Beautiful Beaches, Rum, Mammajuana, Gwa-Gwa's & Spanish Hospitality
16.11.2013 - 24.11.2013 29 °C
Well, initially this week long trip (outside of Canada) was supposed to be scheduled and planned for the U.S. State of Alaska and Anchorage.
However, after much deliberation and logistical problems and the fact that transport in the dead of winter up North is somewhat problematic, I decided to forgo the whole plan and instead went with the option of the Dominican Republic.
My room mate at the Lodge I was at – Alex and his best friend Mike headed down South just after we closed up for a short vacation and really enjoyed it. After seeing some of their pictures, I was taken by the idea of heading down south myself and looked into the DR and Cuba. There are fantastic pre-winter sales held by Air Canada and West Jet at this time. Most Canadians tend to holiday in Mexico, Jamaica, Cuba, The DR, Costa Rica or other islands in the Caribbean.
In the end I decided that the Dominican Republic was the right option, as I had always wanted to visit here and the idea of sun and warmth (sans snow and minus temperatures) for a week also sounded really appealing.
I landed up booking a package at an all – inclusive resort.
Something, I have never done, as the whole resort, hotel vibe has never seemed overly appealing to me and hotels always seem to have that clinical sterile atmosphere that doesn't really allow you to get a true experience for the places you land up visiting. But, this time I was willing to give it a try and was looking forward to not having to think about where I was staying, transport or all the other logistics that require planning and could thankfully just know it was all planned for me and included, for once.
The trip was a rather long one as most trips/flights for the Caribbean depart from the east coast – Toronto or Montreal.
If you are heading to Hawaii or Mexico then you can fly out from Vancouver or Calgary.
I departed the mountain town of Banff at 6h30 pm and arrived directly at Calgary Airport at 8h20 pm. My former manager and friend Nikki had arranged a free bus ticket for me with her contacts in town and that was so nice and a saving for me too.
I had enough time to check in, get settled and have some dinner before I caught the red-eye flight at 00:20 out east to Toronto, Ontario.
This is around a 4 hr flight. Amazing the distances across Canada with a 3 hr time zone change from Mountain Time to East Coast Time.
I arrived at 6:30 am and had a lay over of 3 hrs at Toronto Pearson International Airport before catching the 9:00 onward flight. I was hoping all would go smoothly as this was essentially the date I had to leave Canadian Borders. I did not seem to have any problems. The flight down South to the Caribbean and the island of Hispaniola took another 4 hours.
Landing in Toronto was a little shocking. At 6am we flew over the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) outside of Downtown Toronto and the area is absolutely massive and the lights seemed to go on forever. When you have been in the Rockies with 1 highway and only 1-2 small mountain towns around you to see so many lights, streets spanning the area like a giant web extending as far as the eye can see, and the 6 lane 401 highway going in both directions, it is a little overwhelming.
I arrive into Samana El Catey Airport which is the NE part of the island and the area of Samana.
The DR shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.
Haiti lies to the west and the DR lies to the east occupying two thirds of the island nation. The DR is the second largest island nation in the Caribbean with the Atlantic Ocean surrounding the island to the north and the Caribbean Sea to the South.
The Capital, Santo Domingo lies south east.
The official language of the country is Spanish, however French, German and Italian are also widely spoken in tourist areas and resorts.
The country is a melting pot of Caribbean, Spanish, French Creole and African culture and influences. It was strange to see so many Africans again after such a long time.
I had looked at various areas on the DR coast to stay:
Santa Domingo (Capital), Punta Cana (East Coast), Puerto Plata (North Coast) and Samana (North East Coast). I decided against Punta Cana and Puerto Plata as these 2 coastal areas are know for being extremely touristy with lots of hotels and are also the go-to destinations to party. They both have beautiful white sandy beaches but it all seemed a little too similar to Cancun, Mexico which was not one of my favourite destinations. I was looking for a place to relax and do as little as possible and enjoy tropical secluded beaches with lots of nature instead.
I opted to go with the Samana Peninsula area on the far North East side of the island.
