RSSArchive for March, 2009

Velero Beach Resort in Cabarete

For a long time, everyone thought Cabarete’s crowd was limited to the budget conscious, windsurf addicts only too happy to crash in tiki huts and ten-dollar hostels.So when Velero Resort opened in 2000, its aspirations as a boutique hotel seemed a little out of place.

But some of those baggy, shin-length shorts that everybody wears on Cabarete Beach must have pretty deep pockets because not only have Velero’s four-star accommodations have become a popular commodity, they’ve started a trend, where today, half million dollar condominiums and million-plus villas are popping up all along the Cabarete shoreline.

“Cabarete used to attract just the hardcore windsurfers”, says Velero’s director, Mario Magnan. “Then the surfing crowd spawned a party crowd and now Cabarete has become the hottest beach in the Caribbean. Everybody’s coming here. It’s amazing.

The luxury of space: set on two acres, Velero’s buildings take up a small percentage of the land

Ever the discreet host, Mario won’t reveal who “everybody” might include booking into Velero Resort. Suffice it to say that last week a private jet flew in from L.A.; last month, Velero’s grounds provided the backdrop for a major swimwear shoot; and not long before that a major network crew had checked in and were interviewing him about the phenomenon that Cabarete has become.

“Not everybody is high profile. But there’s a lot of people who want quality and are willing to pay for it”, he says.

Velero is a complex of twenty-six privately owned condominiums three stories high, cleverly designed and properly equipped to function as a hotel; and to provide short term guests the services they likely wouldn’t get simply renting a private residence.

The $300 dollar for a penthouse that can sleep six is not priced out of orbit, while furniture and finishing makes you feel like you’ve checked into somebody’s house

Set on two oceanfront acres on the eastern tip of Cabarete Bay, balconies leading from each room look over an expansive lawn and an infinity pool set by the sea. The property is ideally located a few minutes walk down the beach from town center: just slightly removed from the bustle.

This affords a sense of civilized serenity at Velero, from where you get a perfect view of the entire expanse of the bay and of what makes Cabarete so incredibly special, that panorama of hundreds of multi colored sails on the water and giant kites in the sky, blasting through the waves and flying through the air on the silent power of the Tradewinds.

Particularly appealing at Velero is the very real feeling of being at home. Originally designed and constructed to appeal to a select group of private owners (half the owners don’t even rent out their units) there is an attention to detail in the handcrafted oak cabinets and trim, detailing in brickwork and fittings, personal touches and individuality in pieces of art and decorations, that all contribute to the sense being in a home and not a hotel room.

And while you’re enjoying feeling at home, the services are all there, too. You can pick up the phone request a personal attention from a 24-hour receptionist, arrange gourmet in-room dining, hire a babysitter, reserve a personal visit from a masseuse or aesthetician.

While there is no restaurant on the premises, a well-appointed beachside cafe serves breakfast. light meals and beverages.

“Cabarete has such a variety of fabulous restaurants, we decided not to provide a dining room”, says Mario. “But our kitchen is prepared to provide private meals and special menu requests.”

A business center, a small conference room, a gourmet deli are a few of the other facilities found at Velero. Room rates, from standard to penthouse, range from $75 to $250 in low season and $100 to $300-plus in the winter months.

For more information visit the Velero web site

Outback Safari takes you to the back country

It’s February and I’m sinking my toes into sugary, warmed-by-the-sun sand, enjoying the slight breeze rustling in the palm trees and the brilliant blue of the ocean. Being a beach junkie, I realize that I’ve come to the right country. The Dominican Republic’s shoreline claims to have 1,600 km of beaches, ranking it among the world’s best. This boast is verified by the hordes of us who arrive to shed winter clothes and head for the beach, dazed by the dazzling sunlight and eager to head into the warm water.

Why then, a couple of days later, am I jostling around in the back of a large size vehicle, following a rugged, jungle road and kibitzing with other winter escapees? For some of us, it seems, no matter how tantalizing the resort is, after a few days of lazy indulgence (although there are loads of activities poolside; more on that later), we love to explore. In Puerto Plata, as well as from the other nearby North Coast towns of Cabarete and Sosua, there awaits a plethora of adventures.

