If you are reading this you are on your way to meet the humpback whales of the Silver Bank. Thank you for joining Conscious Breath Adventures; we hope the experience exceeds all your expectations. In this guide you’ll find details on the trip, the location, where to stay, what to bring and much more. Please read and don’t hesitate to call us if you have any further questions; Captain Gene at 305-753-1732 or Dave at 305-490-5998.
Safe travels and happy planning!
The Silver Bank
Where and what is it?
The Silver Bank lies approximately 70 miles (110km) north of the coast of the Dominican Republic and almost the same distance southeast of the Turks & Caicos islands
Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, thousands of feet deep, the irregularly shaped 25 x 35 mile (40 x 56km) submerged limestone plateau, known as a bank, rises to an average depth of 100 feet (30 meters), and 60 feet (18 meters) or less in the shallower areas. The northeastern edge of the bank hosts an impressive chain of coral heads of varying number and density. Near the densest part of the reef is the designated anchorage, where we moor for the duration of our visit, protected from prevailing seas by the reef.
The Marine Mammal Sanctuary
On October 14, 1986, the Dominican Republic recognized the vital importance of the Silver Bank by establishing the Silver Bank Sanctuary. Ten years later (July 5, 1996), that commitment was strengthened when a presidential decree enlarged the Sanctuary to its current size and renamed it the Sanctuary for the Marine Mammals of the Dominican Republic.
The Sanctuary encompasses not only the shallow calving and breeding grounds of the Silver Bank, Navidad Banks, and Samana Bay, but also all of the deeper ocean waters between, which are heavily traveled migration routes for whales moving between the banks and bays or to other parts of the Caribbean. As part of the sanctuary, all activity on the Silver Bank must adhere to strict guidelines set forth by the office of the Minister of Protected Areas and Biodiversity of the Dominican Republic, overseen by the on-site Coordinator of the Silver Bank. Among other things, these guidelines limit the number of vessels on the Silver Bank and how many guests they can carry. In fact, no vessel may visit the Silver Bank without a permit during the breeding season.
As a guest of Conscious Breath Adventures you will be traveling into this humpback whale habitat with an authorized holder of one of only three permits issued. This limits the total number of visitors to the Silver Bank to less than 600 each season. The low numbers help protect the whales from excessive contact, and an added benefit for our guests is that it eliminates crowding. It also means that on a planet with a human population of over 7 billion, visitors to the Silver Bank are part of a very small percentage of people fortunate enough to experience one of the natural wonders of the animal world.
Typically the daily excursions aboard the tenders can be up to 4-5 miles (6.5km) from the anchorage, but are usually less. This leaves the vast majority of the Sanctuary completely unvisited.
What does your fare include?
You’ll spend seven nights and six days aboard, commencing with boarding on Saturday evening at approximately 5:00 pm; and disembarking the following Saturday morning at approximately 8:00 am. You will have five days on the Silver Bank with up to four and one half (4.5) days of tender (small boat) time to look for whales, up to nine tender excursions in all, weather permitting as per Sanctuary rules. You’ll enjoy:
All meals, snacks, hors d’oeuvres and drinks starting with welcome cocktails on Saturday evening and ending with breakfast the following Saturday morning. The one exception is dinner ashore on the Friday night. Please see our Pod Package notes below.
Beer, wine and soft drinks.
Accommodations aboard with ensuite bathroom.
Nine guided tender excursions to snorkel with whales (subject to weather conditions).
Evening social events and educational presentations.
What is not included?
Airfare and airfare related expenses including baggage fees and taxes.
Hotels and shore based accommodations.
Taxis and ground transfers.
Sanctuary & Port Fees (currently $500 pp, fees subject to change).
Fuel Surcharges (the final rate is set December 15th).
Gratuity for crew (10% of fare suggested).
Any additional permit fees required for professional photography or videography in the Sanctuary.
Distilled spirits or hard alcohol beyond the supplied beer and wine.
Snorkeling and/or camera/video equipment.
