GUAGUAS, MOTOCONCHOS, CAR RENTAL AND TAXI TRAVELS
Tourists arriving to Punta Cana will probably spend most of their vacation in and around their hotel. If you’re staying at an all-inclusive resort and don’t plan on going too far, walking in Punta Cana is your best bet. Most of the resorts are right on the beach, or at least self-contained enough that you won’t need to go too far to plop down and relax. Otherwise, if you’re planning on going beyond the resort and exploring, then the best way to get around Punta Cana is by car: by taxi or renting one.
Have the concierge call a taxi for you. Hotel concierges can easily summon taxis. Bear in mind that taxi is the most comfortable but also the most expensive ground transportation option. Taxis charge uniform rates and taxi drivers are unionized. Fares in Punta Cana are high although negotiable, and there are set fares between resorts and the airport or other popular destinations. It’s not uncommon to be charged US$40 for a 20-minute ride if you book through your resort’s concierge. Try walking off your resort to one of the taxi stands down the street for a cheaper rate. At Plaza Bávaro shopping center, where many taxis are standing around—and especially if you can negotiate in Spanish—you can get one for a fraction of that price. There are no meters, so confirm the rate with the driver before beginning your trip.
If you’re feeling very courageous, you could rent a car. To explore surrounding towns, I personally recommend renting a car through your hotel or at the airport. If you’re driving a rental car, note that road maps for the entire region are poorly designed and incomplete and it becomes difficult to get around when you are unfamiliar with the area. Be sure to get detailed directions. It also helps to carry a cell phone activated for local use.
On the other hand I don’t recommend driving within Punta Cana, specially the Bavaro area, because traffic is at a constant gridlock and the Dominican driving style is different to say the least – speed limits and stop signs are oftentimes ignored. Keep in mind that several resorts will charge you a parking fee, but you won’t need to purchase an additional license (U.S. license is acceptable for up to three months).
Night-time driving is not recommended as well for visitors who are not familiar with the destination because of the lack of signage and lighting on the roads. There are only few gas stations in the entire Punta Cana area and they accept cash only. They may take foreign currency, but the exchange rate will be well in their favour, so it is preferable to use pesos. Here a map with the gas stations you can find in Punta Cana (source: realestatepuntacana.com)
Several major car-rental companies have outlets at the Punta Cana airport, as well as in Bávaro. Most will deliver cars to area hotels (in some cases, they will complete the paperwork at your hotel; in others, they will bring you back to the office to complete the paperwork). Do not cut corners when choosing your rental car service. Also take out the extra insurance plan that is available. If you suffer an accident that dents your car, for instance, the insurance will prevent delays or hassles. You must be at least 21 years old. When you venture out, free parking is also common, including at the shopping plazas and local restaurants—and generally easy to find, except perhaps on the cluttered streets of Higüey.
Public buses (known as Guaguas) service Punta Cana and Bávaro area. Taking a local bus is one of the cheapest ways to get around but is not recommended if you have somewhere to go in a hurry. The schedules are sporadic and irregular, and buses have been known to be more than an hour late. Also, stops aren’t clearly marked or better there are no official bus stops (it’s best to tell the driver where you want to get off) and buses can be hailed anywhere on the street. Being a popular way to move, specially for locals, they are usually packed.
If you are interested in meeting and socializing with the Dominicans, getting on a guagua can be an enjoyable experience as you’ll be sharing the transport with mainly the locals: hotel employees, school children, and Haitian construction workers. Despite what your resort or travel agent might have told you, leaving your hotel and exploring on Bavaro’s public transport is perfectly safe and substantially cheaper than taking a hotel taxi. Expect to pay RD$35 on each bus for local transportation and RD$100 for trips to Higuey.
Onboard is a driver and a conductor (el cobrador) who takes your money (no tickets are issued). It’s best to have small change ready. They don’t have air conditioning. Seats are on a first come first served basis. It’s not uncommon, especially in the north of the Dominican Republic, to share your seat with… chickens!! (I once shared mine with a goat). Guaguas provide a truly authentic taste of Dominican transportation.
Local buses start at the main bus terminal, passing all the outdoor malls on the way to El Cortecito, then turn down the coastal road past the large hotels to Cruce de Cocoloco, where they turn around and return the same way. The bus system is rather informal but is a perfectly safe and cost efficient way of getting around Punta Cana.
Motorcycle taxis or motoconchos are the most popular form of transportation in Punta Cana Bavaro. Hundreds of motoconcho drivers make a living offering short distance rides to both tourist and local residents. You’ll have no problem finding one, 99% of the time they’ll find you!! Try to opt for a motoconcho driver with an orange vest indicating he is a member of the local driver union and not just some guy offering a ride.
Motoconchos are by far the most inexpensive and fastest option for shorter distances in Punta Cana. These taxi motorcycles have cheap fares, starting around $2 USD. But with the high accident rate and lack of helmets for passengers, safety is just an optional….so ride at your own risk!! If you are feeling a little nervous just tell the driver “despacio por favor” (slowly please). Most of the Punta Cana motochonchos speak a little English but it’s always good to know a few words in Spanish if you intend to take public transport.
Motoconchos are found at many hotel entrances, shopping plazas and at street corners, or gathering places. Always determine the fare before you set off, and pay on arrival. Motoconchos will generally wait for you for a return fare. They are a great way to get around for short distances.
Some local business such as Manati Park and Palma Real Shopping Village (Bavaro) offer free shuttle services to their establishments from the main hotels.
TOUR OPERATOR TRANSPORT
Most excursions pick up tourists at their hotels and then drop them back. The transfer is included in the price of the excursion.