Samana View

Exploring the North Coast of the Dominican Republic on a budget

This past weekend eXtreme Hotel’s Taino Organic Farm decided that we wanted to start Exploring the North Coast of the Dominican Republic on a budget. After a bit of planning and research, the crew headed out on a roadtrip adventure on the north coast of the beautiful Dominican Republic! We decided to head to Samaná to go whale watching, see the Salto de Limón Waterfalls and explore the peninsula.

Samana View

Budget Traveling at its Finest

Renting a car: Samaná is about 180km from Cabarete so rather than taking the usual Gua Gua transportation, we opted to rent a car and drive. To keep it low budget, we got some WWoofers from a nearby farm to join in on our trip and split the cost of renting a Honda Pilot between nine of us. The car rental was $9500 RD for two days and two nights. Including gas to and from Cabarete and Samaná, the car rental and the $1000 RD toll for taking the newer route (I highly recommend doing so as it is shorter, beautiful and not so rough on your vehicle) we ended up paying about $1500 RD each. Tip: be sure to get insurance on whatever car you rent, it’s not uncommon for things to go awry on the roads here. If you’re on a budget and blow a tire like we did, it’s helpful to have backup!

 

New Samana Highway Lookout

Peyton and I on top of our rental Honda Pilot overlooking the North Coast.

Accommodation: After a couple colmado stops for snacks and a few hours of tunes, we arrived at our first stop: our hostel in Las Terrenas. Hostels are a great alternative to a hotel room as they are usually inexpensive and accommodate low budget travelers well (most have communal kitchens and rooms with multiple beds). Our hostel was right outside the center of Las Terrenas, a little place called Fata Morgana.

Fata Morgana Las Terrenas: A beautiful place with cottage style rooms, Fata Morgana was quaint and inviting. The owner and her son were friendly and so were their many rescue animals. Between the friendly critters, the vibrant plants and a hammock in front of every cottage, it made for a relaxed atmosphere. There is some truth in “you get what you pay for”, but if you’re willing to endure a cold shower and old mattress, it’s only $500 RD per person and quite charming.

Fata Morgana Hostel in Las Terrenas

One of the burros in front of a cottage at the Fata Morgana Hostel in Las Terrenas.

Fata Morgana Hostel in Las Terrenas

A cottage with two hammocks out front at the Fata Morgana Hostel in Las Terrenas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whale Watching: From Las Terrenas we drove 45 minutes to Samaná Bay and took a boat out to try and spy some whales. Though it is recommended that you book ahead, for $1000 pesos each we were able to rent a boat for the afternoon. The captain took us out for a few hours and although the waves were too big to see any whales, we all enjoyed the view of the ocean. If you really want to see the whales, my recommendation is to:

  1. Book ahead and go early enough that you are sure to have enough daylight.
  2. Check the weather, if the swell is too big you are less likely to see the whales.
  3. Don’t bother stopping off at the smaller island off the coast, you can get the same souvenirs on the main island for less money and it is quite crowded.

Also keep in mind that you are likely to be soaked with water by the end so bring a waterproof bag for anything you don’t want to get wet

 

A whale emerging from the water in the Samaná bay.

A whale emerging from the water in the Samaná bay.

El Salto de Limón Waterfalls: After stopping off for a quick bite to eat in Las Terrenas and a colmado for breakfast bananas (healthy, local and inexpensive) and water, we headed back to the hostel. In the morning we headed to Casa Nega in Samaná to go to El Salto de Limón waterfalls. There are two options for getting to the waterfalls, you can either go by foot (it takes about 45 minutes to get to the falls) or pay for a horse tour. We all decided to walk as many of the horses are in poor condition and if you’re on a low the only expense this way is a 50 peso fee to see the falls. It also gives you the freedom to go without a guide so you can take your time and stay as long as you please. The waterfalls are breathtaking, it is lovely to swim in and if you are daring you can climb part of the way up and jump into the pool below.

 

Salto de Limón waterfall in Samaná.

Mona jumping from one third of the way up the Salto de Limón waterfall in Samaná.

If you’re looking for an adventurous low budget trip, Samaná is a stunning location with plenty of places to explore. Grab some friends, a rental car and a map and explore paradise!

Samana Lookout

The whole Taino Organic Farm crew and fellow WWOOFers gearing up for an adventure in Samaná.

 

Kite soaring high during a sunset on kite beach.

