Welcome to the Dominican Republic! You will need to fill out a customs form and an immigration form. If you are a traveler that was not born in the Dominican Republic you will fill out a blue form. If you were born in the Dominican Republic you will fill out a white form. After entering the airport you will need to grab your belongings and find a taxi. You can prearrange this through the boat company and I do recommend doing this as it will save you some time and aggravation. You can also arrange for pick up when you get back off the boat but we did this when we got back into port after swimming with the whales.
The Silver Banks
The silver banks are roughly 80 nautical miles outside of the port in Puerta Plata. Traveling there takes about eight hours by boat. We were lucky the weather was decent so we were able to head out a little before our planned departure which allowed us to wake up at the silver banks. The silver banks is roughly 24 square miles and consists of a shelf that can touch around 90-100 feet. The whales come here to mate and get their calves strong enough to make the journey north. There are other banks in the area with humpback whales on them but the Silver Banks is by far the most concentrated.
The boat is a live aboard that comes from the Turks and Caicos just for the whale season. It can hold 20 guests plus the crew. I happen to get lucky and be there when the boat only had 12 guests which gave us a lot of extra space. Our chef was just phenomenal! Our first night on the boat was Indian themed and she nailed it! She also created a lot of food that fit the needs of everyone on the ship including vegan dishes (which was great for me)! As for the boat stateroom we had an upper and lower bunk bed as well as a private bathroom. We were given all the bedding and towels as well as conditioner, shampoo and soap. Each room has its own thermometer so you better believe I cranked that thing down since I love sleeping in the arctic. They made our beds everyday and placed little chocolates on our pillows at night.
Just Keep Swimming..... Swimming..... Swimming!
Before embarking out onto the smaller boats we had to run through how to get on and off the boat as well as try out our snorkel gear. This took up most of the morning but from a safety standpoint was very important. That afternoon we headed out to start searching for whales. We saw lots of breaching and fin slapping from the boat but we didn’t have a ton of luck with actually getting in. However, not to fret we still had four more full days to swim. We did have a quick unbelievable 15-20 second underwater view of a mother and calf, but with one small flip of the fluke they were gone. The next day we woke up and headed out again but this time we stumbled upon two adults just resting. We spent a couple hours in the water moving around when they would. Almost the entire time the female whale would turn just to be face to face with us. She was so calm! In fact we got to try free dive with her, which is very rare, because she was so relaxed with us being around her. Being completely submerged underwater with such a massive creature and no sound was a very amazing experience. As if the day could get any better we were lucky enough to get in the water with a mother, calf and an escort. This is not a normal encounter since the escort tends to push mom away from any outside intruders, including humans. However, he was very generous and let us get into the water where we watched the baby play around. Every day the encounters just kept getting better and better. We swam with so many whales and even had the opportunity to get into the water and play with some dolphins. We not only heard but FELT a whale singing below us and it was unbelievable! I think one of the biggest things I took away from this trip was the feeling I had when I was in the water with the whales. So, my one piece of advice for this trip would be absolutely get some pictures but also take a second to just be in the moment without looking through a lens; I mean after all you are swimming with a HUMPBACK WHALE in the middle of the ocean!
I decided to go light on the camera equipment for this trip. I knew we would be getting up close and personal with whales so I opted to go with a smaller lens instead of lugging my big stuff around. This is entirely up to you but at a minimum I would recommend having an “in water” camera (like the Tough camera) and a “dry” camera (like the Nikon). You can stash the dry camera in a waterproof bag in the front of the boat and use this when you are around breaching whales. There were times it was too dangerous to get in the water to swim with whales but they were generous enough to put on a show above the water. You can also opt to meet with a US customs agent and fill out paperwork stating that the camera gear you brought into the country was not purchased in the Dominican Republic. I was told this is a frequent issue and they will try to tax the camera gear when you are trying to exit the country. The paperwork is quick and you’ll get a tag stating what you entered with. This can be done weeks ahead of your trip. I didn’t have to use it but it was reassuring to have.
I would recommend having a few Scopolamine patches and/or Dramamine on hand just in case you start to feel ill. From what I can tell the ride out to the silver banks is always windy and choppy leading to a few sick passengers. You should discuss these options with your medical provider and make sure they are right for you. If you know you are prone to sea sickness be sure to bring some raw ginger as well. This often helps soothe upset stomachs. Seas on the way out can sometimes be rough and it’s better to have medication and not need it than to be sick and wish you brought it.
3 mm wetsuit
Dive Skin (optional for under wetsuit)
Dry bag for use on the day boat
Hand towel for use on the day boat
Dry wick shirts x3
Scopolamine patch +/- Dramamine
Nikon and charger with additional SD cards
Tough camera with charger
Phone, charger and headphones
Paper and pen
Passport and boarding passes
Money for tips and gas