Ten Things I Loved About the Dominican Republic

View of Las Terrenas Beach in the Dominican Republic

View of Las Terrenas Beach in the Dominican Republic

I had never been to the Dominican Republic until this year, and now I’ve been twice: once with my husband Jason and the other with my best friend Maxine. The Dominican is tropical, and the beaches are gorgeous just as any Caribbean destination should be, but there were a few things I really enjoyed.

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1. My tour guide

Yes, I had a tour guide, but not just any guide; Waldo Tejada, co-founder of Tequia Experiences led my six-day excursion through the Dominican Republic. Originally from the Dominican, Waldo now runs his company out of New York and is quite proud of his motherland. He is loaded with tons of historical information and hysterical stories. If there is anyone to get a tour from it’s Tequia Experiences. The company really works closely with the local businesses and people to give its guests the opportunity to be immersed in the culture and learn about all the things that make the Dominican Republic wonderful.

Tour guide Waldo Tejada of Tequia Experiences talks about cocoa production at Conacado

"Sustainability [tourism] by definition implies the preservation and maintenance of the places and key cultural identities that make a destination unique for the enjoyment of many generations of visitors. I believe it is our duty to create and offer responsible products where natural beauty combines with traditions and historical and current culture to promote the heritage and legacy of a destination and its people. A responsible tourism offering should be focused on one goal: to bring together visitors and destination in a manner beneficial to both, thus ensuring its sustainability." – Waldo Tejada

2. Samaná

Samaná is a 45-minute flight from Punta Cana, or about a four-hour drive. Once in Samaná, we drove to a small province called Las Terrenas to experience the Salto El Limón excursion. The excursion began with a great lunch of rice and beans with fish, chicken, and fruits. We ate until full, then hopped on a horse and were guided along a forest trail full of cacao trees and coffee plants that grow there naturally. At the end of the trail we were helped off our horses and led down a walking trail to a gorgeous, showering waterfall. The Salto El Limón waterfall has a wonderful pool to swim and play in, offering an afternoon full of relaxation and fun. This is a great place to have a picnic, as well, if you decide to do that instead of lunch at the top of the trail. It makes for a great half- or full-day excursion.

Salto El Limón waterfall in the Dominican Republic

Arriving at our hotel, the Sublime Samana, it was evident we were checking in and heading straight to the property-length pool. It is spectacular. The pool runs the length of the interior of the property all the way to the beach, and at night it is lit so beautifully with colored lights. Maxine and I could not wait to enjoy the sunset with a drink and dinner.

Sublime Samana at night in the Dominican Republic

3. Los Haitiases National Park

Reachable by boat, Los Haitiases National Park is a great day excursion full of natural wonders and wildlife. We boarded our boat in Samaná and headed out on the open water with our group, cruising through beautiful islands full of remarkable flora, fauna, and wildlife. The caves at Los Haitiases National Park are full of some of the coolest pictographs and ancient stone carvings. It’s a fun place to eat a picnic lunch and play on the beach.

View from the boat of the Los Haitiases National Park area

4. Paraiso Cano Hondo Hotel

After about an hour at Los Haitiases National Park we moved on and headed toward Paraiso Cano Hondo Hotel, an eco-friendly and totally sustainable resort. The rooms are simple, but the hotel is full of natural beauty and some of the most amazing local talent. Live music and dancers will entertain you while you eat, and the local fare is delicious.

Paraiso Cano Hondo Hotel in the Dominican Republic

5. Feeling like a princess in Santo Domingo

Maxine and I wanted to check out Santo Domingo, but in all honesty we were exhausted and really didn’t feel like walking the entire city. So, what does a girl do when she doesn’t feel like walking? She hires a horse and carriage, of course. We had the most adorable carriage driver who called himself “Leonardo DiCaprio,” and that was OK, because I was Madonna and Maxine was, well, Maxine. We were picked up just outside our hotel, Hostal Nicolas de Ovando, which consisted of three houses built in 1502 that had been converted into a hotel. The buildings were actually the original home of the first Spanish governor and companion of Christopher Columbus.

