An August 2003 trip
to Bavaro by Jose Kevo
Quote: I've often been asked about opportunities for independent travelers along the DR's fabled Coconut Coast. Even resort tourists inquire about what awaits beyond the compound walls. Deciding to find out, I was more than disgusted by what I found and tell why you might not want to bother!
Europeans have long been coming year round, though you'll find cheaper packages from mid-summer through mid-December. Based on what little I've seen, I don't know that resort travelers could ask for any place better. But, you know what else comes with the territory.
Escape vs. Escaping: Relaxing vacation time will likely be shattered once stepping beyond your resort walls. Typically hospitable locals appear to have been corrupted from visitor's rudeness they're inundated with, and their abilities to make a quick buck off of perceived wealthy tourists. Expect to be approached, potentially hounded, and likely overcharged just about anywhere you go; problems so bad there've been a number of coalitions developed to safeguard tourists.
Independent Travelers will find limited opportunities and a very harsh awakening compared to other parts of the country . Budget-minded and cultural enthusiasts should expect to be even harder pressed.
Resort Review Resource, that I highly recommend for staying anywhere within DR, can be found at Debbie's Dominican Travel. Not only do website coordinators detail various resorts, excursion companies, but travelers also contribute reviews giving the full scoop of pros/cons from their experiences.
Undeveloped Coast awaits north of the Bavaro strip beginning where highway 105 enters the small hamlet of El Macao running until the country bends into the Samana peninsula at Playa Limon. Exploring this secluded area was the main purpose for making this trip, but I found no way to do this basing from El Cortecito. Accomplishing this is the only reason I would consider returning to the area, and before it becomes lined with all-inclusive resorts, too!
Motoconchos were the most obvious, available form of local transportation in general, but beware! Ongoing complaints of renegade drivers overcharging and endangering tourists has prompted formation of a licensed coalition. If hiring a motoconcho, only use those where drivers wear blue and orange mesh vests. Supposedly this is to cut down on risks and exploitations.
A motoconcho ride from Bavaro Plaza to El Cortecito was RD20. A motoconcho ride from El Cortecito to the somewhat distant main bus terminal for Higuey was RD30.
From Higuey's Bus Terminal serving the Bavaro/Punta Cana area, the one way cost is RD35, taking about 90-minutes to reach Bavaro Plaza.
For drivers, the distance on the map might not look that far but plan on at least one-hour when coming from Higuey. Be advised roads are very narrow and winding; something which should be avoided after dark.
Pension La Casita is located in El Cortecito on the main street where the road into town t''s into it. Four rooms are located above an upscale antique/housewares store owned by a European lady who seemed more interested in her customers than a potential guest. She abruptly told me there were no vacancies; come back tomorrow...which I''ve learned is common approach regardless of potential availabilities. Lonely Planet lists rooms with shared bath at $25, with private bath at $30/$35. This was supposedly the "budget option", and while it''s located on the beach side of the street, what you find out back is a zoo of rabid vendors. If you''re interested, reservations can be made by calling 809/552-0780 or e-mail.
A better but more expensive option can be found across the street at El Cortecito Inn; 809/552-0639. This appeared to be a rather classy hotel with a poshly decorated open-air lobby, a listed pool, and a top-notch restaurant acoss the street for guests staying in their 20-rooms. However, again I found a desk clerk that basically didn''t want to be bothered. A room, which includes breakfast, goes for $40 a night, but they require a minimum two-night stay.
Several languages are spoken at both these establishments as noticed on many signs advertising apartments for rent. Perhaps I could''ve/should''ve written down some numbers to share, but by this point I was far too put out!
I''d initially rode to the gua-gua''s last stop exiting at the Bavaro Plaza where I struck-up conversation with a shop owner. Explaining my situation, desires for exploring the area, he told his staff he''d be back momentarily and walked me to his car for driving me to the local hotel; typical Dominican hospitality that unfortunately was short-lived.
