Category: Island Travel (Page 1 of 4)

The Island of the Blue Dolphins: What’s The Big Deal About San Nicolas Island?

island of the blue dolphins

From Pixabay

I’ve been in love with the Channel Islands of California since I first read Scott O’Dell’s The Island of the Blue Dolphins as a little kid. The first time that I glimpsed them in person was on the horizon while on a family vacation. I was so fascinated in the shadows that came and went out on the ocean that I convinced my dad that we needed to see if there was a way to get to them, and a few days later we were on a day trip to Anacapa.

Since then, I have gone to camp on Catalina, snorkeled on Anacapa, kayaked on Santa Cruz, and hiked across Santa Rosa. But there are two Channel Islands that are off limits to visitors, San Nicolas and San Clemente. These are both owned by the Navy, and have active bases on them. So, going there as a casual camper or explorer is simply out of the question. Even so, I have been just as fascinated and in-love with these islands as the rest of the chain. This year I made a monumental effort to work as a short-term environmental contractor on San Nicolas so that I could finally experience this unique and amazing place.

But why drive for two days, volunteer three work days, and fly out into the middle of the ocean where no phones were allowed (for our group)? What’s so special about San Nicolas?

THE ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS

island of the blue dolphins

Juana Maria from Wikimedia commons

The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell is one of the first chapter books that I remember reading. More importantly, it is the first book that I ever read with a female, Native American protagonist. This story started to open my eyes to the realities of American expansion on Native people. I also had the chance to look up to a female hero, something, which was rare at the time, particularly among the stories that I enjoyed most.

O’Dell tells the tale of Juana Maria (we will never know her real name), a Nicoleño woman who was left alone on San Nicolas island for 18 years. While his book is historical fiction, the story itself is real. Juana Maria’s people, had been living on San Nicolas for hundreds of years (possibly more). In the 1800s, they found themselves at the center of a brutal conflict when the Russian-American Company fur company targeted their home for its thriving otter populations. At some point, the RAC hunters on the island decided that the local people had killed one of their men and in response they massacred the residents.

After this, Juana Maria’s people were removed from their home, although the reasons for this are not clear. The boat, however, left her behind. Again, no one is entirely sure why she wasn’t taken with the rest of her people. Some say that a strong storm drove the boat away from the island before she could get aboard. Others believe that she leapt from the boat because she thought her younger brother had been forgotten.

A Survivor, Strength Unmatched

island of the blue dolphins

Statue of Juana Maria from Wikimedia commons

Utterly alone, Juana Maria survived for nearly two decades on San Nicolas. She built herself a home, and expertly utilized all the resources of the island to stay alive. A few footprints on the beach sand, and food left out to dry eventually led to her being found. After that, she was brought to the mainland. Sadly, the rest of her people did not await her there. She died only seven weeks after being reunited with society.

Juana Maria’s story is one of horrible tragedy, but as a person, I consider her a hero. While I can’t say what her own people thought of women, I believe that Juana Maria shocked the Europeans and Americans with her strength, ingenuity, and iron will to survive. She did what none of those people thought that she could. I will always see her as one of the great figures of female survivors and outdoor experts.

It was amazing to walk in her footsteps (so to speak) and see the island that she once called home.

OTTERS IN THE SOUTH

island of the blue dolphins

From pixabay

Otters were once common across the long coast of California. Thousands of them made their homes along the beaches that are now so famously loved by the West-coast enthusiasts. They played an essential role in the ecosystem of the coast. In the 18th and 19th Century, however, hunters killed them in such extreme numbers that they were considered extinct in California by the 1900s.

Luckily, this was not the case, as a single small population remained after the hunting efforts were ended. All of the current otters that live in California now came from those few that managed to survive. From a conservation scientist’s perspective this makes California’s otters vulnerable. Those left don’t have much by way of genetic variation. When genetic variation is low, diseases and environmental changes are more dangerous for a species. For example, more variation means that there is a greater chance that more individuals will have a natural immunity or ability to recover from an otherwise fatal disease.

Welcome Back To San Nicolas

island of the blue dolphins

From Pixabay

In order to address this problem, US Fish and Wildlife decided that a second population of otters was needed. They chose San Nicolas Island for this purpose, and brought several otters there. They thought that the animals would be safe from any problems that arose in the north there. Unfortunately, everyone underestimated how far otters could travel. Most of the animals dropped off on San Nicolas actually swam home, across the open ocean and up the coast. Pretty amazing, if you ask me!

The project didn’t go as smoothly as wildlife managers were hoping, but there is a small population of otters on San Nicolas now. These little guys are some of the most  special animals that anyone can see in southern California. It’s only fitting that they can now make the Island of the Blue Dolphins their home once more.

My Journey to San Nicolas

Last week I posted about my trip amazing trip to San Nicolas and the great work that the Channel Island Restoration team does.

Visiting San Nicolas the Island of the Blue Dolphins

visiting san nicolas

Map of the island © Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Visiting San Nicolas Island off of the coast of California is no easy feat. There’s really only one way, working for the Navy in some capacity. So, managing to get on a trip with Channel Islands Restoration, an organization that is contracted for environmental restoration on San Nicolas, was a huge opportunity. The following is my trip log for my journey out to the beautiful Island of the Blue Dolphins where I helped support CIR’s amazing work.

(Please note that NONE of the pictures in this post are mine. No photos of the island are allowed without permission from the Navy.  Channel Island Restoration contractors are not allowed to bring cameras of any kind. If you would like to see more of San Nicolas, please look through William T. Reid’s photography over at his blog Stormbruiser.com. He has gratuitously allowed me to include a couple of his photos here. He has some really amazing shots of San Nicolas Island and more!)

The Journey to San Nicolas

visiting san nicolas

Anacapa and Santa Cruz (c) filippo_jean on Flickr (marked for reuse)

Luckily, on the morning that I was flying out to the island, I managed to find the right meeting place. I was immediately greeted by a wonderful group of people. I really have to say, if you are interested in volunteering for the environment of the Channel Islands, I can’t sing the praises of Channel Islands Restoration enough. They are an amazing organization and I am really happy that I managed to get myself out to their trip.

After meeting up with the group, we made our way to the gateway to the base. From there, we drove to the little one-room airport terminal. I had no idea what to expect once we were there, but checking in was little different than when I had flown on the little plane to Vieques. Checking the weight of you and your bags.

A Special Flight

What was more complicated was the plane schedule itself, or rather… getting back and forth, because thick fog and heavy winds are common on San Nicolas. The planes flying out there can’t really deal with either. So, our group ended up waiting several hours in the terminal, along with everyone else on our flight and the one before ours, which had yet to leave.

When we did climb onto the plane, I was delighted to get a single seat next to the window. There were far too many clouds for me to see any of the Channel Islands on the journey. But I was happy to watch the wavering layer of water vapor float by as we got nearer and nearer to this forbidden island. I honestly never thought I would be visiting San Nicolas Island.

Welcome to the Island of the Blue Dolphins

visiting san nicolas

Channel Islands Fox from Wikipedia

As we landed, I got my first view of the desert island, and its characteristic flat mesa where little roads criss-crossed through the dry plant communities. Little buildings popped up here and there, boxy and defined by their utilitarian design. Once we landed, we pilled into a volunteer van and made our way to Nick Town. This is where all of the restaurants, barracks, and hotel rooms are. With a view of the ocean, I found this little Navy village to be inviting, if not vibrant and busy. I was also delighted to find out that the hotel there was extremely comfortable and even luxurious in comparison to many of the places that I stay.

