Dominican Republic

This isn’t Muck Diving!  True, but that doesn’t mean those in the Midwest cannot treat themselves to some of the more exotic diving experiences.  Because the traditional Muck Diver doesn’t dive in paradise everyday information on dive ops, hotels, what should I do and not do become essential when planning a trip to paradise.  Because of all these questions, we thought we would give everybody a one-stop place to go to learn about these places and hopefully help with planning your next trip.  Once again, the success of this relies upon those that have taken the journey.  So, please help out and tell us about your trips and what worked and what did not work.

5 Responses to “Dominican Republic”

  1. snagel says:

    Just Returned from Dominican Republic, week of July 4th, 2011
    Original Post by Doug B on Scubatoys

    Hello Fellow Divers,
    I just returned from a week in the Dominican Republic. I’m the only diver in an (extended) family of eight that were vacationing. We stayed at Dreams hotel, a few miles south of La Romana. Actually, Dreams hotel is located on the north side of the town of Bayahibe.

    Here’s the details:

    Diving:
    I dove all week with Diving Dominican Republic. Scuba Diving Dominican Republic

    DDR is a wonderful little mom-and-pop dive shop. Denise and Vlad own and run the shop. David, who has been working for them for a while now, is a very good dive master/dive partner. Joel (pronounced Joe-EL) is the boat captain. The boat is named “Sharky”, with a shark logo on the bow.

    I booked a custom package deal with Denise consisting of diving and making day trips to Saona Island and Catalina Island. I would not recommend the Catalina Island trip for snorkeling, but the diving was great. The Saona Island trip is wonderful.

    A little sample of my experience…. Denise and I trade emails making reservations, over the course of several weeks. She tells me (via email) that she will pick me up in her car to haul my dive gear to the shop on the first day. All goes well, and I walk into the dive shop with Denise. Immediately I meet and greet with David and Vladi. Fifteen seconds later, Vladi is having fun with me, joking around, trying on my weight belt, claiming he’s going to steal it, etc. It was like I had walked into the house of my best friend and were hanging out and joking around. David is much the same. Vladi is a short little guy, with a thick slavic accent who lived in Canada for 20 years. He is a LOT of fun to joke around with. David is from Belgim, speaks several languages, and is just as fun to hang out with. Denise also jokes around some. All three of them are a riot to hang out with. I started smiling and laughing immediately and didn’t stop until I left for home.

    I made two dives the first day, both were in the 40 foot range, nice reefs with a lot of variety in both terrain and animal life. David excells in spotting the tiny stuff. Nudibraches, little spider looking crabs, a baby box fish – smaller than the size of a pea, etc. The first two dives were a nice tune up for me. I’d been in the local quarry a few times this year, but not in the ocean for nearly a year. Very relaxing, nice dives that left me with smiles. I knew I had picked the right dive shop….or, did they pick me?

    The second day, the entire family of eight made a day trip to Sauna island. It was a rainy start. The snorkeling around the old pier at the island was FANTASTIC. I normally hate to snorkel, but this was absolutley wonderful. The wife, kids, and extended family had a great time as well. Lots of sea life, crabs, rays, tons of fish and SQUID ! After a wonderful lunch on the island, we made a trip thru the mangroves and then to a coconut “farm” next to the sea where we sampled coconut cut from the tree. Then, a short stop at the “natural pool” for some relaxing and a little rum. We snorkeled over top of a wreck later in the day, feeding bananas to the fish – a lot of fun. Even with the rainy start, the family had a great time. Oh, and David broke the canvas canopy on the boat – he climbed up there to take a ‘nap’ and in showing off, his butt ripped the material.

    The third day, two more dives, this time with another diver, Peter, from the UK. We had a great time trading funny stories about Yanks and Limeys. We dove “The Aquarium” dive site, and I found it to be wonderful. Every few fin kicks, the reef seemed to “change neighborhoods”. Here there was a lot of red coral looking stuff, a few fin kicks later, it was a lot of green, then sea fans, then something else…. wonderful. Then we dove on the wreck my family and I had snorkeled the day before. Very safe for (limited) penetration, huge-huge openings, lots of light, and enough current to blow out any silt. After the wreck, we moved over to some other smaller reef areas, found a huge moray.

    Fourth day – three dives (with Peter from the UK) , first was deep, about 100 feet on the Saint George wreck, then two 30 foot reef dives. Again, very nice. A slight current at the wreck, but nothing bad. Nice viz. Found a small yellow/black eel, two HUGE puffer fish, Nudi’s, a few rays. Had hopes of finding a nurse shark or two – but not today.

