What to take
The golden rule is to travel light. Independent adventure travel involves being on the move a good deal of the time, using public transport, finding your own accommodation, and doing other things for yourself. A heavy and cumbersome bag - or bags - will metaphorically and literally drag you down. Moreover, quite apart from the general hassle and discomfort when traveling, you will not want to be carrying any more than is essential for a particular activity. So bearing this golden rule in mind, what should you take?
Backpacks have become synonymous with independent travelers; and they are the obvious choice for land-based adventure travel in the Dominican Republic. As long as it is well packed and worn properly, even a heavy pack can be carried for hours with little discomfort. Try to center most of the pack's weight on the hip belt and minimize the pressure on your shoulders, otherwise it will drag you down. These days most backpackers opt for internal frames, which tend to be better for active travel and keep the load closer to your own center of gravity. For hiking in hot weather and carrying large loads, however, you might consider an external frame, which is stronger and allows air to circulate between your body and back. (Despite this advice, note that on many trips guides and mules will be available to carry your bags.) The purchase of a new backpack can take a large slice out of your vacation budget, so make sure that you choose one which will last. Check the material, the stitching, the zips and the straps before you hand over your hard-earned cash.
You could, of course, elect to carry your worldly possessions in something other than a backpack: a suitcase, for example. Naturally, much will depend on the type of trip you have planned. If you were going to spend most of your time hiking in the mountains, you would be wise to carry a backpack. For general travel between towns, however, a small suitcase can actually be more convenient to carry than a bulky backpack, slipping nicely between legs on crowded gua-guas.
Selecting your wardrobe for a trip to the tropics should be an exercise in common sense. Cool, light clothing is good for the day; pants and a long-sleeved shirt will help fend off mosquitoes in the evenings. Warmer clothes might be an idea for the higher mountain regions, although don't overdo it. A comfortable pair of shoes is obviously very important for general travel; hiking boots are best for exploring the national parks; and sneakers are good for activities such as canyoning, cascading, rock climbing and mountain biking. Specialized clothing and equipment for particular activities will normally be provided by the relevant school or adventure company.
The following are the best maps of the Dominican Republic:
The Dominican Republic by Berndtson & Berndtson includes several city maps and is laminated. Available in all tourist areas of the Dominican Republic. Price: about US$5.00.
Mapa Geographico de la República Dominicana is the most detailed map of the Dominican Republic. The scale is 1 to 1,500,000 and includes even the smallest donkey trail.
Take a combination of cash, travelers' checks and plastic. In the Dominican Republic the US dollar is king; and with them you will be able to change money anywhere without many problems. Carry your cash in small denominations, avoiding the US$100 bill, which is occasionally treated with suspicion due to the number of counterfeit notes in circulation. Having travelers' checks in small denominations is also a good idea, so that you can avoid buying more of the local currency than you need at the time. Once again, US dollars are best; and American Express travelers' checks are known and accepted in most places. A credit card - or debit card - is useful in case of emergencies. Moreover, with all the ATM machines in the Dominican Republic, you could use it instead of cash and travelers' checks.
Necessities and Luxuries
Treat this section as a checklist, ticking off the items you should not leave home without (the 'necessities') and pondering whether or not to take one or two articles to make your life more comfortable (the 'luxuries').
- Airline ticket
- Insurance policy - including high risk activities
- Photocopies of passport, airline ticket and insurance policy
- Travelers' checks and credit card
- Money belt to store the above. You should always wear it underneath your clothing
- Medical kit (including sun block lotion and mosquito repellent), also see the heath section
- Spare glasses (losing your glasses or tearing a contact lens can ruin a trip)
- Flashlight and batteries (power cuts are common)
- Matches to light gas lamps and mosquito coils
- Washing powder to wash your clothes as you dirty them. (A 'wash-and-wear' approach means that you can reduce the number of clothes you pack in the first place. Also remember that the more powder you use, the lighter your bag becomes)
- Lip salve to protect against chapped lips caused by the sun and wind
- Map (detailed and recent)
- Calculator for currency conversion
- Camera with some spare film