Due to our delay at the airport, we took some time to hit up the little store in town. There I secured a gallon of drinking water and perused the sparsely stocked shelves for a souvenir. I settled on a wide, metal mug with the base logo on it.

Afterwards, we charged up for work by grabbing a cheap lunch at the cafeteria-esque Galley. Massive burritos were on offer and we all tucked in, enjoying the calories after our journey and hoping for it to carry us through the afternoon’s work.

Lending a Hand

visiting san nicolas

Coreopsis gigantea | by John Game (labeled for reuse)

Once we had finished, the lot of us headed out into the field. Channel Islands Restoration carries out work on several of California’s Channel Islands. They raise and plant native plants for a variety of projects seeking to bring the islands closer to their natural state. Many of the Channel Islands were used as ranches in the past, which caused and necessitated major environmental changes.

On this trip, our work was to go through an older planting area to weed out non-native plants (plants that were brought to the islands by American settlers, in this case) and check on temporary irrigation lines. The extra water is meant to give the native plants a foot up as they establish and have to compete with young non-native plants. In the end, it was hoped that this work would a have a two-fold positive impact. (1) It would create a stripe of native plants, and (2) it would stabilize the soil, which is particularly important in the often windy environment San Nicolas.

Learning More About the Plant Community

Luckily for me, it wasn’t back breaking work and we moved relatively fast. I also had the opportunity to work with one of the senior volunteers, who had been out to San Nicolas with Channel Islands Restoration many times before. She was a wonderful teacher, who patiently taught me each of the native plants and their non-native nemeses (which she lovingly referred to as “the bad guys”).

When we had finished for that day, our illustrious and kind volunteer coordinator (seriously, this guy was amazing; I think his job must be so difficult and he wears so many hats- scientist, restorationist, volunteer coordinator/trainer, and tour guide) pilled us all into the van and took us out to see some of the sights.

I wasn’t expecting to get to do this while visiting San Nicolas Island, so needless to say, I was delighted.

Sightseeing on San Nicolas

visiting san nicolas

Tranquility Beach (c) William T. Reid (Used with permission)

We took a road that cross the middle of the island and then curled around to the coast through forests of small trees called Giant Coreopsis. These eventually gave way to dunes and ice plants (non-native) as we came down from the central plateau of San Nicolas and moved towards the ocean. This area had previously been heavily impacted by ranching. At one point, there was hardly a plant left due to overgrazing. This caused the dunes to become wild, without any roots to slow them down.

Things are a bit better now. Without grazing pressure, plants (both native and non-native) have returned and stabilized many areas. Channel Islands Restoration and the Navy has been hard at work giving native plants a chance to come back. It has been a long journey and there is much further to go. But where ranch animals were dominating the landscape not too long ago, tiny Island Foxes now frolic in on an island which is slowly recovering its biodiversity.

San Nicolas is also a very important habitat for marine mammals such as elephant seals, sea lions, and even otters (it’s the only site in southern California that has a population of them after they were nearly hunted to extinction by fur traders). When they are out on the beach, people should keep their distance. These animals are very shy.

The Island Coast

visiting san nicolas

Beautiful San Nicolas Island (c) William T. Reid (Used with permission)

Tranquility Beach, our first stop on our little tour, is a popular place for marine mammals. When we visited, however, it was deserted. So, under the watchful eye of our volunteer coordinator, we wandered out onto the sand. The air and sea were calm as we combed through shells we couldn’t take home, marveling at how beautiful they all were. The only sign that there had been elephant seals all over the beach in earlier weeks were the scraps of their shed fur that they had left behind.

Once we were done there, we continued driving around the island, where we passed through the driest area. I almost felt at home as we navigated down a road surrounded by cholla. We stopped at a loading pier where we stepped out to silently watch the sea lions far down on the beach. They didn’t notice us as we kept quiet, and two young pups frolicked with one another in the surf. It was a beautiful sight.

We topped the night off with a hearty dinner of burgers, salads, sandwiches and cookies at the restaurant in Nick Town. I can’t say how much I appreciated the soft, cozy bed of the hotel room when I finally returned for the night. No computer or phone to distract me from sleeping.

Locking the Keys in the Car

visiting San Nicolas

NOT something that we saw; elephant seals use San Nicolas at some times of the year and no one is allowed to disturb them. From Pixabay.

I took my breakfast in my room the next day, and met with the team for an early morning start on our project. Skilled from the day before, we worked quickly and before lunch we had finished up everything we needed to in the field. So we returned to the nursery where Channel Island Restoration raises the plants that they use for their projects on San Nicolas. We cleaned, and prepped tools for the next project before gathering our things to catch our flight off of the island in the mid-afternoon.

I had a minor heart attack when the keys got locked in our van, along with most people’s luggage. I was really afraid that we would miss our flight, as the small planes did not wait for late comers. Luckily, our volunteer coordinator and the island transportation head had us covered with the spare key. We made it on time to the airport.

But… ten minutes after everyone got checked in, it was announced that we wouldn’t be going anywhere that night. There had been an accident on the runway on the mainland, and the clean up would take some time. We had to settle in for a surprise extra night. Such are the risks one runs when visiting San Nicolas Island and other remote places like it.

Some Things Are Meant to Be

visiting San Nicolas

Rock Crusher from islandpedia.com

With my 7-8 hr drive home between me and home, whenever I could get a plane, plus work piling up, I found this a little distressing. But once again, our coordinator came to the rescue. He got us set up at the hotel again, and then took us out to one of the most special places on San Nicolas. Rock Crusher.

There we got to walk among the strange stone structures on the coast, and marvel at the endless break off the island in the ocean. We were all tired, and when we settled down to take in all of the beauty around us, a tiny otter surfaced in the kelp.

It seemed like a sign. Even though we were all stressed out, and weren’t planning to spend an extra night on the island, we were meant to be there. For me, it was a moment of pure beauty in which I found myself bathing in gratitude for the opportunity to be there, in that special, secluded place. I was grateful to have been given the chance to help Channel Island Restoration in their amazing mission, and lucky to have been with such an amazing group of people.

More Information on San Nicolas Island

For amazing photography of San Nicolas (and more) be sure to look through William T. Reid’s Stormbruiser blog!

If you’d like to donate your time or money to the effort to repair the environment of the Channel Islands, please visit Channel Islands Restoration to learn more about all the cool projects that they are working on.

visiting san nicolas

visiting san nicolas

 

The Forgotten Caribbean: Travel to Vieques

Last week we covered some history and attractions on the small island of Culebra, and this week I am going to sum up Nightborn Travel’s coverage of Puerto Rico with Culebra’s sister island, Vieques. This is the larger of the two Spanish Virgin Islands. It faces many of the same challenges that we talked about in regards to Culebra. This includes a history of military exploitation, and small local communities struggling against impending buy-out from expats and the larger tourism industry. At the same time, Vieques and Culebra are utterly unique. When you travel to Vieques you will have the opportunity to see beautiful low-land forests, free-range horses, and one of the best bio-luminescent bays in the world. There’s an almost endless list of things to see on this little island and it’s time that it was forgotten no more.

travel to vieques

EARLY HISTORY

Before the arrival of the Europeans, Vieques was home to indigenous peoples such as the Taino, who left archeological remains throughout Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, the Spanish colonizers went to war with the native people here and enslaved everyone left when they were done claiming the land for themselves. The Taino people currently live on through modern Puerto Ricans who still incorporate some of the traditions of Taino culture in the unique Puerto Rican way-of-life.