The Pod Package
You can now pre-order these popular add-on items. The package is $150 per person or $250 for a couple (one thumb drive) and includes:
Joining us for a private group dinner on the last Fridaynight at Le Papillon, one of the nicest restaurants in Puerto Plata. Drinks, salad, bread, a main course, dessert, gratuities and transportation to and from are included.
A Conscious Breath Adventures souvenir t-shirt (your choice of color and size).
Our photo and video combination package, on a thumb drive, with around 100 high quality stills images of your week with the whales, and a 15-30 minute video with trip specific content featuring the highlights of the week.
A Typical Day
A sneak preview of how you’ll spend your days on the Silver Bank:
After sunrise stretches or yoga if you choose, we’ll have breakfast in the salon then get our gear ready and board the tenders at 8:30 for the morning excursion, ready to see and swim with whales.
Our goal is to spend as much time in the water with the whales as the whales are comfortable with. We return to the M/V Sea Hunter around mid-day, depending on what’s going on.
After lunch and short break, we are back out in the tenders and on the water for the afternoon, usually returning between 5 and 6 pm.
The Sundowner cocktail hour is a time-honored and sun-kissed tradition in which we share a beverage, canapé and tales of the day.
After a fun, buffet and family style dinner, most evenings offer a short educational presentation and discussion.
Then, enjoy the stars from the deck or relax in the salon or your cabin to rest for more whale adventures to come!
The On-board Experience
What amenities are on-board?
All staterooms are individually air-conditioned and fitted with private toilets, showers and sinks. Some toiletries (shampoo and soap) are available for your use onboard. The yacht will provide hairdryers upon request.
In the library, the M/V Sea Hunter has a compact disc player, a DVD player and stereo with connections for iPods. etc. The electrical current on the M/V Sea Hunter is 110 volts/60Hz AC (American standard outlets).
How much storage space is there?
There is plenty of storage space in your cabin, including hanging closets and hangers, drawers, and space under the beds. It does help if you can bring soft-sided luggage (duffel bags), not hard suitcases. That will ensure that your bags fit under the beds and you will have room to spare.
What languages are spoken?
English is the primary language spoken on-board. Spanish is also spoken by some crew members.
What kind of food is served?
The three daily meals, prepared by our onboard chef, are a delicious international mix with a local flair, emphasizing fresh, seasonal produce. Meals are varied and well balanced, including breakfast (cooked to order), hearty lunch and dinners served buffet style in addition to fresh mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks. Beverages (including domestic beer and wine) are complimentary while onboard. Distilled sprits are not provided but guests are welcome to bring aboard their own to enjoy.
If you have any special dietary requirements, please advise us as soon as possible so we can adequately prepare to meet your needs. Vegetarian and vegan meals are not a problem with prior notice. However, certain special dietary and beverage requests may not be available on a consistent basis due to local availability and the remote nature of this location so advanced planning may be required
Please note that smoking is permitted in designated outdoor areas only.
What about seasickness?
Once we reach the Silver Bank there is only slight to moderate movement of the yacht (barring unpredictable weather conditions) and motion sickness is rarely a problem. However, the crossing from the marina to the Silver Bank can sometimes be rough. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that you pack over-the-counter motion sickness medication or consult your doctor about prescription brands. Chewable ginger tablets or ginger capsules have also proven to be effective, as well as wristbands designed for this purpose.
What additional expenses will I be responsible for while onboard?
Any outstanding balances for fees or fuel surcharges will be due onboard (cash or US check). You can also purchase our Pod Package items (Friday night dinner, t-shirts and photo/video compilations), separately or as a discounted package ($150pp, cash or US check). Additional t-shirts and other merchandise are offered for sale (cash or US check for Conscious Breath Adventures, cash or credit card for Sea Hunter merchandise). Lastly, the crew gratuity (cash or credit card). The crew derives the majority of their income from gratuities. Suggested gratuity is 10% of your fare but this is a personal choice and at your discretion as a way of expressing thanks for on-board service.
Is there Internet access?
Once the vessel leaves the marina there is no internet access available. The vessel does have a proprietary satellite e-mail system but there is no web-browsing capability. If guests would like to have email access, it is possible through the vessel system but it is not possible to check personal accounts such as firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, etc.
Is there cell phone service?
