Hispaniola : Dominican Republic : Western Cibao : Sosua
Sosua is located in the Puerto Plata province of the Dominican Republic. German Jews settled this little pueblo in the early 1940s. Many streets are named for Ashkenazic Jews.
Sosua is now famous for being a top destination for the single male. The many nightclubs crammed into this small area is ideal for bar-hoppers and party goers. During the day, the Sosua Beach is the ideal destination for those looking to relax, swim, or sober up from a night of drunken debauchery. The residents are very friendly and are always willing to give a hand.
Most visitors will fly in to Puerto Plata airport. Upon arrival at the airport you will be greeted by a small band playing colorful music as you make your way to customs/immigration, indications of the fun to come! At your first stop in the airport, you will pay an entrance fee of $10US, where you will purchase a tourist card at one window. At the next window the card will be taken from you by an official. After your tourist card purchase you will pass through immigration where your passport will be stamped. Check the date on the stamp please. It is not always accurate. Don't argue, just keep going. Be advised that there is a departure tax of $20US when taking international flights out of Puerto Plata.
After baggage claim you will be awash in a sea of humanity. Vendors, money changers, taxi drivers. All things at the airport are much more expensive than in town. Don't spend money here; mind your surroundings, note the unique experience and make your way to your driver or hire your taxi for the final chapter in the arrival book.
Puerto Plata International Airport is actually much closer to Sosua than it is to Puerto Plata, at about 7 Km away. The taxi fare from the airport is fixed at $25US per car with little to no room for negotiation when coming from the airport. Some drivers will ask for $20US per person. Walk away from them and look for an honest driver. If you don't have a lot of luggage, during the daytime,you can also walk (which is very safe)1/4 mile outside of the airport and flag down a guagua (public mini-bus) or public taxi for much less (possibly as low as 30-40 pesos) than taking a private taxi from the airport.
Caribe Tours busses get you from Sosua to Santo Domingo in about 5 hours. It stops along the way in all the major cities and towns (about 5 Stops). Buses are comfortable, modern, air conditioned with Movies and Restroom. Cost is about RD$330 pesos (as of September 2012) for a one way ticket. Sosua is the last stop on the Santo Domingo - Sosua route. The Caribe Tours bus station is along the main highway just at the entrance to the Charamicos section of town. Buses currently (09/2012) leave every hour on the :20's, beginning at 5:20 am, from Sosua, and every hour on the hour from Santo Domingo.
The town is relatively small and walkable. You can also get around using the motoconcho, where you are basically hitching a ride on the back of someone's motorcycle. The price within the El Batey area of Sosua is 25 pesos during the day and 50 pesos at night, though you will certainly be quoted more if you ask them firsthand. Simply tell the driver where you want to go, hop on, and hand the driver the exact fare when you arrive at your destination and walk away. The motoconcho drivers are everywhere and will actively solicit you for a ride. Do not hop a concho while you are inebriated.
The cheapest way to move between Sosua and the surrounding cities and towns of Puerto Plata, Cabarete and Rio San Juan, as well as the tourist resorts in between, is by guagua (Caribbean Spanish slang for bus), which are small mini-vans operating on the main highway between Puerto Plata and Rio San Juan. At peak hours they pass every five or ten minutes. Short distances (i.e., Sosua to Cabarete) should cost no more than twenty pesos to Cabarete, to 30 pesos to Puerto Plata. They will pack in up to twenty-five people per mini-van (this is not an exaggeration!), with passengers almost in each other's laps. Watch your wallet! You may even have someone's cage of roosters deposited on you lap. Then the merengue starts up on the radio and half the passengers pitch in, singing from memory.
Tourist taxis are plentiful but expensive when compared to the other modes of transportation in Sosua. As of March 2009, tourist taxi from Caribe Tours bus station to El Batey run 150 pesos. A taxi from Sosua to Puerto Plata airport will charge $25US for the car. Many taxi drivers will attempt quote $25US per person, so be aware. Note that it is possible to get a ride for as low as $10US, however, you must #1 dress the part #2 speak good spanish. Leave your luggage at your place of stay, and go out dressed like a local (shirtless & sandals) towards the taxi hub. Ask around where for the taxi meeting point . After a few minutes of asking around, a local with a car will eventually ask you where you want to go. Say you want to go to the airport, and that you will pay $10. Most locals will think this is a good price and take you in their private pickup/car. Included in this price is the 1-3 block drive to your place of stay (to pick up your luggage). Give them the money once at the airport. This is a little more difficult to do with legitimate taxis at the taxi hub.