As with much of the Caribbean, and mainland Puerto Rico, sugar plantations were a major aspect of life on Vieques. This activity led to immigration onto the island as workers, investors, and slaves moved or were moved to take advantage of the small island’s fertile soils.

travel to vieques

The Fortin on Vieques (c) ABR 2018

RECENT HISTORY

In the 1940s, this changed when the US military purchased more than half of the island. This had large-scale negative impacts on the economy of the island. It put many local people out of work, and forced physical relocation for anyone that lived on the land that was now owned by the US government. The land purchased was utilized for the testing of weaponry, and much like Culebra, the island is still haunted by this legacy. Although this is something that you pick up more from talking to local people when you travel to Vieques, as there aren’t tanks laying around here.

This misuse and mistreatment of the island and its residents came to a tragic head when David Sanes was killed by military activity in 1999. This event led to ongoing protests that were spearheaded by local people but supported by activists from all over the world. By 2001, there was a presidential guarantee that the military would begin leaving in 2003, and on May 1, 2003, the process began.

travel to vieques

A map of military impacts on Vieques (c) ABR 2018

While the protests led to the ceasing of the US government’s activities on Vieques, the road to recovering the island has not been easy. Cancer rates on Vieques are high and many local people believe that this has to do with the tests that took place there. Furthermore, health services are not readily available on Vieques and what there was was all but destroyed by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Environmental and social recovery is still underway. Bu many Vieques natives have had to move away from their home due to lack of resources, jobs, and health care. This leaves the island vulnerable to a new kind of exploitation from the mass tourism industry.

GETTING THERE

As with Culebra, you can travel to Vieques via a ferry or a plane ride.

The most affordable way to get there is the ferry, which runs from Fajardo/Ceiba to Vieques multiple times a day and the fare is under $10. However, taking the ferry has its risks as the schedule is not 100% dependable and tickets can sell out. Check the Guide to Vieques for more information.

travel to vieques

Getting off of the tiny airplane on Vieques (c) ABR 2018

Personally, I traveled there with Vieques Air Link, which flew from San Juan to the island. These flights leave from the much smaller domestic airport in San Juan, and use very small planes, so if you are scared of 4-6 seat planes, you might opt for the ferry. If you have the extra cash for this mode though, the views from the plane are absolutely amazing and Air Link was on time for all of the flights I took with them. The only difficultly with this mode of transportation post-Maria was that the companies were a little hard to contact and we had some difficultly getting our tickets and confirming our seats. I would hope that this will consistently improve as things get repaired in Puerto Rico.

travel to vieques

View of San Juan from the tiny plane to Vieques (c) ABR 2018

WHERE TO STAY

There are lots of places to stay and different kinds of experiences, from AirBnb to hostels and luxury hotels. As always, my main suggestion would be to stay somewhere that’s smaller, and locally owned. You will even have some options in terms of whether or not you stay near the town centers or out in the more rural areas of the island when you travel to Vieques.

WHAT TO DO

Hiking

No, surprise, but my first suggestion would be to go hiking. There are tons of trails, but here are a couple that I enjoyed.

Cayo de Tierra: This short, little trail goes out onto a beautiful peninsula that is just right outside of town. Day Trips says that it is unusable since Hurricane Maria, but I had no trouble hiking it in April. You just need to follow the red markings along the trail.

travel to vieques

Looking through the forest and out to the land bridge (c) ABR 2018

Playa Negra is the black sand beach of Vieques. It takes a bit of hiking to get there, down through a small creek bed, but it is well worth the walk. Just expect your shoes to get wet and be prepared. I will also note that there is not a lot of parking at the trailhead, so please be sure that you move your vehicle out of the road when you head out.

travel to vieques

Playa Negra (c) ABR 2018

The Vieques National Wildlife Refuge is another hot spot for hiking, although when I visited, it was closed down after the hurricane. Hopefully it will be opened again soon.

Other Stuff to Do

Vieques is also home to one of the best bio bays in the world, although it has been badly impacted by Hurricane Maria and climate change. I would still suggest checking it out, as at worst you will get to go on a nice, guided night kayak on a beautiful bay. There is a nice list of companies to consider going out with here.

Fortin Conde de Mirasol is a great historic location on the island, which is a must-see for any travel to Vieques. It is both a great place to learn more about the story of the island, and it is home to an organization that supports local education. There is a great little museum here as well as a lovely gift shop.

travel to vieques

The Gran Ceiba (c) ABR 2018

Make sure that you stop by the absolutely beautiful Gran Ceiba tree. It is said to be about 300 years old. Just make sure that you don’t step on the roots! Keep your distance.

Finally, there are tons of tasty restaurants right on the beach in Esperanza. The village is a great place to stop by for a relaxing walk through the town. There is plenty of Caribbean fusion, Puerto Rican, and American food on offer, so there is something for everyone.

TIPS FOR THE ISLAND

(1) Use your travel to Vieques as a tool for supporting local people. You can do this by supporting locally owned hotels, restaurants and guides. You can also learn more about the culture and history of Vieques and share it with other people. The more the world knows about the struggles of this little island and the strength of its people, the better!

(2) There is still unexploded ordinance on Vieques, and although rare, sometimes people still find things while exploring. If you find anything that you can’t identify, do not touch or move it, just report it to the authorities.

travel to vieques

The closed National Wildlife Sanctuary (c) ABR 2018

(3) Vieques has a very high amount of murder, statistically speaking. For the most part, this is not something that visitors need to worry about. The residents of Vieques are kind people and the island overall has a small-town mentality. That being said, stay out of trouble and don’t go looking for drugs, etc. (not something I condone anywhere).

(4) When you drive on Vieques remember that this is a small island; there are often people and horses walking along the road (sometimes turtles even try to cross!). Embrace island life and drive slow and respectfully. If people want to pass you, just pull out of the way. Enjoy the scenery!

(5) Hiking, traveling and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends. It is your responsibility to travel and explore responsibly and take care of your own safety. (Adapted from www.hikearizona.com).

The Forgotten Caribbean: Visiting Culebra

Culebra is the smaller of the two populated islands off of the eastern coast of Puerto Rico, and it is a world of its own. The island itself is low-lying, meaning that much of its surface is relatively dry when compared to the tropical paradise that is the Island of Enchantment, and even compared to the forests of its partner, Vieques. Even so, Culebra is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean, if not the world, and it has a tragic history that needs to be remembered. But is visiting Culebra worth it? Of course. It’s the perfect place for a weekend getaway or as part of an add-on to a trip to Puerto Rico.

COLONIAL HISTORY

Despite it small size, Culebra has a history that’s almost a perfect snap shot of all the complexity and struggles faced by the people of the Caribbean. Archeologists have found evidence of both Taino and Arawak peoples living on the island before the arrival of Europeans. By the 18th century, the native Caribbean people had either died in wars with invading Europeans, via slavery, or they had mixed with the new people moving into the Caribbean. Shortly after, Culebra had become a shelter for pirates.

visiting culebra

Coolest postal office ever with Caribbean flare (c) ABR 2018

The Spanish crown put a stop to this, due to the island’s proximity to its Caribbean jewel, and as of 1880 colonization efforts began on the island. In fact, there is still an old graveyard that has survived into modern times from those early days of European colonization (something you should totally include in your Culebra itinerary). Within a short period of time, the single village of Culebra had grown to five villages and the people that made the island home had a thriving agricultural society.