Cell phone service is generally available to you when you are ashore in the Dominican Republic. Check your carrier’s plan to check compatibility and be sure to turn off international roaming services to avoid hefty charges. You may have service ashore but there isNO CELL PHONE service once we leave the marina. The vessel is equipped with satellite-based phone and email for emergency communications.
What is our port of embarkation?
Our port of embarkation for your journey to the Silver Bank is the Cofresi Beach area a few miles west of the gateway city of Puerto Plata on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. We sail from Ocean World Marina, the only full service marina on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. A tourist destination featuring an adventure park, restaurant and casino, Ocean World Marina is where your transportation will deliver you to board the vessel on Saturday afternoon, and where you will disembark at the end of your adventure the following Saturday morning.
Where do I fly to in the D.R.?
Arriving by air, the closest airport to Ocean World Marina is the Gregorio Luperon International Airport (airport code POP) in Puerto Plata. Transport from the airport to Cofresi should take about 30 minutes by car, less to area hotels. Another option is Cibao International Airport(airport code STI), located in Santiago. Transport from Santiago to Cofresi is about 90 minutes. Be advised that since airfares and flight times can vary significantly between POP and STI, you should investigate both options keeping in mind the differences in costs for ground transportation. Santo Domingo (SDQ) is a final option but will add significantly to travel time (approximately 5 hours) and expense.
When should I plan to arrive?
Guests board the vessel Saturday afternoon at 5:00pm. We recommend that if you will be flying from or connecting through any airport that may be affected by winter weather, or are traveling from outside of North America, you should consider arriving at least the day before embarkation, on Friday. This will allow time to overcome any delays in travel or baggage issues that may occur en route.
What about travel documents?
You are required to have a passport valid for at least the next 6 months and have proof of return or onward ticket. Depending upon your citizenship, you might also be required to obtain a visa. Please contact your local Embassy or Consulate for your destination. US citizens do not need a visa.
Do I need trip insurance?
Conscious Breath Adventures strongly recommends each guest purchase comprehensive accident, medical, baggage and trip cancellation/interruption insurance. Trip insurance will protect you from financial disappointment if you are prevented from making your scheduled trip due to illness, delays in transit, or in the event that unforeseen circumstances prevent the vessel from making its scheduled trip. In an event where it is necessary to cancel or interrupt a charter due to weather or any matter beyond the control of the servicing vessel and Conscious Breath Adventures, there will be no refund or credit issued. We also recommend diving accident insurance, which provides coverage while snorkeling and will cover evacuation costs from this remote location in the event of an emergency. One important note: some travel insurance companies cover snorkeling in their policies. Read your policy carefully; if snorkeling is a covered activity then additional dive insurance is not necessary. See www.csatravelprotection.com; http://www.travelguard.com;www.diversalertnetwork.org; www.diveassure.com for a few examples.
What currency is used?
In the Dominican Republic, the currency is the Dominican Peso, but U.S. dollars and credit cards are widely accepted. Unless you will be staying in the Dominican Republic for an extended visit, it is not necessary to exchange U.S. dollars to pesos. Be sure to know the currency exchange rate before arriving. Once aboard, cash US$ and credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, American Express) can be used to pay vessel related costs such as crew gratuity; while cash (or a US check) is needed to pay Conscious Breath Adventures-related costs such as merchandise.
What is the time zone?
Atlantic Standard Time, UTC/GMT –4 hrs. The Dominican Republic does not recognize daylight savings time.
How do I get to the marina?
Once in the DR, guests have two options for ground transportation: local cab or pre-arranged transfer. Local taxis are efficient. At the airport, assertive but polite porters will, with your permission, help you to curbside where professional taxis stand by. Gratuities of a dollar a bag for the porter are customary. Taxi fares to all popular destinations are clearly posted at the taxi stand. Another option is to pre-arrange a transfer through a transportation company. In this case a driver will be waiting in the greeting area just as you exit the terminal and will identify themselves by holding a sign with the company’s and (usually) your name on it.
Traveling solo, if you fly into POP, you can expect to pay approximately $100 U.S. in total for all your ground transportation needs, per person, for your whole trip. If you fly into STI, that figure will be approximately $200. Any ride shares will reduce those costs accordingly.
