Bayahibe is hailed by backpackers in the DR as being one of the “must do” spots in the country, and for very good reasons. Its location on the Caribbean coast provides opportunities for some excellent swimming, snorkeling, and diving; the diminutive town is charming in its austerity and surprisingly lively after the sun goes down; and the small but sparsely populated public beach is downright gorgeous. Bayahibe is not located on a major bus route so in order to get there it is necessary to transfer to a minibus in La Romana. The one-hour trip from La Romana to Bayahibe is quite picturesque, which makes the voyage that much more worthwhile.
This oceanfront, spec-on-a-map town of just 2,000 can be easily traversed on foot in about 15 minutes and completely explored in about twice that time. None of the town’s few roads are paved and traffic lights are nonexistent because there is never any traffic. According to the Lonely Planet travel guide there are approximately eight hotels in Bayahibe proper—about half of which fall into the budget category. Given the tiny size of Bayahibe it is unnecessary to discuss the optimal location to stay because everything is centrally located. I stayed in an inexpensive cabaña but I noticed a fancyish hotel occupying the property adjacent to one in which I stayed.
There is a small square in the center of town that became the focal point of my stay in Bayahibe. The town’s general store is situated in that square so nearly every resident of Bayahibe it seems passes through the square at least once each day. Shopping in the general store is an unforgettable experience due to its unusual layout coupled with the frenzied way in which the shopping is done. There is no browsing the goods because everything must be ordered at the counter from one of the two employees that somehow maneuver around each other and through the cluttered aisles to collect products to fill customers’ orders. One has to be really aggressive when initiating an order because the clerks only respond to the loudest and most noticeable customers in the group. I imagine that there might be times of the day that are less busy than others but I saw no evidence of any kind of daily business cycle. Every time I entered that store it was crowded as ever. Interestingly enough, the shop also doubles as bar. About three-quarters of the counter space is devoted to the bar, which depending on one’s mood may be a good or a bad attribute of the place.
True to the prevailing method of partying that I witnessed every place I visited in the DR, Bayahibe’s square is where a Bachata-infused party erupts each night of the week. I noticed that people start gathering in the square around 5 p.m. and they purchase large quantities of ice-cold Presidente beer from the aforementioned shop until it closes at 9 p.m., at which time a little wooden kiosk directly in the square opens for what seemed to be very brisk business in the one item that’s sold: beer. The music is turned off at 2 a.m. but people linger in the square until well after.
Bayahibe’s beach is an easy ten-minute walk north of town along the shore. A portion of the beach belongs to or is controlled by a resort hotel, which means that non-guests are restricted to the public beach. It is easy to discern the location of the dividing line between the public beach and the private beach because the resort’s section is dense with beach furniture while the public section is not. It may be tempting to take advantage of the resort’s beach furniture by moseying over to the private beach and just settling in, but to counter that threat the hotel posts sentries armed with lists of guests’ names on the border to deter such infiltrations. It is easier and more fulfilling to simply bring a beach towel and lie on top of the beautiful sand in the public area.
There are a series of huts behind the public beach that sell mostly souvenirs, but one can also obtain beverages, food, or beach furniture rental from the employees of those huts. It is a near certainty that the Dominican and Haitian employees of the huts will approach any and every beachgoer in an attempt to sell those items, although I found them to be much less persistent and much more respectful than the vendors in Boca Chica.
Bayahibe contains two foreign-owned dive shops from which diving, snorkeling, and other maritime-based day trips can be arranged. I am not a diver but in talking to divers who have dived in the waters near Bayahibe I learned that there are literally dozens of magnificent dive sites, including many that feature shipwrecks dating back to the Age of Exploration period. The day trip that I purchased for $50 included a trip through a dense mangrove forest, better than average snorkeling in two different spots, and lunch plus some exploration time on beautiful Isla Saona. The employees of the dive shops are mostly European twenty-something diving enthusiasts who somehow ended up leading or assisting on dives in Bayahibe. They are a fun-loving and thirsty group so their presence in the square at night should not unexpected.
If there is one downside of the Bayahibe experience (and this is stretching) it must be the semi-daily but short-lived invasion of groups from the nearby resorts for their daytrips to Isla Saona and/or Isla Catalina. In the mid-morning the day-trippers are herded off the tour buses and onto the awaiting vessels in the tiny harbor, and in the late afternoon the reverse stampede occurs. As a day-tripping tourist myself, albeit of the backpacking variety, I couldn’t justify harboring much disdain for those pampered all-inclusive resort types, but I did meet some expats that found it amusing to disparage the sorts of visitors that prefer to be holed up behind the walls of the tourist enclaves rather than in the town square immersed in the Dominican culture. Regardless of one’s viewpoint it is clear that everyone is out to have a good time, and in a place like Bayahibe everyone can have a good time.
Bayahibe is the sort of place where a backpacker unrestrained by a tight schedule can lose track of time, especially if that backpacker is an avid diver. Even for non-divers the friendly people, beautiful beach, and inexpensive lodging all contribute to an atmosphere that is particularly welcoming.