When inquiring about a room, the local desk clerk said it would be RD1000 for the night; roughly $28.50. The price wasn''t bad, and the pool could suffice without access to a nearby beach. But the gentleman started in about the expensive rate, went on to explain my "local situation/connection", and even had me pull out the baseball card and photo of me with the recognizable player to confirm legitimacy. They said they would give him the room for RD450; I said I''d take it. The clerk immediately pointed out that price was only for him; I was still expected to pay RD1000!
He was embarrassed, apologetic despite my thanking him for his kindness. I didn''t even bother remembering the name of this hotel. If you don''t mind potentially getting taken advantage of, it''s the two-story mustard colored building just across from the last gua-gua stop. You''re within easy walking distance for shopping at Bavaro Plaza, but would need to hire a motoconcho for beach access in El Cortecito.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on October 17, 2003
Accommodations for Independent Travelers
Bavaro, Dominican Republic
Attraction | "When the Circus Comes to Town...and Stays!"
This small enclave used to be northern border for resorts tucked away under groves of palms. These days when walking north, I found resort sprawl continuing along distant beach stretches; beyond the next blind curves until I grew tired, disgusted of walking.
The engulfment of El Cortecito as the area''s Free Trade Zone had corrupted any memories or desires to base a stay from here. Off the highway, the village still is limited to two streets which intersect in an el-shape, but that''s not the problem. To describe what has evolved as the ultimate Tourist Trap would be an immense understatement. There was no peace or tranquility.
I likened the appearance to a hurricane sweeping up the Caribbean, gathering all other islands'' tourist junk, and haphazardly dumping it in this condensed area. Not being able to see trees for the forest, I bypassed local accommodations more than once swallowed into obscurity. Beachside''s environment was no better with shacks full of goods monoplozing everywhere to prevent stretching out in the sand.
No matter how tanned or well you speak the language, expect to be perceived as the wealthy tourist with pockets full of pesos. It''s not that I ever felt unsafe, but I hate that "swarming pounce" feeling when everyone is after you for something! Multitudes of brashly painted signs in various languages stating, ''Private; Keep Out'' did little nurturing any welcomed feeling.
Tourists staying in nearby resorts have a one-stop shopping destination within easy walking distance, plus there''s several upscale restaurants including Capitán Cook''s serving charbroiled seafoods averaging $15. From appearance and smells off the grills, this would definitely be a place to consider when tiring of resort buffets. Tables are in the sand, there''s views of the gorgeous waters, and a bonus inconspicuous overhead netting to keep coconuts from falling on your head.
Hunger was setting in, but my stubborn boycott of anything tourist related was vowed until coming to the south-end of main street. There was a small bar with refined appearance further accented by Europeans sipping cocktails under patio umbrellas. Scanning their menu board, at the bottom was comfort I''d been needing. When asking the bartender about comida creolle, they hesitated before motioning me around back. Sure enough, locals were lined-up at the kitchen door for lunch. Undoubtedly some were wondering if this guy was lost; I even sensed glimpses as I wolfed my heaping plate costing RD60; less than $2.00.
El Cortecito is answer for staying beyond resort walls, but don''t expect the alluring every-day Dominican life you''d find with other local destinations. That is . . . unless you''d consider going some place like Disney World and enjoy staying above a small shop along chaotic Main Street, or pitching a lounge chair along your State Fair''s midway!
Bavaro, Dominican Republic
Attraction | "Want it? They Got it!"
The side street is simple enough with a row of stores selling various upscale goods and necessities which might suggest a place where you'd find locals out for daily shopping. On the corner is an open-air bar/restaurant offering standard plates of breakfast/lunch/dinner for average prices, but certainly more than you'd pay in a village or area that's not a tourist zone. I paid RD100 for a large juice concoction with a shot of Barceló rum; the European girl behind the counter gathering mango, papaya and pineapple from bowls scattered across the bar as well as snatching a banana from a stalk hanging overhead.
Trying to cool down after the long ride, I slowly sipped while regathering my wits and planned course of action accompanied by the odd mixture of scenes from DR and The Eagles, Hotel California. Unfortunately, it would have taken several more rounds to prepare me for what I was about to encounter...here, and for the rest of the day.
Stepping around the corner is an outdoor market with a swarm of vendors so great, there was obviously competition even with the heavy amount of foot traffic. I must admit the visual appeal of the market's set-up was better than Haitian shack stands you find along most Dominican beaches, or anywhere in Jamaica, but I dread passing through these places - even if intending to purchase something.
Directly across the street is Plaza Bavaro which, in addition to 50-some stores selling every kind of souvenir imaginable, contains a couple of banks and ATM's scattered about, travel agency, phone/computer center and a number of other official-related services. The facility is much larger than it looks with an open-air garden in the central courtyard. If nothing more, it's worth passing through just to cool off in the shade, and from air-conditioned breezes gushing out from the stores' open front doors.
Shop owners definitely had a more laidback presence than vendors across the street...willing to extend an initial greeting followed by conversing, trying to guess what country you're from before insisting you take a look. Even more important, they knew how to take any polite form of "I'm not interested" without further hassling. (This was also where I met the gentleman who left his shop to drive me to the local hotel.)
If staying anywhere along the coast, this is where I recommend for your shopping. Not only do they have everything you'll ever want/need, the atmosphere is simply more inviting and non-threatening than what you'll find across the street or in El Cortecito.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 17, 2003
Bavaro, Dominican Republic
Nursing a small hangover, I wasn''t looking forward to the one+-hour ride wedged with four others knock-kneed against the front row of passengers, or the nauseating affect of riding while facing in the opposite direction. So here I was - up front and center stage looking back at the bus full of people...well aware of the two-way view further spotlighting the only foreigner on board.
The guy sitting to my left was futily trying to juggle oversized bundles of rolled-up hammocks and after about the third crack on my elbow, he exclaimed Entschuldigen Zee. I wasn''t sure who he was talking to until he offered another ''excuse me'' in Italian. Speaking Spanish, I told him I was American - as if giving some kind of relief to speak English.
The young man was Haitian working as a beach vendor along Bavaro''s coast. I played into feeding his curiosities as to who I was, what my intentions were for spending a couple of days in the area; an omen I should''ve been more receptive to. What began was a long list of reasons to consider changing my plans, or at least being highly guarded. Apparently, my preferred mode of wandering about would target me for anything but the Dominican hospitality I''d came to expect.
He began detailing various incidents of being grossly taken advantage of, over-charged, assaulted, abandoned...I''m squirming hoping no one within hearing range understood enough English to think I was in agreement. Apparently, he was reading my mind - that his mishaps were just because of Dominicans'' contempt for Haitians. He assured I would have to be even more careful because I was a tourist with lots of money - not just some poor beach vendor.
By now the gua-gua had turned off highway 106 to head north along the Bavaro strip; my entire cramped and suffocated body numb except for the pounding head. Views out the windows were of nothing but dusty, barren fields with scrub brush and exposed karst. I''d all but tuned out the continued warnings and was quite relieved when he and others exited at the first stop - silence more welcomed than additional space.
Every so often, we''d pass another grandiose gated entryway leading off into more forsaken land; a fabled guarded resort some where back there. After a couple more curves and all but in the blink of an eye, the gua-gua was dwarfed by fields full of coconut palms naturally growing as they had for centuries. I''ve an infatuative weakness for palm trees and the soothing affect recharged my battery for the adventure I was about to embark on. Beside, I wasn''t any tourist; those things only happen to those that are.
Tell-Tale Legacies of a Tourist
Like some trapped animal trying to escape the jackals, my pace heightened along the cage wall of tourist shops and restaurants lining El Cortecito''s main street. Glimpses of marine-colored waters beyond suggested retreat once I found a pathway actually leading to the beach. Unfortunately, more relentless environment was all that was waiting.
I made a bee-line for the waters'' break trying to put distance between myself and vendors only to find more vulnerability from those offering pricey water activities/excursions. The brewing high-stress mode all but went over edge when hearing a scream - one of the latest going home with a souvenir belly button ring. I surveyed several thriving open-air tattoo/piercing stations in the sand. To think tourists make such a big deal about food/water poisonings, but would risk these potentially unsterile practices?
