Dominican Republic - More Than Rum On The Beach

July 31, 2019

Whoever dares to venture outside of the all-inclusive resort discovers a country rich in natural landscapes and Carribean smiles. Well-known for its pearly beaches, the Dominican Republic fascinates with captivating immersion into nature and unique cultural curiosities. A whole world separates the gigantic tourist complexes from the small sleepy villages and the surrounding palm-fringed beaches along with the tropical forests in the interior of the country. We set off to explore this Caribbean island by rental car and our adventure takes us to the most varied places: at a low-frequented beach in a nature reserve, on a mullet at the top of a waterfall or on foot through the old colonial city. A trip that takes us along breathtaking scenic seaside highways, coffee plantations and banana plantations, as well as green hills, abundant in tropical vegetation. Everything is going well until we lose the GPS signal.

A barrier is lifted and the minivan crosses the gate. Going through vast golf courses, tennis courts, and lush gardens, we arrive, after a few minutes, to a tropical-wooden hotel lobby, sheltered by a palm roof. On the balcony of the room, a jacuzzi awaits us, doubled of sight on a beach hemmed with vertical palms.

A bit of luxury surely can not hurt before setting off the unbeaten path in the Dominican Republic. All-inclusive is the keyword - and it is this type of trip that the island's tourists prefer. I quickly understand why many customers never leave the resort. A whole portion of the island is dedicated only to resorts. In our 5-star Grand Palladium, guests are mostly from North America, Spain, and South America. 1.2 million or 40% of tourists visit Punta Cana each year, all to the east of the island. The reason for this enthusiasm comes in sparkling snow-white, thinly-powdered beach. Wind blowing in the palm trees and turquoise water perfect this picture worthy of a postcard. A perfect landscape for a perfect holiday.

For our part, we do not want to stop there…

We begin our journey... a little intimidated

The roadsides are very busy: pedestrians, stands, bicycles, and motorcycles irritate us a little at first, but we get used to it quite quickly. On the way to Bayahibe, our first destination south of the island, we pass by coffee plantations and banana plantations, agricultural fields, and small villages. Everything is going well until we lose the GPS signal. What do we do? Our route is not on the map...We decide to continue and ask for advice as soon as we meet someone. The problem is that there is nobody. After driving 30 minutes blindly, the GPS starts working again and tells us that we have taken the wrong direction.

Bayahibe is a friendly and sleepy fishing village. Like most tourists who visit this town, we wish to visit the island of Saoma which is home to a national park, which is famous for its uncrowded beaches, and its crystal clear waters. The atmosphere on our catamaran is not that of an expedition in nature, but rather that of a boat party. Local rum has an excellent international reputation and is eaten with ice cream or as a cocktail. Onboard, the famous rum Brugal flows in the morning already, while dancers work on our mood thanks to low-baseline music. The music stops suddenly and everyone rushes to the front of the boat.

"Humpback whales! Here, on the left! ".

At about 100 meters from us, two of these fascinating cetaceans jump out of the water to shyly plunge back thereafter. A powerful symbol of the beauty of nature. We are lucky to see whales near the coast as the mating season just finished a few weeks ago.

Riding a mule across riverbeds and rainforests

Our next destination is Las Terrenas on the Samana Peninsula. From Santo Domingo, the capital, we turn north, on a new ultramodern highway, towards the interior of the country. Some wrecks along the road force us to drive slowly and carefully. Many hills dot the landscape and offer picturesque views of the lush greenery of the hinterland. Before arriving in Las Terrenas, the road becomes really steep, but we make to the top. A magnificent view of the sea rewards our efforts. In the small town, we set out to rent a lovely apartment in one of the many 'hotelitos'.

In the area, something that cannot be missed under any circumstances: the Salto El Limon, a waterfall 30m high in the highlands of Samaná. The path that leads to it is also worth it. Riding on a mule, we wade in river beds, walk on muddy paths and dense tropical forests.I fear several times that my mule is sinking, the path seems impossible to advance in. Our guide reassures me and explains that animals are here in their natural element. For the last ascent, we leave our mules and continue on foot. As soon as we hear the splashing sound of water, we jump straight into the cool water and take a refreshing shower under the sparkling water of the waterfall and enjoy the view of the valley.

On the beach of Las Terrenas, we meet Sergio. He walks the beach and sells records that he himself engraved: "You know Bachata, Merengue and Dembow? All of these musical styles are from here! Artists such as Zacharias Ferreria, Sergio Vargas or Omega el Fuerte. I have the best music in the country." he says proudly, offering us his records. For several years now, the Dembow has been a hit in the country: a musical style close to Reggaeton with bass and rhythm, which invites you inevitable to dance. Of course, we jump on this opportunity and buy this vogue artifacts. I already knew some of the songs, which I had listened to, on some local radio stations.

Equipped with serene joy and a sense of accomplisgment, we continue north towards Cabarete. Only a palm-lined driveway separates the road from the beach, and this ride is one of the most impressive of our trip. Thanks to its continuous winds, Cabarete has become an eldorado for surfers of all kinds. And they also know how to party: at night, the seaside promenade welcomes night owls. Hunger is felt. To change traditional Dominican dishes (beef, chicken or seafood with Maniok, sweet potatoes, tomatoes or peppers), we go to the restaurant "Otra Cosa", run by a Frenchman and located directly at the seaside. Warm goat cheese and salmon tartare are among his specialties. The view in front of us is breathtaking.

Diving into the Dominican everyday life

Tired of all these beaches, today we take the road inland heading south to Jarabacoa, located 600 meters above sea level. A dive into the daily life of the country: children in uniforms, elderly relaxing in the shade on their verandas, agitation in the city-center.

Jarabacoa is located in a mountainous region, with a significantly cooler climate. Extensive meadows, ranches, and coniferous forests characterize this region. It's a fantastic place to hike. Pico Duarte, for example, is the highest mountain in the Caribbean with its 3000m of altitude. It seems a little too exhausting and we prefer to make a quick excursion to the waterfall Salto Jimenoa (60m high). Its scenic location on a steep slope in the lush green forests of the mountains served as a filming location for the opening scene of the film 'Jurassic Park'.

Our trip is slowly approaching an end. Before taking our flight back from Punta Cana, we stop again briefly in Santo Domingo. The first city of the American continent founded by the Europeans in 1498, it is the urban center of the country and it seduces by its Caribbean charm and unique traits. The historic downtown "Zona Colonial" is slightly overhanging, close to the seaside. We spend the afternoon walking in between the colonial buildings, passing by the oldest cathedral of the "New World" or the governor's residence. An afternoon walk which projects us back into the past.

Exploration makes you hungry! Just behind the "Parque Colón" and the famous bronze statue of Christopher Columbus, we discover Ceviche, a small bar offering different styles of excellent fish, served with a slightly spicy lemon sauce. I would have liked to stay longer here, but the sky has in the meantime been well covered. It's time to go. On the highway towards the airport, a brief, but a violent tropical storm breaks out. The huge bodies of water that fall on the windshield prevent us from seeing anything. Rain, the best condition for our return to Switzerland.