One of my bucket list items while I was in the Dominican Republic was to take the ferry from Santo Domingo to San Juan, Puerto Rico. This dream was realized at the end of April with a week-long trip!
Puerto Rico, much smaller than the Dominican Republic both in size and population, is a U.S. Territory. The island has everything I like about the Dominican Republic, and everything I like about the United States. Similarly to the Dominican Republic, the neighboring island is Spanish-speaking and has amazing history. Fresh fruits and produce abound, and the price of food is reasonable. Being a U.S. Territory, the island is clean, with working infrastructure (at least where we were, near the capital), and has some chain stores that I had been missing in the Dominican Republic. I would like to go back and see other parts of the country, but we did see a good deal of the Eastern portion of the island.
Day one: Sailing the seas
Taking the Ferry was slightly cheaper than a flight between the two islands, and it also boasted a casino, nightlife, and restaurants. However, we didn’t take advantage of any of these offerings and went to sleep right away (on both voyages). We had initially reserved the cheapest room, which was above the vessel’s motor, so we upgraded rooms, for a fee. While the views from the ferry were spectacular, the customs process on the San Juan side was a nightmare! We hadn’t eaten a substantial dinner nor did we have breakfast so the two and a half hour wait to finally leave the ferry terminal was awful. I would never do the trip in this manner again — I’d book the flight.
Day Two: Hike in El Yunque
Our travails on the Ferry were rewarded with a delicious Puerto Rican lunch! I had a nice vegetarian offering of rice, vegetables and a fried egg, while the carnivores had mofongo (mashed fried plantain) and fried chicken.
Another bucket list item for me was to go to a rainforest. We drove to El Yunque after our delicious lunch to explore the trails and waterfalls. The weather was perfect and our afternoon arrival time meant we missed the hottest part of the day.
Day Three: Culebra Island
The next morning we woke up very early to drive to the easternmost part of the island, Fajardo. We wanted to get an early start in order to “go camping” as our Puerto Rican friends called it, or wait on the line, until the ticket booth opened to buy tickets for the ferry to Culebra.
The process was very organized and due to our early arrival, we got to eat a great lunch at the cafe near the ferry terminal. The ferry ride was very comfortable and took an hour. From there, a small bus took us to the other side of the island to Flamenco Beach. It was the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen. Clean, blue waters, and we had perfect weather.
That night we got some fried street food on the way back to Carolina, where we were staying. I had a vegetarian alcapurria, which was just fried and spiced dough. I think the meat eaters definitely enjoyed it much more.
Day Four: Old San Juan (Viejo San Juan)
We spent the next afternoon and evening in Viejo San Juan, exploring the old castle and fort, the Castillo San Felipe del Morro, and walking the streets. Coming directly from Santo Domingo, in my mind I kept comparing Viejo San Juan to the Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo. Both have roots from Spain and Christopher Columbus and are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. However, the Zona Colonial’s historic beauty has not been maintained at the same level as Viejo San Juan. It’s hard to judge based on the resources or level of financial that Viejo San Juan has, but the differences were striking. The lively streets of Santo Domingo are always filled with tourists, vendors, pushcarts filled with produce or snacks, and music can always be heard. Viejo San Juan was the opposite. Viejo San Juan’s streets were clean and we not once were we approached by vendors. In fact, it actually felt quite empty and quiet. That was a running theme throughout the week – there simply were not as many people out and about as in Santo Domingo.
The Castillo de San Felipe del Morro was quite amazing, overlooking the ocean.
Day Five & Six: Shopping
Happy to be close to retail shopping, we took advantage of the many malls and outlets that were near Carolina and spent two days shopping. While there are many malls in Santo Domingo, the prices are always high and I never found any reasonable deals. At the outlets, I snagged a great Kenneth Cole dress for $20, and two pairs of flats for $50 total.
Day Seven: Back to Reality
On our return ferry trip, we were prepared. We packed lots of food to avoid hunger upon arrival back to the Dominican Republic. There was a slight hold up on the Puerto Rican side where I had to prove that I was going to leave the Dominican Republic within 30 days of entry to comply with their new migration regulations. Fortunately, my one-way ticket to New York was already booked for a few weeks later so as soon as I showed the email confirmation, I was able to board the Ferry. Just like the trip to Puerto Rico, we didn’t visit the casino or night club and went right to sleep.
We arrived bright and early to Santo Domingo, and the customs process re-entering was very easy. The arrival was bittersweet as I knew it was the last time I would be entering the Dominican Republic for a while. We were immediately greeted by the call of “Taxi! Taxi!” and the sound of traffic, motorcycles racing by and cars honking, but the Alcazar de Colon was a welcome sight.
Feel free to comment with your experience in Puerto Rico!