting tobacco. In response, I told him that I had a boyfriend back home and he wouldn’t appreciate that, so he then commented, “Why would a guy let a girl like you travel alone?” Oh brother! Cue my exaggerated eye roll! Hah! 🙄

out-of-all-my-body-parts-feel-like-my-eyes-2294993I obviously decided not to take him up on his proposition and instead sat next to an older gentleman, possibly in his 70s. This is when I discovered that this Casanova charm really sees no age limits. As I began to glance over at the WhatsApp messages on his phone, I saw that he had written to this woman named “la flaca” or “the skinny”. He said, “Can you believe how much?” She responds, “How much what?” He replies, “How much I want to be with you right now!” Wow! 😳

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inside the guaga

That will bring me to next point. From speaking with many women about dating culture here, I’ve heard that the idea of monogamy is a slightly gray area, and that sugar mamas are very common. Just something to be wary of when you are a few mojitos in, dancing with this young Dominican stud who you think is the love of your life. Just don’t assume his intentions are always genuine and that he’ll be faithful. 

Getting there:

Now to get to the Dominican Republic from Chicago, I flew with Spirit Airlines.

IMG_E6729On this low-cost carrier, for a little less than 300 USD round-trip before tax, you certainly get what you pay for! Hah! 😂

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Spirit Airlines memes

My flight left in the middle of the night and did not include any baggage in the price, plus the plane didn’t have chargers, the seats didn’t recline, and there were no televisions on-board for entertainment. 

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Loving my new Swiss Gear bag! It also meets TSA requirements as a personal item.

Fortunately, I had plenty of “free entertainment” as I seemed to be sitting near the water cooler of the plane, and all the stewards would congregate there to complain about both the passengers and their love lives. I soon learned that the male steward was apparently seeing this guy in Florida that he met on Tinder, whom he visits regularly during his rotation, but wasn’t interested in anything serious, and was looking more for friends with benefits. TMI! 😮

Now, prior to departing the Dominican Republic, I spent my last full day exploring the city of Santiago.

What to See in Santiago

Santiago de los Caballeros is the second largest city in the Dominican Republic. It has a beautiful central square, and definitely felt like more of a livable, modern city than a tourist hot spot.

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That being said, it was MUCH cheaper to fly into this city than Punta Cana, and it’s also located only a short bus ride away from destinations, like Puerto Plata, Santo Domingo, and even Jarabacoa, a hiking region that I have on my radar for my next trip to the DR!

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Pico Duarte Mountain in Jarabacoa and Jarabacoa Mountain Hostel for around 15 USD per night!

On that note, this will wrap up my first trip to the Dominican Republic. After exploring Santiago, I slowly made my way back to the airport.

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plantation on the way to the airport

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sunset at the airport ✈️

As always, I made sure to use up all my foreign currency by picking up a few souvenirs before I left.

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local coffee, plantain chips and a magnet purchased with Dominican Pesos

Overall, the cost for this entire trip was around 600 USD, which made it an incredibly budget-friendly destination for any backpacker seeking a fabulous beach town and slice of solitude.

IMG_7133Anyway, stay tuned, because I’ll soon be revealing my itinerary and plan for my second move overseas, starting with a two-month backpacking trip through Europe. Until then!

6 thoughts on “Travel in the Dominican Republic: Santiago and the Samaná Province

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