Friday, June 29, 2012

What the tourists don't see

The Dominican Republic is a beautiful country, with amazing beaches, mountains and rivers. Millions of tourists come here every year, and several return time and time again, enjoying the scenery, the way of life and, of course, the people.

However, just a few minutes away from where the tourists stay is the other side of life here. Here are just two examples.

The first example is Juan Dolio on the south coast which has the most beautiful beaches.

However, less than a couple of minutes walk from the beach, where the tourists never venture, there are hundreds of Dominicans and Haitians living in appalling conditions.

These children proudly show off their bedroom made of
 cardboard where 3 of them sleep
The kitchen of another home nearby

The second example is Barahona in the south west of the country. Just outside Barahona you can find a truly exquisite hotel called Casa Bonita, enjoyed by several tourists each year. What makes this hotel different, is not only the fact it is amazingly beautiful, but they also do a lot of work for the environment and help local businesses and people.  All the produce for the restaurant is sourced locally including the fish caught by local fishermen from Barahuco. In addition Casa Bonita has partnered with the Dominican Surfing Federation to work alongside the local population in restoring the beachfront and train surfers in ecosystem management and conservation. The hotel also encourages the guests to work with local Dominicans to refurbish local shops and learn about larimar, the beautiful local stone. To learn more about Casa Bonita you can look here.

The pool. Imagine the sunsets from here. Stunning.

However, drive up into the mountains which rise behind Casa Bonita and there is a side of life that again the tourists don't see. The people there have no running water, no electricity, no medical facilities, no stoves, and just live off the land and their animals, venturing rarely into Barahona for essential supplies and to sell their produce.

The kitchen, where people cook using charcoal or wood
The people may be poor but the area is beautiful

Congratulations to Casa Bonita for doing what they can to work with the local people and the environment and also for introducing their guests to the local area and the people. It would be lovely if more hotels could do the same and also if the tourists could venture out of the resorts so that they can really understand more about the country and its people.


  1. Great post Linds.

    However, I think many tourist don't venture beyond tourist bounderies because it is drummed into them they may be mugged and in many areas of the world this is true.
    For example my brother-in-law was mugged in broad daylight in South Africa, the police shrugged their shoulders and just told him he was lucky to be alive.

    Tourists are seen by many as "rich pickings" but when accompanied by a guide it does us all good to see how others live and make us appreciate what we have and whine less about what we don't.

    Also how many tourists come to DR and hire a car?

    We had spanish tourists staying at the back of us last week. They were certainly not interested in local culture or had a thought for local people. They shouted and screamed until the early hours of the morning and played loud music from the time they got up till the time they went to bed.

    I sometimes despair of the society we live in. Do you think there is a danger they could make the poor a tourist attraction and infringe on their privacy?

  2. Gosh lots of questions! Most hotels here are all inclusive which is a shame as people do not go out as everything is included in the hotel such as food and drink. Therefore it is cheaper for them to stay in. Plus yes, they are told it is dangerous to go out. There are organised excursion though where they can get to see some of the country. The best time people have on their holidays though is often when they interact with the local people and it seems such a shame to miss out on this.
    People are advised not to hire a car as the driving here is totally crazy until you are used to it!
    As far as making the poor a tourist attraction, yes that could be a problem, but if you always ask before taking photos then I don't think it is too big an issue. If people do not take the pictures and show them to other people then no one will know that the poverty exists here. Plus some tourists make friends with them and then bring clothes and school supplies when they return.
    I just think that the hotels themselves could help more, not just by employing people but by sourcing food locally and encouraging their guests to mingle more with local people.

  3. I have been going to the DR for the last 10 years and for 8 of those ten years I have been staying in a rented condo at Winston Churchill close to Plaza Llama. I always rent a car to get around and I have no fear about the locals. However, word of warning if you are going to drive in the DR be prepared to be stopped frequently by the military and police for supposed traffic violations. The really funny thing about this is the fact that local Dominicans do not obey any traffic signs. A red light means go faster and everyone does illegal U-turns and they are never harassed. My friends and I are so careful to obey the rules and drive the way we do in America, but yet we are constantly targeted for trump of violations and they expect hush money. It is so pathetic as these guys have taken as little as 200 pesos as hush money.

    1. Yes Ricardo it is very annoying. The corruption extends to the Amet, traffic police, and they just want money all the time. You need a car with blacked out windows so they cannot see you are foreign.

    2. Thanks Lindsay for the tip. Another question , do you know if rented cars have a special license are identification to alert them because it seems like they just know from way behind us and not even seeing us that we are not locals.

    3. No they don't have a special license plate, but they will always be able to tell you are not local by the way you drive. I expect you use indicators (are they directionals in American?}, you probably look in your mirror, you drive at a safe stopping distance, not too fast, stay in your lane, don't have a Presidente in your hand and do not overtake on blind corners. Start driving like a Dominican and you might not get stopped as much!

  4. I like your blog, I invite you to mine hope you like it, I'm Dominican and I live in Spain:

    1. Thanks, I will have a look at your blog too. Keep on writing.