It used to be Iceland – the chic ‘it’ destination for the hip set. Been there, done that.
More people now are trading in snow-capped mountains for the Caribbean climes, choosing the Dominican Republic to take their vacation time, often the top choice for Canadians. In fact, 800,000 Canadians each year go to the DR, increasing in the past two years. What’s there to enjoy, why is it growing in popularity, and what makes it so alluring?
Famous for its rum, cigars, resorts, beaches and tostones (twice-fried sliced green plantains), the all-season holiday destination of Dominican Republic should be on anyone’s bucket list.
For a country with so much to see and do, start your journey in the Puerto Plata area, including Sosua and Cabarete. The following itinerary is your perfect launching point:
A must-do thrill centre is Monkey Jungle. While there, enjoy the 4,500 foot, seven station zip lines overlooking the trees. When you’re done, visit the adjacent real-life capuchin monkey reserve. Scores of these deliciously adorable creatures bounce around from tree to tree, hopping on your shoulders, and nibbling straight from the food plate in your hand.
Rob, the director of the facility, notes that the facility expects to expand year to year, with even more to offer the adventure-seeking tourist.
Ocean World is what you might expect, so if you haven’t already elsewhere hung out with the sharks, swam with the dolphins, and kissed the sea lions, you can spend anywhere from a half hour, to an entire day, splashing around with these aquatic animals.
Take a ride on the 75 feet long and 33 feet wide Tip Top Catamaran, with the charismatic Alain, and his affable crew.
While there, tourists are offered the opportunity to experience the vibrant underwater world by snorkelling the three rocks reef and Sosua bay (professional snorkelling equipment provided). Immerse yourself in schools of fish, peer at the coral, get face-time with a puffer fish, play with the sea urchins or enjoy the starfish rolling across your hand!
Lunch and open bar included, too. (Of course, you need not do much else than simply lie back, get a tan, take in the sights of the coast lines, and enjoy the ride!)
Twenty Seven Waterfalls of Rio Damajagua are tucked away in the hills of the Northern Corridor mountain range, behind the tall stalks of sugar cane. In addition to the mélange of outdoor fun – cliff jumping into natural waters, sliding along rock waterfalls and climbing through caves – you also get to enjoy the surrounding wooded wonders through each winding pathway. (And depending on the season, the lush fruit will be growing from coconut trees, avocado trees, coffee bean trees and mango trees)
By nightfall, there’s no shortage of excitement in downtown Sosua, brimming with boutique bars, restaurants with local flair and fare, clubs and specialty shops. Bob and weave through the streets to take in the inimitable character where Latin America and the Caribbean intersect.
Where to Stay
Like any country whose economic mainstay is tourism, there’s no shortage of accommodations.
There is one place, in particular, that is a “no worry” space with star quality, where the staff dotes on details.
Villas Agua Dulce, jaw-droppingly elegant and spacious, spares no effort to offer luxury and comfort.
Each villa is designed to offer all of the amenities of home – ie: a fully equipped kitchen, fully furnished living room, dining room, big screen TV, washer/dryer. Each bedroom’s clear glass sliding doors enable a stunning overview of the 25-acre complex, as well as the wondrous views of the turquoise ocean and the lush green palms.
But everything’s hiked up a notch with the outdoor patio, BBQ, outdoor private pool, and Bauhaus interior design. The cherry on top is the availability of a private chef to prepare any meal. Visitors love that various staff phone numbers are provided, who are exceptionally attentive to ensure there are no hiccups for any stay.
Situated inside a private gated community, the property also includes a tennis court and basketball court, lush mango trees, and a spa centre for all your relaxation needs.
The beaches of Sosua and Cabarete, and the city core are only a short drive away, as is the International Airport of Puerto Plata. Whether you’re a business or leisure traveller, Villas Agua Dulce hits the right notes, and in fact, has impressed its fair share of TripAdvisor reviewers.
Where To Eat
At the Sea Horse Ranch, is The Beach Club restaurant in Cabarete, a rare combination of gourmet dining and a stunning ocean side view. The diverse menu combines Ethiopian/Armenian tastes, with a Caribbean flair. Whereas you can be daring and try the Dominican spicy goat stew, and fresh octopus carpaccio, there are eye-openers like the mouth-watering chopped raw tuna with fresh mint, and the “Palestina” – a Zaatar seasoned salad.
Meanwhile, inland there’s El Bergantin Caribbean Grill and Pizzeria, located inside a Victorian house across from Puerto Plata’s Central Park. From crab Creole to the grilled tuna steak, the lamb stew, or roasted goat, among dozens of specialties, there’s something for everything palette.
For food quality, service, atmosphere, and value, these two eating establishments get high marks, not to mention embodying quite the “romantic” environs.
Dominican foods you must try are: sancocho (stew with seven types of meat), mangu (plantains, eggs, salami and cheese), and Arroz blanco (white rice, stewed beans, braised chicken and salad.)
Across the street from El Bergantin, is Central Park (also known as Independence Square), one of the popular cultural attractions in the area.
Built in 1872, at a time when the city was the capital of the Republic, it’s encircled by Victorian-style buildings, including the Provincial Court House, City Hall and San Felipe Cathedral.
Take a leisurely stroll on Puerto Plata’s Malecon, a wide boulevard that runs along the shoreline for six kilometres, from Long Beach to the San Felipe Fortress. Tours of the fortress – dating back to the 1500s – are self-guided, with an optional hand-held audio player. For history buffs, check out the inside halls that house weaponry from hundreds of years ago.
And oh yeah, don’t forget to perch yourself at any one of the hundreds of beaches to immerse yourself in the beautiful rays, clear blue waters, and fresh air.