My trip to the Dominican Republic in March 2017 came at just the right time. After almost two months of living and working on the Corn Islands, off the coast of Nicaragua (which was slowly gnawing at my soul and driving me to insanity), I was craving a more frenetic pace of living with access to more than one nightclub.
I still wanted a culture infused with Latin and African influences, but I didn’t want to spend too much money or get island-fever ever again. I needed people and space and a city in which to breathe — even if it was going to be more heavily polluted air than I was accustomed to. So I booked a one-way trip to Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic’s once-dangerous capital, knowing relatively little about the city or the country I was planning to spend a month in, but excited all the same.
The Dominican Republic turned out to be one of the best travel experiences I could have hoped for; despite the issues of colorism which seem to permeate the otherwise vibrant and open culture, I found the country to be incredibly easy to meet genuine and friendly people of both Dominican and Haitian decent.
On the way to the island of Hispaniola, I befriended a Haitain doctor on the plane who helped me get to my hostel in Santo Domingo and passed on a few safety tips for my time on the island. Then on my first day in Santo Domingo, I was roaming the local supermarket like a frizzy-haired mad woman because I’d had to chuck all my liquids out before my plane, when I met Sara.
A gorgeous Dominicana with impossibly defined brown ringlets that I spotted half way across the supermarket, we ended up talking for two WHOLE hours in the hair aisle after I approached her with broken Spanish and asked if she could help me with my own hair-mare. Luckily for me, Sara’s English was fluent and we struck up a friendship, right there and then in the hair section, talking about all things Dominican, English and hair-related.
I can’t think of many other situations in which two young women would be able to connect so quickly and so genuinely, but our friendship was cemented in *minutes*. And after Whatsapping throughout my time in Santo Domingo, where I was working at a hostel, we met up a couple of weeks later with two Polish guys Sara had also met. The group of us went rollerblading in the local mall before Sara took us to a traditional Dominican restaurant afterwards. People often mistook Sara and I for sisters (I loved it) and our day spent together was one of my favorite experiences in the whole year of my travels.
At the end of my trip I also met a group of guys and girls from Santo Domingo whilst visiting Las Terrenas. After hanging out at the beach, they offered to let me stay at one of their apartments back in the capital before my flight and, drive me and my friend back to the city. And so more friendships were born.
I also found street vendors, shopkeepers and the other people I met in the street to be pretty helpful and open; I swapped Facebook details with the women in my favorite local cafe in Santo Domingo, who smothered me with kisses when I had to say goodbye, I found that prices didn’t jump or change in the street (too much), like they often did in Cuba when locals detected an accent and, I noticed that Dominicans made an effort to try and understand my Spanish, too. Yeah the catcalling was awful at times (many other women I knew reported the same), but whilst staying in Santo Domingo, I really enjoyed chatting to locals at the many open-air music nights which gave the city its unique atmosphere. Dancing and drinking takes place outside and Dominicans are generally super-eager to speak to foreigners, as are Haitians, but who are often more excluded from the city’s main social hub. However, I spent my evenings in Santo Domingo with several different groups of people I’d originally met in the street and had an amazing time.
Working in a hostel
Santo Domingo is a city that grew on me the more I explored it. I landed a pretty dreamy job in a hostel which I loved and that helped me feel comfortable straight away. Island Life Backpackers’ hostel is British-Dominican run and when I arrived, originally as a guest, I immediately felt at home with the people there. Maybe I’d been travelling solo for too long, or I was just bored of being on an island, but when Chris, the owner mentioned he was looking for help with his blogging, SEO and social media efforts for the hostel, I jumped at the chance. In exchange for free, delicious food and dorm-accomodation, I worked on content for Island Life Backpackers’ for three weeks alongside 7 other volunteers from around the world, who I also formed great friendships with.
Planning A Return
An unexpected high in my trip, the Dominican Republic was so much fun, mainly because of the people I met. The many music and dance nights which took place under the stars in Santo Domingo were amazing, as were the beaches and beauty of Las Terrenas, and the waterfalls I hiked in Salto El Limon, but really, it was hanging out with Dominicans and working at a hostel which really created an unforgettable month in the Caribbean. If you’re heading to the Caribbean, don’t forget to always try and mingle with the locals and, consider working abroad or working in a hostel to alleviate travel costs.
Have you been to the Dominican Republic? Or are you wanting to work abroad? Hit me up with any comments below or via my email!