Samana is a new tourist destination and the area is becoming more and more popular over the usual coastal cities.
- *Stars indicate areas covered and seen in the peninsula.
Samana is a natural gem that remains one of the country’s most unexplored regions. It is an absolute paradise with endless dense tropical jungle and foliage, vibrant green hills which roll across the peninsula, tall coconut trees that tightly blanket the landscape, waterfalls and pristine secluded beaches with turquoise temperate blue waters. The area has a few small villages and “towns” that are dotted across the Samana Peninsula together with a few guest houses, lodges and bed and breakfast’s mostly run by a number of international expats from France, Germany & Italy.
What I loved is the fact that there are very few large hotel groups stuck next to one another and the area still retains its natural beauty.
Samana has become a key attraction for those into eco-tourism and endless nature. Whale Watching (in season), Scuba Diving, Zip-Lining through forests, ATV tours through the jungles and horse back riding are some of the popular attractions drawing travellers to the area. Samaná, Las Terrenas and Las Galeras (the 3 main towns) on the peninsula are all destinations known for ecotourism and Las Galeras and Las Terrenas are two charming towns catering largely for tourists. Las Terrenas is a Mediterranean town with a large French expat and tourist population.
Alex had stayed at the 5* Grand Bahia Principe Cuyaucao hotel in the town of Santa Barbara de Samana but they did not have any availability for the dates I had, so I went with the 4* Grand Paradise Samana hotel located in the area of Las Geleras in the Samana Peninsula. This is a 35 minute drive from Samana town on the opposite side of the peninsula. This area is even more remote with endless coastline and dense tropical bush making up the area.
As we flew over the Caribbean you spotted numerous islands along the way before we approached Hispaniola. Upon landing you pass over many rice paddy plantations and can see nothing but a carpet of tropical green colors blanket the island.
When we landed at El Catey Airport and the doors of the plane opened you had the most amazing scent hit you together with the warm tropical Caribbean breeze.
It was fantastic and to feel the immediate rays of the sun and warmth beat down on you. Just 10 hours earlier I was stepping onto the bus in Banff in -12 Degree weather, so this was a blessing. I did however step off the plane in my snow boots, long top and thick coat while carrying another carry bag with a ski jacket and trainers I could not fit into my backpack and quickly had to change before I passed out in the humid weather.
You do not need a visa to enter the DR however you do need to purchase a $10 tourist card upon arrival and receive your border entry stamp in your passport. West jet had already arranged our tourist cards so the customs and baggage collection process went so smoothly. Although the one lady did ask about a visa and I was not sure whether she was referring to my Canada one or what. Perhaps she was wondering how I would get back to Canada, which did get me thinking I had perhaps missed a step somewhere in my planning. Oh, well I was here and would worry about that when back enroute to North America.
Our plane arrived early but the WestJet Vacations bus was already there to collect us and transfer the passengers to the 3 hotels the guests were staying at. My hotel was the last stop, so I had another 1.5 hrs drive after my already long trip.
The hotel I was staying at does not have the typical hotel feel, as it is sprawled out amongst a large property along the coast with tropical gardens and rolling lawns which lead right up to the beaches. The “hotel” has various apartment style rooms located in different areas of the property together with many cabanas. My room was nice with a patio garden view. Not overly fancy but done up in a typical beach type theme and certainly a step up from any hostel. Haha. I still do not see myself spending any time in the room and not sure why anyone would given the location.
Aerials of the hotel grounds:
The hotel has 3 swimming pools across the estate and a number of bars.
There are 2 main restaurants where you have buffet style breakfast, lunch and dinner. The food given its buffet is pretty standard as far as I am concerned but nice to be able to indulge at meal times which is one of my favourite things to do. The bars are open and you can have endless house, domestic and international drinks as well as a host of endless colourful cocktails. The open bar is not exactly my number one attraction and I am sure I wont be getting my money’s worth is this area. Haha
Check in went quickly. I did have to pay a $15 fee to use the hotel’s in room safe though as we were advised this was important.
Internet out here at the hotel is insanely expensive at $5 per 30 minutes. Clearly this is where they make extra money.