The taxi ride from the airport to almost any point in Sosua is less than 10 minutes. You will pay about $15US from Sosua to Cabarete but this is a complete ripoff when the guagua runs through town and charges 20 pesos (about 0.60 US at the time of this writing) per person. Guaguas and publicos run through the main roads. You have to flag them down so they will stop for you.
Car rentals may be had locally. There are many reputable companies in town. Shop around, and tell them you are doing so. You can, and should, negotiate the rate. The longer you rent the better the price. There are all types of cars, from compact to Hummer. If you rent in town from a local company you will be required to surrender your passport. It should be safe, but in the event of an accident do not count on your insurance or credit card company to bail you out. You will be required to pay the damages in full, in cash before your passport is returned. If you try to get around the process of paying you may find yourself dealing with the local police or judge, which may end up costing you more, and is not recommended. If you prefer to deal with the more reputable International chains simply stop by the Puerto Plata airport. An economy car may be rented for $30 per day. Check with your credit card company first to see what coverage they provide because this price is not inclusive of insurance. Local insurance is expensive so most simply rely on the coverage provided by their credit card. Remember, insurance is extremely important since drivers in this country are to be considered crazy to insane.
You may also simply take gua gua's are the carro publico's along the main road which are affordable and overcrowded. For instance a taxi between Sosua and Cabarete from the official stop will cost upwards of $20 while a gua gua will cost about $1.50. Similarly you can get to the airport for $30 from a taxi at one of the stops which has set fares or take the carro publico for less than $2. (The prices quoted here, for both taxis and public transportation, are grossly inflated even for gringo tourist standards. $20 to Cabarete and $30 to the airport?)
Before you venture out on your own, or even with a group of people, be aware of men or boys who are looking to help you find what you need. While walking you will be approached with offers of help with changing your money, finding a restaurant or finding a nice bar or gift shop. On the beach you will be offered assistance with getting a lounge chair or having a drink or food from one of the many beach stalls fetched for you.
In the vast majority of cases these folks are harmless and can be a wealth of information. If you decide to use their services you will be charged a small fee above the asking rate for any item you purchase, eat or drink, and that fee will be passed to your helper after services are rendered. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Sosuans are accomplished capitalists and they also are a lot less well off than you! If you already know exactly what you want and a "tag-along" Sosuan is starting a conversation with you while you are walking along, be firm in telling him that you need no help! If you are first timer offer the propina man a small fee up front for an hour or for the day and he will become a wealth of information for you.
Do NOT, under any circumstances, use a propina man for money changing. Money changing operations are well signed and easy to find.
Playa Sosua is the town's main beach. It is a fun, colorful and lively beach which is approximately one kilometer long, with a row of shacks along the back, selling food, drinks and souvenirs. At one end of the beach is the El Batey neighborhood, which was founded by a community of about 600 Jews exiled here from Eastern Europe during WWII. It contains the small synogogue, still occasionally used by Jews from the surrounding communities, as well as a small museum documenting the history of the Jewish community in Sosua, both set in a tidy tropical green lawn adjacent to Casa Marina Resort. The synogogue has services on Friday evenings about once per month - check with the museum whether there are services the week you are there. Batey no longer has an active Jewish community and is currently the tourist section of town, containing several all-inclusive resorts, as well as a number of smaller hotels and guest houses.
At the other end of the beach is Los Charamicos, which is the local's neighborhood and somewhat more run-down and lively than Batey. For an authentic cockfighting experience go to Club Gallistico, in Charamicos. It is along one of the main streets but you will have to ask for directions. Cockfights are on Saturday afternoons and sometimes on other days of the week. It is best not to venture alone into the alleyways of Charamicos as they are unsafe. The main streets should be OK.
The beach is very popular and offers the best local option for the snorkeling enthusiast - snorkelers should swim out to the reef that lies about 100m from the shore. A beach chair rental should cost about RD$60. Refuse to pay any more. Equipment can also be rented there. There are lots of gift shops where you will be quoted absolutely laughable prices. (60 dollars for T-shirts, 50 dollar tote bags 150-200 dollars for some cheap Haitian paintings.) Your bargaining skills will be needed. Tip: whatever they ask you, cut it at least in half, e.g., RD$500 pesos, you tell them RD$250.00 and start the process. You can probably even start at way below RD$250. You will come out ahead this way. My experience is that the target price for which the kiosk will ultimately settle is about half or slightly below half of the original asking price, but sometimes somewhat below that.
There are two other beaches in town. Playa Alicia is accessible from the On the Waterfront restaurant. This beach is quieter and more sterile than Playa Sosua, and is thus a good option for those who want to trade a bit of local color for a more relaxed experience. The town's third and smallest beach is accessible from the Sosua by the Sea hotel.
