Our first tour began on Christmas Day 1983, starting in Santo Domingo, and ending there 14 days later. We basically traveled a recommended circular route about 300 miles (500 Ks) around. The highlight was the North Coast (we did this twice). The scenery was beautiful and varied, the people were friendly, honest and helpful and the roads were generally wide and smooth with little traffic. It was mostly flat, naturally with some hills.
We went back 5 years later (1988) and found some changes. The roads were busier, especially around Puerto Plata where there’s a lot of tourist development. Concurrently, the north coast airport has developed so you can avoid Santo Domingo. Also, the safety issues had changed. It was still safe but we had to be more vigilant in watching our bikes and things. Sneak thieves stole all our documents on a quiet beach on the north coast. This was a hassle even though we bought most of the stolen goods back except for the money.
How We Rate This Trip
In 1984, the road along the north coast from Samana to Puerto Plata was 220 Ks of bicycle heaven. It had just been fully repaired. This was a well-engineered stretch of asphalt along the coast. There were only a few minor hills. Thru the interior from San Pedro to Hoto Mayo was a good 2-lane road but it was completely deteriorated from there to Sabana de la Mar. The south coast road is big and wide. From Santiago (actually from 20Ks north of Santiago) to Santo Domingo the road was narrow, busy and not recommended.
Out of Santo Domingo along the coast, the road was wide with an adequate shoulder. There was a lot of traffic but safe riding. Except around Puerto Plata, the north coast was quiet. On our second visit to the Dominican Republic, there was more traffic here but to the east it was still good riding. Forget riding from Santiago to Santo Domingo, the road is narrow, steep with heavy traffic. Other wise the interior traffic is quiet.
The temperatures are around the low 80’s in the day and the nights are about 70. During the winter, there is some rain and clouds but generally not all day. At mid-day, when the sun is shinning, it is hot and this is when we took a break. No sweaters or jackets necessary at night (as usual air conditioning in restaurants is often too cold.)
The winds are predictable. In the Caribbean, they are either easterly or south easterly everyday. So, with planning you can have the joy of a long down wind ride. Early in the day, it’s calm. The winds generally pick up as the day goes on. The following winds made our trip along the north coast like a slice of heaven.
The highlight is the north coast. The road affords you sea views often and tropical splendor always. Along the south coast, it’s more populated, more agricultural and much less dramatic. The interior is mountainous so you do get vistas but you don’t get the sea in the background. Even Santo Domingo is a relatively pretty city.
The language is Spanish. It helps greatly to speak some in the out areas but there was always someone who could help in English in larger towns. The roads are very well marked throughout and signs posted in kilometers showing the distance to the next large town. The people are always friendly and helpful. Maps are available in Santo Domingo. We got excellent information from “Federation Dominicana de Ciclismo”, Velodromo Olimpico, Apartado Postal 406, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.(fax 809-549-6663, Phone 809-472-3737)
Road Safety: 5
The dangerous stretch of road from Puerto Plata to Santo Domingo colored this rating. This stretch is narrow, busy, and scary riding. Do not do it. The north coast road is 2-lanes but quiet. The south coast is busy but safe with a wide shoulder. The interior is quiet but rough.
General Safety: 4
On our first trip, this island was safe even in Santo Domingo. We were very relaxed. Five years later, on our second trip, we had our front bicycle pack stolen by sneak thieves. This happened on a lonely beach on the north coast. Peter gathered every villager he could find around and announced that we were willing to buy the pack back with no questions asked. The pack had our passports, traveler checks, maps, bike tools, spares etc. We returned in 3 days and Peter met 5 young men on the beach while I waited with the rest of the village and bought back most of our stuff. Still, violent crime was very low but now we suggest you guard against sneak thieves.
In January of 1984, $1 = 1.80 Dominican Pesos and so generally speaking, everything was very reasonable except at the resorts. In the countryside, the prices are cheap and for the Caribbean, the prices are as cheap as you can find.