When I first saw the beaches I was gob-smacked.
They are simply to die for and just too good to be true.
I had seen a few beaches briefly, as we drove in the bus but the beaches around our resort are just out of this world.
The beach sand is bright white and ever so fine with blue turquoise waters washing up onto the beaches. The beaches are lined with endless tall coconut palm trees that curve and bend along the coast. I went for a quick swim as soon as I could and the waters are ever so warm but refreshing. Just as I had imagined they would be in the Caribbean.
Our beach Playa Las Galeras, never feels like there is anyone on it and you certainly don’t feel as though you are falling over other tourists.
Aerial View of Playa Las Galeras:
This is in fact the quiet season so it is nice to have the beach almost to yourself.
Feeling the rays and sun for the first time in ages feels amazing and not having to wear socks and boots is also fantastic. Oh to have naked feet walking on the beach sand is simply amazing.
Ok, so i did not exactly pack well and was not dressed for the caribbean given i had given all my summer clothes away a few weeks back thinking i would not need them again. 1 pair of shorts was sufficient though.
Las Galeras is also referred to as “The Fisherman’s Beach” and was named after the rowing boats used back in the day by pirates who frequented the area.
The far end of the beach has a number of horses living in the coconut plantations.
In fact in the DR you are likely to see a number of horses running around on beaches or in the towns. There are also a number of stray dogs, pigs and chickens here and there along the roads and towns. One should not be surprised to find a horse gallop over you on the beach or run down the street while you’re sitting having a coffee on the sidewalk.
I came across a local boy washing the horse in the water and surf and the horse was totally loving it.
I am going to give a brief run down of my trip by day, so that I am able to complete this post before I leave.
DAY 1: Taking it Easy & laying low at the resort
After the very long time it took to get down here, I decided to spend the day at the resort and Playa Las Geleras. I found a deck chair and spent most of the day breaking it in, absorbing the sun and giving my body the much needed Vitamin E it was so missing after being in the cold for so long. I walked about the resort, enjoyed the buffet meals throughout the day and had a few tropical cocktails from the bar.
The Cuba Libre and Caipirinhia being the favourite options. Checked out the pools and walked around the plantation and beaches.
Had a photo taken with this cute squirrel monkey on the beach:
I also explored the local town of Las Geleras which is a short 10 minute walk from the hotel along the beach. This is a cute little town with lots of small local and expat run restaurants, café’s and simple Dominican type bars which spill out onto the road. It is vibrant and chaotic at the same time, with DR locals (adults and kids) driving like made men on their motor cycles, stray dogs running about, horses and donkeys plodding along the streets and an explosion of loud Spanish music echoing down the road from a multitude of random establishments and vendors try furiously to tempt you into their stores to pickup a souvenir or two. All the items seem pretty much the same – colourful bold artworks with African influence (not too different from home), wooden sculptures, endless jewellery with the local larimer stone, wooden parrots and other local items.
Various stalls and tables featuring the local Brugal Rum or Al Presidente (the local beer of choice) are also there to tempt you. If that does not take your fancy then perhaps DR or Cuban Cigars might. Interesting fact to learn that since the US-Cuba embargo on trade, the leaves used to make the cigars in Cuba are now shipped over to the Dominican, where they are now reproduced and then sold to the USA anyway. A clever round about way of bypassing the system.
I came across a cheap internet café charging only $1 an hour for internet (beat that hotel!!) and have frequented here a few times. I got to know the owners who are from the UK and France and they were so great at always offering advice or helping me plan transport or my day trips cheaply and without being taken for a ride by locals. They just up and left their jobs in Europe wanting a change of pace and lifestyle. One of the girls is here working on a tourist visa (not officially) and that got me thinking too. Haha.
I have been very surprised by how friendly and honest all the locals actually seem to be and it is so refreshing. I have always been given my correct change back no matter how small and never really felt on edge. Yes, you can’t say the same about the regular taxi drivers or tour operators from the hotels or in town who are generally always trying to make their money but that is the same anywhere you go.