Armed guards were positioned at both ends where El Cortecito''s beach joins resort boundaries. I had to breakout and would risk mounting attitude to get passed any approach or questioning. With backpack slung over my shoulder, I inconspicuously ambled by...just like any other tourist; the only bonus caucasianness would bring for the day.
Warm waters lapping at my ankles curbed some of the edge, but I was disappointed by the gross overdevelopment I found regardless of how far I walked. The Atlantic''s stunning hues were further shimmering from additional tide turned up from passing boats, wave runners and other water craft. Para-sailers were rising above palm trees like trapeze artists completing the circus atmosphere. How could something be so right, yet feel so wrong?
A cluster of empty lounge chairs at one of the resorts beckoned me from the mid-day sun; a group of boisterous, apparently intoxicated Germans driving me further towards the outer boundary in hopes of slavaging something meaningful. I''d no more than parked when a young Dominican appeared to somewhat routinely ask if I''d like anything to drink. He wasn''t likely expecting my refusal in Spanish, nor my somewhat forced smile.
Earnestly trying to shift focus as my eyes trailed from the towering palms overhead out to what has to be one of the most beautiful strips of beach in the world, I readily succumbed to facing this was as good as it was going to get. Despite extra changes of clothes and toothbrush stashed in my backpack, there was no way I''d be spending a night in this area. The Haitian vendor had been right; my bruised pride fitting in as a Dominican relegated to a suspected pocket full of tourist pesos.
In defiant protest, I''d already determined not even going for a swim and was fighting drowsiness luring me towards siesta. Heavy eyelids were sinking fast until being jolted wide open from a piercing screech just off my shoulder. Call it a nightmare; the middle-aged man standing with a pair of tittering macaws on his shoulders more tense and stressed out than their rude awakening had resentenced me to!
I didn''t want to hold his damn birds refraining suggesting what he could do with his polaroid. Walking towards El Cortecito, the guy''s startled look as I bolted away kept flashing through my mind. ''Yeh bud, whatever it takes to permanently keep you here in the DR''s Edenistic East, but I''m gettin'' the hell out of here...back to my village where I belong!''
The Grass IS Always Greener...
The motoconcho drivers were in great debate before pointing me to one that wasn''t wearing a coalition vest to insure legitimate service. I reluctantly climbed on as we headed off. Conversation was centered around trying to convince him I wasn''t one of them - a tourist, but there was uneasy panic as we headed further off in an unfamiliar direction. It was quite the relief when spotting the abandoned terminal in the middle of no where. Paying 30 pesos, I made a beeline for the back-seat of the empty bus.
Within minutes other connecting publicos arrived, a driver appeared and we were off for Higuey. Once we''d cleared the dusty parking lot, I pushed open the window to maximize any breeze. Within a couple of stops, the gua-gua had filled to capacity but the cramped conditions pinning me into the corner by a host of strangers was actually comforting and reassuring that; away from the spoils of tourism, Dominicans are some of the friendliest people on earth.
Turning onto Highway 106, dry barren lands were slowly giving way to fertile greens of the area''s interior. A tranquil clamness had returned and from more than just hanging out the window like some panting dog. Scattered business, homes and people all but frozen in time rekindled the countryside magic which induces what makes the DR my favored destination on the planet.
An occasional vendor''s shack piled high with fresh fruits and vegetables reminded how little I''d eaten for the day, or even the sun-exposed line weighted down from cuts of meats. Rolling, overgrown mole hills known as the Oriental Mountain Range, painted the perfect backdrop for fields of grazing livestock...further accented by roadside trees so ladened with mangoes, I had fingers whipped more than once trying to grab one while passing. Hunger could wait...knowing I could pick one out of the yard once reaching home.
Caribbean pastel-painted houses line the small streets in the village of Otra Banda just east of Higuey; the intricate gingerbread carvings around the doors, windows and lattices the final reassurance that my decision to flee from the tourist trap had been the right one.
As for the DR''s most fabled, popular vacation destination? I''d say it''s just that - along with all the spoils which come from such a place. But for a simple country boy trying to pass myself off as a local, I''ll take the intoxicating appeals of common, every day Dominican life any day of the week; especially now that both my headaches were finally gone.