    Fifth day – two more dives – the first dive was an “exploratory dive”. David (and Vlad) had never dove at the sight, so we didn’t know what to expect. Dropped in at about 85 feet and slow worked our way over a lot of hard corals and sand fingers up to about 40 feet. I found a huge (modern) anchor about 90 seconds into the dive. It was stuck tight in the side of some coral – no amount of pulling would move it. Since David and I were the first to dive the site, David suggested to name it “Doug Deep”. Although with his accent, it sounded more like “doog deep”. I asked Denise to add the dive site to thier map on the wall. The second dive was “lighthouse reef”. The viz wasn’t so good here, but nice calm, relaxing diving. We found a boat moring rope that the bouy had come off. I used my sausage to float the rope to the surface where our captain attached a new bouy. That was fun.

    Sixth day – day trip for my family of four to Catalina Island. The trip is a bit rough, with five foot rolling waves. This time, Vladi joined David and I for the diving while my family snorkeled. The first dive was on the famous “wall” at Catalina. Out of the boat into about 20 feet of water, it slowly dropped to about thirty feet, and then at a right angle to about 125 feet. We quickly dropped to 125 feet – it was like flying. Then, worked our way back and forth slowly back up the wall, and then spent about 15 minutes exploring the shallows for a nice a long safety stop. A little rough for the family to snorkel though. The second dive, we moved the boat to a protected part of the island. The water was a lot smoother, but a wicked current. Saw a few eels, crabs, etc. Lunch on the island (no, Vladi didn’t cook) and I didnt’ eat much (see the hotel section below), it was nice. Then, a rough boat trip back to the main land, for a tour of another marina area and some high priced homes. Finished the day trip with some snorkeling about four hundred yards from the dock in 8 feet of water. thousands of little fish, nudi’s, urchin. The kids and wife really enjoyed it.

    Nearly every day, at the end of the day, we would spend a few minutes at the shaved ice shop across the street from the dive shop, called Frio-Frio. Vladi absolutely loves shaved ice – and I like it too.

    Overall, I had a wonderful time diving with DDR and would highly recommend them and dive with them again if given the opportunity. I loved the way Vladi, Denise, and David “adopted” me into their family. The boat captain was fun as well – he spoke only a few works of english, but with my broken and limited spanish skills, we actually communicated quite a bit.

    One portion of the diving was a little new for me. Normally, when diving from a boat, it’s been my experience that the boat doesnt’ move, and you have to navigate your way back. This time it was different, and I liked it. We would tell the boat captain which general direction we were headed, then jump in. About an hour later, we would pop a sausage on a reel, safety stop, and the captain would pick us up. Much like a drift dive – but with no current. Not every dive was like this – on a few we went back to the anchored boat.

    The joking around was a lot of fun (for example, Vladi finds a “reason” to fire David every day – or, Vladi would see me walking up the beach and he would close the door to the shop as I approached and then flip the sign from open to closed), the diving was easy and interesting with plenty of variety.

    Now, for the hotel……

    Dreams Hotel: An all inclusive hotel, with two pools, beach area, five or six places to eat, with entertainment at night.
    Good things about Dreams Hotel:
    1. The beach area is very beautiful and very-very clean.
    2. Lots of shaded and sunny areas on the beach.
    3. Nice sand, waist deep water for wading/swimming at the beach.
    4. Pools are nice, swim up bars are nice.
    5. About a ten minute walk to Dive Dominican Republic dive shop, more commonly known as “Sharkys”
    6. Hobie sail boats, sea kayaks, etc included
    7. on-site dive ship (Gri-Gri), but I didn’t use it
    8. Caution – the beach is “topless”. We didn’t know this until the first day. This was a “good” thing in my eyes – at
    least for the most part. There were only a hand full of ladies without tops.