That evening I went to a local show in the resort amphitheatre which generally has something going on each night. This time it was a musical dance show taking you on a journey through the musical ages from Abba and Queen to Michael Jackson and Madonna. Very funny and a pretty good show. I have not been to many, as I find they start pretty late and after a full day of sight seeing, I am way too tired to stay up for them. Met a couple from France who gave me some good tips on seeing sights cheaply and so plan to try it out tomorrow.
DAY 2: Gwa Gwa Taxi to El Limon
Today I woke up early and decided to follow the advice given to me from the French I had met the night before. I wanted to head out to the town of El Limone and to the Cascada El Limone (Waterfalls). I was not going to pay $70 to do this tour and so explored the options. The local taxis outside the hotel wanted to charge me $90 return to get to El Limone. I said they were crazy because I could pay $10 less and do the arranged tour and get lunch and transfers and the horse for less. They were terrible negotiators, so I sad Adios and walked 10 minutes into town. Chatted with some locals who said they could take me for $60 for a return transfer. Ok, cheaper than the previous offer however I would still need to pay for the rental of the horse once there. You cannot access the falls easily without having a mountain horse to take you up the trail. Yes, the trip is a good 40 minutes away to El Limone but I was not going to pay that.
I contemplated this offer at the internet café before accepting. I got chatting to the French lady there and she said I should rather take the “very local taxi” called a gwa gwa or moto-concho to Ciudad Samana and then another onto El Limon and she has a contact there who has a tour agency and restaurant and they could do the tour for $25. This is exactly what I was looking for and more within my price range. The cost included a local lunch and the cost of the horse and guide to get to the falls.
The local taxi cost 100 Pesos ($2.50) from Geleras to Samana and then you transfer again and pay the same for the trip from Samana – El Limon. Bingo … Am I Loco, maybe. It might take longer but I was saving a fortune and would be doing it like a local.
These local taxis are basically just small trucks/bakkies with benches in the back and a covered tarp roof but are used by all the locals and tourists wanting too avoid expensive transport. The gwa gwas travel fairly slowly as they pickup passengers and so it did take a while longer to get to Santa Barbara de Samana but I had an open air taxi and could observe the local life, towns and landscape as we meandered along the coast. At one point the back of the taxi started filling up and we had a mother and 2 kids, a kid going to school, some workers and a bunch of supplies from baskets of Papayas to barrels of gasoline, groceries and what not in the back. They all tried to communicate with me in a mix of basic Spanish, French and English.
Arrived in Samana and the taxi driver made sure I caught the next mini-bus taxi onward to El Limon which was really nice. The very little Spanish I remember reading a few years ago started coming back and even just the very basic words here and there is a big help. Coupled with some baby English and some hand gestures and you more or less are able to get on by.
Arrived in Ciudad El Limon which is another small town further North on the peninsula and found the restaurant.
I met the manager, paid and my guide Vincent came to get me. We picked up the horse next door, saddled up and I was off down the street heading to the falls. The horses here are all very skinny. After we had made it up the road on the hill we veered off onto the trail which took us through forest, jungle, across rivers and again back up a steep rocky mountain path.
The views and tropical landscape is beautiful. The heat and humidity is a little overwhelming and I am glad I had a horse rather than having to hike. The trail was not the easiest for the poor horse to negotiate but I guess they are used to it. It is very muddy and slippery.
After 40 minutes we arrived at the top of the hill. Walked down a trail and I was met by the Cascada El Limon Waterfalls.
Considered the most spectacular of Dominican Republic’s many waterfalls, El Limón captivates as it cascades 170 feet (51.8 meters).
The falls are amazing.
Water cascades down a mossy mountain wall before plummeting into a deep rocky pool below and the water has a yellowy, greeny look to it as it falls over the edge so finely. The waterfall has small cave like crevices underneath which I explored behind the curtain of water. It was nice and refreshing after the long trip up. There were a lot of tourists in the end but I am glad I got to see them.
Afterwards, I headed back into the town of El Limon and had lunch at Santi’s.
