Options for getting around the country include buses, “gua-guas” (pronounced “gwa-gwas”: small, beat-up vans or trucks that serve as shared taxis and run fixed routes very cheaply, but can also be very crowded), domestic flights and charter flights. There is a railway system that only operates in the city of Santo Domingo. There are regular bus services in most cities, if not from one of the major bus companies, then from the Gua-Gua. The bus lines are mostly simple, independent operations that usually connect two cities in the same region (southwest, east, north) or run between a city and the capital (with stops in all cities along the route). Due to the geography of the country, to get from one part of the country to another, you have to go through the capital. On horariodebuses.com you can check the bus schedules between the different destinations in the country.
Cars can be rented from Hertz, Avis, Prestige Car Rentals or other agencies in Santo Domingo and other major cities. However, petrol is expensive and often costs more than US$5.75/gallon (as of March 2011). Some roads, especially in remote areas, are quite dangerous (often without lane separation) and many people tend to disregard oncoming traffic. However, road conditions on most major roads are roughly comparable to those in the United States and Western Europe. Potholes and bumps are not quickly repaired, however, and motorists should be aware that there are a significant number of bumps even on some major roads. There are, however, a number of very good roads, such as the DR-1, which is a four-lane highway connecting the cities of Santo Domingo and Santiago, and can be easily travelled. The DR-7 is an excellent toll road that was opened at the end of 2008. It runs from the east of Santo Domingo north to near Sanchez. From there you can drive east to the Samana Peninsula or west along the north coast of the DR and costs about $11.
Probably the biggest challenge for an international visitor to the Dominican Republic who chooses to rent a car is not so much dealing with car traffic, but avoiding accidentally running over pedestrians when crossing poorly lit streets and roads in the evening and at night. The absence of headlights on cars and especially motorbikes is not uncommon and, in the case of motorbikes, makes them extremely difficult to see. The best recommendation is not to drive after dark. Outside Santo Domingo, the motorbike (motoconcho) is a very common means of transport. If you get lost, you can call a motorcyclist (motochonchista) and ask for directions. You will be taken to your destination by motorbike. A tip is appropriate for this assistance. Remember that many of these motorcyclists only consider the traffic rules as recommendations. However, driving in the Dominican Republic should not be particularly difficult for experienced riders from North America or Europe.
Guaguas (local buses)
Guaguas are the traditional means of transport in the Dominican Republic. The guaguas are filled to the brim with people and luggage; expect to pick up more people along the way. If you prefer the authentic experience to comfort, travelling by guagua is the right choice.
The comfort of the Guagua can range from air-conditioned with leather seats to somewhat worn with a cooling breeze through the open window. Travelling with Guagas is safe and tourists are treated kindly and helped.
You can also get on halfway if you know where you are on the route and wave to the driver; tell the driver your destination and he will tell you where to get off and how to change guaguas; sometimes you have to cross town to get to another bus stop.
Prices are modest, around 100-150 pesos for a 1-2 hour ride. Since most guaguas are minibuses, you may have to put your luggage on a seat. In this case, you will have to pay extra for the occupied seat. Larger routes are served by full-size buses with a separate storage compartment.
Note that the guaguas stop working at nightfall. Plan your trip with enough free time to catch the last guagua while the sun is still up.
The guagua network is organic and does not require you to travel through the capital. However, you may have to change trains several times, as the guaguas usually only connect two major cities.
Caribe Tours, based in the capital, is the largest bus company and covers most areas not well served by other “official” bus companies. Unlike taxis and gua-guas, Caribe Tour fares are set by destination and are extremely cheap thanks to government subsidies. Expect to pay less than 250 pesos (Dom) or 10 USD for longer journeys. Caribe Tour buses usually run from 7am to 4pm (with departures approximately every two hours) and cover most major cities. For longer journeys, plan a short stop (10 minutes) for coffee and lunch. The buses are quite luxurious, with films playing during the journey and air conditioning (which can be extremely cold – bring a jumper). Another option is the Metrobus, a slightly more expensive bus company. The Metrobus serves the north and east of the country. The “unofficial” Gua Gua system covers almost all roads on the island, resulting in moderate savings (if you don’t mind being crowded).
In short, bus transport throughout the country is comfortable and cheap. The buses are clean, air-conditioned (bring a jumper), usually play a VHS movie and are quite cheap, costing no more than 300 pesos for a one-way trip across the country (less than $10).
Taxi services are available but potentially dangerous if they involve unlicensed drivers. In any case, it is best to take a licensed driver and negotiate a price for your destination before you set off. Good drivers are often easily recognised by the licences they wear around their necks, their uniforms and their clean, air-conditioned vehicles. When you call a taxi company, you will be given a number to call to check on your driver. When you are picked up, make sure your driver gives you the correct number, as “false pick-ups” are often a prelude to theft.
Another option is to book a tour with one of the many representatives at most local hotels and resorts.