RECENT HISTORY

In 1901, the US military established a base on Culebra, and this had long-term negative impacts on the island’s people. The base’s construction forced the resettlement of many people and closed parts of the island of to its residents.

Local people protested this treatment and this eventually led to the US military leaving the island in 1975. However, there is still evidence of this period in the island’s history left scattered across the land, and which you will see when visiting Culebra. From rusting tanks on the beach to unexploded ordinance hidden in the sand and elsewhere, the memory of what the US did to Culebra will not disappear anytime soon.

visiting Culebra

Tank left on Flamenco Beach (c) ABR 2018

In 2017, Hurricane Maria hit the Caribbean with intense force; it decimated Puerto Rico and Culebra with it. Many people with family ties to the island have been forced to leave due to the damage from the hurricane, or from lack of jobs. At the same time, wealthy people from the US and Puerto Rico’s main island have started buying up land on Culebra, with plans to turn this small Caribbean world into their own luxury tourism experience, against the will of the local people.

Bringing community-based tourism in Culebra now might just help local people take back their control of their home and provide jobs for residents as well. So, your Culebra itinerary could actually make a bit of a difference if you do it right.

GETTING THERE

There are two main ways to get to Culebra, and both of them have some complications.

There is a ferry that runs from Fajardo to Culebra multiple times a day, and it is very affordable. However, during busy times of the year the ferry can fill up, with preference being given to residents, and the schedule is not always kept to the standards the Americans or Western Europeans are used to. So, this can be a frustrating experience, although I had no issues with it at all when I went. I would suggest getting to the ferry terminal early in order to insure that you can get tickets and bring a book along in case you need some extra entertainment for scheduling hiccups.

visiting culebra

Getting off of the ferry onto Culebra (c) ABR 2018

Several small airlines can also facilitate visiting Culebra. They fly from San Juan or Ceiba Airport. In April 2017, we found these companies very hard to contact and were unable to buy tickets for a flight. However, many travelers have had better luck with this mode of transport than the ferries in the past. We did fly Vieques Air Link to Vieques successfully, however, and they do fly to Culebra as well.

WHERE TO STAY

Not a giant hotel.

Ok seriously though. There are some big players that are interested in Culebra and local people are struggling to maintain control of their home. If you stay in one of the small, locally owned hotels in the main village, you can make a difference. Give your money to the local community and get a taste of day-to-day life in your Culebra itinerary.

WHAT TO DO

Flamenco Beach is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean, and even if you end up disagreeing, it is certainly one of the most unique beaches in the region. Visit to enjoy the beautiful water and coast, and see the reclaimed tanks left behind on the beach.

visiting culebra

Flamenco Beach (c) ABR 2018

Playa Tamarindo is another beautiful beach, which is known to be a nesting beach for turtles. Due to this, if you visit, please be careful and keep your distance from any turtles or nests that you might notice.

If you are a hiker, visiting Culebra is right up your alley, because there are several trails that you can explore, and most take you to a beautiful beach. Puerto Rico Day Trips has a detailed post about your options.

visiting culebra

Driving around on Culebra (c) ABR 2018

Culebra is the perfect place to go for a bike ride. It’s not a huge island, so you can see just about everything from the back of your bicycle. If this isn’t an option for you, not to worry. You can rent a jeep in town and take a lovely drive across the island.

Visit the Museum of Culebra and learn more about the history of this little island. The museum is sure to lend some more nuance to what you’ve already learned. The museum hours are a little bit limited, so you might want to call ahead before visiting. (787.617.8517)

visiting culebra

Colorful buildings in Culebra (c) ABR 2018

TIPS FOR THE ISLAND

(1) Do not pick up or handle anything unidentified on the beach or elsewhere.  Culebra was once used for military exercises and unexploded ordinances are still found around the island to this day. Sometimes, people get hurt by what they find. If you find anything questionable, please stay away and report it to authorities so that they can assess the situation.

(2) Many people take a ferry to Culebra for the day and bring all of their own food. Sadly, this means that the only money they spend in the community is on the ferry. You can do a lot of good for the people of Culebra by eating out while visiting the island. There is some really good food here, and the prices are reasonable. If you are a budget traveler, consider going grocery shopping once you are on the island.

visiting culebra

Some very tasty food on Culebra (c) ABR 2018

If you are looking for more to do in Puerto Rico be sure to take a look at our guide.

visiting culebra

visiting culebra

Adventures in Paradise Part 2: A Puerto Rico Itinerary

PART TWO: WESTERN PUERTO RICO

So, we’ve already covered why you should visit the Island of Enchantment and what you can do on the eastern half of the island in a week, now, here is the second part of that Puerto Rico itinerary, which is going to bring you another five days of nature, hiking, beaches, and history around this beautiful country.

Day 8: Guanica

Puerto Rico itinerary

The dry coast of Puerto Rico (c) ABR 2015

Guanica is a unique and perfect place for hikers and coast-lovers alike. This historic town is in a dry area of Puerto Rico, and this gives it a very special, ecological character that just can’t be found in other parts of the island. The Bosque Estatal de Guanica has a variety of trails through the dry, coastal forest and it is also home to a small, historic fort. Hiker or not, it’s a great place for a picnic and walk. The beaches in this area are quite beautiful as well, and Guanica is the perfect place to enjoy some mangrove forests, which are essential to coastal health and flood mitigation.

Stay the night in Guanica; the historic Parador Guanica 1929 is a good option if you can afford it.

Day 9: Rojo Cabo

Puerto Rico itinerary

A viewing tower in Rojo Cabo (c) ABR 2018

Rojo Cabo is a really odd little peninsula in the southwestern corner of the island, and it’s a place that I just had to include in my Puerto Rico itinerary. This area has some kind of weird, shallow water environments, and a road that has a view of the ocean on two sides, as well as a very picturesque lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula. Once a salt mine, the area was slated to become a harbor, but was saved by local people who didn’t want to see its natural beauty destroyed. With their protection, it is now known that this area is absolutely essential for many bird species. If you are a bird watcher, Rojo Cabo is a must-visit location, but hikers and photographers will enjoy this varied landscape as well.

Stay the night in Mayaguez.

Day 10: Tamana River

The Tamana River weaves through the western interior of Puerto Rico, through the island’s mystical karst region. With a guide who knows the area and has the proper safety equipment, you can book river tours that take you through caves and tropical landscapes that will blow your mind. I highly suggest that, no matter your interests, you check out some of the tours you can take in this area, because they will be unlike anything else you have ever done.

Learn more about tours at Tamana River Adventures and Batey Zipline Tours (they do much more than ziplining).

Day 11: Rincon

Puerto Rico itinerary

The Rincon lighthouse (c) Wikimedia commons

Rincon is home to a thriving expat community, which has stolen some of the Puerto Rican charm from the town, however, that doesn’t mean this isn’t a gem deserving of a spot in this Puerto Rico itinerary. If you are a fan of surfing, Rincon is the prime location on the Island of Enchantment for your sport! Thanks to the hard-working members of the Surfrider Foundation, you can enjoy Tres Palmas Marine Reserve, which protects some of the last healthy elk horn coral in the world. It’s great for surfers, divers, and beach lovers alike.