A typical DR lunch comprised of plain rice, spiced rice, chicken, fish and beans. It was really nice and a hearty portion given the price. Afterwards, I thanked the owner and they helped me get the right local taxi back to Samana.
Half an hour later I arrived in the town of Santa Barbara de Samana.
This is a town located on the bay of Samana near a small fishing port.
It is one of the largest towns on the peninsula and was intended to be the countries capital.
I decided to spend some time and explore the town before heading back to Las Geleras.
The town has beautiful brightly coloured buildings and shops down the main avenue which just adds to the Caribbean feel.
There are a few local churches of different denominations spread out around too. La Churcha, also known as the Dominican Evangelical Church. The church is the first African Methodist Church of Samaná.
The town is a little poor at the same time and one has to be a little cautious when walking around.
The promenade facing the bay was busy with locals selling arts and crafts and tuk tuk bicycle drivers ferrying locals and tourists up and down. From the promenade you can view the well-known bridges (called the Bridges To Know Where) which connect 2 small islands to the main land.
Walked along the port towards the Samana Beach.
I decided to drop by the Grand Bahia Principe Cuyaucao resort where my friends had stayed just to check it out and admire the views from the hotel. This hotel (one of many in the chain) is situated high on the hill over-looking Samana Bay. It was a beautiful hotel with a much nicer pool and fancier restaurants compared to mine, however I was disappointed when I saw the beach they had. It was literally one small beach that you reach via elevator down the hill. The hotel does have nice views of the bay, town of Samana and the small islands connected by the bridges. Other than that you only have the bay and if you wanted to access all the beaches near where I was, you would have to take a taxi. So in the end I lucked out with the better location in terms of pristine secluded endless beaches. I walked across the first bridge to the second little island but avoided the third bridge as I had read reports about tourists being mugged once they reach the secluded far flung island.
After I returned to catch another local taxi for the 40 minute ride back to my town of Las Geleras. Along the way we had a tropical down pour but by the time I arrived back the weather had lifted and the sun was out. The weather here has a few short spats of showers throughout the day. This is also the rainy period heading into hurricane season, so I guess I can’t complain but other than that the weather has been nice. Spent the night chatting and having drinks with some Canadians from Montreal, Quebec. There are many Canadians here from Calgary, Toronto and Quebec, so its feels just like home and that I haven’t ventured all that far. Canadians are without a doubt the friendliest nation ever. Even the resort staff I chat to have said compared to the French and Germans they are a real pleasure.
The locals have even cottoned onto the market and try to keep them feeling at home in the DR.
You can even get a typical Quebecois Poutine Dish on the beach HAHA
Day 3 – Beach Bumming and Beach Hopping.
The weather today was not as pleasant.
Ok, let me not complain. It was humid and there was no snow, so all in all, it was still fantastic. The skies were overcast and there were on and off spats of tropical showers. I decided to have a quite day and hung about the resort for a while. Had a late breakfast and walked around. The weather did change around lunch time and actually got pretty warm again. I spent some time on Playa Las Galeras and walked through the coconut plantations to the end of the beach. I came across a local boy washing his horse in the ocean and this horse absolutely loved it as the small waves lapped over him.
I then headed into town to use the internet and explore more of the town. Later in the afternoon I walked to the next beach which is around 1.5km away. Playa Playitas is another fantastic and secluded beach. Not many tourists would know how to access this beach so it was always pretty quite. There is one little restaurant and 2 local establishments on the beach together with a couple of palm leave umbrellas you can sit under along the beach. The waters here are also just perfect in colour and it looks really idyllic.
Went on a hike in search of Playa Froncton and Playa Madama and eventually gave up after realising it was not just a 15 minute walk away. What the locals had said and my misunderstanding in Spanish eventually made me realise it was over an hour away. So i turned back to the hotel a complete mess and covered in mud after trekking through the bush and muddy paths. I did have a nice view of the coast from the top of the mountain though.