I strongly suggest the carriage ride; it’s fun and relaxing and your driver will stop as many times as you want to take photos. He will give you a great tour along the way.

Maxine and Mary Anne’s carriage ride through Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic

6. Our moveable feast in Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo is full of history, local art, and culture as well as restaurants frequented by locals and travelers alike. Our tour guide for the evening’s Flavors of the Old City walking tour was the very charming Octavio. We were entertained with stories and facts about the city and its past residents as we moved from restaurant to restaurant. Each restaurant we visited was known for something different and was as equally delicious as the last. I am not sure how we managed to eat something at every place we went, but we did, and by the time we reached our final destination for the night we were thoroughly fed and entertained. Restaurants we visited included Puerta de Atarazana, Pate Palo, Mesón de Bari, and El Conde de Penalba

Tour guides Octavio and Waldo Tejada take us on our Flavors of the Old City tour

7. The chocolate

Chocolate in the Dominican Republic is part of life. Cocoa trees grow everywhere in the wild and in plantations. Conacado is a family-owned and run cocoa producer in Santo Domingo that not only grows cocoa and produces it for major chocolate brands but also is completely sustainable. Its mission: “Improve the income and living conditions of cocoa producers and their families by supporting a sustainable approach to property management, the improvement of product quality, efficient harvest marketing, and by strengthening business and organizational practices and community development.”

Cocoa Beans fermenting as part of the cocoa production process

To make the chocolate, pods are picked and the beans are harvested and dried, then they are roasted, ground, and produced into any number of cocoa products including some our most favorite chocolaty treats. I’ve always wanted to learn the process of making chocolate from pod to candy. It’s an incredible process and way more detailed than I had imagined.

8. The rum

Rum is another very serious part of life in the Caribbean. We wanted to check out the rum scene so we went to Ron Barceló to learn about the finer points of rum drinking. We were given a brief tour of the warehouse where the barrels are stored and the rum is aged then taken to the tasting room, where we met Roberto Jimenez, the Ron Barceló brand ambassador. This is where the day got serious: rum tasting with chocolate. As I took pictures and shot some video, Maxine was left to sample the rum on her own. (I think she got the better end of the deal.) Roberto did a quick mixology lesson for us and taught us how to make a sparkling mojito.

9. The cigars

Cigars and the Dominican Republic are frequently heard in the same sentence. We were treated to a tour of the La Flor Dominicana Cigar Factory, where we saw first-hand how tobacco is rolled into a first-class piece of smoking perfection. Each and every cigar made is measured, rolled, and checked for imperfections, all by hand, and each of the people who work in this factory make up to 400 cigars in eight hours. If a cigar is found to have imperfections it is returned to the person who made it to be corrected before it is packaged and sold. Visitors can purchase any level of cigar they are looking for. Our new friend, Jasmine, also gave Maxine and me a lesson about how to correctly smoke a cigar.

10. The cute doctor and the French pool at the Viva Wyndham Dominicus Beach

On the second-to-last day of our trip I ended up getting bit by a bug and had a crazy allergic reaction. My legs swelled up and were so sensitive I couldn’t stand it any more so we went to the doctor on site at the Viva Wyndham Dominicus Beach Resort in the middle of the night. The doctor’s bedside manner was so sweet and kind. He treated me quickly and with some humor. I was given some medications to help with my allergic reaction as well as the pain, and the next day when I went back for my check up he said, “Thank you for trusting us.”

Due to my allergic reaction, Maxine and I decided to spend the last day of our trip at the hotel resting. We enjoyed our time lounging at the pool in the VIP section of the Viva Wyndham. We called it the French pool as it seemed everyone there but us was French and quite lovely. A couple next to us danced the day away to the music surrounding the area, and children and their parents played together in the water. Minus my trip to the doctor’s office, it was a great ending to a fun and educational trip.

A view of the ocean through the cabanas