Oceanside Livin’

There is something to be said about life next to the ocean. You don’t even have to be doing water activities or be explicitly dependent upon it in some way for it to have a profound effect. At the Extreme Hotel, everything you do is next to the ocean. You eat next to the ocean, sleep next to the ocean, trapeze next to the ocean, work out next to the ocean, read next to the ocean, talk on the phone next to the ocean. I could keep going – and those aren’t even the activities that you actually do in the ocean (i.e. kiteboard, surf, scuba, snorkel, stand up paddleboard, swim).

Kite soaring high during a sunset on kite beach.

Kite Beach.

 

A lot of the time when I am doing something next to the ocean, I am highly aware of it. It is hard to ignore a beauty so strong, the scent of salt in the air and the feeling of the ocean breeze on your skin. However, even after just being here for over a week as an intern, it is easy to slip into routine and forget that the ordinary was once extraordinary not so long ago. That being said, the amazing thing about living next to the ocean is that it constantly provides perspective – whether or not the rhythm of its crashing waves has become background noise. Something so great, so loud and so vibrant as the ocean is constantly telling you that you are merely a single, tiny human in a much greater universe.

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Don’t worry, it is not insulting. If anything, it’s humbling and inspiring. The ocean makes me feel small and unimportant. And once I feel small and unimportant, I start to take things less seriously. I think that I can try anything, do anything (maybe learn to kitesurf!) because in the end, I am just one small creature in this massive world.

Cabarete – A Runner’s Dream

Running in Cabarete is magical. The trick is to wake up before the heat sets in – which is not that early, only 6:15 or so. I don’t think there exists a more ideal temperature to run in. Warm enough that you don’t have to start with a long sleeve on but also hot and humid enough that when you sweat, you feel like you are working. At 6:15, Cabarete is still waking up–motorcycles and cars aren’t yet flying down the road. That wouldn’t matter anyway though because the eXtreme hotel, where I am living on Kite Beach, is located next to a somewhat hidden running path – a runner’s dream!

The path is a dirt road that is located 10-20 meters past the bus station where people wait to go to work west towards Sosua. The path rarely has any traffic–I have only seen a moto a couple of the many times I have run it. As someone coming from the northeast of America, it almost feels cliché how perfectly tropical it is. The path runs parallel to the ocean shore so as you run, the entire time you  see flashes of the picturesque crashing turquoise waves. At this time of day, around 6:30am or so, the sunrise makes silhouettes of the palm trees. Even if you are not a runner, it is worth waking up, just to walk it once.

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You can chose to end the run at Encuentro beach. It is roughly 2.5 miles. A quick turn around and return to eXtreme Hotel makes it a solid 5-mile run. However, if you’re feeling up for it, you can take off your running sneakers and go for a refreshing morning swim or early surf. It is ideal for surfing because the wind speed is typically the lowest it will be all day and the crowds haven’t yet arrived. The ocean is your oyster! After a surf, swim, body surf, SUP, or whatever ocean activity you decide upon, you can wash your feet off at one of the various surf sheds along Encuentro and run back! Alternatively, if your surfing left you too tired to finish, you can always take a motoconcho (motorcycle taxi) back for 100 pesos.

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Cyr Wheel Balance at Rogue Fitness Cabarete

With great joy I would like to dedicate this blog to someone I recently met at Rogue Fitness Cabarete. At first glance she is a petite girl but it is soon clear that she has great strength and her gymnastic abilities can drive a chilling sensation throughout the body. Why? We all carry the potential for greatness, and if we truly desire something, incredible things can be achieved. Lea Toran Jenner is an excellent example of how with perseverance, effort and hard work incredible things can happen. Without hesitation, she stepped into a different world, not for money, but for a sense of inner contentment, fulfillment, and achievement. Testing our borders and waking up every day with a zest for life is what keeps us improving and finally enables us to inspire others and teach what we have learned.

Léa

Lea’s artistic life began in childhood, as a hyperactive 5 year old. She started with gymnastics, switched to aerobic gymnastics and eventually ended up on the German national team. At 18 years old, she represented her country at the World Championships and became part of the National Circus School of Montreal.There, she began to fulfill her lifetime dream of specializing in Cyr Wheel.

Léa balance

Here, in Cabarete, Lea is on holiday but even so she has her wheel with her. She has been training almost every day at Rogue, where she continues to practice and put us in awe. We are lucky to be getting a taste of her performance and if you would like to see what we are talking about, check out the video we took of her on youtube.