I got to know so many people at the resort as a number of us all came in on the same Air Canada or WestJet flights and so after some time you land up having chats with the guests and find yourself joining different people for meals, drinks, chill time on the beach or outings and land up kind of having your own “click” at the resort, which is nice. There was one arrogant couple and the husband literally spent all his time drinking to the point where he was so blotto he was constantly mumbling and dancing and walked around with his giant drink caddy and thermos from 8am until after midnight. He kind of landed himself the nickname Babba (which is a brand for a drinks thermos) or Rob Ford (the current disgraceful mayor of Toronto) as he looks like him and also constantly makes a fool of himself. So among the group and guests he kind of became the joke of the week, with everyone talking about what he was getting up too.
I headed back to the resort and for dinner our theme for the night was a beach BBQ.
Day 4 – Excursion – ATV Tour – Playa Rincon
Before I arrived, Alex my room mate had told me about an ATV he did that was really worth it. So I had pre-booked with the company back in Canada. The company called Rudy Rancho is run by Rudy a young local Dominican who is based near the resort I was at. He has everything from horse back riding, excursions around the area to ATV tours which he does jointly with another German based tour company. When I met with him at his ranch, Rudy took me on his motor cycle to Sunshine Holidays in the town of Galeras to finalise my booking. Here I met Marcelle. A tall skinny German man with a very thick accent. He was from Bremen Germany but left the strict and stressful life of Germany for a more laid back lifestyle in the DR and setup a tour operation. He was ever so friendly and kept me chatting to him for ages. He had availability the next day to do the tour and so I confirmed my spot immediately. I was hoping the weather would be good as you really needed a nice day out for the ATV tour.
The ATV tour included a tour to a local plantation, rides through local villages, site seeing of different beaches, jungle and bush in land as well as time out to Playa Rincon which is the key attraction.
Playa Rincon has been rated as one of the World’s Top 10 Beaches and Conde Nast voted this beach as one of the top 2 in the world.
I arrived early morning to start the tour at 9am.
On the tour I would be joining 4 other Germans from Nuremburg who had also signed up. Marcelle did the breakdown of the tour and the ATV briefing in German which I was surprised, I understood pretty well. Two local guides took the 5 of us out for the tour and they were just brilliant.
The tour starts out driving through villages and towns into the interior. Here you drive the ATV’s on the main road. This certainly would not be allowed elsewhere in the world. We stopped at a local plantation. Here we were given a demonstration of all the different fruits specific to the DR. From Cocoa pods, noni fruit, sugar cane, coconuts, papaya, coffee beans etc which we also got to try. They also let us taste local chocolate and cocoa, coffee and then the much revered Mammajuana.
NO not marijuana… Mammajuana, which is called a local medicine/aphrodisiac drink.
It is made of 1/3 Rum, 1/3 Honey and 1/3 Red Wine together with the shaved bark from the Noni Fruit tree and different spices. You can drink it as a shot or like a normal drink. Either way … you feel like you have been hit by a brick it is so strong.
Considering I am such a light weight, doing shots while operating an ATV is probably not the best option. HAHA.
On the table in the little shack they also have a wide variety of Dominican and Cuban Cigars for sale, ground coffee, local bottles of rum and tourist souvenirs.
You then take a short guided tour through the plantation to see the trees the fruits grow on.
From here we jumped back on the ATV’s and sped off enroute to Playa Rincon stopping at a vantage point to take in the view across the thick plantations down to the beach.
Upon arriving at this beach you are met with a bright white light bouncing off the sand from the beach and the blue waters are ever so vibrant. It is a long stretch of beach and truly is beautiful.
International versions of Survivor have been featured in more remote beaches north of this and Rincon has also been used for challenges in the Columbian Version.
We relaxed at a small beach side shack and restaurant where we were going to have lunch. The options were chicken (pollo) or fish (pescator) again. I choose the fish of course. We all had a local Coco Loco, which is a cracked coconut shell with a mix of Rum. Here Rum flows endlessly like the tropical showers which you encounter every day. While waiting for lunch we explored the beach, took photos while enjoying the sun. I was lucky to have had perfect weather to experience this beach.
