The Dominican Republic
Chillin’ in the east
The lure: five nights at a heavenly all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana. The mission: to find places outside the hotel, on the eastern end of the island, to revel in that Dominican spark.
Text: Francisco Pardo @panshopardo photos: Ricardo Vásquez
At the risk of provoking controversy, we can divide tourists into two types: those who like all-inclusive packages and those who don’t. So we headed off to Punta Cana – a resort paradise catering to beach weddings and honeymoons – to see what we could find off the beaten path. No one in their right mind would leave a place like Paradisus Punta Cana, a resort designed for tourists to enjoy without lifting a finger, but this fantasy of horizontal life – where (nearly) everything is at your beck and call – can alienate visitors from their surroundings. If you’re the kind of tourist who prefers to venture outside the confines of the lobby, take note.
Beyond the borders of the resort, Punta Cana boasts more than 30 miles of beach, and the longest stretch of sand is Bávaro. Here, you’ll get an instant feeling for life in the Dominican Republic, where warmth and laughter provide the foundation for every interaction. You’ll notice that barbershops and the latest haircut are just as important as keeping up with the batting average of the hitter at the plate. Motoconchos (motorcycle taxis) are the cheapest and most popular way of getting around. With a bit of effort, the whole family will fit, and the driver will get you safely to your destination while chatting the entire way on his cellphone with one of his many girlfriends. The heat and humidity will make you wish you had a windshield wiper on your forehead, so to combat temperatures topping 86°F, there’s nothing better than a fría, the nickname for a cold Presidente beer.
Take It Easy
We head along the eastern side of the island towards Parque Nacional Los Haitises, the most remote destination on our route; it’s about a three-hour drive from Punta Cana. En route, you can appreciate the island’s geography and green mountains, where you get a taste of life in the countryside and learn about coffee, cacao and tobacco production. It’s also an immersion in local slang. Just listen closely to the lyrics of local music star Omega to get an idea: “A cualta mi gata / y la Ranger bien brillá, tranquilo me monto / prendo el aire y vamo’ a hangea.” Basically, the guy is going to grab his girl and they’re going to take a ride in a flashy car.
We finally arrive at Caño Hondo, a lodge on the park grounds where you can contact a local guide for a boat tour of the mangrove swamps, caves decorated with petroglyphs from the pre-Columbian Taíno culture, tiny beaches and the famous mogotes (rock elevations) of the Bahía de San Lorenzo. The mogotes are geographic anomalies that the guides compare to “an upside-down egg carton.” Across the bay is the Samaná peninsula, another of the country’s prime tourist attractions.
Coffee & Passion Fruit
On the way back, this time with Lápiz Conciente as the soundtrack, we visit the town of Miches. The locals spend the hot afternoons outside a shop with friends, relaxing and playing dominoes – the official sport of the Caribbean – laughing and drinking beer, as the fishermen repair their boats and children run home from school. This small town is also home to the Centro Cultural Miches, hosted by Genaro Reyes – a local artist better known as Cayuco – and his dog Toby. The cultural center is filled with the aroma of coffee and passion fruit, inviting you to take a closer look at all its detailed objects and folk art, a reflection of local heritage. Cayuco’s house is a concentrated experience of Dominican heritage; all it takes is a brief chat with him, and you’ll feel the island’s potent energy.
In addition to selling nearly all the works on display – check out the cacao pods carved from wood – the center also offers workshops about local culture.
If you want a view that lends itself to a perfect Instagram post, pay a visit to the hotel La Loma, an unbeatable destination for a romantic getaway or for finishing a book (whether you’re writing it or reading it). On the road again, with Chiquita Team Band’s salsa playing on the speakers, stop at Esmeralda beach to travel back in time and see what Punta Cana was like without the resorts: coconut trees, sand and sky-blue waters. Nothing more, nothing less. Try to get there soon because a hotel super-complex project from Venezuelan millionaire Gustavo Cisneros is set to transform the place.
On the coast, less than 20 miles east from Punta Cana, you’ll come across Macao. You won’t find any big hotels, but a wide variety of beaches with warm waters, perfect for mixing with the locals. If you’re feeling bold, take a class at the Macao Surf Camp. Catching waves is an essential part of the experience and completely safe, thanks to the manageable break and the sandy shore. You’ll end up tired and happy. You can take home photos or even a video to show off your surfing skills (ask for Ramón Pérez).
Since you’ll have worked up quite an appetite, pay a visit to Fogón de mi abuela. You can chat with Mery, the restaurant’s owner, and have another beer as you dig your feet in the sand, a dog sleeping by your side while you wait for grilled lobster or butú o chillo (a fish dish) with rice, beans, tostones (fried mashed green plantains) and salad. Let the view and a chin (a little bit) of Dominican liquor called Mamajuana – served as a digestíf – do the rest. How do you say “cool” in Dominican? Chulísimo.
The variety of tours and excursions seems endless. For example, you can visit special spots like the Hoyo Azul, a natural well with turquoise waters located in Cap Cana’s Scape Park, which also offers fun zip-lining and the exquisite sands of Juanillo. There are also the fresh-water lagoons of the Reserva Ojos Indígenas, perfect for a swim. But one classic excursion combines speed boating and smooth catamaran sailing: Isla Saona, part of the Parque Nacional del Este. The tour begins in Bayahibe, another of the Dominican Republic’s top tourist attractions, and includes lunch and a visit to the natural pools. The crystalline waters, the palm trees in the background and the cheap vaina (rum) – offered on the tours to lift spirits – all make you feel as though you’re truly in the heart of the Caribbean, part of a postcard-perfect scene.
Ready to learn another way to say “cool” in Dominican?
Daily flights to Punta Cana from Lima and several weekly flights from Santiago, Buenos Aires and Bogotá.
More information lan.com
Four flights a week to Punta Cana from Brasilia.
More information tam.com.br
Paradisus Punta Cana
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
Plaza Playa Turquesa, Los Corales, Bávaro
Soles Chill Out Bar