Coming to a Caribbean island for your holidays is all about relaxation, soaking up sunrays and enjoying your time away from a hectic life back home. But when it comes to driving around in the Dominican Republic all relaxation tends to disappear leaving most visitors in apprehension of cruising around this beautiful country.
It’s not so strange that most people are nervous about driving in the Dominican Republic. The country unfortunately has one of the highest mortality rates in traffic around the world and especially at night things can get very confusing, with some road users choosing to use their strong headlights and others, especially motorbikes, driving
around with none. Add to that the many potholes in the street, big enough to puncture your tires, as well as a very high probability that some cows will be wandering around on the road (preferably black ones), and the recipe for disaster is in the making.
We, at Lifestyle Cabarete, however, believe that these obstacles should not stop you from exploring this gorgeous country, with its rolling hills in the back country and endless beaches along the coast. Of course you can travel around using public transport but there will be many a place you won’t be able to visit this way and you can’t just stop when you see something to your liking. So traveling by car is the way forward. To help drivers new to the island recognize a pattern in the apparent traffic chaos we’ve put together some tips.
Get a car with full insurance
Before even considering getting in a car and driving, get a vehicle that has full insurance. Trusted car rental companies like Avis and Hertz will have cars that are in a good condition and that have full insurance. Always ask for the full insurance and make sure it’s in your rental contract. Before driving off, have a look at the tires, the oil level and the water level. If you’re not happy with the state your assigned vehicle is in ask for a different one.
Use your mirrors
Be sure to look in every possible direction at all times so that you have an idea of what’s happening in front, behind and around you. At the same time don’t forget to look at the road! Sounds hard but it quickly becomes a habit.
Make use of a co-pilot
Best to drive with at least two people in the car. Like that the person sitting beside the driver can also keep an eye out, and can give directions as street signs, when available, tend to be miniscule and hidden.
Watch out for motorbikes
Motorbikes will drive with and against traffic. They will also overtake your vehicle on all sides when given half a chance. So when crossing a road or turning right be absolutely sure that there are no motorbikes close by. They are notorious for driving onto the road from a parked position or a little side street without looking so you better be watching.
Also look out for pedestrians
Pedestrians, like those on a motorbike, sometimes act like they are tired of life and will cross streets at the least warning. Drive slowly when you cross towns.
Use your horn
One of the first things you will notice is that everyone uses their horn when driving. Here it means, “be careful I’m here: right behind you or beside you”. Anything or anyone who you think may not have seen you, including the granny looking like she might cross the street, or the mangy dog skittishly skirting the road, use your horn. Just beep a couple of times. But don’t lose them out of sight, they might still do something unexpected despite the warning. Horning full blast won’t make people notice you more unless you have one that sounds like a big truck – see below.
Watch out for big trucks
Big trucks are infamous. They’ll drive at a steady pace of 80 – 100km/h (50 to 60 miles/hour), no matter if they are passing through a town or crossing an intersection. It’s next to impossible for these trucks to stop so they use their horn constantly when driving through towns so everyone knows they need to get out of the way. Trucks like these rarely drive through the Cabarete area and when here they pace themselves. But if you find yourself on the road to Montecristi for example, you can expect to start seeing them from Puerto Plata onwards.
Missing manhole covers and potholes
Both Santo Domingo and Santiago are notorious for missing manhole covers. They are hot items for thieves as the resale value of the metal is relatively high. The quality of roads is not too bad but some stretches have some pretty mean potholes in them. Avoid both potholes and manholes as much as you can.
Cows and other animals
Especially at night animals can be a real danger. Watch the sides of the road for movements. Use your horn and drive slowly.
Avoid driving when it’s dark
It’s best not to drive when it’s dark but sometimes it can’t be avoided. If you have to drive at night be sure your lights work (both front and back) and that they actually give you some visibility range. Unfortunately the lights on many cars including rental cars seem to be there more for decoration purposes than to actually be able to see at night.
Relax and enjoy the experience
Best way to get through the chaos is to relax, while still having eyes in all directions. Don’t get upset at drivers that don’t drive according to the traffic rules. Go with the flow and enjoy the experience. This is after all the best way to get to know those little places you've always wanted to see but couldn't get to before!