Lunch arrived and we had locally caught fish. I actually had a parrot fish on my plate as the beak of the fish was clearly visible. This was accompanied with rice and banana plantain fritters. I can honestly say that was the best fish I have had since I got here and far better than the fish at the hotel. It was seasoned just perfectly and was super tasty. I was surprised that we did not have as many fish options at the hotel as I thought we would have, so this was great.
Paying with some local Pesos. Either US Dollars or Pesos are accepted.
After lunch we jumped into a dugout canoe boat and did a short trip through the mangroves swamps on a crystal clear river. Vines hang from the tree tops and we got to swing like Tarzan from them.
One we returned we jumped back on the ATV’s and headed to the far end of Playa Rincon where we spent some time swimming in the warm waters. There are 3 cute little ram shackle type beach restaurants and bars here.
Later, we headed to Bocca Del Diablo which is a rocky plateau above the ocean.
Here there is a blow hole which spurts out a spray of water when the force of the waves hits the coast. This was cool too see and the force that gets pushed through this crack in the rock was unbelievable. It was enough to blow you right over.
As we were riding out to the blow hole you bypass an area where they mine granite in these limestone and granite cliffs. It was pretty amazing to see these giant blocks of granite that they extract from deep within the mountains.
Last stop on our tour was Playa Playitas which we had all seen on our own but wanted to revisit again, as it is such a great beach, especially during sunset when you have the perfect vista of the sun setting along the ocean.
From here we headed back into town and concluded our trip.
It was an outstanding trip and I loved the fact that you were never on the clock. They just added extra beaches and things for us to do and was well worth the money.
Back at the resort, I caught up with some of the Canadians from our little “click” and had dinner before joining them for the evening show in the amphitheater. After this we all moved to the beach bar for drinks and then landed up at the resort club and ”discoteque” where we danced until the club closed at 2am. It was a super fun night and the group we have are all so much fun.
It is a rather random mix of people from different ages and backgrounds so made for an interesting few days.
Everyone was from different parts of Ontario or Quebec.
You had Shannon and Dakota who were the youngest from Niagara Falls, Dave a hippy with a long pony tail in his late 50’s who was basically just travelling the world and such a hoot, Monica and her husband Dave from Waterloo, Ontario. She too was just the most fun person with a crazy personality, Jeff and Donna who are friends from Montreal, Quebec and Murray and Lu from Kitchener, Ontario. We all hung out at various meal times and on the beach which was nice.
Day 5 – Excursion – Los Haitises National Park & Cayo Levantado (Bacardi Island).
This tour I booked through WestJet as we got a special 2 for 1 combo deal on the tour. To take in the famed Los Haitises National Park and then the Island of Cayo Levantado. It was also a full day trip, so I had to be ready to leave at 8am for the tour.
We transferred by bus from the resort back to the town of Santa Barbara de Samana and stopped at the port where we caught a large boat/catamaran for the trip out to the Los Haitises National Park. The boat trip out there is around 1 hr. On the way you pass along the coast which gives you fantastic views of some of the bigger hotels along the way and the dense jungle and tropical forest which covers the area.
Making up approximately 62 square miles (160 square kilometers) of unique, diverse area, Los Haitises National Park is comprised of mangroves, estuaries, coves and bays. Easily reached by a short boat ride across Samaná Bay, the park is well-known for both its magnificent series of limestone caves covered in Taino Indian art and its boat excursions through exotic mangrove swamps. In this park, you encounter a wide variety of bird life as it is also a core bird sanctuary and nesting sight where you can find more than 100 species of birds, 90 plus plant species, a wide variety of mammals and caves bearing pre-Columbian Taino art.
The boat trip out here is spectacular and there are so many small limestone islands that you pass with inlets and passages here and there.
They are covered in thick foliage and there are birds everywhere. Spotted numerous flocks of pelicans either swimming in the water or roosting in the tree tops as well as turns and boobies.
The area really reminded me of Halong Bay in Vietnam or parts of Thailand with the limestone islands. Wes stopped off at 2 different limestone islands to explore the massive cave systems which can be found in the core of these islands. Simply impressive and you cannot believe such large caves are able to exist in the centre without the roof of the islands collapsing.
We came across some art from the days of Christopher Columbus in one of the caves.