DAY-LONG EXCURSION

On this full-day excursion with Outback Safari, our lively bunch — mostly Canadians — were picked up in the morning from a variety of hotels and everyone is geared up to have a good time as well as learn about the island’s history, culture and geography. And there is something about being in the back of a truck — we are in comfy seats and belted in — that harkens back to fun times as kids. Along with our cheerful guides, there is a lot of joking around, peppered with good information.

D.R., as it is fondly known, a country of close to nine million, shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. As our Jeep journey follows the El Choco trail, a dirt road that winds through lush jungle, we aren’t surprised that it was visited by Christopher Columbus on his 1492 expedition; nor are we surprised that he described it as “a beautiful island paradise with high forested mountains and large river valleys.” Even today, when all-inclusive hotels line the beaches and more than four million tourists visit each year, the backcountry is a tangle of growth. Along this route, the guide points out mahogany, coffee, cocoa, avocado, bread fruit, mango and papaya trees, among others as well as explaining the varieties of palms — for example, the stately Royal Palm, the bark of which is used for the siding on houses.

This day excursion moved happily along. We stopped to enjoy the surroundings and learned interesting tidbits; did you know that tea can be made from the leaves of lime trees, or that there are 245 species of birds here, making it a special place for birders. (Keep on the lookout for the dew bird, an unusual black parrot.) Our guide explained that there are many restrictions on forestry in D.R., for example, a mahogany tree cannot be cut without permission. Would you have guessed that Dominicans drink more rum than milk and that one of the many varieties of the smooth, dark substance is 75 per cent alcohol?

While that fact sounds like this green isle is all about partying, our guide also explained that Outback Safari contributes generously to the community and focuses on sustainable tourism. Formed in 1997, it provides for schools, orphanages and families, as well as contributing to health projects and road maintenance. Each year the company does the “Santa Run” and distributes thousands of gifts to children in communities nearby.

RULES OF THE ROAD

However, one of the rules of the road here, is not to give candy to the children we see along the way. Rather, bring school supplies or books and if you purchase any Outback Safari souvenirs, a hat or t-shirt perhaps, 45 per cent of the profit goes to charity. The company promotes the purchasing of local products; along the way we have opportunities to buy, and coffee is especially popular.

My favourite stop of the morning was at a family home where the mom brewed us coffee in her outdoor kitchen, a simple but tidy space that has no electricity; a solar panel charges batteries and the fridge uses propane. I spotted a small television but didn’t see a computer. They can only use one electrical appliance at a time but that didn’t seem to bother them. Proceeds from their participation with Outback Safari has been used to put a cement floor in the living room. Several small children played in the yard that had grapefruit, lemon and orange trees. It’s difficult not to feel intrusive; however, everyone relaxed once the children had laughed at some of our attempts at Spanish.

SAMPLING FRUIT

Other stops were made at a fruit plantation for sampling and at several schools that the company sponsors. We didn’t interrupt classes but peeked at the busy classrooms and left school supplies with the teacher. (It’s a good idea to research the tours before you leave home and be prepared to pack a few of items along with your sunscreen.)

At a river stop we dined at an outdoor buffet before cruising to catch glimpses of crocodiles, iguanas and some of the colourful birdlife. The day ends at Cabarete Beach, lauded as being one of the island’s most beautiful, where, if you wish, you can zoom along the surf on a boogie board. This is actually pretty easy — much less dramatic than the windsurfing and kiteboarding that this windy section is acclaimed for — and lots of fun.

CYCLING TOUR

Another day, another excursion and at times I did wonder about my sanity as I cycled a dusty road in sweltering heat. However, my quest was to get some exercise and view more of the countryside and this was working. On this guided trip with Iguana Mama Eco Tours we stopped to chat with children along the way, learned about the plant life as we ate fruit under a tamarind tree and spotted some of the island’s famous birdlife.

You can’t help but be enchanted by the lush greenery; the simplest homes have glorious gardens that boast the bright, red ginger flower and lovely chenille trees with clusters of droopy blooms. This trip, ideal for families and nature lovers, is an easy 10-km pedal along a mostly coastal route. Iguana Mama, based in Cabarete, offers a full range of eco activities, everything from family cruises to hardcore mountain biking.

MIXING WITH LOCALS

Later, I’m back on the beach, deciding that I love the mix of backroads adventures followed by hedonistic pleasures. I especially enjoyed mingling with the locals. One could go on and on about the Dominicans. Firstly, they are easy on the eyes. Many of the men have soft smiles and flash pearly whites; the women are voluptuous a la Jennifer Lopez and the dark-eyed children well-behaved and appealing. Everyone seems eager for you to appreciate their country.

These days the trend in hot weather holidays is to stay at an all inclusive, and even those of us with the heart and soul of a backpacker occasionally partake in these one-stop-shop vacations. What could be easier than an air/hotel/meals and even liquor included along with surf, sand and sun? However, a word of advice. Choose your resort carefully. Be aware that some cater to action-lovers, others offer romance packages (and may be adults only), and there are many that embrace families and make time in the sun memorable for every age group.

VARIETY OF ACTIVITIES

Most of the resorts serve a mind-boggling variety of activities: windsurfing, kayaking, sailing, canoeing, catamarans, snorkelling, and even introductory scuba diving. There are continuous games and music around the pool — the beach is quieter — plus lively evening entertainment. You can play tennis or golf, learn to hablo espanol or swing to merengue music. (The third week in October Puerto Plata plays host to a wild merengue festival that includes arts and crafts.)

There are more Puerto Plata pleasures. The national pastime is baseball. Every major city has a team and many of the best known names in the North American major leagues are Dominicans — read Sammy Sosa. The season in DR is October to January and many major league teams practise here; you must get tickets ahead of game time.

Make sure you see some of Puerto Plata. As the largest city in the country with about 200,000 people, this seems daunting. However, the area to stroll is the Old City of Puerto Plata with its charming Victorian facades.

Puerto Plata’s old city may whet your traveller’s appetite to see more. You can’t go wrong by heading to the capital city of Santo Domingo to visit its colonial section; many resorts offer a day trip.

It makes you realize that DR is more than just a pretty place laced with beaches. Enjoy the combination. Even if you are not an urban lover, this one that Columbus named La Isabela, will enchant you.

It was the first European city in the Americas and was Spain’s centre of power in the New World. The original settlement, today known as the Zona Colonial, is an 11-block section of the capital city. Cobbled streets snake among faded and reconstructed facades that, like a well aging movie star, trace remnants of a former beauty. You may see sagging balconies but when you peek inside there’s a heavy mahogany staircase and beautifully tiled floors.

Most of the buildings, like the Catedral Pirmada de America, were built in the 16th century. It originated in 1523, has three naves, lustrous stained glass windows and elaborate carvings and works of art.

One could easily spend two days visiting sites from the rusticity of the San Francisco Monastery, the first one in the new world, to the refurbished finery of the Palace of Columbus. The latter was the home of Christopher Columbus’ son Diego, who lived here in 1509 with his family. Sir Frances Drake, among others, ravaged this area; thankfully it has been lovingly restored. The guided tour here is excellent.

IF YOU GO

For more information on the tours in this story: Outback Safari: https://www.outbackadventuresdr.com and Iguana Mama Ecological Adventure Tour: www.iguanamama.com

The average year-round temperature is 25-31 Celsius (78F – 88F); take heavy-duty sun screen.

Currency is the Dominican peso; U.S. dollars are more easily accepted than Canadian dollars and credit cards are widely used.

Do not wear beach clothing, i.e bathing suits or skimpy wraps, in the villages and towns. The locals see it as disrespectful. Shorts are not acceptable clothing in churches.

What to buy: Rum, coffee, vanilla, art and amber are all good buys. The latter is, arguably, among the world’s best. However, do learn how to distinguish between the phony and the real thing, by shopping at a good jewelry store or visiting an amber museum.

What not to buy: Be aware that some souvenirs are made from endangered plant and animal species. One example is any product such as jewelry or items made from sea turtle. All eight types of sea turtles are endangered. Be a responsible shopper.

by Judi Lees, Special to Canwest News Service

Government signs pacts for Cofresi hotels, promotion in Europe

BERLIN. – The Dominican Government signed two agreements Friday, one with a European company that will build eight boutique hotels in Cofresí Bay, Puerto Plata at a cost of US$200 million, and the other with Air France to promote the country in 15 European nations.

Tourism minister Francisco Javier Garcia made the announcement in a press conference in Berlin’s Marriot hotel, where he attends the ITB tourism fair 2009.

He also announced that Dominican Republic’s promotional video won second place in a competition with more than 300 presentations from different countries.

The company Marketing Beratung International (MBI) will build the hotels in Puerto Plata, in coordination with the chain Hacienda Resorts.

MBI general manager Alexander Schaufler said the project called Costa Esmeralda Peninsula will feature eight, 160 room boutique hotels in a first stage and 200 apartments after that.

The Tourism Minister said the project marks the Government’s effort to take attract upscale tourism to the Puerto Plata region. “This it is the type of tourism we want in Puerto Plata, aside from that additional investment, more tourists will come from Vienna.”

The official said the MBI executives will travel to Dominican Republic in mid April for the groundbreaking and immediately begin the works, for the first stage to be ready by end 2010.

Agreement with Air France

Garcia said the agreement with Air France is the only accord that carrier has ever signed with a Tourism ministry, and pledges to promote Dominican Republic in 15 European destinations where it frequently flies.

Upon signing the agreement, Air France executive Veronique Moulin said she was pleased by the Dominican Government’s interest in the pact she said has been under discussion for several years.

In that regard, Garcia said it’s a new step in the country’s promotion in the European market, source of many visitors to his country.

Promotion Prize

Dominican Republic won second place in the best promotional videos competition, with 180 part countries present in Berlin’s ITB fair taking part.

Garcia, who made the announcement during a banquet for local and other hoteliers from various countries in the De Rome hotel, said more than 300 promotions competed, “which shows that second place is a true victory for Dominican Republic.”

From DominicanToday.com

Dominican Republic’s north-west gets a makeover

The north-west of the Dominican Republic has undergone a make-over in recent years with more sand on its beaches, new hotels and less garbage along its highways. These are just a few of the signs that the region around Puerto Plata and Sosua is becoming attractive again for foreign tourists.

About 10 years ago, the region was making headlines in the tourist trade for its rock bottom prices. Then, investment suddenly dried up, hotels fell into disrepair and beaches became gradually dirty and uninviting.

But that’s a thing of the past and Puerto Plata now compares favourably with the more expensive holiday resorts at Punta Cana and Cap Can in the east.

Those resorts have picture perfect beaches that were designed on an architect’s drawing board, but the Dominican Republic’s north-west has managed to retain its vibrant local flavour and atmosphere.

A common sight around Puerto Plata are fishermen slamming domino pieces onto wobbly bar tables. The area’s discos also have more locals on their dance floors than tourists.

Getting around the region on one of the many small buses and collective taxis that ply their trade can also turn into a unique experience.

A decade ago that was a different story. A walk along the sea shore at Puerto Plata would have been a disappointment with hardly any sand, polluted water, beer cans and plastic containers littering the roads and streets.

But the region has managed to reverse that image and Long Beach is cleaner and wider than ever before thanks to 100,000 cubic metres of sand that were pumped onshore.

If you have the inclination, you can walk along the city beach to the holiday resort at Playa Dorada, the oldest in the country.

Playa Dorada has 14 hotel complexes and more than 4,000 rooms for guests. There has also been investment in tourist infrastructure with new golf courses, night clubs and shops.

Extra sand was also pumped onto the resort’s beach as well as the strand at the surfer village of Cabarete. Sosua’a beach is also due to be improved with more sand.

The busiest time of the week on Long Beach is Sunday afternoon when teenagers dance to merengue and local families picnic beneath the trees. There are plenty of pavilions with refreshments such as ice cold beer, rum and grilled fish.

The restored fortress of San Felip at the end of the promenade is a favourite spot for young people to come and flirt with each other.

Through the openings in the fortress’s embattlements there is a view of the harbour and the wider Caribbean Sea.

“Our promenade is really beautiful now. Puerto Plata has been transformed,” says Jose Camacho, a restaurant owner.

Meanwhile, midnight has come and with it closing time in one of Puerto Plata’s budget hotels. Although some of the slightly intoxicated guests are causing trouble, the barkeeper remains friendly and as cool as the situation demands.

Later he says, “We are not allowed to hit any of the guests”.

Just five minutes walk away from that scene, a couple are sipping Champagne beside a pool reflecting moonlight.

“Many people thought we were crazy because we wanted to build a high-class hotel like this in Puerto Plata,” says hotel general manager Roberto Casoni. But Casoni believes the region can look forward to a prosperous future thanks to tourism.

Nightlife in Sosua is more laid back than it used to be. The locals complained about the noise and some of the bars were forced to close their doors permanently.

Cabarete has a spectacular attraction for visitors – an evening walk along its fine sandy beach with the moon and stars competing for attention with the lights and lanterns of the village’s restaurants.

From www.earthtimes.org