Some travel tips for when it's time to leave the boat

February 26, 2006|By PHIL MARTY | PHIL MARTY,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

There's not a lot of mystery involved in cruising the Caribbean. Ports there have been written up hundreds of times, and tourism has been big business for decades. But on a Holland America cruise last spring transiting the Panama Canal, that wasn't necessarily the case. For some of the stops in Central and South America, even with the Internet, information can be sparse.

Some general tips about these ports:

U.S. dollars are universally accepted, though you may get your change back in, for example, Colombian pesos. So, take $100 or $200 with you in very small bills (lots and lots of $1 bills).

For the short time you are in any of these places, you likely won't need to hit an ATM, which aren't in great supply anyway.

Here are some notes on those individual ports:

La Romana, Dominican Republic

In brief -- I hate to give a bad rap to one of the poorest countries on the globe, but nearly everyone I talked with on the ship hated this stop. The impression you get is of a stereotypical poor Caribbean country consisting of fancy resorts in walled compounds, with rampant poverty everywhere outside. Not surprisingly, I didn't see very many smiles among the locals. In all fairness, though, getting away from the major resort areas might give a better impression of the country's people and natural beauty.

Getting around -- Taxis (fairly pricey) available at port.

Currency -- $1 equals about 34 DR pesos.

Cartagena, Colombia

In brief -- No, drug kingpins aren't waiting at the end of the dock or in town to kidnap you - just peddlers selling maracas, T-shirts, coffee, sunglasses and Cuban cigars, or. ... Actually, it's a very interesting town, with lots of old architecture and churches. The only danger was melting in the heat and humidity.

Getting around -- Taxis available at port. Guys wearing white shirts speak English and are licensed; tan shirts don't speak much English, and the red shirts outside the port gate are unlicensed.

Currency -- $1 equals about 2,250 Colombian pesos.

Puntarenas, Costa Rica

In brief -- The place for nature lovers, but. ... Town is at the end of the dock, so it's easy to get a taste of the rather gritty local life.

Getting around -- Taxis available at port.

Currency -- $1 equals about 502 colones.

Phil Marty writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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