Conscious Breath Adventures staff will be in touch with you in the weeks before your departure to help coordinate or advise on your options including contact information for transportation companies and any rideshare opportunities.
Where to Stay
The Dominican Republic offers a variety of accommodation. From large all-inclusive resorts to small eco-lodges there is something for virtually every taste and budget.
Conscious Breath Adventures does not have any business relationship with any of the establishments listed and has no financial incentive behind the recommendations. CBA provides the following list and links as a courtesy to our guests only. The establishments on this list, presented by distance from the marina, have all been visited by past guests who offered their positive feedback.
Marina Environs: Cofresi Beach
5-10 minutes from the marina
There are two main options in Cofresi; the closest is Chris & Mady’s, a beachside bar and restaurant with basic rooms available. American expat Chris and his Dominican wife Mady are friendly and helpful and the accommodations are clean but not fancy. It’s a great choice if you have a late arrival on Friday and also for lunch on departure day. There is a beach in Cofresi but it’s a town beach and not the nicest option for swimming and sunbathing. The second is the all inclusive Lifestyle Resorts. This is a good choice if you want a quick pool or beach vacation before the cruise to the Silver Bank. There are three connected resorts: Lifestyle Tropical, Cofresi Palms and Presidential Suites. The latter is a little more expensive but quieter. Be prepared for a party atmosphere but the food is decent and it’s good value and convenient. All whale swimming guests receive a preferred rate and complimentary shuttle to the marina on Saturday afternoon.
Nearby Beaches: Costa Dorada and Playa Dorada
30 minutes from the marina
These two long stretches of pretty beach between the town of Puerto Plata and the airport, flank a large gated, developed area with numerous resorts and hotels. Many are all inclusive such as Grand Ventana Beach Resort, Iberostar Costa Dorada and Puerto Plata Village. Others offer rooms and a la carte dining such as Blue Jacktar and Casa Colonial. The entire area is a tourism zone so while you might not get an authentic sense of the Dominican Republic, it is a great choice for a few days worry free vacation, before or after your cruise to the Silver Bank.
Mountains: En Route to Santiago
45 minutes from the marina
South of Puerto Plata, heading inland and up into the hills (the island boasts a significant mountain range with the highest peak in the Caribbean), are two options with fabulous views and a closer connection to nature than in the built up coastal tourism zone. Tubagua is a popular eco-resort with a variety of rustic cabins and friendly, knowledgeable hosts including the owner Tim Hall. Hikes and tours to local forests, waterfalls and amber mines can all be organized from here. Note that there’s no AC, beds are netted from mosquitoes. The views are amazing! Just up the road from Tubagua is the Jasmine Spa and Holistic Wellness Centre with a similarly wholesome approach. The spa offers customized day programs, half day programs and stay-in programs for all group sizes. They cater to vegetarians and offer raw food, fat free and fresh fruit juice diets.
The North Coast: Sosua and Cabarete
45-60 minutes from the marina
These lively coastal towns are good options if you want to see a little bit more of what the DR has to offer. Sosua is known for its nightlife with a thriving bar scene (be cautious if you are out and about on the town; keep track of your belongings and your drink). Cabarete is a world famous kiteboarding destination and has more of a backpacker vibe. Watching the kitesurfing from a beach bar is a fun afternoon and the beach is wild and There are a variety of hotels and also apartment rentals from VRBO or AirBNB. In Sosua, Piergorgio is a pretty hotel with lovely coastal views and a few miles outside Cabarete, lies Natura Cabana, an eco-resort on the beach that has been a favorite of our guests for over a decade.
If you have the opportunity to spend more time in the Dominican Republic there are many worthwhile activities and destinations. From birdwatching in tropical forests to surfing remote coves. Let us know what you are interested in doing, we’d be happy to share our knowledge and assist with your trip planning.
What should I bring?
Absolute necessities: bring as many in your carry-on baggage as possible!
Prescription medications/medical supplies
What are the essentials for in-water encounters?
