And so it begins... Country #1 - The Dominican Republic!

The journey began in Atlanta

I told my parents goodbye through tears and long hugs, braved the Atlanta airport shuttle to find my gate, ate some Pinkberry, and boarded my flight for Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport (FLL). The flight was uneventful except for unexpected the cool touch screens on such a short domestic flight. I arrived in FLL around 9:00pm, waited too long for an Uber, and spent the night at a nearby inexpensive airport hotel. After watching the Nashville Predators sadly lose game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals, charging all of my devices, and finally remembering to buy travel insurance, I got a solid three hours of sleep before my big day.

But the journey actually began in Santo Domingo

I woke up at 4:00am and made my way back to FLL. I grabbed a quick bite at the Food Network themed restaurant in my terminal then headed to my gate. That's where things got awkward. And by awkward I mean my new normal for the duration of my journey. In order to set two world records, I have to have witnesses for every country - which means I have to ask random people to sign a sheet of paper saying (what seems very obvious to them) that I am in the country that I am visiting. The first country has an even greater requirement, as witnesses have to fill out an entire form for both my first and last stop. Thank goodness I found two great women at my gate to witness me entering the Dominican Republic - a sweet real estate manager and a fellow adventurous young woman who was from Connecticut but headed to live in the DR for the summer.

After securing witnesses and boarding the flight we then took off and began to fly over the blue Florida coast. I attempted to sleep but unfortunately failed thanks to the dreaded passengers who for some reason talked through an entire 7:00am flight. However, not sleeping gave me time to fill out DR's semi-confusing landing and customs cards. Landing in DR at Las Américas International Airport (SDQ) was beautiful - the landscape of the island was just amazing to fly over.

Upon landing I took plenty of pictures of myself with the border crossing and customs, as Guinness needs these to verify my start time. The entire border crossing process was simple but just know that you need to have a tourist card to enter the country. I bought mine ahead of time online but you can buy one in the border control area for $10USD. After clearing customs I walked to the Departures level (second level of SDQ) in order to call an Uber. A Honda Odyssey arrived within minutes and the 30 minute drive into the heart of Santo Domingo began. The drive in was great with blue waters lining the left side of the car and being able to see the culture of the Dominican Republic on the right. We also drove by Columbus Lighthouse, Alcázar de Colón, and into Zona Colonial.

While in Santo Domingo I stayed in Hotel Salomé 56. In the heart of Zona Colonial Hotel Salomé 56 was a charming little hotel that fit all of my needs for a quick one night stay. With a cool open air lobby and helpful front desk I had a very comfortable stay. Even though I saw a bug or two throughout my stay, I feel like that is pretty common in the DR. Thank you so much to Hotel Salomé 56 for sponsoring this first night of my trip! 

After arriving at the hotel I had to nap for a bit - I was exhausted by this point. I then began walking around Santo Domingo. I started with walking through Zona Colonial, which I would describe as the "Old Town" of Santo Domingo. There was lots of character from the buildings to the culture throughout Zona Colonial. At first I was unsure of my surroundings just stepping out into such a unique place, but after walking for about two minutes I felt completely comfortable and began to see many other tourists all around me. My first stop was Columbus Park. Filled with locals and tourists alike, the park was the busiest part of Santo Domingo that I saw. The Catedral Primada de América, which is said to be the oldest cathedral in the Americas, sits on the corner of Columbus Park. The Cathedral was stunning - I felt for a second like I was back in Europe. While many of the paintings and frescos have faded, the architecture is completely in tact and worth seeing. The $1.50 entrance fee includes an audio guide which was very informative about the cathedral's history.

Next I walked to Panteón Nacional which is free and a nice short stop. It contains burials of some important Dominican figures as well as other interesting relics. From there I visited Museo de las Casas Reales (The Museum of Royal Houses). It housed many artifacts and was very informative about the history of the Dominican Republic. There was a $2 entrance fee that includes an audio guide. If you speak Spanish you will be able to read more but the audio guide contained plenty of information in English. 

I then walked to Alcázar de Colón and the Plaza de España o de la Hispanidad area surrounding it. Alcázar de Colón is a historic building that dates from 1510 and is the former residence of Christopher Columbus' son, Diego. The building and its' views are fantastic but the audio guide leaves something to be desired. I felt that it discussed the artifacts in the rooms more than the building itself. However, for the $3 entrance fee this is a must see. The Plaza de España o de la Hispanidad area outside is an open area lined by restaurants. It was not very busy when I walked by around 2:00pm, but I imagine it is much different at night time or during peak tourist times.

After finishing up with my sight seeing for the day I decided to eat a late lunch / early dinner at Jalao. The restaurant sits on Columbus Park and had a unique vibe. My food - a burger and cheddar cheese croquets - was good but expensive. At $28 I'm glad that this one meal filled me up for the remainder of the day. The waiters did not speak any english which would not be surprising except that Jalao seems like a pretty touristy restaurant. This was not an issue as I was able to point to what I wanted to eat, but it was more surprising than anything else.

Full from my meal at Jalao I headed back to my hotel. After an exhausting first day on very little sleep I called it an early night. The hotel had American channels so I was able to watch the nightly news, Jeopardy, and the NBA Finals before falling asleep during the first quarter. 

Overall, the Dominican Republic was a great first stop on my trip!

1 country down, 196 to go.

For more information on the Dominican Republic click here to read my guide.

To learn more about Hotel Salomé 56 click here.