These islands were also used to film part of the Pirates of the Caribbean Film and international versions of Survivor (The Colombian and USA) have also been featured in parts of the area.
After exploring the waterways and mangroves in and around the islands we headed back towards Samana Bay stopping off briefly at a sandy cove which has a local coastal home on it.
There are some more cave systems on this island that we looked at before heading off to the famed Cayo Levantado Island.
This coconut palm-lined island has become one of the area’s top tourist destinations for romance, relaxation and exquisite Dominican cuisine. Many visitors flock to this 6-square-mile (15-square-kilometer) island to walk along the pristine beach and tan, while others venture out to the thriving reefs for snorkelling and scuba diving.
This is a beautiful island with magnificent white sandy beaches and unbelievably beautiful waters. The island has been nicknamed “Bacardi Island” as this was the island used to shoot the Bacardi Rum commercial which has made it a household name now. The island has the 5 Star Plus, Grand Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado Luxury Resort on it too which has its own private beach on the North end of the small island. On the opposite end is a public beach. We docked and spent a few hours on the island. Here I met a family from Thunder Bay, Ontario and there 2 twin sons and landed up hanging out with them for the afternoon. They invited me snorkelling and looked after my bags while I was checking out the island.
The beach is spectacular and everyone was out and about getting those picture perfect beach shots and snaps. The contrast from sand to water to palm trees is just perfect.
Here we had lunch – your typical fish, chicken and rice options again. It was good though. There are a number of local craft and souvenir shops and stands in the centre as well as a few local bars and simple restaurants to enjoy some local food.
We departed back to the Samana port at 4:30 and then we were transferred back to the resort which was another 35 minute bus ride.
Arrived back at the resort, showered and hung out with the group again before doing dinner, another show and then drinks on the beach.
The buffet theme was “French Night” which I think was one of the best I had while there. The selection was better and the dessert buffet was to die for.
Day 6 – Final Day – Beach Time
I woke up early today, had breakfast and headed into town to use the internet and confirm some travel flights and logistics before doing some final souvenir shopping. I cannot get much so grabbed 2 postcards and a small wooden painted parrot which is a popular souvenir it seems.
Headed back to the resort and literally spent the whole day on Playa Las Galeras with the group, lying in the deck chair catching a final tan, swimming in the ocean and sleeping. It was the perfect weather and ending to a good but short trip down South.
Uno Cuba Libre Por Forvor
Before dinner I quickly packed up my bags so that it was all ready for the next days departure and then joined everyone for dinner and the evening show before rounding up and doing a few last minute cocktails at the beach bar and discothèque with everyone. We all exchanged details and will keep in touch. They were all really such a fun bunch to hang with. I also met 2 girls from Hamilton Ontario (near Niagara Falls) who said I should contact them when out east and they would show me around too, which was super nice.
The final morning, I woke up earlier and headed down to the buffet for breakfast and coffee on the beach before lying on the deck chair enjoying another hour of the warm sun and taking in the view. Then I said my goodbye’s to everyone I had been hanging out with. Most of them were there for another day or 2 as they had arrived after me. Our bus was departing the hotel at 11am even though our flight was only at 3pm. We had to pickup guests from the other 2 hotels and then headed onwards to the Airport.
The day I was departing was one of the hottest days and the airport was so immensely hot and humid, I wanted to pass out.
Going through border security was a little complicated as the official was not 100% sure how I could get onto a flight bound for a country that I don’t have a visa for, given that mine had expired. Eventually he understood the whole scenario once a senior official had explained it to him that I could still re-enter as a tourist.
The flight was full to capacity and I had the honour of sitting next to this American and his small daughter and they spoke non-stop for 4 hours. I was so tired I just tried to sleep with my head propped up against the window. I had a very long flight ahead of me with another 7 hours of travel and lay over’s before arriving in Calgary and then another 15 hours of travel and lay over’s enroute to Whitehorse in the Yukon.
It was a fantastic trip although short and I would definitely recommend the DR to anyone. I would certainly like to head back there someday again.
HASTA LUEGA ...