It has been years since we spent the holidays in my mother’s homeland of the Dominican Republic. In order to beat the sky-high Christmas/New Years price hikes we decided to spend a whole month exploring the country. Our explorations ranged from the capitol of Santo Domingo, to the crowded beaches of the east coast, to the rugged, remote, and beautiful Dominican Southwest. My highlights?
Santo Domingo, Bahia de las Aguilas, Los Patos, El Rancho Platon, Bavaro, Punta Cana, The Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park & Reserve, Altos de Chavon, La Romana (Casa de Campo), Cap Cana, and Playa del Macao, Dominican Republic.
Best Place We Stayed
We used this beautiful eco-adventure guesthouse as our base while traveling in the southwestern portion of the country. This spot is so unlike the typical Dominican all-inclusive – in the best possible way. Unique rooms are situated throughout the jungle property, and while there are no water aerobics classes or dance contests, there are a range of outdoor-oriented activities to enjoy. You can read my full review of Rancho Platon here.
Best Thing We Ate
Who would have thought that I’d be salivating over popcorn icecream and Midwestern cheeses in the Dominican Republic? But I was! I continue to rank this 9 course dinner as one of the best of my life. For a full recap of that gluttonous evening, click here.
Best Place We Visited
The week we spent in the southwest was without a doubt the highlight of our month in the DR. While getting there and around took much longer than in the more popular east, all that time on the road was more than worth it to see for ourselves the rich jungles, Peninsula de Pedernales, and the stunning Bahia de las Aguilas.
Now that I’ve sufficiently raved about how amazing the southwest DR is, it’s time to give the east coast some love. While the beaches at Bavaro, La Romana, and Punta Cana were all fantastic in their own ways, it is the decadence of the private beach at Cap Cana that I still dream about (and occasionally drool over). This was the only beach we visited not covered in layers of seaweed, and the fine grain sand was so white and soft I couldn’t help but compare it to a certain white drug with similar addictive qualities in my mind. I also enjoyed the slightly wilder nature of the water at this beach, likely designed to allow just the right amount of movement into the small bay. The beach wasn’t necessarily authentic, but man was it indulgent.
Best Decision We Made
It is so tempting when visiting a destination like the DR to stay on your resort beach enjoying pina colada after pina colada. But venturing outside manicured walls can be a very rewarding experience. Dominicans overall are a joyous people with a rich and fascinating culture, but you can’t always get that from the all-inclusives. Wandering the capitol city of Santo Domingo was an especially easy way to get in touch with the locals and their histories. Sure, it wasn’t always pretty. But it was always captivating.
Perhaps because of the popularity of all-inclusive resorts, there aren’t many options for reliable public transit. For the typical tourist, navigating the national culture of ‘island time’ can be daunting and difficult. Hiring a car and driver may be the best way to get over this hurdle. The country isn’t set up just yet for budget or backpacker travel.
What I’d Do Differently
Drink More Rum
No really, the rum in the DR is fantastic, and my favorite brand – Ron Barcelo – is not yet widely distributed outside of the country (a quick Google search turns up only one retailer in the United States who sells it). Not only is this stuff delicious, my grandmother swears it cures all ails.
On the Next Trip
I have long aspired to climb Pico Duarte – the highest mountain in the Caribbean. We nearly made it happen on this trip, but alas, the stars did not align. A good amount of logistics goes into a expedition like that, and we simply didn’t have the resources to make it happen. I’m also curious to check out the north coast of the island. While I have made several trips to the DR at this point, there is still much to see.
Back when this blog was in its infancy, I wrote about a short spring trip to the DR and some of the confusion it left me with. I have always been a child of many worlds, and often I have struggled to understand them all. I hadn’t spent more than a week in the Dominican Republic since I was very small, so returning for a full month gave me some time to absorb all I could. I can’t say I have it all figured out, but I do feel more than ever that a piece of me does belong in the sands and jungles of that always fun, incredibly charming, sometimes mysterious, a little abrasive, and very handsome place.