The town itself, particularly the downtown square in front of the church is also a great place to check out, particularly during the weekly farmers market or during the many cultural activities that are hosted in Rincon throughout the year.

Stay in a small hotel in Rincon.

Day 12: Arecibo

Puerto Rico itinerary

Arecibo Observatory (c ABR 2018

The Arecibo area is a great place to bridge the divide between the coastal and mountainous worlds of Puerto Rico. There are two interior caves that you can access from this city (Cueva Ventana and Rio Camuy Caves ) as well as a coastal cave (Cueva del Indio, which is technically free if you reach it from the beach- it’s access point has been bought by a wealthy urbanite in what I would consider to be a legal grey-area. He charges for access to the cave, even though people are meant to have free access to the coast; he is also potentially trying to buy local people out in the area in order to consolidate his power- so I might hesitate to give him my money myself.)

The Arecibo Lighthouse and Historic Park is also in the area, as well as a several natural reserves which are home to trails and places for kayaking.

Stay in Arecibo.

Day 13: Rio de Abajo

Puerto Rico itinerary

Lago de Dos Bocas (c) ABR 2018

Venture up into the mountains one last time. Make your first stop the Arecibo Observatory, which is one of the largest telescopes in the world. This is a feat of human engineering and is also a figure in astronomy and cinematic history. After this, I would suggest visiting the Rio Abajo Forest for some hiking in the forest. Then, you can top off your day by watching the sun set over Lago Dos Bocas.

Stay in Arecibo or one of the mountain communities near the lake.

Day 14: San Juan

Puerto Rico itinerary

Beautiful fort in San Juan (c) ABR 2015

Now’s your day to visit the famous San Juan. See the national park fortresses and Old San Juan for a day of Caribbean history, architecture, shopping, and unmatched food. San Juan is the perfect place to decompress after your long journey and prepare for your flight home.

Stay in San Juan.

Hope you enjoyed this Puerto Rico itinerary. If you enjoy your time in Puerto Rico, please do the island a favor and help let the world know how amazing the Island of Enchantment is!

Adventures in Paradise Part 1: A Puerto Rico Itinerary

You should devote an entire trip to Puerto Rico (here’s why)! If you are wondering what you would do while you are there, I’ve put together this quick and dirty two week Puerto Rico itinerary (this is part one). This is perfect for high energy travelers that enjoy the outdoors as well as history and culture. It has a little of everything (but lots of nature). If you aren’t so high energy, you can use this as a list of ideas of things that you might be interested in seeing. There is so much! Even getting this down to 14 days was hard.

Day 0: Arrive in San Juan
puerto rico itinerary

San Juan! (c) ABR 2015

Get in at the main airport, pick your car, and take some time to rest. Eat some delicious food in Old San Juan and sleep!

A quick note on driving in Puerto Rico: You will need to be very defensive. Take your time and expect the unexpected. Remember that your safety is your responsibility.

Day 1: Loiza and the Corredor Ecologico del Noreste
puerto rico itinerary

A Northeasten Corredor beach (c) ABR 2018

Take the 187 out of town to the east. This will follow the coast, and just outside of town there are some very beautiful (and popular, on the weekend) beaches that you can stop at. This area also has a lot of kiosks that serve wonderful street food.

Follow the 187 over the river and enter into the town of Loiza. Look for the Parque Historico Cueva Maria de la Cruz. In this little park, you can pay to take a tour of a cave and learn about music and dance in Puerto Rico. The central part of Loiza is also a great place during the weekend for shopping.

If you aren’t one for beaches and small towns, keep on working your way east to the Corredor Ecologico del Noreste. There is hiking and wild beaches here that have been protected by the communities of this area.

Stay the night in the Luquillo area.

Day 2: North El Yunque
puerto rico itinerary

A waterfall in El Yunque (c) ABR 2015

Today is the day for the famous north El Yunque. Strap on your hiking boots, and start early to avoid the crowds. Many of the trails are being repaired post-Maria but you can find updated information here.

If you have the energy, you might consider staying in Fajardo for the night, and doing the bio bay in the evening. 

Day 3: The Old 191 and Humacao
puerto rico itinerary

The closed 191 in South El Yunque (c) ABR 2018

Take the 53 down past Naguabo, get off on the 31 to Rio Blanco, and take the 191 up into the southern part of El Yunque. Local guides in the area can take you on some amazing trips in the rainforest here, or you can drive down to where the road is closed and hike/bike up from there to the landslide that closed the highway.

If you have time afterwards, visit the Reserva Natural de Humacao. If you drive into the reserve a little bit you can see some of the damage that the hurricane did to natural coastal areas. It is very sobering, but there is also a lot of new growth that should remind us all that nature recovers. There are also some neat historic things in the reserve from the sugar plantation days, as well as some coastal bunkers.

Monkey island is also in this general area, if you are interested in doing a tour.

Stay in Humacao.

Day 4: Lechones and Charco Azul
puerto rico itinerary

Along the path to Charco Azul (c) ABR 2015

Continue on the 53/3 to Palmas and then head north to the 184. This will take you up to Bosque Carite, where you should take some time to hike and swim at Charco Azul. If there is no one at the parking lot for this area, make sure that you take all of your valuables with you.

When you are done with a morning at the swimming hole, continue on the 184 through the forest. Along the way, as you get back into civilization, you will notice many restaurants along the side of the road serving lechones. If you eat pork, please stop at one of these. They are famously delicious and should not be missed.

Take the 52 down to Salinas and stay the night in the historic town.

Day 5: Salinas and Jobos Bay National Estuary
puerto rico itinerary

The view of Jobos Bay landscape from the old hotel (c) ABR 2018

Head over to the small town of Aguirre to enjoy the old central part of this historic area, and to access the Jobos Bay Visitor Center, which you will see along the main 705 road. You may want to try to schedule a tour ahead of time in this area as there is amazing kayaking in the National Estuary, as well as wildlife viewing opportunities. You can also hike and go horseback riding in the area.

Drive to Ponce and stay the night there.

Day 6: Ponce
puerto rico itinerary

Architecture in Ponce (c) ABR 2015

Enjoy a day in this historic city. There is beautiful architecture, museums, and plenty of food to enjoy in Ponce.

Stay in Ponce for second night.

Day 7: Casa Pueblo and the Central Mountains (Toro Negro)
puerto rico itinerary

Casa Pueblo (c) ABR 2018

Get an early start and take the 10 north from Ponce to the mountain town of Adjuntas. Here you can see some absolutely beautiful mining architecture and most importantly, visit the AMAZING Casa Pueblo. Be sure to support their organization by getting a souvenir and/or some coffee here.

Then you have a lot of different options (which all require some mountain driving).

There is a lot of agricultural tourism in the area, and if you are a coffee fan this is a great place to learn more.

You can also some cultural sites in Jayuya including museums about the Taino people and the revolutionary history of the area.

Toro Negro forest is here as well and there are some spectacular hikes here.

PART TWO COMING SOON!