 

Not only is the Cyr Wheel incredibly fun for her, but it is also extremely strenuous and requires a lot of hard work. It is a functional training of weight shifting to keep the wheel in motion. It also combines core strength and deep stabilizing of the spinal muscles which are not seen but hold our bodies together. If you like what Lea does, don’t hesitate to visit us and we can arrange lessons for you. She is here for fourteen more days to be an inspiration for everyone. Lea teaches us to never give up and do what we love. See you guys at Rogue!

 

 

Trip to Pico Duarte: the Roof of the Caribbean

What an experience! During this trip you will witness breathtaking views from the highest point of the Caribbean. The view from the summit is absolutely incredible!  Would I recommend it to anyone? Yes, to everyone! But be warned, it is extremely tough for inexperienced hikers. Although it is difficult, you will be absolutely blown away by what nature has to offer – Amazing flora and fauna and it doesn’t just stay the same. The landscape changes along the way as well as the vegetation. You will walk through the clouds and watch the sun rise over the highest point of the Caribbean while looking over Haiti and Puerto Rico. We headed out at four in the morning from the base camp. I have never seen stars so clear and bright! Besides the natural beauty, the sense of satisfaction from doing the climb totally made the tough hike worth the effort.

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This trip can be shorter or longer depending on your preference and we did the express version (two days). From Extreme Hotel on Kite Beach, Cabarete, we passed through Moca to get to Rancho Baiguate in Jarabacoa (www.ranchobaiguate.com/). Watch out when you drive down to San Victor as there are some sharp u-turns going downhill. Also watch out for holes in the road and drive very carefully. Take a phone that has Google Maps. This app can help you out big time when you get lost which is more than likely – it’s all part of the adventure!

When we got to the ranch we ate a very nice meal at the buffet. The guides explained what we would be doing the next day and afterwards we went to bed early to catch some good sleep in one of their nice cabins (you will need this rest for when you wake up at 6 am the next day!). The following morning you drive to La Cienega de Manabao. This is a very cool 1.5 hour ride in an open truck. You will see a lot of nice villages, beautiful landscapes and friendly people greeting you. The hike starts with the journey to the base camp, la compartición, which will take between 7-9 hours. It is there that you will eat and catch some sleep because the climb to the summit begins at four in the morning. After that you return to base camp where you will have another much deserved meal. Then begins the decent all the way back to La Cienega de Manabao.

Base Camp – La Compartición

Very important tip: phone beforehand and ask if the track is muddy or not (Ranch Contact). I would recommend to go only when it hasn’t been raining a lot and to book through some kind of agency unless you are a very experienced hiker. My friend and I practice a lot of sports, but our knees were hurting a lot on the way back because they were simply overloaded. We climbed the mountain without using one of the guides’ mules. In retrospect, it would have been better if we had taken the mule for at least two hours on the way to the top. We did have sufficient energy on the way back, but if your knees are hurting, going down is especially difficult! So in the end, we sat on mules on the way down for 4 hours. All in all, Rancho Baiguate took care of everything very well!

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What is essential to bring?

– Warm clothing, a hat and gloves are needed at the top! (we did the tour in March and it was about 5 degrees Celsius at the top … other months can even be colder)

– Good quality hiking shoes and socks

– High energy snacks like muesli bars

– Sunscreen and sunglasses

– Flashlights (iphone will suffice, make sure it is fully charged!)

– Rain gear

Y ahora, vetepalla!

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Written by Jelle Boekema, the Netherlands (29) and Billy Gonzalez Capellan, La Republica
Dominicana (23)

Santiago: the perfect getaway from your vacation getaway

Santiago de Los Caballeros—the DR’s second-largest city and one of the oldest establishments in the Western Hemisphere, founded by the brother of Christopher Columbus back in the year 1495.

Only a few hours’ journey from Cabarete, today Santiago is the perfect place to get away from your vacation getaway for a few days during your visit to the DR. Simply hop on a guagua to head to Puerto Plata (45 minutes, RD $50) to catch one of the many busses that head south every hour to Santiago (80 minutes, RD $130), and spend a day or two exploring the sights and scenes of a city which locals refer to as La Ciudad Corazón: “Heart City.”

