Covid restrictions and the Covid test requirement to get back into the US have made travel abroad a major hassle. There are very few countries open to US travelers and even less that allow you in without a negative test and quarantine. Fortunately, a Caribbean country with consistent wind is one of them: Dominican Republic.
I visited Salinas de Baní, Dominican Republic in March for a week of fun in the sun! It was a quick, affordable kiteboarding trip outside the US in a breathtaking remote location.
I had a pretty hard time finding information on staying in this area and things to do—so here’s my guide for your trip there!
About Salinas de Baní, Dominican Republic
Salinas de Baní is along the southern coast of Dominican Republic about 2 hours from Santo Domingo Airport. The drive is mainly highway once you get out of the city.
It’s windy EVERY DAY—a true kiter’s heaven. The kite spot is on a sandy point that sticks out into the bay surrounded by mountains. You’ll glide across crystal blue water while spotting windmills in the distance and wild Flamingos.
If you aren’t prepared (like I was) you might be surprised how remote this area is. There aren’t many full-service restaurants, tourist amenities or English speakers. However, the people are SO friendly. Stop for a beer at a colmado and you’ll see. Locals are smiling and seem happy to meet you.
Salinas de Baní Microclimate
It depends on what time of year you visit, but when you arrive in the Santo Domingo, you’ll likely notice how humid and hot it is. Baní, on the other hand, is a microclimate with completely different weather.
Baní has a desert climate, but with a constant breeze. There are cactuses growing, sand dunes, and iguanas and goats roaming. It’s absolutely amazing! You spend time outside and feel like it’s air conditioned because it’s so dry and breezy.
Rent an SUV!!!
You’ll likely fly into Santo Domingo, so you’ll need to rent a car. I strongly recommend renting an SUV with 4-wheel drive. You could certainly get by without 4-wheel or in a smaller car, but the roads are really rough in Baní and certain parts of the highway flood along the coastline.
Driving in Dominican Republic Is Pretty Insane
If you’re not used to driving in foreign countries, definitely mentally prepare before your trip. There are no rules on the road. People don’t use turning signals and there are unlit motorcycles EVERYWHERE. You need to be especially vigilant of major potholes on the highway because one could mess you up if you’re going really fast.
I drove to Baní at night and the windshield (yes, windshield!) of my rental car was tinted so dark I could hardly see with my brights on. All that being said, adventures are never fun while you’re having them.
As the week went on, driving wasn’t nearly as stressful and actually really fun. Good luck. 😉
Where to Eat
Baní doesn’t have many restaurants, at least not in plain sight. There were plenty of road-side establishments that looked like restaurants, but most looked closed. Instead, you get colmados. A colmado is sort of like a convenience store with really loud music, but there’s usually a bar and not much other than beer, booze and snacks. Locals hang at colmados all day long. You must stop at a few while you’re in DR!
As you get closer to the beach, there’s a more built up town where Hotel Salinas is located. It has a restaurant with decent food and drinks, but you must spend a minimum that you pay up front. There are more local restaurants along the way to the beach where you can get fried whole fish and other fresh meals, just don’t expect major signage. It’s very much a ‘local’ experience. No one will speak english but the food will be delicious!
Where to Stay in Salinas de Baní
Sava Salinas is truly the shit. It’s a 5-minute drive from the beach and it’s literally across the street from the sand dunes! (More on that later).
Aside from the amazing location, I stayed at Sava Salinas specifically because it has a restaurant. I knew in advance there weren’t many hotels or restaurants, and didn’t want to struggle to find food every day.
Plus, the hotel restaurant had pretty good food. I loved the ceviche and burger on the menu, and the traditional breakfast is bomb! It’s a huge meal that will get you through the first half of your day. I paid extra with my hotel rate to have breakfast included every day.
Aside from the food, the small hotel is beautiful. It’s right on the water with a mountain view and the whole property is lush with tropical foliage. I chose an ocean-view villa with a queen bed and a hot tub on the balcony! Hotel staff are so kind and attentive, but there was very minimal english. If you don’t know basic Spanish, definitely look up hotel and restaurant phrases to get by.
Across the bay, there’s a stunning new gated development called Punta Rena. There’s no restaurant and it’s much further from the beach, but you can rent an entire condo unit and live in luxury. The brand new complex has a pool and guards. I visited friends staying there and I plan on renting there next time I visit with a group. Apparently that whole area is going to be developed with a resort and more in upcoming years, so stay tuned!
Things to Do in Las Salinas de Baní, Dominican Republic
This is a place to relax! All the activities are outdoors and you’ll definitely go home with a tan. Plus, the WiFi quality was horrible everywhere I went—donot try working remote here.
Punta Salinas is the PERFECT kiting destination. It’s windy almost every day in the afternoon, so you have the mornings to relax and explore. If you read my last post on kiteboarding in DR, rest assured, I’m a MUCH better kiter now!
I kited on a 7m CORE every day and at times it was too much power! The water is warm so you can get away with a shorty or swimsuit and rash guard.
The ethereal blue waters are crystal clear and deep when you go out 50 meters or so. While kiting, I saw a large sea turtle and wild flamingos—DR is a true tropical paradise.