    Bad things about Dreams Hotel:
    1. 90 minute drive from Punta Cana airport – but transfers using AmStar private van were fine
    2. Employees at the front desk seemed indifferent about helping with minor problems
    2a. Our reservation was for three adults and one 12-year old. Our room had a king size bed and a twin. It took
    three trips to the front desk and more than four hours of waiting to get a roll-in bed that looked like it was
    pulled out of dark spidery closet
    2b. The little safe in our room wouldn’t unlock. Three hours and three phone calls later, the security guy showed
    up to open it.
    3. The air conditioning was cold – but there was a chance of thunderstorms in our room every day – the air condition
    unit didn’t remove any of the humidity. Seemed like clouds were forming over our bed. It was like sleeping in a
    damp cave. Nothing would dry out….nothing.
    4. No clock in the room – I know, it’s a minor thing, but it annoyed me when other rooms had a clock
    5. The “pizza” snack stand near the main pool NEVER had more than half a pizza available to eat. There was
    always a line of people waiting for pizza to come out of the oven. The cook didn’t or couldn’t make more than
    one at a time. Geez
    6. The area near the “pizza” snack stand and bar area – also near the main pool, always had a foul stench of human
    waste. yes, no kidding. Smelled like sewer gas.
    7. The taste/quality of the food was mediocre at best. Several theme resturants (mexican, italian, french, asian,
    sea food, and the “cafeteria”) but not all were open every day. \
    8. Something in the food tore my digestive system to shreds. Not just me – my entire family of eight. And, it must
    have been commonplace amoung the guests becase the “anti-diarhea” medicine in the hotel gift shop was sold
    out all week long. We arrived on a Saturday afternoon. After Wednesday lunch, my family and I basically
    stopped eating. Our digestive systems were trashed – and we used six rolls of toilet paper per day. No kidding.
    I’ve been back at home nearly two days, and I’m still fighting it. What was causing the problems? We are not
    sure, but we are guessing they use a lot of coconut oil or there is something in the mineral water they use/serve.

    In summary – the diving with DDR was great, but I would not ever go back to Dreams Hotel – unless they completely revised their food system.

  2. Snagel says:

    Trip report – Puerto Plata, D.R.
    October 2010
    Original Post by DawnVip on ScubaToys

    Just back from Puerto Plata on the north coast of the Dominican Republic.
    Stayed at the Iberostar Costa Dorada. We liked the resort, nice and clean, well kept grounds and facilities. Beautiful beach. Food was simple but good, especially the buffet. A la carte restaurants were ok, hard to get a reservation and a bit slow on the service.

    Dive company was Dressel Divers. I think they are at all the Iberostars. They took pretty good care of us. Not the best service I’ve ever experienced, but definitely not the worst either. I’m glad I brought my own gear as their rental stuff looked pretty rough.

    We had unsettled weather, quite a bit of rain and rough water so the vis was pretty poor. I was pretty disappointed with the reefs. Lots of algae, some bleaching and a lot of damage that was probably due to hurricanes. Not much in the fish department either. Add to that, the fact that everyone on the boat was sea-sick after the first dive (except myself and a girl from Russia), and I was ready to give up and cancel after the first day. My hubby and other friends talked me into doing the AOW since we had the dives booked anyways and it was free except for book and cert card. I passed with no problems.

    We would like to go back to the Dominican and check out the south coast around Bayahibe. I think they are more sheltered and hopefully better diving!

  3. snagel says:

    Trip Report-Bayahibe Dominican Republic
    September 2010

    Original Post by ScarboroughDiver on ScubaBoard

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    It’s my first day back at work since our amazing trip to the Dominican Republic, so I thought what better time to write a trip report. I’ll upload pics as soon as I get home today. I’m also in the process of piecing together some video of the trip so stay tuned for that as well.

    We opted to go with ScubaFun as our dive provider. I couldn’t have been more impressed. Every dive was on this giant catamaran that they had with twin 150hp engines on them. These things hauled. The divemasters were hillarious and made each dive very fun. I would recommend them a thousand times over for anyone thinking of diving in the Dominican Republic.

    Day 1: We touched down in Punta Cana airport which was very picturesque. The terminal had these beautiful thatch roofs and giant fans to keep us cool while we waited in line to pass through security. Of course I got searched…profiling I guess. From there we boarded a small van to begin our 1 1/2 hour trip to Bayahibe where our hotel was. I think this trip would’ve taken any normal driver at least 4 hours but our driver appeared to be an ex Dominican NASCAR champion. Weaving in and out of traffic, tailgating within an inch of the other car, running red lights and even honking at armed military to get out of his way, he made the trip very entertaining. We passed through a town that could only be named “Meat Town”. Here, the vendors would hang the carcasses of goats and sides of beef and pork out in the sun to display them to potential buyers (i think the flies would cost you extra if you wanted them with your meat).

    After the blood returned to my knuckles and my heartrate fell below 200bpm, we arrived at our hotel, The Dreams La Romana (actually in Bayahibe). We were greeted by a glass of champaigne as soon as we exited the cab. Once we were squared away, we decided to waste no time getting in the water. We decided to go for a snorkel on a reef that was just offshore of the hotel. Although the reef wasn’t very healthy, it was teaming with life. Great start to the vacation. After our snorkel, we decided to get the lay of the land which consisted of visiting all of the bars that lay on the land. I won’t bore you with the rest of the details but dinner was fantastic and we went to bed good and early ready for our first day of diving.

