Without a car, traveling out of your home country can be overwhelming. I had become used to the ease of public transportation in New York City – subways with clear maps and stops that would bring you between the five boroughs, train lines between the city and the suburbs, buses marked with their routes and maps included, and taxis that would tell you the fare as you racked up the miles.
In the Dominican Republic, things are not always so clear cut. I’ve asked if there was a map of public car routes, and people have told me, “you just gotta know them.” I’ve had to create an internal map in my head, memorize car routes, and guess accordingly. There’s nothing like getting to work crammed into a car with 6 other strangers, but it makes sense after a while. And I’ll remember the joy I felt at learning that the price per ride had (temporarily) dropped from 25 to 20 pesos when the price of gas fell.
My teaching job requires travel to different neighborhoods in Santo Domingo to hold classes throughout the week, so I have become familiar with different routes. Here are a few ways to get around Santo Domingo and the Dominican Republic at large.
1) Carritos/Carros Publicos/Conchos (Public Cars)
Traveling by concho may be the most popular and the easiest way to get around. Unionized drivers operate cars which go along a predestined route. In the capital, cars travel north-south or east-west. For 20-25 pesos (about $0.50) you can flag down a car in the direction you need and get out right where you need to be. The cars are informal and don’t be surprised if seven people fit in a car meant for five. In fact, most drivers won’t leave from their base until the car is “full” with seven passengers.
If you are in a rush you can take a motoconcho, or motorcycle to your destination. Not for the faint of heart. This is not something I have mastered yet nor plan to. This is considered one of the most dangerous ways to travel.
Santo Domingo has two metro lines that can get you to and from many points in the city. There is a free transfer at Kennedy and Maximo Gomez. The metro has been a lifesaver for me, and I consider it to be the safest mode of transportation, even after dark. It was built in 2012. The stations and all the cars are clean and there is never a long wait for the next train. Each platform and each train has guards to ensure safety. Each ride costs 20 pesos, less than fifty cents, and with a rechargeable plastic card you can save by purchasing multiple rides.
4) Coach Bus
If you are travelling out of the city, you can take a coach bus. My favorites are Metro and Caribe Tours. Most trips cost less than USD $10 to get all around the country in an air conditioned bus. Bring a jacket, snacks and something to entertain yourself. You generally cannot buy tickets in advance so arrive to the station early in order to get a ticket for your desired departure time. These buses only stop at pre-destined locations. From there you can take another mode of transportation to your destination.
If you are making a trip out of the city for an hour or so, skip the formalities of the coach bus system. Some guaguas be air conditioned but say goodbye to personal space. Guaguas generally leave when they are full and only make a few pre-destined stops. You can ask them to stop wherever you want along the route. Guaguas generally cost around 100 pesos or less ($2.50). The mood on a guagua is generally festive, with popular music blasting. [There are also guaguas that can take you along routes similar to the conchos. These generally cost between 25-50 pesos and are more for inner-city commuter travel.]
Later at night, or when you’re in a rush, taxis will get you to your destination for under 200 pesos. As a foreigner, taxi drivers will overcharge you. Make sure to ask for the price in advance and know where you’re going. It is recommended to find a taxi driver that you trust and call them as needed. My friend recommended a great taxi driver who brought me to the airport for a fair price, and also helped me move between apartments and helped carry my belongings. I call him when I can so that I can give him my business rather than someone else. Save a few local taxi numbers, or ask a restaurant, bar or gas station to call one for you.
7) Your feet
One of the best ways to get to know a city is to walk its streets. It seems that locals do not walk a lot, but I enjoy it as I get to see the city on the ground level. If you don’t mind the heat, take your feet.
How do you learn to navigate a city? Leave a comment.