The initial wave of heat will hit you as you walk out of the doors of the Cibao Airport in Santiago. Your first thought will probably be — “Man, it’s a lot hotter than I thought. I’m definitely overdressed.” Your second thought — “Blend in. Don’t be nervous. Look like a local.” In less than two weeks, you could be doing just that. How? Keep reading!
Food & Culture
The richness of the Dominican culture is exuded through the history, the music, the language and the food. To say that food in the Dominican Republic is a huge part of the culture is an understatement. Obviously while you are abroad, you will need to eat, so why not do so at the best places in Santiago. While it’s not wise to eat raw foods and fruits from Street Vendors and Food Stands, it is okay to eat food from a well-recognized street vendor companies. For a quick snack, or even dinner you must try a few, if not all of the following:
Yaniqueque: a cornmeal flatbread that is typically deep-fried and is a popular beach snack
Quipe: raw wheat filled with meat and vegetables and deep-fried
Empandas: beef and/or chicken deep-fried
Yaroa: casserole of layers of ripe plantain mash followed by seasoned ground beef, chicken, and/or pork topped with tomato sauce and cheese
In addition to what you have already ordered, it is a must to order a side of plantains and ketchup. It sounds weird, but your taste buds will be thankful that you made such a wise choice. No matter where you eat in the Dominican Republic, one thing is certain — you will leave satisfied.
Currency & Affordability. When you convert your money, you will definitely be amazed at how beautiful the money is, but more so at the conversion rate of 40 Dominican Pesos to 1 USD. Holding those $1000 and $2000 bills will make your eyes light up and your wallet jump for joy as you will want to spend, spend, spend right away. Before you make your way to the nearest tourist spot, sit down and write out a budget on how much you plan to spend on certain attractions, food, and shopping and try to stick with it.
It’s also wise to put aside emergency funds for situations that are out of your control. You should keep these funds stashed away in a safe place in your hotel, hostel, or host home. You should also take a little extra money with you during the day for unexpected expenses.
Transportation. Imagine a typical two lane street in the U.S. Take away the dotted lines and add ‘90s model Toyota cars. In the front seat of most of the cars, there are three people. The windows are down because there’s no air conditioning. The driver is hanging out of the window, yelling and honking at the people on the sidewalks, as well as other drivers nearby. There are four to five people squeezed in the back seat. Now imagine locals crossing the street in a disorderly manner, motorcycles speeding through traffic and street vendors shoving pineapples, popsicles and cold, bottled water into the windows of an already cramped car. Got it? Hopefully you do because you’ve just been introduced to conchos, the most popular form of transportation in the Dominican Republic, next to motorcycles, buses and of course a vehicle of your own.
To catch a concho, stand on the sidewalk and face the conchos coming toward you. Within a few seconds, at least three will pull over and try to take you to your destination. The tricky thing about conchos is that you must pay attention to your route. A conchos’ specific route is usually a letter posted on the front windshield and a letter and a series of numbers on the car door.
For only 20 pesos, or 50 cents USD, you could get to the mall or catch a movie or even visit the local market. Not only is it cheap, but it will make for a great experience and give you knowledge on how to use public transportation.
Safety Tips. The majority of people who go to foreign countries go to sightsee and experience the culture. There is nothing wrong with being a tourist; however being a tourist might draw extra attention to you. Here are a few tips on how to be a tourist without looking like one.
- If you can help it, don’t travel in large groups because it makes it easier to spot tourists.
- Keep your belongings close and your eyes open. Tourists are good targets for thieves because they don’t pay attention to their surroundings.
- Women —Dominican men are very flirtatious and can sometimes be very forward. If they make “cat calls” (whistling and calling out for you), ignore them. The local women do.
- People may be drawn to those who speak English and see them as targets. Use as much Spanish as possible. This is not only for learning purposes, but for safety reasons as well.
- Don’t draw extra attention to yourself by being loud in public. Use the notorious “inside voice.”
Things to Do
Kaskada Park: a family water park in Santiago that is open year-round
El Monumental: the symbol of the ciudad corazon, located in the heart of Santiago
La Aurora Cigar Factory: the only local cigar factory located in Santiago
House Museum of the Mirabal Sisters: the original house turned museum of the famous Mirabal Sisters located in Salcedo
Casa de Campo and Altos de Chavón: tropical resort located in La Romana, remodeled in 2000 to resemble an old vintage era and the distant mountain ranges
For Food: Hotel Gran Almirant serves a great mix of international and Dominican foods on a patio with live music. El Pez Dorado Restaurant is located on Calle del Sol and is often visited by tourists because of the variety of menu options which are made up of Chinese, Dominican and international foods. The most popular restaurant in Santiago is Square One. It is a very inexpensive, modern-day eatery, serving traditional Dominican dishes and American foods with a slight twist.
Interning in the D.R.
By the end of your time abroad, you will have soaked up plenty of sun, learned more Spanish, eaten to your heart’s content, and danced more merengue than you bargained for. While you’re standing at the airport, you will be dressed appropriately, unlike when you arrived. You will stand back and admire the country. As you board the plane, a series of memories will come flooding back to you as you make the promise to return sooner rather than later. Happy Traveling!