    Day 2: Our first dives. We visited the wreck of the St. George and the Atlantic Princess. The St. George was a huge freighter that sank off of the coast of Bayahibe in about 135 feet of water. Depth to the upper deck was around 50 feet and about 135 at the bottom of the hull. The wreck had been cleaned out for penetration so we obviously went inside, led by our animated french divemaster, Richard. Inside, it was incredible. There was tons of coral growth and animal life. This was my first encounter with a lionfish. Despite them being an invasive species, I have to admit that they’re incredibly beautiful.

    After a good long surface interval, we proceeded to the Atlantic Princess which reminded me a lot of the Niagara II in Tobermory. This wreck had only sank around 3 years ago but already was falling apart. With each surge, the wheelhouse walls seperated and smashed together. Again we went inside. This wreck wasn’t cleaned out since it sank so we had to be wary of hanging wires and sharp shards of metal inside. Richard swam into the engine room accompanied by my dad and brother while I brought up the rear. Before I could get my head in, I was waved off by Richard and told to back up. Once they were all out of the engine room Richard wrote on his slate that there were too many lionfish in there. Apparently a couple had found a place between my fathers legs and Richard had to move him before he got zapped.

    Day 3: The Ojo de Maria Reef and Coca Reef. This was my first dive on true coral wreef. I couldn’t believe how much life there was on the reef. The dive began with me face to face with a giant puffer fish which I tried to annoy into puffing but unsuccessful. The reef was nice and colourful with lobsters peeking out of their various holes, lionfish, a giant scorpion fish sitting right in the open sand, stingrays etc. It was a very nice dive.

    We then proceeded to the Coca Reef which is sometimes called the Coca Wreck because it is situated around a ship that had been blown up and its wreckage scattered around the bottom. Again it was full of life. Lots of healthy coral wreef around it, saw some free swimming barracuda etc.

    Day 4: Catalina trip. We did our day trip to the Catalina Wall and the Aquarium. First up was the Wall. We had a few snorkelers from Germany on the boat this trip but were the only divers on the wall. We started along this beautiful coral wreef and then reached the edge of the wall. Of course I decided to go over head first and begin my descent upside down. As we went along the wall, I couldn’t help but marvel at all of the coral and marine life along the wall. To my surprise, there were no eels poking their little heads out.
    After we finished that dive, we proceeded to the Aquarium which was a shallow reef that had a ton of fish in it. Here, we saw plenty of lobsters, stingrays, fish of all different colours etc. When we finished, we headed to catalina island for a lunch on the beach. It was amazing. Nothing like sitting in white sand with the sun enjoying delicious food after an amazing couple of dives.

    Day 5: Back to the St. George, Viva Shallow Reef and a night dive on a local reef from shore. We went deeper into the St. George on this dive, going right down into the engine room and popping up through hatches and stairways to visit the above decks. It’s amazing how the light penetrates deep into the wreck. I was able to get some amazing video of this dive.
    We had a good long surface interval and then went to Viva Shallow Reef. This is a shallow reef but was easily one of the best of the trip. There were lots of crabs and lobsters hiding as well as stingrays in the sand and hidden in the coral. As usual lots of lionfish and scorpion fish.
    The night dive was an adventure. Originally, we were supposed to go to Viva Shallows again for our night dive but unfortunately, the military has put a fresh ban out on boats going out of Bayahibe harbour at night. Apparently there has been a problem with people smuggling Dominicans into Puerto Rico. John (the owner of ScubaFun) tried his best to reason with them but it was like talking to a brick wall wearing camoflage. We were taken instead to a reef that was off shore a bit past an area that they use for OW checkout dives. This couldn’t have been a more successful night dive. We saw at least 8 octapi, stingrays, eels, tons of fish, squid (one of which seemed to have a crush on me until i bopped it lightly on the *head*?).

    Day 6 Shark Point I and II and Penon 3 Reef. First of all to kill the suspense, we saw no sharks. The dive started out at Shark Point I which is the “traditional” shark point dive. Here we encountered some really mean surge and had to time our kicks accordingly. For those of us that use frog kick to dive (me being the only one of this group) this was easy as I timed my kick to coincide with the surge. There was lots of life on the reef and it was funny to see it all move as we did with the surge. John came with us on this dive and was peeking under every crevas, cave and crack that he could find to see if he could scare us up a shark. No luck.
    The second dive was very similar to the first one but was at a location that John and another shop owner had discovered. Again we were met with surge and saw similar life on the reef.

