Santiago, Dominican Republic, has a multitude of options for public transport. From taxis, Gua Guas (large public buses) and Uber, getting around the city is not overly difficult. What’s unique about public transportation here in Santiago are the conchos. Although using conchos can be hot, cramped, and confusing, it’s one experience that can only be found here in Santiago.
What are conchos?
Think of a concho as a cramped public bus. But in a car. A concho is a car that drives a specific route through the city. The car and driver is registered with a company that manages the concho system. Depending on the road you are on, half the cars on the road may be conchos.
What do they look like?
You’ll find that almost every concho looks the same. Old, no seat belts, cramped and beat up. Drivers will usually have material covering the part of the window on the driver’s side to provide some shade for the driver. Windows are open in lieu of using an air conditioner. Salsa, bachata, merengue, or reggaetón will be pouring out of the car speakers.
In a concho, six passengers (two in the front passenger, four in the back) will fit themselves into the car. Is it cramped? Heck yes. The two people in the front passenger seat are literally sitting on top of each other and driver’s console. Cross your fingers that the other passengers are on the thinner side or the door may not be able to close.
Despite the interior and exterior conditions of a concho, the drivers have a knack for prolonging the life and integrity of their cars. Door handles may be missing but will be replaced by a cord. Mini speakers will be strung inside the car to create a DIY surround sound experience. And although seats will be torn and the interior fading, you can feel assured that a concho will take you where you need to go.
Where do they go?
Honestly, I don’t think any rider truly knows the complete circuit of a concho. So unless you want to spend a whole day and a pocketful of money riding in conchos to map out their circuit (which would actually be a great idea if you were staying in the Dominican Republic indefinitely), I suggest asking a local about which conchos to take and where to pick up and get off a concho to reach your destination.
Every concho has a letter on the front (or back) windshield and a white sticker with the company logo and a large letter on one of the car doors. Absolutely make sure that the concho has the company sticker because some people will be driving fake conchos which can be dangerous, especially at night. To add, I wouldn’t even advise taking a concho at night.
The letter indicates the circuit that the concho drives. The letter could be anything. For example, “K” and “M” conchos drive past the Puerta 2 of PUCMM. Although you will not know the entire path of the concho, you should at least know the pathway of the concho from where you are to where you are going. The concho will never leave the circuit that they drive, so it’s possible that you will need to get off at a stopping point that is near your destination and walk from there.
If you need to take two (or more) conchos to reach your final destination, you will need to get off one type of concho (for example, the “K” concho) at the area where the other type of concho (for example, the “A” concho) will be driving its route.
Just like the public bus system, if a “K” concho drives north towards your destination, you can take the “K” concho heading south to take you back to your original point of departure.
How do I use a concho as my public transportation?
- Know what concho you are taking and what direction you will be heading. Like using a public bus, you need to stand on the side of the street that you are heading. Every concho should have a letter on the front windshield.
- Look like you’re waiting for a concho. Concho drivers will slow down and honk at you because every person on the street are potential riders. If you’re looking for a specific number of available seats, indicate the number of seats you want with your hand while
- Pay the driver 25 pesos ($1) once you are seated. If you hand the driver a bigger bill, don’t forget to ask for change (cambio).
- Place your bags on your lap in front of you and hold onto your belongings tightly. Since you're sitting next to strangers, valuables have been known to be stolen from bags that are not closely monitored. To add, passengers will be getting in and out of the car so you want to always check your valuables.
- Be attentive and know when you’re going to get off for your stop.
Once you use the concho system, you’ll get the hang of it. Although a concho is not a 5 star experience, it is unique to Santiago and worth a try. I highly encourage you to be adventurous and take a concho because it will be an experience you’ll never forget.