My affair with the Dominican Republic fills a special place in my heart and my life. What makes Dominican Republic so dear, and why I have returned so often? It is the lure of the calm sea and unspoiled beaches, the blue of the sky, and the country's colorful mix of Taino, European and African people who live in harmony with nature … and take great pride in their culture, cuisine, music and dance. It is a place where I have laughed, cried and loved.
Dominican Republic’s many personalities and rhythms are as subtle as the swaying of palms in a gentle breeze or as pulsating as hips gyrating to the beat of a meringue. Houses are painted bright and pastel colors and clean washed clothes hang on lines drying in the sun. Baseball is a big sport; boys learn to play at an early age, using sugar cane stalks as bats and cut out milk containers as mitts.
Discovered in 1492 by Christopher Columbus, DR is steeped in fascinating history, and with 25 designer golf courses, it is the #1 golf destination in the Caribbean.
Each coast is very different in attractions, accommodations and natural beauty … from the calm of the Caribbean Sea to the surging of the Atlantic Ocean. I have made many visits to Santo Domingo, Boca Chica, Juan Dolio, Casa De Campo, Altos de Chavon and Punta Cana on the east coast, but my most recent was my first to Puerto Plata on the north coast
Jet Blue, flight #811, non stop from JFK to the Puerto Plata airport takes 3:50 hours. It was smooth sailing all the way. I opted to pay the nominal fee for the comfort of an extra leg room seat (first five rows), and once again enjoyed the variety of complimentary snacks and caring flight attendants.
In contrast to Punta Cana, a top destination for sophisticated luxury, the north coast was developed to attract ecotourism enthusiasts, adventure seekers and time share / vacation club members.
Lifestyle Vacation Club, an all-inclusive in Playa Dorada, offers a range of membership options …from standard rooms to VIP Presidential Suites and five bedroom duplex villas with private pools. Executive Chef John Black and food and beverage manager Fadi Hamad are a great team seeking Michelin star status for the property’s Azul gourmet restaurant. In the spa, I enjoy a hydrating fresh coconut meat scrub and a coconut milk massage.
On Sunday nights the resort sets up an extravagant beach buffet party for as many as 4,000 guests. I go from station to station, piling my plate with grilled meats, seafood and salads. The highlight of my evening… dancing to the rhythms of a live band as fire works explode overhead in the starlit sky.
We spend an afternoon at Ocean World Adventure Park,, watching dolphins in training … drive to the coastal village of Cabarete for a kite boarding lesson… explore the old fort in town … attend a church service …and ride the cable car to the top of Isabel de Torres Mountain, where the sweeping views of the sea and lush vegetation are breathtaking. Lunch at El Manguito, a local restaurant is a delicious treat; we feast on heaping servings of garlic soup, grilled fish, lobsters, shrimp, plantains and rice.
Carlos Batista, our charming knowledgeable guide, who works for the Ministerio de turismo, is a wealth of historical, political and fun facts. He tells us:” there are more palm trees in Dominican Republic than on any other island and “the all inclusive” began in the DR.
Lunch on the sea
The drive from Puerto Plata to Samana, along the undeveloped Samana Peninsula coastline is beautiful, and memorable. We stop for lunch in the chic town of Las Terrenas, where French and Italian are spoken as fluently as Spanish. Shops are closed from one to four, which is disappointing, but lunch at La Yuca Caliente, .a beach front restaurant is exceptional. Popular for their Italian dishes and catch of the day, I order a whole fish, a la plancha with olive oil and garlic.
We check into The Bannister Hotel Residences, a self contained luxury complex and member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. The property has been meticulously planned to be the only resort in the area with a hotel, villas, apartments and townhouses … plus two gourmet restaurants, a general store, spa …and its own marina I spend the afternoon swimming in the infinity pool, enjoy the benefits of a bamboo pole massage in the spa, and watch a crimson sunset from my private terrace. Cocktails and dinner on the deck of Café del Mar- Puerto Bahia gives me a chance to taste some of the restaurant’s specialty dishes, and an evening of lively music.
The next morning we travel by boat to one of a group of small uninhabited islands that make up Los Haitises National Park .There we explore caves where the Tainos left wall drawings that date back 700 years
Dominican Republic is the mating grounds for humpback whales; as many as 1,500 return to Samana Bay every winter to mate, circulating between breeding areas like humans do in singles bars, and give birth. We take off on our whale watching expedition aboard marine mammal specialist Kim Bedall’s boat. I learn mothers of newborns sleep while towing their resting or eating calf, but it is early in the season; the sea is a little rough and there are no whale sightings.
We stop for lunch and a swim on a lovely tiny island where time stands still.
On the ride back to the Puerto Plata airport, we pass many deserted pristine beaches that await my next visit.
Whatever your passion or pleasure: be it the love of the sea, luxury of your own private villa with staff, eco tourism adventures, or simply languishing in a hammock under the shade of a coconut palm tree … Dominican Republic has it all, including a new highway It is a country I am happy to know and love, and so will you.
For more info: www.GoDominicanRepublic.com