In the mean time, please check out this amazing blog for more information on everything Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico Itinerary

puerto rico itinerary

Why Visit Puerto Rico: 4 Reasons This Island Is Calling Your Name

Why Visit Puerto Rico: More Than San Juan and the Beach

It’s a common theme in all of my Caribbean posts… countries in this region get constantly pigeon-holed by all-inclusive and cruise trips. If these companies had their way, there would be one thing that the Caribbean would be known for, its white sand beaches… because most Caribbean countries have them! This is good for mass tourism business, particularly in the case of cruise ships, because that means that different Caribbean countries won’t be able to negotiate for things like higher entrance fees. You can’t negotiate when you are interchangeable, and tourism can’t help local people if they can’t look out for their own interests. What does this have to do with the question: why visit Puerto Rico?

why visit Puerto Rico

A stream through the mountains near Toro Negro (c) ABR 2018

Because, it’s hardly any different for Puerto Rico. When most people visit they want to see 1-2 of three main things that get marketed for this island over and over again, Old Town San Juan, the beaches, and El Yunque. Now, don’t get me wrong, these are all absolutely worth seeing. San Juan is the most beautiful Caribbean colonial city that I have ever seen. The beaches are sublime, and El Yunque is a tropical, mountainous area that I would dare call magical. But Puerto Rico has SO MUCH more! If you want to experience a good chunk of things to do in Puerto Rico, this is a country deserving of a week or two (or more) of devoted exploration, not just a couple nights tacked on before a cruise ride.

why visit Puerto Rico

The mysterious 191, cut off by a landslide long ago (c) ABR 2018

But instead of listing a bunch of places for you to visit, I’m going to do this, I’m going to give you a bunch of reasons why you need to stay in Puerto Rico (and places like it) for longer than a few hours, or one day, if you have the means to visit the Caribbean. And if you are doing an all-inclusive, go out and meet the locals, experience the real country.

THE LIST

(1) Most people have a lot of misconceptions about Puerto Rico or just don’t know anything about the island and its people at all. Getting out and exploring will give you the opportunity to learn more about this beautiful country and its amazingly strong people.

why visit Puerto Rico

Agricultural tourism has huge potential on Puerto Rico (c) ABR 2018

(2) Every Caribbean island has things on it that you can see nowhere else in the world; things that belong in travel magazines along side of pictures of Thailand, India, and Peru. Puerto Rico has kaarst formations covered in tropical forests that will make you feel like you’re on another planet. Puerto Rico has rivers that run through caves big enough for you to float through. It has verdant mountains that touch the sky. Deserts, places to surf, rare birds, and beaches with tanks left abandoned. I could list a million things that make this island a special place. It’s a shame to not see at least one of these unique things. From the travel perspective, these are the many reasons why visiting Puerto Rico is perfect.

why visit Puerto Rico

Mangroves on the east (c) ABR 2018

(3) You exponentially lessen the good that you can do for communities by traveling when you just stay in high tourist areas, cruise-owned ports, and resorts. There are so many good people in Puerto Rico that are just dying to have the chance to make tourism work for their community. You can make a huge difference in a small community looking to host visitors and share the special things that their home has to offer.

why visit Puerto Rico

Hurricane damage on the coast (c) ABR 2018

(4) Puerto Rican culture is rich and unique and you won’t get a real taste of it from San Juan or an all-inclusive. There is an insane amount of delicious food all over the island. There are little restaurants and kiosks that specialize in succulent tastes that will blow your mind. Dance and music are big in Puerto Rico as well, like the rest of the Caribbean; eat good food and find a place to learn some moves or listen to the beats of the island. There is honestly an endless list of things to do in Puerto Rico.

why visit Puerto Rico

Lechones from the central region of Puerto Rico (c) ABR 2018

If you want to learn more about things to do in Puerto Rico be sure to visit our Guide to Puerto Rico.

Dominican Republic Roadtrip and Hiking Itinerary: Finding An Explorer’s Paradise

Most of the time, when I see travel discussions about the Dominican Republic, I see references to Punta Cana, and all-inclusive resorts. However, there is SO much more to this country, and I wanted to put together an Dominican Republic roadtrip that highlights all of my favorite things in the Dominican Republic, which I discovered during my two months living there. This includes a summit attempt on Pico Duarte (the tallest mountain in the Caribbean), many of the varied ecosystems of the Dominican side of Hispanola, and you will not miss the beautiful beaches that the Caribbean is known for. This is a high energy trip, and one which will give you a whirlwind tour of many of the amazing natural and historic gems of the Dominican Republic. However, I have to start with a serious disclaimer.

**IMPORTANT: Driving in the Dominican Republic can be very dangerous. If you take this roadtrip, drive with the UTMOST caution; have ALL insurance for your rental car. DO NOT DRIVE DRUNK. Avoid driving at night. Drive defensively and expect anything. You are responsible for your own safety. Also, be aware of crime in any area that you are in, and try to avoid being out on your own at night.

DAY ZERO: TRAVEL

dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

La Zona Colonial, Santo Domingo (c) ABR 2016

Try to land during the day. Bring DR pesos.

Fly into Santo Domingo; you will need to bring $10 USD cash with you in order to buy your 30-day tourist card.

Pick up your rental car to start your Dominican Republic roadtrip.

Note that there will be tolls on the roads.

Stay in Santo Domingo.

DAY ONE: SANTO DOMINGO

dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

Tres Ojos in Santo Domingo (c) ABR 2016

Spend some time resting in Santo Domingo. La Zona Colonial or Tres Ojos are are some options of things to explore if you have the energy. See our short guide to Santo Domingo for more ideas.

Stay in Santo Domingo.

DAY TWO: DRIVING TO PICO DUARTE

dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

The stream at the base of Pico Duarte (c) ABR 2016

There are two ways to attempt the summit of the Caribbean’s tallest mountain, arguably some of the best Dominican Republic hiking. Both methods require a guide. You may join an organized tour, or you can drive to the village at the base of the mountain and speak to a ranger about hiring a guide (best to do this if you are with at least one other person and one of you speak relatively good Spanish).

In order to organize your own trip, drive towards the town Jarabacoa. When you get there, pick up some groceries for your trip, and get directions to the ranger station at the bottom of the mountain (this is not on Google).

You will need to take mountain roads to get there, so only do this drive if you are experienced on mountain roads. Due to the driving styles on the Dominican Republic, I suggest honking your horn briefly when you near corners. Drive slowly and cautiously- never in the middle of the road. Also note that dirt roads are on this route.

Arrange your guide, and spend that night at the mountain’s base at the ranger’s station. Enjoy a picnic by the stream.

For the story of my attempt on the summit, as well as some pictures that should illustrate why this is worth doing if you are a hiker- look through my summit attempt story.

Camp at the base of Pico Duarte.

DAY THREE: TREK UP TO CAMP COMPARTICION

dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

Up and up and up the trail of Pico Duarte (c) ABR 2016

This is the big hike of this Dominican Republic itinerary (about 18 kilometers, all up hill). You should only attempt this hike if you are a competent hiker and have a guide.

Stay the night at Comparticion Camp; be sure that you work with your guide to insure that you have all the food and gear that you need. Wear good shoes.

Camp at la Comparticion.

DAY FOUR: TO THE SUMMIT

dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

Near the summit of Pico Duarte (c) ABR 2016

Hike to the summit of Pico Duarte and enjoy a quiet day at camp in celebration of your accomplishment in Dominican Republic hiking.

Camp at la Comparticion.

DAY FIVE: RETURN TO CIVILIZATION; A DAY IN SANTIAGO DE LOS CABALLEROS

Hike down from Comparticion, and resume your Dominican Republic roadtrip by driving up to the city of Santiago de Los Caballeros. This is about a 1.5 hour drive without traffic.

