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It was my second time in the Dominican Republic. Last time, I became engaged, and this time we were here for a wedding. And now, we had a really really long drive ahead.
With my now-husband (it wasn’t our wedding), I landed in Punta Cana airport from London Heathrow, and collected our hire car before driving the short road to our AirBnb for the night. We were heading to a family wedding at the other side of the island in the morning.
The drive would take 5 hours, and we’d be doing in the most dangerous country to drive in, in the world.
The last time I was in the Dominican Republic was 3.5 years ago, after now-husband/then-boyfriend whisked me away for a week of enforced relaxation, still reeling from a chronic illness diagnosis and how much it was affecting my life.
We headed to incredible Cayo Levantado, which was in Samana Province (the same place we were driving to), but with package holidays come coach transfers, and this time we were full-on DIY-ing it. This drive was going to be long, but it was going to be enjoyed. Armed with the playlist to end all playlists, I was happy to be driving about (husband at the wheel, leaving me free to gaze out of the windows) in a country where most tourists head to a resort and don’t leave its compound for a week. What a waste – you could be on any beach, anywhere!
Are you ready for a Dominican Republic road trip?
It was a long schlep from our AirBnb, in the identikit international suburb by Punta Cana’s airport (head here if you want a safe stay with a really lovely family, highly recommended) along Highway 4, to Las Galeras on the Samana Peninsula, as we made our way across the island for a family wedding. The roads were mixed too, and in parts difficult to navigate – we took a wrong turn and were unable to turn around for at least 30 minutes, meaning we got a lot closer to the capital, Santo Domingo, than we really intended.
A few hairy turns and backstreet tours later, we were back on the right track – the thing to remember here is that mopeds and motorbikes are constantly coming out from blind spots and well, any which way, making driving dangerous roads all the more challenging.
Dominican Republic sure is a beautiful country to drive in, and I recommend you get out of your resort to do so. It’s not as dangerous as we expected either. Firstly, I’m writing this, and secondly you just have to be on your guard. Mopeds and pedestrians will come out from all angles, but on the larger highways that’s not really an issue. Just take it steadily.
After turning around and getting back en-route, the beach flats became rolling plains, before rocky outcrops and a mountain range stretched out before us. The road quality was better than expected too, especially considering the heat this island endures all year around.
Okay, most of the time.
We drove for hours on Highway 7, around winding outcrops and past waterfalls. The scenery was spectacular. You won’t see this from your sunlounger. I described the views to husbandbeast so he could concentrate on the road.
Then it was time to take a right off the highway: we were at the entrance to the Samana Peninsula where single-file roads took us through small towns and villages – a proper look at what Caribbean life away from plush resorts was really like, beyond the typical day trip to a local waterfall.
There was one part of our road trip I was particular excited about: driving right past where my husband and I got engaged. Cayo Levantado is a 1km-wide outcrop in the Samana Bay, famous for whale-watching and well, a beautiful private island with a hotel on it. That’s where we stayed the last time we were here, and during that week, I was upgraded from girlfriend to fiancée.
We couldn’t get to the island, which is 30 mins into the bay by private boat, but we were driving as close as we could get. The weather took a crazy turn for the worse, and this is the best shot I could get. But we saw it: engagement island!
And then we were there: Villa Serena, Las Galeras. I’ll keep the rest of this trip private out of respect for the newlyweds and their special wedding week. Our Dominican Republic road trip was done, one-way anyway. This is the view that greeted us after 5 hours on the road though – walking into a hotel reception never looked so good:
I will tell you though, that this is a great little hotel and walkable from the small town of Las Galeras. Definitely consider it as an alternative to a package holiday.
After this trip, we jetted to the next island – Puerto Rico – for our own honeymoon and a 2-week road trip. MUCH more on that to come soon!
My personal rule, if ever travelling on a package holiday – because let’s face it, they’re often a much cheaper way to access somewhere – is to always go outside of your resort. Skip a meal or two that you’ve paid for, is it really a big deal if you might never get another opportunity to stumble across that quirky local restaurant or witness some foreign customs? Those are the experiences that are priceless.
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