Mask: A good fit on the mask is essential. A leaky mask can ruin a great whale encounter. The only way to ensure that a mask fits properly is to try it on; one size does not fit all. If you order from somewhere online and your first choice does not fit, return it for another. Check the return policy first; if a company won’t accept a return, shop elsewhere. We specifically recommend against the use of full-face masks.
Snorkel: With snorkels, gimmicky, complicated, expensive snorkels are not always the best. Snorkels with some type of relatively streamlined splash protection and a purge valve will provide good service. Some good examples are the Aqualung Impulse (brand name and model name); the Aeris Cuda Dry Snorkel; or the Tusa Hyperdry, to name a few.
Fins: We suggest full foot, closed heel snorkel fins, rather than open heel scuba fins. They are lighter and smaller, which makes them easier to pack, more comfortable, and they are designed for the job. Keep it light and simple. Be sure they are not too tight. You do not need long freediving fins, and avoid very small exercise/boogie board/body surfing fins. Your fins are what give you your power in the water, don’t cut yourself short. Some good examples are the Cressi Sub Pro Star full foot fins; the Aeris Velocity full foot fins; and the Mares Avante Excel or HP full foot fins, to name a few.
Wetsuit or “dive skin”: Highly Recommended. Water temperatures will be between 75-80F (23-26 Celsius), and the sun will be shining. A wetsuit will keep you warm in the water, and protect from sunburn at the same time. Do you chill easily? Then you should consider a full-length suit of 3mm or more. Don’t get cold too easily? Then maybe a “shorty” will do. Are you comfortable in cooler waters? Then maybe a 1 mm suit, or thin lycra dive skin is all you need. Remember two things: first, a good whale encounter is passive, and you may be floating in the water without exerting yourself for an extended period of time, which is an easy way to catch a chill. Second, these suits also provide valuable sun protection. You do not want to have to get out of the water during a good interaction due to cold, sunburn, or both.
Dive socks: With closed heel fins we recommend purchasing a pair of “dive socks,” which are 1-2 mm thick neoprene socks designed to help prevent chafing and blisters. Matched with a properly fitting pair of fins, you will be very comfortable. Look for them where you would find dive boots or “booties”, either in the local dive shop or online retailer.
Sunscreen: A high SPF waterproof sunscreen to use liberally every day; enough for a week. The tropical sun is very powerful, even in February, March and April. Please consider a biodegradable, eco-friendly product.
Mask defog drops: Small bottle of drops that will help to keep your mask clear so you can see the whales better. Mask defog spray is also available aboard.
If you need to purchase snorkel equipment, a local dive shop in your town is better than a general sporting goods store. If you do not live near a dive shop, Austin’s Diving Center can provide personal service, professional advice, and a CBA discount. Austin’s Diving Center is familiar with the equipment necessary for the Silver Bank and they ship worldwide. Their website is: www.AustinsDiving.com. Other online equipment providers are: Diver’s Supply (www.Divers-Supply.com); Diver’s Direct (www.DiversDirect.com); or Leisure Pro (www.LeisurePro.com).
What clothing should I pack?
Attire aboard is casual, with the only dressier occasion being the final Friday night when guests dine ashore, but even that is casual. Below is a suggested packing list. Please remember that it is easier for everyone if you travel light.
Footwear: Sandals or flip-flops and a pair of lightweight walking shoes.
Pants: A pair of jeans or light trousers will suffice.
Shorts: A couple pairs of fast drying shorts, suitable to wear on the tenders.
Shirts: A handful of t-shirts, some short sleeved, some long, and one or two nicer shirts for dining and ashore.
Sweatshirt/light jacket/warm cap: It can be cool in the evenings when the breeze blows.
Lightweight windbreaker/raincoat: Lightweight waterproof outerwear is recommended to help keep you warm and dry on the tenders on those days when the wind, waves, and spray might be up.
Polarized sunglasses: Polarized sunglasses will help you see through the water’s surface glare and see the whales much better. Very highly recommended!
Bathing suit(s): One to wear, one as spare.
Toiletries: While each cabin’s bathroom comes with soap, shampoo, and conditioner dispensers, we recommend bringing your own personal toiletries.
Broad brimmed hat: For sun protection, with a chinstrap for windy days.
Dry bag: A small dry bag for use on the tenders to hold any sensitive personal gear, cameras, spare dry clothes, windbreaker, etc.
Snorkel bag: A compact bag for snorkel gear, to help keep it organized aboard the boats. A large mesh bag is simple, inexpensive and highly effective. Found at dive shops.
Cameras: Still or video, surface and/or underwater: photography/videography opportunities on the Silver Bank are exceptional. Whether it is a professional level DSLR, a single-use point and shoot, a handy cam or sports camera, for use above or below the water’s surface, bring it. Ample dry storage for topside cameras is available aboard the tenders. Don’t forget the batteries, chargers, memory cards & readers, cables, etc.
Personal towel: A synthetic chamois or micro fiber mini camping towel: Great to carry on the tenders, they are compact and durable and will allow you to dry yourself off quickly after you get out of the water, which will help you to stay warm. They are also useful to wipe your hands before handling your camera.
Binoculars: A small pair of field glasses are nice to have especially while relaxing onboard the M/V Sea Hunter between excursions on the whale boats. Whales are often seen in or around the anchorage.
Leisure items: Although there is a selection of books, movies and music aboard, you may want to bring some of your own. There is an entertainment center at your disposal.
What weather can we expect?
Humpback whale season is late winter to early spring and the weather may be cool and windy during the passage of stronger cold fronts. The coral formations throughout the area provide us with plenty of protection from rough seas while at the mooring. Once moored, movement of the vessel is minimal. The nights can be cool, around 68F – 75F (20C – 24C) but during the day the temperature can warm to 85F (30C) or more. Days are generally sunny to partly cloudy, rain is uncommon but possible during fronts. The water temperature ranges from 72F early in the season to 80F later (22C-26C). Please note that sanctuary rules prohibit any whale swimming activities from the whale boats when winds exceed 25mph.
Can I scuba dive with the whales?
Under regulations set forth by the Dominican Republic’s Dept. of the Interior and Parks Dept., no scuba diving is permitted in the Sanctuary for the Marine Mammals of the Dominican Republic except under special permit. These permits are generally only granted to researchers and/or film crews for specific projects.
Professional photographers and videographers working in the sanctuary must identify themselves as such and undergo a separate application and permitting process with the Dominican authorities governing the Sanctuary. Any additional required fees are the responsibility of the person or persons making the application.
What do we do on the last day?
The M/V Sea Hunter typically returns to port Friday afternoon around 4:30 p.m. Lunch will be served onboard while underway and upon arrival in Cofresi, passengers will be at their leisure to relax onboard or explore ashore. Dinner will be ashore at your expense Friday evening; usually it is a group dinner at a local restaurant. Guests typically stay onboard Friday night but you may disembark for a local hotel. Final disembarkation will occur Saturday morning at 8:00 a.m. after a continental breakfast.
Please consider whether the trip is appropriate for your child. There are limited recreational activities onboard (movies, games, books) but no internet or cell service. There are no islands or beaches to go ashore until the end of the cruise and the vessel is scheduled to remain offshore the entire week. Be sure your child will be interested and engaged for the duration of the cruise! Policies regarding minors are as follows:
minimum age 10, with the above conditions considered
a parent must berth with the minor child
the child must be supervised/accompanied at all times
In Case of Emergency
The M/V Sea Hunter crew is trained in first aid and accident management. The yacht is equipped with a complete first aid kit. Since emergency transportation and treatment cost is the responsibility of each passenger, we strongly recommend that you obtain special insurance to cover these costs, if they should arise.
If someone ashore must contact you while you are on the Silver Bank, the vessel is equipped with a satellite telephone that can be called at any hour. Please, only use the satellite telephone in emergency situations. Reach out to shoreside staff (305-490-5998) if you need to place an urgent call.
A trip to the Silver Bank is for many a once in a lifetime experience. Thoughtful planning means you can focus on your time and connection with the whales without last minute worrying about equipment or taxis. We are here to help so please pick up the phone or drop us a note with any and all questions.
And one final packing tip … a great attitude! We never know what will happen on any given week, but we strive to meet it all with joy.