Spend a restful day in the city. If you need something to do, consider checking out the historic downtown area. There are a few historic sites here, but mostly some local shopping and places to eat.

Stay in Santiago.

dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

Santiago de los Caballeros (c) ABR 2016

DAY SIX: 27 CHARCOS

If you aren’t afraid of heights, and are a good swimming, today is the day to enjoy some of the coolest waterfalls in the Dominican Republic at 27 Charcos. I cover this experience in a bit more detail in my list of the best natural spots in the DR.

Have a restful morning and then do the 50 min drive up to 27 Charcos. You will buy tickets at the entrance and be partnered up with a guide who will keep you safe. Bring or rent a waterproof camera! Wear some junky tennis shoes and hike up to the top of the falls.

Then you will get to jump down waterfalls and swim/wade back to the base. This is absolutely one of the most beautiful things I did in the Dominican Republic.

Dry off and take the 45 min drive to Puerto Plata where you will spend the night.

Stay in Puerto Plata.

DAY SEVEN: PUERTO PLATA

dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

Puerto Plata (c) Pixabay

Spend a restful day on the coast in Puerto Plata.

If you want to get back out into nature, consider checking out Parque Nacional Isabel de Torres. Otherwise, enjoy this tourism hotspot, and a restful day on the beach.

Stay in Puerto Plata.

DAY EIGHT: COASTAL ROAD TRIP

dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

The bridges out to sea near Samana (c) ABR 2016

Take the coastal road from Puerto Plata to Samana and enjoy the beach and resting your legs a bit more. It is about a 4 hour drive, one of the longest in this Dominican Republic itinerary.

If you get into town with some more daylight hours, consider walking around the Malecon and the bridges that go out to the small, bay islands. There are MANY scooters/motos in this area, so be extra careful while driving and walking.

Stay in Samana.

DAY NINE: SAMANA

dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

One of the oldest churches in the region (c) ABR 2016

This is the day to take an organized tour to Los Haitises National Park, El Salto de Limon, and/or for whale watching. You may want to take an extra a day here to make sure you have time for it all.

Stay in Samana.

DAY TEN: TRAVEL DAY

dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

The view from a Bayahibe restaurant (c) ABR 2016

Make your way from Samana down to Bayahibe/Dominicus. It will be about 4 hours (the final day of long driving in my Dominican Republic itinerary! Phew!).

Bayahibe is an absolutely beautiful village, so I would highly suggest planning to get in early enough to wander around before it gets dark. There is also so many good places to eat here, so have a nice dinner by the ocean.

Stay in Bayahibe.

DAY ELEVEN: CAVES!

dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

The cave in Nuestro Padre (c) ABR 2016

Take a nice slow day and to visit the caves near Bayahibe and do some lowkey Dominican Republic hiking. Cueva de Chico is one that you can swim in in Padre Nuestro (individual ticket is needed to enter this park). There is a short hike that you can take near the cave as well, but bring some sturdy shoes because the rocks are volcanic and very sharp.

You can also drive down to Parque Nacional de Este, where it is about 100 DR pesos to visit the beach, and do some hiking. If you do plan on hiking, be sure to get directions from the ranger on where to go as the trails lack signs. There is a small cave in the area that is fun to explore as well. Be sure to bring water on this hike, as this is a relatively dry area (I would suggest bringing water and food on any hike, just for safety).

Stay in Bayahibe.

DAY TWELVE: ISLA SOANA

dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

Near Soana Island (c) ABR 2016

Take an organized day trip out to Isla Soana, where you will get to see some beautiful starfish, beaches, and possibly baby turtles (depending on the season).

Stay in Bayahibe.

DAY THIRTEEN: PUNTA CANA

Take the 1.5 hour drive to Punta Cana. While you could treat yourself and stay at a resort for a couple nights, I would suggest that you don’t. It is a really eye opening experience to see Punta Cana from outside of the all-inclusives. It isn’t the most beautiful thing, but it is something you should be aware of as a traveler.

There are plenty of things to see and do in Punta Cana even if you aren’t at a resort, so feel free to explore, rest, or spend another day on the beach. For some more ideas, check out Culture Trip’s list.

Stay in Punta Cana.

DAY FOURTEEN: CUEVA FUN FUN

dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

The exit of Cueva Fun Fun (c) ABR 2016

If you aren’t scared of heights or horses, take the epic day trip out to Cueva Fun Fun where you will ride horses, hike, rappel, and swim to and through a beautiful cave. This is also covered in more detail in my favorite natural places in the DR.

Stay in Punta Cana.

DAY FIFTEEN: CUEVA DE MARAVILLAS

It is about a 2.5 hour drive from Punta Cana to Santo Domingo. Stop at the historic Cueva de Maravillas on the way into the capital and take a tour. Not only is this cave beautiful, but it is home to some ancient Taino cave paintings. Spend the afternoon and late evening in La Zona Colonial enjoying the historic buildings and delicious food.

Stay in Santo Domingo.

DAY SIXTEEN: HOME!

dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

A beautiful restaurant in Santo Domingo (c) ABR 2016

Head home after a successful completion of this Dominican Republic roadtrip!

LEARN MORE:

Dos and Don’ts for the Dominican Republic

Nightborn Travel’s Guide to the Dominican Republic

 

 

SUPPORT OUR LITTLE BLOG BY SHARING!

dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

Five Great Things To Do in Santo Domingo

 

things to do in santo domingo

Santo Domingo is the capital of the Dominican Republic. It is also the largest city in the Caribbean, and has a population of 3 million people. Santo Domingo is the oldest continuously inhabited European city in the Americas, and was once home to Columbus’ family. It’s a city full of history and mystery, with beauty around every corner. All the being said, tourists hardly visit the capital compared to Punta Cana and Puerto Plata. If you want a taste for some of the places that make the Dominican Republic special, Santo Domingo is not a city to be missed. When I lived there for a summer, these were the five things to do in Santo Domingo that I enjoyed the most (not arranged in any particular order).

Contemplate the Mystery of Columbus at Faro a Colon (Or Columbus Lighthouse)

things to do in santo domingo

The Dominican government began construction on this massive, cross-shaped monolith in 1986. El Faro was completed six years later on the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ first journey to the Caribbean. The memorial houses a museum with artifacts from all over the region, and what is said to be Columbus’ remains. There is some debate about this, however, as DNA tests have proven that Columbus is housed in the Seville Cathedral of Spain. Meanwhile, the Dominican Republic did not allow its own holdings to be tested.

things to do in santo domingo

When I visited, I marveled at the stark building. I have read that its cross shape is in reference to the coming of the Christian religion to the New World. The bulky, grey mass of the monument wasn’t cheerful in aesthetic or in its meaning… at least not to me. The Caribbean (and many other regions of the world) are still recovering from the colonialism that this symbolizes. Even so, I don’t think this is a place to be missed. History, even regretful history, is something that we should never forget. And there is no arguing that Columbus played a major role in shaping the world we live in today, for better or worse. There is no where else like this in the world.

Walk El Malecon

things to do in santo domingo

The Malecon is a stretch of Santo Domingo that runs along the water. If you enjoy the ocean, this is about as close to a beach that you will get in the city. Rocky cliffs are otherwise the norm in this area. There are some shops and food to be had here, as well as some more of the city’s monuments.

things to do in santo domingo

The Malecon is a public space, and its somewhere just as enjoyed by local residents as visitors. With large swaths of grass areas and small places to eat, it was full of families and weekend festivities when I went. It’s one of those unique things to do in Santo Domingo that is the perfect place to mingle with city residents.

