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The Dominican Republic

Inexpensive if You Go On Your Own

Dominican Horses
Horses are a popular mode of transportation in the Dominican Republic.

The Dominican Republic is National Geographic country: lush tropical jungles, dramatic waterfalls, the Caribbean's highest mountains and longest rivers, and the cultural traditions of life a century ago. With a little Spanish or a good phrase book, the Dominican Republic is the perfect country to experience without the buffer of a resort between you and local life.

The tiny village of Jarabacoa abounds with job opportunities for travelers hoping to augment their cash. Depending on your qualifications, there are outdoor adventure positions like white-water rafting guides, climbing guide, and tour guides or resort options for waiters and bartenders. For people who speak Spanish and English (German is a bonus) there are front-desk jobs that range from answering phones to serving as hosts.

Surrounded by mountain ranges and rivers, Jarabacoa offers whitewater rafting, kayaking, waterfall climbing, and mountain scrambling, all within an hour or two from town.

At the town park, you'll find all the transport options: motorcycles for about $10 a day, gua-guas (local vans shared with others) for about a dollar, a lift on a moto-concho (motorcycle carrying up to three adults), or a taxi or bus to just about anywhere. Horses and burros are available right outside town; the locals at the park will take you there.

Rafting and Kayaking: If you're a whitewater fan, go during rainy season (winter) and decide whether you want Class II-III rapids (small-moderate) or III-IV (moderate-hairy). The Rio Yaque is the longest river in the Caribbean and offers both challenging and easy stretches. It includes cute features like "Mike Tyson," a 12-foot vertical drop and "The Cemetery," a hairy stretch of rocks sticking up like tombstones, but also offers meandering curves of calmer water for easy drifting. Many of the outfitters are in need of rafting guides who speak English, German or both.

Waterfall Climbing: Another adrenaline-filled day trip is a climb through the many nearby waterfalls. You'll hike up some, pull yourself up others using a line to haul yourself against the torrent of water. The way down ranges from natural rock "slides" through jumps into crystal pools to rappelling down the face of the waterfall itself. Outfitters equip you with helmets, full-body wetsuits, and a guide simply dripping with ropes and pitons to lead you.

Dominican Waterfall
The author enjoys a writing break.

Mountain Climbing: The mountain of Pico Duarte, at almost 9,000 feet, is the highest mountain in the Caribbean, and a typical trek up and down takes three days of serious hiking. Guided treks usually include all food for the three days, sleeping bags, burros to carry gear and provisions, as well as a local guide.

All of these activities can, with a little daring and investigation, be done on your own. However, if you do attempt them for the first time without guide, you are unfortunately likely to miss some of the most dramatic locations. And hiring a local off the street (as we did on our first day) can sometimes result in a picturesque sightseeing tour rather than a more participatory type of day. For the Pico Duarte trip, after you've done the climb once you can take note of the route, get the name of the guy who provides the burros, then hang out in the Jarabacoa park and drum up a guide business yourself. But the first time your best bet for adventure is the local outfitters:

Rancho Baiguate (809-574-4940), rafting and kayaking $95/day, waterfall $65/day, mountain trek $400/person for three days.

Franz Lang Adventures (809-574-2669), rafting & kayaking $65/day, waterfall $45/day, mountain trek $300/person for three days.

Colonial Tour Rafting (809-688-5285), rafting $95/day, waterfall $45/day.

Iguana Mama (809-571-0908), rafting and kayaking $85/day, waterfall $55/day.

Where to Stay & Eat: A typical dinner for two at the current exchange (35 pesos to the dollar) runs from $2-$8—from locally patronized refrescaterias and bars to the "visitor-friendly" white-tablecloth restaurants. The best way to find dinner in Jarabacoa is to simply wander the streets of the village, listening to the music as you pass local spots.

Accomodations: Holly Day Inn (809-574-2778) is a bargain at about $8 a night. Peter at the main desk is helpful and the simple rooms are clean. Ask for a room facing the rear; you'll catch more breeze and less road noise. Directly across the dirt road, the Dutch-owned Hotel California (809-574-6255) offers slightly grander rooms, peace and quiet, and a swimming pool for roughly $16 a night.

Business Opportunities: For entrepreneurs interested in a long-term stay in this inexpensive country, there are money-making options. For example, in the coastal town of Luperon (a mecca for American sailboaters), you can buy the rights to a thriving restaurant for around $3,000. Many expatriate Americans have sailed into Luperon for a brief stopover and ended up renting, buying, or building restaurants and putting down roots. Along the Haitian border, the present government is also offering a sort of land-grant program to entrepreneurs: you make a brief proposal and if they approve they give you a plot of land outright. They’ll also exempt your business from taxes for the next 20 years.