So-named for it’s central location in the heart of the El Cibao Valley, Santiago is known for it’s charm and rich cultural history, and is a place where friendly locals still embody the laid back, undemanding lifestyle and cheery charisma so typical of the Dominican people.

It’s also home to one of the country’s most popular baseball teams – Las Aguilas Cibaeñas, and scoring a pair of last-minute tickets to a Friday night game was one of the highlights of our visit!

It all started early on a rainy Friday morning, after our search for an eco-village described as a “rustic mountaintop retreat” supposedly located somewhere along the road between Puerto Plata and Santiago completely FAILED, and our curiosity (and lack of a backup plan) led us to follow the highway the rest of the way on our motorbike into downtown Santiago to see for ourselves what the city had to offer.

As it turned out, we had such a great time that I honestly don’t think we could have planned better experience even if we had tried. After riding into the densest, busiest part of the city center and negotiating a couple of tense traffic scenarios, we pulled over to ask where we could find a cheap hotel.

We were directed to a small street just south of the intersection of “30 de Marzo” and “27 de Februar”—yes, the streets here are named after random (or possibly important) dates of the year—where we quickly found a small hotel named “Hotel Shalom,” featuring rooms starting at just 300 pesos.

After realizing we didn’t have enough clothing to stuff into all of the holes and cracks in the walls and windows of our room, we came up with a novel solution for dealing with the mosquitoes which seemed abundant enough that they might have posed a problem:

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With all the money we saved on lodging, we were able to absolutely SPLURGE on a taxi (100 pesos) to the stadium downtown where we treated ourselves to a pair of front row tickets (100 pesos each) to the big Friday night game between the Aguilars and the Estrellas. It was a delightful game and for the first time in my life I witnessed a grand slam at a baseball game!

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We found that even though there are seat numbers listed on the tickets, nobody abides by these, and seating seems to operate on a first-come first-served basis. So if you do go to a game, make sure to get there early and grab good seats. Also, bring some coins to spend on the interesting treats that are sold by vendors walking up and down the stands, such as delicious peanut-cookies (10 pesos; highly recommended), bags of popcorn (we didn’t buy any), lollipops (5 pesos), and nachos (35 pesos; didn’t buy any either).

We left the stadium during the bottom of the 8th inning to avoid what probably would have been a crowded, hectic street battle to find a taxi ride back to our hotel (80 pesos).

The next day was Saturday, and after taking our bike to the shop and replacing the old battery (now the headlights, horn and auto-ignition switch all work perfectly!), we cruised up to El Monumento a los Heroes de la Restauracion de la Republica, set high up on a hill just east of the downtown area, with incredible views over the entire city:

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It also turned out to be a lovely place to catch the sunrise on our last day in town, although we can’t 100% guarantee you won’t get mugged if you show up there with your expensive camera in the wee hours of dawn.

Later in the day, we spent some time at the nearby Fortaleza San Luis, a highly recommended art/artifacts museum/fortress that functioned as a military stronghold from the late 17th century to the 1970s when it was converted into a museum. It’s a great place to spend the hottest part of the day admiring an impressive collection of Taino artifacts displayed alongside the artwork of modern-day Domincan artists:

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We spent the rest of the day walking past the shops along Calle del Sol, wandering through street markets, observing a lively political street-rally, watching children from orphanages receive belated Christmas gifts being distributed out of large vans owned by a local organization, chatting with friendly locals, and watching the scenes of life unfold in a community living under the Rio Yaque del Norte bridge. At night we wandered the narrow streets and alleys past food vendors and watched as daytime shops closed down and transformed into homes and living quarters for the workers and their families.

The next morning, after ducking into Catedral de Santiago de Apostol to escape a morning rain shower and observe Sunday mass from the back row of the chapel, it was almost with a hint of sadness that we left Santiago and headed back to paradise.

Perhaps of all the things that amazed me about our visit was the fact that the entire time we were there, the only “foreigners” we saw seemed to be the Haitian immigrants sharing the hallway with us in the hotel where we stayed. But even at the main places of interest downtown where one would expect to see foreigners snapping photos, we were the only tourists in sight. And although we must have stood out greatly to the locals, we found the people of Santiago were just as friendly and lively as our local friends up here in Cabarete.

Given my experience, I would definitely go back to Santiago again. And looking back on the weekend I can confidently say that if you’re feeling the desire for a change of pace and are open to participating in an authentic cultural experience, I highly recommend a visit to Santiago!