Ponder the Past in La Zona Colonial

things to do in santo domingo

La Zona Colonial is a part of Santo Domingo that has a very high concentration of historic buildings, and which is honored on a global scale as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, you can visit Christopher Columbus’s son’s home, as well as colonial forts and churches, and museums full of antiquities. Santo Domingo was the first major bastion of European influence in the “New World” and that is still preserved in this beautiful part of the city.

things to do in santo domingo

There is really something very enchanting about La Zona Colonial. It encompasses so much Dominican, Caribbean, and European history in one small area. Colonial buildings, carefully preserved and protected, are nestled between traditional Caribbean architecture. The colorful store and home-fronts are sometimes interrupted by the result of garrish Western architectural fads, and tragic evidence of past conflicts in the region (such as the US occupation of the Dominican Republic).

Enjoy Nature at Los Tres Ojos

things to do in santo domingo

Being that I am both a nature and national park lover, Tres Ojos was by far, my favorite place in the city and I visited it multiple times. Here you climb down into an interconnected system of three lakes which I would describe as cenotes or sinkholes, although I am not sure that that is technically correct. Most are accessible on foot, but one you can pay a little extra to see the final after a short boat ride. It’s worth the fee just for the ride, in my opinion, but the view after is pretty unbelievable as well.

things to do in santo domingo

The Dominican Republic has some of the most beautiful caves that I have ever seen, and I was lucky enough to explore a few of them. Even so, Tres Ojos was probably one of the most captivating of all of them. The expanse of the park, with its twisting trails through the forest and subterranean world was a great place to mingle with other travelers, or find little spots to contemplate the beauty. The sparkling blue water, ringed by capes of green, or made utterly clear by encapsulating stone was unforgettable. If you see nothing else in Santo Domingo, Tres Ojos is the place to go. You would never expect somewhere so beautiful to be in the middle of a thriving city.

Eat and Drink Amazing Things

things to do in santo domingo

The capital is home to some extremely amazing food. So, exploring its restaurants is one of the best things to do in Santo Domingo. In La Zona Colonial, you can get anything from traditional Dominican dishes to global flavors. Artful chefs who put their own unique spin on all sorts of culinary delights also call this part of the city home. I’ve never heard of the Dominican Republic being known for its assortment of perfect restaurants, but it should be. Santo Domingo might just be one of the best places in the Caribbean for foodies (up for debate!).

things to do in santo domingo

Some Notes on Safety

things to do in santo domingo

Santo Domingo isn’t without its dangers, and I think (like any big city) travelers would be well advised to be wary and careful. Theft and violent assault can be common in some areas, and travelers are always a target for scammers no matter where you go. That being said, I never had a bad experience here. Not even when a bus dropped me and my friends off in a bad neighborhood, and not when a friend of mine got dropped off at the wrong building by a taxi when she came to visit. The worst I got was a taxi driver who thought he could charge me more than standard fare. Even so, here are some tips to keep in mind (which could honestly be applied to any city, but nonetheless).

Hide Your Valuables (Especially Your iPhone)

iPhones were in demand among thieves when I was living in Santo Domingo due to the extremely high price of these phones on the island. However, flashing any valuables is something I would suggest avoiding. It just gets the wrong sort of people interested in you.

Avoid Problem Areas

There are some parts of the city that even local people prefer to avoid. Stay in touristy and highly developed, vibrant areas, and you should be safe. These things change over time, so be sure to do a bit of research before you start your trip. Worst come to worst, hotel staff should be able to help you figure out where to stay away from. And trust your instincts, if something feels off, just turn around, flag down a cab, or call an Uber.

Expect to Get Attention

The Dominican Republic is a musical, romantic place. People are not afraid to let you know if they find you attractive. Sometimes the attention is more than just a fascination with foreign visitors, however. The Dominican Republic has a notably large sex tourism industry. Again, not something I had an issue with.  These sex workers did harass a friend of mine, though, so it happens.

The Roads Are Crazy

The Dominican Republic is known for being one of the most deadly places in the world to drive. Be aware that driving there is nothing like the US or Europe. The infrastructure is present (traffic lights, stop signs, and nice roads), but people don’t follow rules that they find inconvenient. This is especially bad at night. Even if you are on foot, don’t expect cars to stop for you. Don’t trust that everyone will stop at lights or signs.

For more ideas about things to do and see in Santo Domingo be sure to visit Live Love Voyage’s Santo Domingo Guide.

If you want to find out about more off-the-beaten path destinations in the Dominican Republic, be sure to look through our guide to the country!

Do’s and Don’ts for Travelers to Japan

How to Respectfully Experience Japanese Shrines and Temples

Nikko shrine (c) RDB 2017

  1. There are wells (purification fountains) on the way into shrines and temples, and if you rinse your hands, try to avoid touching the ladle anywhere but the handle, and pour used water into the gutter. You can also pour some water into your hand to rinse your mouth (don’t drink).
  2. If you want to worship at a Shinto shrine, when you get to the offering hall toss some coinage into the offering box. If there is a bell, ring it, bow two times, clap your hands twice, and then bow one more time.
  3. Don’t eat or drink anything other than water in the shrine or temple.
  4. Be quiet and respectful; these are holy places.

Being Polite In While Traveling by Train in Japan

The shinkansen (c) ABR 2015

  1. When waiting to get on the train, pay attention to the lines painted on the sidewalk, and be sure to stand in line.
  2. Don’t talk on your phone; if chatting with a pal, try to be quiet.
  3. If it gets crowded, take your bag off and hold it in front.
  4. If you have an assigned seat, make sure that is where you sit.
  5. Don’t be pushy, and make sure that you leave room for other people to get on and off the train.

How to Avoid Annoying Japanese People

Crowds in Japan (c) RDB 2017

  1. Read ALL the signs, especially when you are in a shrine or temple. Many will tell you where you can and cannot go, and what you need to do while in any area (e.g. take off your shoes, etc).
  2. Stand in line. This goes for lots of different places that you might not expect depending on where you are from. We even stood in line while hiking, and while that ad hoc happens in the US sometimes, it was not ok to move up in the line in Japan.
  3. Learn and use please (“sumimasen,” which really means excuse me) and thank you (“arigato”) in Japanese. When you are in a restaurant, it is not impolite to hail your waiter by saying “sumimasen.”
  4. Be quiet if you are in an Airbnb, because people live very close to one another, and the Japanese work day/week is very long.
  5. Be quiet and respectful in Onsens and follow all rules while bathing.
  6. Watch other people, and take note of their behavior. This can serve as your guide for how to act when you are uncertain.

Other Japanese Customs You Might Want to Know About (But Which Visitors Aren’t Expected to Understand)

Tokyo (c) RDB 2017

  1. Bowing. In Japan, there’s a complexity to bowing in which people of different standings bow to different depths. Bowing can also be casual or formal. Luckily, visitors aren’t expected to know how this all works.
  2. Gift-giving is another important but complicated aspect of Japanese culture. Generally speaking, people don’t open their gifts in front of the gift-giver, and whenever you receive a gift, you are supposed to return the favor. Again, however, travelers aren’t expected to do this all properly.

Page 1 of 4

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén