The Puerto Plata Report: news and travel info from the Dominican Republic's north coast

Exploring the Dominican Republic

For the price of a short flight to the Caribbean the DR delivers travel adventure that some think requires spending big bucks and flying across the world for

air charters Our six-seater twin-engine aircraft was cruising at 2500 feet, an altitude that gave us a perfect bird’s eye view as we flew along the north coast of the Dominican Republic between Puerto Plata and Samaná. The man sitting beside me was at awe with intensity of the the blues of the water and the greens of the land, a rich multicolored quilt with its full-length rip of endless beach running from from top to bottom.

That day, we got to see the north coast from the air, we also went whale watching in Samana Bay, and enjoyed lunch and a swim on a paradise-like out island – all for the price of about two hundred American dollars per person.

whalesOn the way back my newfound friend and I got talking about how people spend thousands of dollars to go whale watching in places like Baja, California. Here, for two hundred dollars extra tacked on to a bargain-priced all-inclusive resort vacation, he had taken a fabulous plane ride and had been present at the largest annual humpback whales spawning convention that the Atlantic Ocean has to offer. And as we taxied down the runway on our return to Puerto Plata, my friend’s lament was not how much the trip had cost, – rather he was kicking himself for not having budgeted more for this vacation.

“I only wish we knew before coming that there are so many incredible things to do and see here. Nobody told us!”

Come Prepared

Most people come unprepared to discover the real Dominican Republic because most have booked an all-inclusive resort vacation and their mindset is that everything is already paid for. And while the resorts include the meals, beverage and myriad beach and poolside games, it seems a shame to travel this far and then stay stuck in the resort just because meals and beach volleyball are free. The unseen opportunity here is that for a few hundred extra dollars you can turn a bargain resort vacation into a world class travel experience. Another way to look at it is that for the price of a short hop to the Caribbean, you can have the kind of adventures that some people spend big bucks and travel halfway around the world for.

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Tour operators in the Dominican Republic have organized an impressive array of trips and off resort adventures which means you can explore many areas of the island safely and conveniently without having to be a multilingual, expert traveler.

historySanto Domingo City is the first European City of the New World, founded in the late 1400’s by a brother of Christopher Columbus, Bartolomé. This is the DR’s largest city and is a bustling modern burg of about two million. Old Santo Domingo is a walled section you can walk around, where you’ll find many interesting museums and restored buildings. Most tours of Santo Domingo also stop at the lighthouse monument, where Christopher Columbus’ remains remain.

Pico Duarte, in the middle of the DR is the tallest mountain in the Caribbean at 10,000 feet above sea level. Sitting in the middle of a vast national park, you can take guided mule trips up to the summit. The only thing is they take two to four days. So for those who are not up that much roughing it, there are shorter excursions into the same general region featuring different forms of transportation that range from comfortable to adventurous.

cigarsAt the base of the Central Mountain Corridor where Pico Duarte is lies the Cibao Valley, a lush and fertile agricultural region where world famous Dominican cigars are cultivated and manufactured. From here you go up into the mountains to towns like Constanza and Jarabacoa, where the nighttime air gets cold enough to turn to frost, and where towering pine trees line up beside the royal palms. Traveling through these parts is like visiting a giant botanical garden set among dramatic mountain panorama, around rushing rivers and pristine valleys. There are permanent base camps operating, some with comfortable overnight accommodations, that exist to service sporting activities such as rappelling through waterfalls, whitewater rafting, parasailing and ballooning. rafting

Jeep Safaris and horseback riding trips are among the most popular ways to explore the outback and countryside around the resorts. Most of the Dominican Republic is undeveloped so you don’t have to go very far to feel like you’re in the middle of Africa or lost in the Amazon somewhere, fording rivers, meeting people in tiny crossroad villages, swimming in some remote waterfall. These trips often feature some sort of destination or activity such exploring a jungle river or discovering an uninhabited beach, but the real attraction of these jeep safaris is simply the millions of things you see and learn along the way.

Adventures on and under water can be sailing trips or powerboat rides that take you to some remote beach or out island to swim or snorkel. In Puerto snorkelingPlata there are catamarans that go to Sosua Bay for snorkeling and then on the return trip home, tack way out into the ocean for a spectacular sailing experience. Another north coast adventure takes you for a two hour ride down the coast to where powerboats take you through a jungle river to a sand spit of an island where the water and snorkeling are perfect. December to March marks the whale watching season in Samaná. I confess that the first time I went to see whales in Samaná I only went because I had to write about it. But after being witness that day to a mother and her calf and to the sheer size of the animals, lolling around and coochi-cooing right beside our boat, I know now that a chance to go whale watching is an experience that nobody should miss.

Saona Island is a great day trip destination if you are staying in Bavaro or Punta Cana. This is an idyllic island national park where just a few hundred people live in simple huts and without vehicles. What dominates here is pure white sand and coconut palms. You have to travel by boat and there are a variety of possibilities. One of the tours takes you out there by catamaran and speeds you back with the thrill of a powerboat ride. There are other calmer ways to enjoy a trip to Saona, including a comfortable ferry type boat that speeds you over the ocean.

Air charter excursions that cost up to $200 U.S. dollars have a certain appeal and advantage. Unlike those 15-minute helicopter rides on the Miami causeway, these shuttles of 30 to sixty minutes truly speed up the travel time in a day while providing the chance to see this truly spectacular country from the air. Meanwhile, if your budget doesn’t allow for this luxury, or if you want to pack in more trips for the money, you will enjoy the land based excursions and boat trips that cost from $40 to $100.

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