Soda (Refrescos) is available in any little town. The sodas are too sweet for thirst quenchers, only 7-up was satisfying. The Dominicans value “cold” drinks; even the coconuts were immersed in ice water. Purified water (1 gallon bottles) is available in Pharmacies or Super Marcados. Local beer is excellent, cheap and always served ice cold.
We had good food in the restaurants. Seafood and fish were especially good. Lobster was about $8.00US. Some precaution should be taken with salads (only in upscale places). It’s a good idea to have medicine to combat the “Touristas”. We found great fruit and had the coconuts along the road often. Oranges and bananas are always available.
Camping was spotty on the south coast because it’s agricultural and often populated. The wild camping on the north coast is good on the beach. Reasonable lodging was available but not luxurious. For 2, the rates were $5 – $12 US per night. There were some very nice resort type hotels available for $25 – $35 per night. In smaller cities like Nagua, the hotels were few, basic and cheap. (1984)
In 1984, for 14 days we were never hassled. The people were honest and always tried to help us. Sometimes, young boys wanted to be our guides for a price. We told them “no” immediately since we didn’t want their help. The Dominicans are a handsome combination of Spanish and African. They are very laid back. The hardest working people who usually are cutting the sugar cane are Haitian; small, very black and buff. The Dominicans won’t work like that they old us.
The Christmas festival in Santo Domingo seemed to never end. It was still going on weeks after Christmas. Meringue music is everywhere, which we call “broken washing machine music”. They are a very high-spirited people. To a lesser extent this party atmosphere was present throughout the country. We saw music and dancing everywhere. The family is very important. We noticed a freedom in dress that is reminiscent of Cuba. We enjoyed watching the action around the City Plazas. There is a Haitian influence in the art.
The colonial influence in architecture and city design is mostly evident in Santo Domingo and the other sizeable cities. As for living history, the urban design is always centered on the city square where the best of the older architecture exists and where the people still come to stroll, look and be seen. The cathedrals and churches are usually the best-kept edifices in every town. They have preserved some beautiful old forts on the sea.
TOTAL SCORE 81
Route Descriptions and Maps
Las Americas Airport to Santo Domingo 30Ks
This is a busy flat 30 Ks on a divided highway with a shoulder. Urban riding in Santo Domingo is with traffic but not bad. The streets are wide, especially the Malecon (along the coast). You must be cautious about leaving your bike.
Santo Domingo to La Romana 110Ks
Ride the 30 Ks back past the Airport, leaving early to avoid the traffic. The flat divided highway with a wide shoulder continues to San Pedro de Macoris. The winds were east. After San Pedro the road is a wide 2-lane with good surface and much less traffic and 40 Ks to La Romana. The resort Casa De Campo is 8 Ks from the city.
La Romana to Hato Mayor 79 Ks
Back to San Pedro de Macoris 40 Ks. turn north to Hato Mayor 39 Ks. Slightly up hill on good road and better riding. (We heard the ride to the Club Med in Higuey was a good trip)
Hato Mayor to Sabana de la Mar (boat to Samama) 45 Ks
The road was very rough and only paved in places and hilly. We took a cambionetta to the passenger ferry that took 1 hour. Then, in 1984 the boats left at 6AM, 9AM and 3PM.
Samana to the end of the peninsula 25 Ks
This is an excellent ride, that starts with a big hill, east to the end of the Island. A good scenic, and quiet road. 50Ks round trip.
Samana to Nagua 70 Ks
There is a big hill out of town and then a good new 2-lane road (1983) all the way (to Puerto Plata) and it’s quiet. To La Fuente the distance is 26 Ks where thee is a spring fed pool and good swimming. Then it is 8 Ks more to Sanchez. There are beautiful beaches on either side of Nagua and good camping. There were no decent hotels in Nagua in 1983.
Nagua to Rio San Juan 65 Ks
Perfection on a smooth traffic free road with tropical scenery, and a constant east wind at our backs. There are gorgeous beaches with great camping 8 Ks east of Nagua.
Rio San Juan to Sosua 65 Ks
Rio San Juan was not developed then (in 1988). There is a pretty lagoon in the city. Another day of great riding. This route along the coast is fairly flat along beautiful beaches. The traffic picks up toward Sosua. There is a nice beach here in Sosua’s city center.
Sosua to Puerto Plata 25 Ks
This route has one good-sized hill, more traffic and goes past the airport. It’s 10 Ks to the “New” resort complex. After these hotels the traffic gets heavier and the road is still 2-lanes. (5 years later in 1988 this portion of the road was dangerously busy).
Puerto Plata to Santiago 60 Ks
In 1988, there was much more traffic than before. Up a long gradual climb to 850 meters then down. Just before Santiago is a junction to Monte Criste (86 Ks). The road surface was especially rough toward Santiago. The last 15 Ks was a poor ride on a rough shoulder.
Santiago to Santo Domingo 155 Ks
Dominican Republic – 1983
The palm trees punctuate our view of the sun swept sea as we glide along pushed by a balmy east breeze. It is January. But in the Dominican Republic, shorts, t-shirts, and sunscreen are our winter garb.
My wife Sally and I are bicycling along the Dominican North Coast for a second time within a week. After or first trip from Samana to Puerto Plata , we simply had to repeat it. Preferring constant tailwinds to head winds, we decided to catch the local public transportation back to Samana. It was cheap and colorful. Toyota pickup trucks, called “cambionettas,” ply these rural roads. The drivers, never refusing a fare, cram passengers, packages, chickens and bicycles (ours) into the back. Their motto appears to be “There’s always room for one more.” Nevertheless, our fellow passengers are friendly, cheerful and helpful like all the Dominicanos we meet during our two-week tour.
On our first pass along the North Coast, we exalted at the tropical scenery, the smooth, traffic-free roads, the constant east winds and warm sun. Familiarity with the route on our second pass helped us especially in planning our lodging and meals. The North Coast, as is true of most of the Dominican Republic, is not fully developed for tourism. But this is exactly why bicycling along here is so attractive.
We carry neither tent, nor cooking gear, so we stay in hotels and eat in restaurants. There are reasonably nice tourist hotels (about $20-$30 per night) in Samana, Rio San Juan, Sosua, and Puerto Plata, but very little else in between. About ten miles east of Puerto Plata, there is a beautiful new resort complex, which is comparatively pricey and very full during the winter season.
Every night, after a day’s ride, we satisfy our bikers’ appetites with excellent local beer, fresh seafood, and lots of juicy fruit right from the trees. At midday, when the sun is high, and if there are no clouds, the heat drives us to the beaches where we swim and lie under a palm tree until it cools a little in the afternoon. We don’t lock up our bikes since the people are honest and the beaches are right next to the road. This Dominican honesty was a byproduct of the former police state we were told. Thieves were dealt with very severely under the Trujillo regime. Apparently this left a lasting impression on the Dominicanos.
Our appreciation of the Dominican North Coast is especially great since we had come to the Dominican Republic with almost no hard information about cycling conditions here. I called the Dominican tourist office in New York, but they had no idea what I was asking about.
We arrived in Santo Domingo, the principal city, on Christmas night. The Christmas fiesta is in full swing on the street in front of our hotel so we join in. The next morning, dusting off our rusty Spanish, we find a local bike shop operator who in turn directs us to the Federacion Dominicana de Ciclism (the Dominican Bicycle Touring Association). Slowly, we develope our tour plan. My Spanish is awful but they have good maps and lots of patience. Here is where we first heard about the North Coast.
To get to the North Coast, we leave early in the morning (avoiding the traffic near Santo Doming) and ride past the airport to La Romana. This flat 75 mile trip is a nice first day’s ride. The exclusive resort, Casa De Campo, is about five miles east of La Romana. The next day we ride back west to San Pedro de Macoris, then up north to Hato Mayor. From Hato Mayor, the road north to Sabana de la Mar is very rough and we eventually haveto save our tires by taking our first cambionetta. From Sabana de la Mar, there is a ferry across the Bay of Samana.
Since a Dominican bus is a pickup truck, we wait with curiosity for the 3 p.m. ferry to Samana. At 2:55 p.m. with no ferry appearing on the horizon, two men push past the waiting passengers and jump into a beat-up old cabin cruiser tied to the pier and announced that the “ferry” for Samana is leaving immediately. We clamor aboard with the other passenger, tie our bikes to the roof, and chug our way to the other side of the bay.
This is the start of our ride along the North Coast. However, that night a young man in Samana recommends that we ride east to the end of the island before we heading west. We followed his recommendation.
It is a beautiful 20 mile side trip to the end of the island’s north peninsula. We start early in the morning while the mist was still hanging around the coves. After an hour of pedaling, we stop at a little roadside stand and have local bananas, oranges, and coconut milk for breakfast—perfect fuel for the return trip to Samana.
At various times during our rides along the coast, Dominicano bike racers would meet us or pass us while out on their training rides. Bike racing is a popular sport in the Dominican Republic. There was always camaraderie between us.
Around Sosua, we were riding with two of these racers. They suggested a tour of a sugar cane refinery a few miles off the highway. While in the small refinery town, we realized that the language spoken there was French. Our friends told us that all the workers were Haitian and that no Dominicano would work so hard for so little money. The Sugar Plantation Company imported these workers from Haiti. After this guided side trip, our two racer friends then resume their training speed and soon became specks on the horizon.
While stopped for refreshments near Rio San Juan on our first run, we met Jorge. Jorge was born in Puerto Rico, lived in New York, and retired to the Dominican Republic. He lived down the road at the “26 Kilometer Marker.”
On our second trip through, we stopped by Jorge’s house. It was a modest house which was still under construction in spite of being lived in for four years.
Kids came and went as we sipped Cokes. We learned that he had adopted three of them. This was not a legal adoption but a de facto adoption. Jorge fed, clothed, watched after, and sent them to school. The kids’ real parents lived 200 yards down the road and ran a small subsistence grocery store. Jorge felt that their parents didn’t want the responsibility of raising kids and also realized that Jorge could better afford them. Jorge’s Social Security went a long way there. Later, we walked up to the grocery store with Jorge. One of the kids ran past the store and shouted “hello,” to Mama and Papa. Together shouted back, “Don’t be late for dinner.” This is the extended family: Dominican Style.
Our Coastal trip ends both times in Puerto Plata, about 180 miles northwest of Samana. Puerto Plata is a port city with a charming, old town square. Sally and I sit in an outside café on the square sipping ice-cold beer, dining on fresh lobster, and watching the locals gather in the square. After two glorious trips along the coast, we can’t wait to get going toward Santiago the next morning.
Our friends at the Bicycle Tour Association in Santo Domingo had glowed with enthusiasm about the coast but they never really told us much about the Puerto Plata to Santiago segment. This proved to be the only “bummer” of the trip.
The road to Santiago was full of traffic. There was a 4,000-foot climb out of Puerto Plata, and the road surface was especially narrow and rough toward Santiago. When we arrive, we are glad to be alive and we made up our minds to take the bus back to Santo Domingo the next day.
Sally always thinks something positive will come out of a bad situation. Sure enough, that evening in Santiago, we learned that the Dominican Winter Baseball League All Star game was to be played. Tickets were available and we, being avid baseball fans, go to watch the Dominican stars play the great American summer past time in January.
The bus back to Santo Domingo is actually a bus–seats, windows, and everything. From our window, we confirmed that the road is too rough, narrow, and trafficked to ride.
We arrive back in Santo Domingo, where the Christmas fiesta is still in full swing, on January 6th. The next morning, we return to the Federacion Dominica de Ciclism where we are welcomed back by the helpful people there. Juan, the club president, suggests some other routes for our next tour. He recommends the road through the center of the Eastern portion of the island from Hato Mayor to Higuey and then northeast to the Playa de Macao where there are beautiful beaches and new hotels.
We thank Juan for all his help and we assure him that we will return and try some of his other suggested routes. Sally and I agreed, that we would also do the laid-back paradise along the Dominican North Coast again. Next time, we’ll probably do it three times!