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SANTO DOMINGO

Santiago de Cuba to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic

sunny 28 °C

Monday December 23
The taxi to the airport was only $10 but we gave the driver $13 as it is such a long way out of town (but only 15 minutes on the motorway)

There was virtually no-one at the airport and check-in took just a few minutes. As with information everywhere else in Cuba, we got 3 different stories from the staff about how and when to pay for Departure Tax - the procedure is: check in first (you need the boading pass to pay the tax), then go to the Departure Tax window/office and pay CUC25 for each person (Cuban CUC cash only) and finally go through passport control. In Santiago Airport there is a currency exchange office in the check-in area and also one in the departure lounge, together with a small cafe and a few small souvenir stalls

The plane left about 30 minutes late at 12 pm (originally from Holguin, I think) and we had a very good 80-minute flight with Cubana on a 100-seater Antonov 158 jet. The only slight hiccup was the vegetarian meal - sliced carrots and green beans, cooked but cold and the strange thing is we had never seen a carrot the whole time we were travelling in Cuba. But, most airlines stuff up the vegie meals!

Santo Domingo airport is quite large but there was only one other plane around and we got through immigration and customs reasonably quickly, paying US10 each Arrival Tax (there is currency exchange right next passport control where you go after paying). We already had US Dollars, so I'm not sure if you can pay in Dominican Pesos. The whole arrival process could have been even faster if Cubana had given us the 2 lenghty customs and immigration forms to fill in on the plane

We had pre-booked a taxi through our hotel and the driver was waiting as we exited. 30 minutes and US$40 later we were at the Hotel Conde de Penalba right in the centre of the Zona Colonial. Both US$ and Dominican Pesos are accepted everywhere

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Tuesday December 24
Our first stop in the morning was a travel agent to find out about the ferry to San Juan in Puerto. She advised us that th ferry was full on Boxing Day but we could fly for US$310 each - now I have travelled on a few large ferries and have never come across one that was full, and this one takes 1,500 people. As it turned out, the ferry office was just a couple of minutes walk away from our hotel and, of course, there was plenty of room - we booked a 4-berth cabin with en-suite (it would be just us, they assured us) for US$293 for the 12-hour voyage, leaving at 7 pm and arriving in San Juan at 7 am

We then thought we'd have a look in the Hostal Nicolas de Ovando, a large hotel located in a 16th centry mansion. The hotel is stunning and has a lovely pool area overlooking the ferry terminal and, at this time, the ferry itself

From there we strolled around the Zona Colonial to see the Panteon Nacional, The Governor's Palace where Christobel Colon lived in 1504 and the Alcazar de Colon where Diego Colon (his son) lived in 1511. And, after a good meal at our hotel's restaurant (just about the only one open in the old town), we ambled 100 metres across the plaza to look at the Cathedral which was founded in 1494

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Wednesday December 25
There was very little open today but there were lots of people in the cathedral plaza just enjoying Christmas Day. We did take a walk around another part of the old town and came across a building with dozens of large metal sculptures on one of the side walls. There is also a lot of creative cabling in the streets

In the evening we overdosed on felafel and hummus at the excellent El Rey del Felafel restaurant in Calle Sanchez (corner of Padre Billini) and then as we made our way back through the milling crowds in the streets and plazas, discovered a free classical concert being held in the cathedral and broadcast live outside in the courtyard

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Thursday December 26
As the cathedral was just across the plaza from the hotel, we thought we'd better have a look inside - unfortunately it's not worth the effort (but only costs 40 DOP, about $1). From there, we visited the Museo de las Casas Reales (100 DOP) – it's the old governor's residence and is a lovely building with enough interesting items to keep you occupied for an hour or so. On the other hand, the Alcazar de Colon (100 DOP), is only interesting for its connection with the Colon (Columbus) family - Cristopher's son Diego lived here from 1511

We paid $20 for a late check-out, and at 4pm took an easy, 5-minute walk to ferry terminal. Although the ferry left at 7pm, the early boarding process was necessary because it can take 1,000 passengers and cars. We had a short delay because they wanted to see our ESTA visa for the USA (Puerto Rico is a US "colony") and it's actually an electronic visa! Anyway, they somehow managed to get a copy of it printed and the rest of the boarding process was easy

The cabin was surprisingly large, especially when 2 top bunks were closed up, and it had very good en-suite bathroom. One thing we hadn't realised, was that the ferry bars and restaurants only accepted US dollars and there was no currency exchange on-board. As we only had a few dollars, the prospect of a 12-hour fast loomed. And then, we discovered that we could pay by Visa - so we had a good meal in the a-la-carte restaurant which tuned out cheaper than the all-you-can-eat buffet - $37.40 for 2 large pastas, large salad, 2 cheesecakes and 2 complimentary glasses of red wine (the buffet was $16,95 each without wine).

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Posted by kforge 11:10 Archived in Dominican Republic

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