Bring Your Own Gear + Water Shoes
This part of DR is still relatively unheard of in the kite world, and some days you’ll be the only kiter there. That being said, there isn’t anywhere to rent gear so bring everything you’ll need for kiting.
The kite point is surrounded by a coral reef with fire coral and really sharp urchins. You do NOT want to step on something here.
Getting Kite Lessons
You can get lessons with Humberto at Kiteology DR if you’re a beginner, though! Humberto is a local instructor. He has gear for your lesson but not enough gear to rent to multiple kiters.
Punta Salinas has a beautiful, healthy reef. You can snorkel right off the point where you kite and see stunning coral, exotic fish, sea turtles and more.
Unfortunately, there’s a wide shelf of rock covered in really sharp sea urchins between the beach and the deeper water with the reef. You’ll absolutely need water shoes or fins and still, you should be careful crossing it. Otherwise, you’ll have to look for a spot along the beach that’s deep enough to swim over the urchins.
I brought my own mask and snorkel so I don’t know how easy it is to rent them in this area. Sava Salinas may have had them for rent and I bet many hotels do.
Prepare to be impressed! You’ll feel like you’ve teleported to Morocco or some African desert for the day!
I kept hearing about the dunes in Baní but didn’t do any research on them before visiting. They don’t look like much from the road but once you cross into the heart of the park—WOW! These babies are so high I don’t even know how to estimate their heights.
The Dunes are packed with local tourists on the weekends but during the week you may have them all to yourself. You can climb up them, roll down them and take pictures EVERYWHERE. The best part is that the dunes are right on the coast. Once you cross over the tallest dune in the back of the park, you’re staring at the glorious Caribbean Sea.
What to Pack for Dunas de Baní
You’re in direct sunlight at the dunes. Pack water, sunscreen, a hat, tennis shoes and comfortable clothes.
If I knew how cool the dunes were and how sweet the views, I would have packed an entire lunch with beers and a blanket (hint hint).
Feed the Iguanas & Goats
This activity is more of a “local recommendation”. On the way to Punta Salinas, you pass a military base. Theres an awkward parking lot left of the road that leads to the beach. This parking lot has tons of large iguanas and goats and it happens to make the perfect feeding spot.
Have bananas for breakfast, save the peels, then feed them to the critters!
I’ve mentioned colmados before but they deserve their own call-out as an activity. Colmados line every populated road and should be integrated into your trip. It’s a chance to unwind, have a beer and hang with some locals.
My favorite colmado experience was with what I call “the town dancer”. This sweet, drunk old man was dancing his way down the road and stopped in front of my chair at the colmado. He danced, kissed my hand and was on his way.
Salt Mines of Baní (Salinas de Baní)
This area of Dominican Republic is known for commercially producing salt that’s used all over the world, hence the name of the area. The impressive mines are just before the beach. You’ll see mining equipment with huge mounds of salt and pink or pinkish flats surrounded the area.
his is a great spot for taking photos, especially is the flats are really pink when you’re there! You can easily park and walk around the area, but be warned: up close, there’s lots of trash and some pretty unbearable smells.
Staying in Santo Domingo
I headed back to Santo Domingo the day before my flight home to get a Covid test to reenter the US.
Staying at Luca by Oxo House
I booked a double room at Luca by Oxo House, a beautiful, historic hotel right in the Zona Colonial area by the coast. It has a restaurant, rooftop bar, jacuzzi and parking, but most of the staff don’t speak English.
I recommend staying here because it’s truly stunning and in a great location, but unfortunately, the service was less than ideal. Most of the staff was pleasant but the line of communication may be off because there were multiple mix-ups during my stay. Also, the head of staff (who spoke English) was very rude at check-in and check-out.
Getting a COVID Test to Return to the US in Santo Domingo, DR
The Dominican Republic embassy website and all the over government websites I read before visiting made it seem like I could get a rapid COVID test on every corner and the government would pay for it. LOL!
Side note: this is apparently the case in many international destinations right now. They advertise Covid tests as readily available for US flyers on government and tourism websites, and once you’re there it’s a major hassle to find a reliable testing site without days advance notice and a hefty price tag, like $180 per test.
I naively imagined that every nice hotel would have resources for US visitors needing Covid tests, or at least the details on the nearest testing site. Unfortunately, it took most of the day to find a lab, get there and get test results.
Hotel staff spent an hour looking for a rapid result testing lab. Fortunately, there was one only a 20-minute walk away. The lab was clean and professional. The rapid Antigen test (nose swab) cost $45 USD and I had to go back to the lab 2 hours later for the results paper.
Leaving DR & Showing Covid Test Results for US-Bound Flight
Since the US is now requiring Covid tests to board any US-bound flight, I imagined the process at the airports would be a big deal where every official needs to verify my test and it’s some very organized process. This also couldn’t be further from the truth.
I checked in at the airline kiosk to print my boarding pass and at a point in the process the screen requires authorization. A airline official asks for your test, glances at your test results paper, then scans your card and you’re on your way. That’s it. You don’t show any verification upon arrival in the US or anything. This is the situation leaving DR, it could be different in other countries and US entry points.