Less than two weeks prior to my arrival in the Dominican Republic, I learned that there would be no flights operating on the day that I needed to travel from Punta Cana to Puerto Plata, and that I would have to find my own way there.
Feeling stranded, I wasn’t sure what else to do other than search online. I found a few options, but thought it might be best to wait until I arrived in the country to finalize my plans.
Fast forward–it was the day before I was meant to make the overland adventure–In true procrasti-fashion I had still not arranged anything. Talk about waiting until the last minute.
In a final attempt at an online search, I found exactly what I had been looking for. Something that would get me from point A to point B without breaking my budget or any complicated booking processes; CocoTours’ Punta Cana Shuttle.
CocoTours offered a form of budget travel, that presented the ease and safety of personal shuttles between bus stations, yet the economical method of public transportation.
To break it down: I would be picked up at my hotel in Punta Cana and driven to the bus station in Higuey. I would take the public bus from Higuey to Santo Domingo, picked up once again by a driver in Santo Domingo, driven across town and then dropped off for the second public bus to Puerto Plata.
It was a series of private and public transportation roles arranged in a tidy schedule carried out by friendly drivers along the way. It was fool proof.
Saying goodbye to my friend in Punta Cana, we parted ways as one CocoTours van took her to the airport, and another took me toward Higuey. We drove for about one hour, passing scenes of tropical beaches, busy towns and markets. We drove by small farms where chickens adorned the streets and bananas lined the roads.
Having just been through a series of strong storm systems, the majority of the land was covered in a thick layer of puddles and overflowing streams. Trees and branches were down, most of them cleared off to the side. People were driving through these miniature lake-puddles on motorbikes, creating enormous splashes across the entire road.
I couldn’t help but feel excited over the day ahead of me as I watched everything happening outside of my window. I was looking forward to seeing the whole country up close and personal, and getting off the tourist trail.
We dipped in and out of valleys and around tight curves until finally we arrived in Higuey. My driver helped me out of the van and walked me directly over to the bus. I was handed a ticket with my seat number on it, and told to pay on the bus where someone would come around to collect tickets. My driver waved me goodbye and we hit the open road.
From here, it would be about three and a half hours until we reached Santo Domingo, the capital of the country. The bus was large, comfortable and air conditioned. I had a window seat in the middle of the bus, and plenty of space for my backpack and myself.
A man sitting beside me started to speak to me in Spanish, in my own broken Spanglish I tried to explain that I really only spoke English. He took this as a sign that I could understand him perfectly and began to tell me his life story, Inglés sin.
What I got from his story is that he was travelling from Higuey to a town outside of Santo Domingo to visit his Aunt. His name was Antonio, and he had never left the country. Between his efforts in occasional English words and many dramatic hand signals, we managed to carry on this conversation for almost an hour.
Eventually, we retired to our own personal entertainment, while he read a book and I listened to music while staring out the window.
It seemed that the interior of Eastern Dominican was fairly rural. Field after field whirred by the window, most of which were sugar cane plantations. The land North and East of Santo Domingo is made up of a vast plains and savannahs.
I was surprised at how well maintained the roads were. I had been warned by many that it would be a bumpy drive, and it was even suggested that after Hurricane Sandy, that the roads might not even be there any more. I laughed at this thought as my bus rolled smoothly along the newly paved highway.
Finally my bus pulled into Santo Domingo. We drove for quite a while before reaching the station, as it is a large city. I saw the main streets, bustling with pedestrians and people buying and selling everything and anything.
We drove down narrow back streets, where small boys perched on glasses windows of houses that had neither doors nor roofs, dancing to their own reflection in the bus windows.
Countless dogs and cats scurried beneath the wheels and dozens of locals dodged out of the way as we turned corners and passed parked cars.
I couldn’t believe how much was going on in this city, or how many people lived there. I guess I had never heard much about Santo Domingo before travelling there, but now I was itching to get online to read more about this interesting city.
The bus pulled to a stop in front of the station, and I hopped out and looked around. Before I even had time to wonder where my driver was, he appeared in front of me and offered to help me take my bag to the car.
I would have never seen the inner streets of Santo Domingo if I had taken a plane. I wouldn’t have experienced the sights and sounds of the city or the varied landscapes of the country if I had flown.
We drove back through the city, heading toward Puerto Plata. It turned out that my driver had a morning pick-up in Puerto Plata, so instead of taking my second public bus, he would be able to drive me to my final destination personally. Not that I minded the bus, but I was a bit relieved that I could simply relax for the rest of the day.
As we grew closer to Puerto Plata the landscape started to change; we left the coastal plains behind and entered the central mountain range. Large hills rose and fell around us as we sped along the highway, passing trucks and motorbikes. The vegetation thickened and developed into a misty rainforest around us.
The sun started to lower in the sky, projecting a florescent orange hue across the mountains in front of me, in comparison to the rainy sky beyond. By the time we reached Santiago, it was the height of rush hour and I got my first experience of true Dominican traffic.
I later heard that Santiago has some of the worst traffic in the country, but I’ve certainly seen worse over my travels.
Once night fell the rest of the drive went rather quickly. I couldn’t see anything beyond the lights on the road and occasional line of bars in the darkness. Before I knew it we were pulling into the entrance of the resort.
It had been a long day, but I felt more satisfied to have completed it overland than I ever could have by simply taking a flight over the country. I never would have seen the landscapes that I saw, or experienced the cities that I travelled through.
If you find yourself in the Dominican Republic with a need to get from one place to another, I highly suggest booking with CocoTours, rather than hopping on the next plane.
It doesn’t matter if you’re travelling friends or family, or even if you’re travelling alone. I did it solo, and I never doubted myself for a moment. I now look back on it as “the day that I travelled across an entire country by land”. I’m truly happy that I did it.
I’d like to thank CocoTours for taking on a last minute client and for providing a safe and memorable journey. Also, a big thanks for driving me to the airport in Puerto Plata on my final day!
CocoTours also offers private transportation options and other services on their website.
Check it our for more details on how to arrange your own Dominican Holiday.