    After the first 2 dives, we went to Saona Island to have our lunch. This was an amazing place to eat and just relax. Lots of white sand and little shops along the beach.

    We then went to Penon 3 reef. This had to be my favourite reef of the entire vacation. It was bursting with life. As soon as we hit the water we saw a sea turtle swimming in front of us. There were tons of colourful coral and different forms of life. Huge crabs everywhere and lobsters. The intense surge that we felt at the past 2 dives was non existant here and made the diving much more enjoyable.

    Day 7-Cave diving

    Our guide, Melkie, took us to a local cave. It was about a half hour car ride to the park system and then another 20 mins along a very sketchy road driving very slow to get to the trail that led to the cave. To get to the cave, we had to suit up at the car and follow a skinny rocky trail to the entrance. Then, we had to go down these wet, mossy rocks that were super steep to get to the water. We sat down on a ledge in the water to bring our respiration down and do our final briefing before the dive. The cave had been strung with line and was a direct route so it would be a good beginner cave dive. We began in a large chamber where some tourists were swimming. We descended and swam into the tube that connected it to another large room. The swim to the second room was about 15 minutes in a completely overhead environment with tons of amazing stalagtites and calcium formations. Once inside the second room, you couldn’t see a thing. Bats were flying everywhere and we tried to catch them in our flashlights. If ever there was an argument for a powerful can light, this was it. I had an Ikelite PC LED light and it did the trick but it’d have been nice to be rocking a can light in there.

    Well thats it. If you made it this far, thanks for reading. Again I’ll post pics very soon. I know the DR isn’t known for diving but I’d recommend it to anyone. It was absolutely incredible.

  4. snagel says:

    Dominican Republic – Dive Report
    September 2010
    Original Post by FinBob on ScubaBoard

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    Bayahibe is reported to be the best dive area in the Dominican Republic
    (DR). Samana and Punta Cana being acknowledged as other dive sites. We
    stayed at the Iberostar hotel, I had a total of 14-dives over a 2-week
    period with Dressel Divers an on-site, Belgium company. The instructors
    were young, multi-lingual and enthusiastic. Generally I found Dressel to be
    a professional operation with training offered at both the OW & AOW
    level, but limited in PADI specialty. The dive briefings were informative,
    the staff helpful with safety a priority. You dived to their profile and
    the dive ended at 750psi. You carried your own gear (50 yards) to the boat
    were tanks were waiting. The boats accommodated around 16-divers with a DM
    for every 6-8 divers. The dive day was morning 8:30AM and afternoon 1:30PM.
    I preferred a double tank morning dive but this was not an option. However,
    a night dive was offered once/week. Island excursions were available to:
    Catalina and Catalinita with lunch on the beautiful Saona Island.

    The coral was decent, as was the fish: stingrays, trumpets, puffers,
    lions, box, trunk, pipe & a large Jack fish. However the visibility was
    not as good as hoped for. The highlights for me were the two wrecks: St
    George (105′)& Atlantic Princess (42′), along with an exciting first
    night dive: Octopus, cuttlefish and moray eels! If you do go, the best DM
    is Julie

  5. Joel says:

    My fiance and myself went diving off of Catalina Island right before Christmas this past year. She loved it. The only thing I didn’t like was the fact that it was definately a well know dive spot and boats of all sizes were docked there, either for diving or to just visit the island. I believe this was the reason that the viz wasn’t up to what I was expecting (I was certified in the keys where I was used to 100ft+ viz (my fiance was certified up here so she probably didn’t mind the 50-60 ft viz)). It also kind of bothered me that out Divemaster was going around touching all of the reefs. But on a positive note, we broke my fiance’s fear of going down deep (90+ft on our first dive) and we had a very memorible dive that she will probably never forget.

    As far as hotels and stuff like that, we stayed at the Grand Paridise in Bravero (outside of Punta Cana). It was one of the cheapest all inclusive resorts that we could find. (don’t go there unless you have a strong digestive fortutude, she got sick right before we left and we think it was because of the pizza that we ate one day). We went down on the first day to try talk to the dive center on the beach. They told us that they would only go if they had 12-15 people, and that we would need to find the rest of the group to go. So we decided to walk down the beach to the other resorts in the area and tried to figure out if any of them would take us out. About four resorts down, we made our way to the Baja Principe where we found a better deal and a we didn’t have to find others because they were filling the boats on there own.

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