The Dominican Republic wasn’t on my travel list.
Images of all inclusive resorts full of sun burnt Americans and Europeans tends to give me cold sweats.
Turns out I wasn’t the only one. The majority of the people staying in Playa Encuentro on the North coast hadn’t considered ‘DR’ before. Like me, a quick Google search of countries that were open for travel (and where you could surf) and flights were booked. No quarantine, no PCR test needed to get on the flight or enter.
Visas were fine for 30 days with a British Passport and extensions seemed incredibly relaxed. $37 dollars for an additional 60 days and what appeared to be an ability to stay as long as you wanted if you carried on paying the ~$20 dollars a month.
The Dominican Republic suddenly looked like a pretty damn good option.
Flights to DR
You’ve got multiple options when it comes to flights. There are 3 main international airports in the Dominican Republic: Santo Domingo in the South (the Capital), Punta Cana in the South East (the all inclusive Mecca of DR) and Puerto Plata in the North West.
The problem was the connections. Playa Encuentro is only 30 minutes from Puerto Plata but the flights connect in Miami which was off limits at the time. It also involved a 16 hour layover which wasn’t ideal.
I ended up settling for a flight via Madrid, to Santo Domingo with Iberia. I figured a couple of hours layover in Madrid and a night in Santo Domingo, followed by a 4.5 hour journey North was the best option for me. I also booked a flexible return ticket in case I hated it and needed to move on quickly. Return flights from London Heathrow with the flexible return ended up being just over £900. Not great, but not the worst at such short notice.
The great thing was that business class upgrades were crazy cheap. I’d never flown business before and for an extra £200 it seemed like a no brainer. I’m glad I did it, and I also regret it. The ability to lay flat on a bed was, well, a different experience. It didn’t even feel like you were on the same plane. The problem is that I was happy in my ignorance. I now know what it’s like and I don’t want to go back.
Anyway, that’s a different topic.
There’s loads of options for flights, some are direct, some need a layover. Depends on your budget….obviously. I also found out that there are direct flights from Frankfurt if you so happen to be in Germany.
Flights from London:
Travel Options to the North Coast of the Dominican Republic
Let’s skip forward.
Flights are flights. They’re not exactly a stay in a 5 star hotel, but they’re also not as torturous as people make them out to be. Your mouth gets a bit dry. You need to fart a lot. Your coccyx feels like it’s being ground to dust after about 6 hours.
Skip ahead. I’m now in Santo Domingo having spent well over 1.5 hours in customs and passing through the busiest arrivals area I’ve seen.
I’ve woken up in a cheap hotel with a free breakfast that was of the quality you would expect from such an establishment. Salt, Pepper and hot sauce was required.
As far as I know, there are 3 main travel options to get from Santo Domingo (or Punta Cana) to the North coast of the Dominican Republic, namely the Cabarete, Playa Encuentro, Sosua area (Puerto Plata province):
Definitely the most expensive way to travel although if you’re in a group it may be convenient. I got in touch with Coco Tours who were offering $190 in a shared mini bus. They do offer private cars as well but this ramps up the price.
This is the option I chose. It was $150 which is way more than I would usually spend but the idea of being in a cramped bus for 4.5 hours during a global pandemic was a little off putting. Word on the street is that prices can range between $150 and $200 depending on what taxi company/driver you choose.
Definitely the cheapest and I actually used the bus going back to Santo Domingo – I wish I’d used it to get to the North Coast. The main bus company is Caribe Tours and they leave from their central bus station in Santo Domingo. Price for a 4.5 – 5 hour bus ride….a whopping 800 pesos which is about $14. This is what I would recommend – the seats were big and comfortable and the bus was nowhere near as packed as I had feared.
Arriving in Playa Encuentro
Playa Encuentro itself is relatively small. Its smack bang in between the larger towns (take ‘larger’ with a pinch of salt) of Cabarete and Sosua. Upon arrival in Playa Encuentro the taxi driver’s sat nav didn’t take us to the correct place so it’s probably worth downloading the map or taking a screenshot of your exact location.
I decided to stay at Surfbreak which is a family run surf hostel – it’s only private rooms with no dorms, like most places in Encuentro. There is another well known hotel called El Encuentro Surf Lodge, but its about double the price. You do get what you pay for though.
I know a few people that stayed at Gipsy Ranch which is very affordable, but let’s just say that it has a certain vibe to it. You may like it but everyone I know ended up leaving pretty sharpish.
Having said that, there are a lot of other options including a whole raft of AirBnB places as well.
So this was going to be my home for the next 3 months. A 5 minute walk to the beach and 10 minutes walk from the surf spots. A small but liveable room in a quaint hostel. Tropical weather, incredible sunrises. Better than lockdown in London.