When I started this blog, I intended to go on 4 culinary inspiration trips each year. Well, here we are 3 years later and I have made it as far as 1 journey to Trinidad. How sad am I! With my New Year’s travel resolutions still in mind and April slowly approaching, I decided it was time for action. So I bought myself a ticket to Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. With just a hotel booking for the first night, my Lonely Planet travel guide as my beloved companion and no further plans, I finally got my lazy ass on a plane. Hooray!
And what a trip! At only an hour away, a completely different world opened itself in front of me. I wandered the streets of the zona colonial, the old city center with its beautiful historic buildings. Tried to eat as much local food as one can in a couple of days and explored the rustic Península de Samaná with its small villages and beautiful deserted beaches. I had forgotten how much I love to travel. Oh boy!
Although it was only a short visit, I still have quite a few things I’d like to share with you. First, of course, about the food.
This being a business trip my main purpose was to eat. I hadn’t traveled to the Dominican Republic for fancy Italian or French fare, so I looked for places with interesting local food.
I quickly learned that typical Dominican meals often include:
Tostones: fried green plantains served as a side dish at almost every meal
Mofongo: deep-fried green plantains mashed together with other ingredients like pork or seafood
Chivo: goat meat in different ways
Fresh Seafood: red snapper, crab, squid, shrimps, octopus, conch, lobster, you name it, typically prepared in 4 different ways: al ajillo (with garlic), al coco (in coconut sauce), al criolla (in tomato sauce) or al vinagre (in vinegar, a variation on ceviche)
Rice & beans (red, black or green)
Pastelito’s and empanadas: fried patties filled with cheese, chicken, beef , salt fish or vegetables
Chimi’s: sandwiches of seasoned ground meat, cabbage, carrots, onions and tomatoes.
Where to eat good local food in Santo Domingo:
A bustling restaurant in the center of the old district with salsa music and an impressive stage above the main bar. I loved the menu with modern-Caribbean dishes like crunchy pork belly with cassave crisps, yuca croquettes, croquettes stuffed with dominican-style goat and a delicious shrimp ceviche.
Mesón De Bari
Colorful restaurant with lots of local art on the wall. They serve grandmother-style traditional Dominican fare like salted cod empanadas, fish in coconut sauce and tostones.
This ocean-front restaurant came recommended by several local people. They serve Dominican specialties like mofongo and sancocho (a Caribbean beef stew).
Nice place to sleep in Santo Domingo
I stayed in El Beaterío Guest House right in the center of the zona colonial. It’s an old 16th century nunnery (how appropriate) with 11 rooms, a charming courtyard and a rooftop terrace. Very nice!
The Zona Colonial is a great place to explore. You can safely wander the streets taking in the historic sites and buildings and relax at one of the many cafes or restaurants. The main hazard is actually the large groups of tourists that are brought in by tour bus in the morning and are taken on guided tours through the district. Luckily, they are shipped back to their hotels towards the end of the day and the streets are yours again. At night, take another stroll, because different doors open and plenty of little bars and cafes with live-music expose themselves.
On the road to Península de Samaná
My 1000th follower on instagram, Olympia Dubischar, brought me to the remote village of Las Galeras, a tiny fishing village at the most Eastern tip of the Samana peninsula. She had won a copy of my cookbook, but the package that I had sent her by mail mysteriously disappeared. Which now presented me with the perfect excuse to hop on a bus and deliver it personally.
I love small remote places with hardly a tourist in sight and this happened to be just such a place. Don’t come here searching for a fancy restaurant or a trendy beach bar. We are talking stunning deserted beaches, only a handful of tourists and occasionally a little beach shack serving fresh seafood and cold Presidente beer. I stayed in La Isleta, a really cute hotel with a friendly French owner, right on the beach. I was in the small ‘tower room’ with a fantastic view. Great place to wake up in the morning!
There is one main street in las Galeras which ends at the beach with surprisingly quite a few restaurants. Nothing spectacular, but after a visit to the local supermarket you realize that it is quite hard to get any decent produce here. Except for really good French baguettes that is! For some reason a lot a French found their way to the peninsula and brought their baking skills with them. So expect simple, local fare, fresh seafood and large bottles of local beer. Nothing wrong with that! Look for the cute bar on the right side of the beach which is the perfect spot for sunset. I also had a really nice seafood lunch at a local beach shack (La Grillia) on the beautiful next-door Playita beach.
If you do like it a bit more touristy and developed, make sure to stop at Las Terrenas. This former remote fishing village has turned into quite a cosmopolitan town with plenty of hotels and restaurants. Although I personally prefer places like Las Galeras, compared to places like Punta Cana, Las Terrenas is still low key.
The only time a year when the península does get its share of tourists is between mid-January and mid-March, when it is thé spot to watch 10,000 North Atlantic humpback whales splashing through the area.
Squeezed together with 13 other Dominicans in the back of a guagua (a taxi in the form of a rambling old pick-up) or on the back of a motoconcho (motor-cycle) holding on to a complete stranger, is definitely the cheapest and most fun way of transport. I took a bus to get from the capital to the peninsula and back, which cost about US$8 one way. In the capital, it is safer to use taxis instead of motoconchos. The traffic in Santo Domingo is crazy, but once you’ve escaped the city it is also possible to rent a car and explore the country on your own.
Before I knew it my trip came to an end. So from Las Terrenas I took a bus back to Santo Domingo to catch my plane to Curaçao. Although this being just a short trip (5 days/4 nights), I loved my little toe-tipping into the Dominican food, beautiful nature and friendly people and I will gladly go back for more!
Hope you’ll enjoy it as well!