As in the other towns on the North Coast, tour operators offer numerous excursions to surrounding sites and nearby adventure activities at reasonable prices. These include whale watching (December to March), jeep tours, waterfalls and swimming holes, deep sea fishing, whitewater rafting, snorkeling, mountain biking, horseback riding, interesting beaches, as well as tours of Puerta Plata, Santiago, Santo Domingo and the border area of Haiti. Check with a tour operator near your hotel for available excursions. It is interesting that the range of tour options and the trips themselves are almost identical among the various tour operators.
Most of the souvenir shops sell the same ubiquitous Latin American fare. Sosua also has a large number of Haitian paintings for sale. Many of these oil paintings are the same in each shop. Occasionally some good quality artwork can be found.
Cigars of course are popular but prices vary. Never buy cigars at souvenir stores or stands on the beach or the beach vendors. These are always fakes! Cuban cigars may be purchased but beware that many of the Cuban name brands also have Dominican manufacture, though the quality is said to rival that of Cuban ones.
Authentic leather goods are not available in any tourist oriented shop or beach shack in Sosua. Imitation leather is the rule of the day. Authentic leather goods are better found in Santo Domingo.
If you head away from the beach to the main road there is a large supermarket where the prices are a lot cheaper.
Sosua has a large number of restaurants and you can find authentic German Food, Italian Food, English fare, and of course, if you look for it, traditional Dominican cooking. Many Dominicans can cook food rivaling NYC restaurants on not much more than a hot plate and an open flame. Service time varies in between restaurants and in between different nights. Often the same restaurant will be very slow one night (coincidentally when the boss in not around) and excellent the next.
Presidentes both grande and pequena, once virtually the sole choice besides rum drinks (due to the policy of the beer company providing refrigerators on loan) and Bohemia, are now being challenged by Brahma, another locally brewed beer (of Brazilian origin) as well as Quilmes (an Argentinian beer). Several of the bars now stock European and American beers at a premium price. Brugal, the local rum with its company headquarters on the eastern outskirts of Puerto Plata, will be placed in your rum drinks unless you have the savy to ask for the Barcelo (another local rum which is of far superior quality.) Mixed drinks tend to be rum based and cost more than beer but "when in Rome." Many of the restaurants and bars have a happy hour from 4-7PM which is often 2-1 drinks.
On the beach, there is an endless array of restaurants (along with the souvenir shops stuffed with the same goods)which serve drinks and each small swath of beach has a different person who provides concierge service for a modest fee ($0.30 USD per drink). As one leaves the beach there are a number of expatriate bars and restaurants clustered towards the end of Pedro Clisante closest to the beach. The Checkpoint Pub is popular during the Day. The Brittania restaurant has an excellent Happy Hour and Rudy's has a weekly Karaoke night. There is a substantive international community who frequents these establishments which lends a cosmopolitan feel to this end of Town. As one heads away from this expatriate area, Pedro Clisante is dominated by discos and bars which are companionship friendly. This end of town rather than being reminiscent of San Sebastian in Spain harkens to the nightlife of Manila. The Club Classico is the fountainhead of Sosua nightlife with the burgeoning Sosua Life just a few blocks away. Sosua is a friendly Town, prices and ambiance vary greatly within the Town.
Be prepared for the heat. The Dominican Republic is sub-tropical and warm all year. Expect a little sweat on your brow.
Prostitution is common in Sosua, so men should expect to be propositioned by women offering "massages" which extra favors. In general these individuals will not be overly aggressive, so if you keep walking and simply say "No Gracias" there shouldn't be any problems. In bars, men will have lots of women vying for their attention - keep in mind that they are not smiling at you and grabbing at you because they are suddenly in love with you. Take great care when sleeping with the local women to know the exact price for services prior, which is 1000-2000 pesos normally. For those looking for this sort of activity, you are probably already aware of the many risks and precautions that are necessary, but it is worth noting that AIDS is a specific concern with many of the local working girls.
The nearest towns are Puerto Plata to the west and Cabarete to the east. Further eastward it is possible to see Dominican Republic without the expatriate crowd. Note that as you leave the civilization of Puerto Plata, Sosua and Cabarete European style restaurants and supermarkets become rare as to other first world conveniences such as the internet cafes which abound on every third corner in Sosua.
If you are looking for a less trammeled vacation experience, drive out to Samana (4 hours) or consider staying in Las Canas (www.playalascanas.com) which is just 35 minutes to the East but feels like it is a million miles from civilization. Private villa rentals are available with a beach that you can walk on for hours without seeing anybody.
Read section "Get around" above for ways of finding $10 fare to Puerto Plata airport.