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Find a little of everything on the Malecón

Looking along the scenic Malecón in Puerto Plata. Photo courtesy of the Dominican Ministry of Tourism

The Malecón hugs the coast in Puerto Plata. Photo courtesy of Dominican Ministry of Tourism

A must-see destination on the North Coast, Puerto Plata’s Malecón is a scenic, three-kilometer (one-mile) promenade hugging the Atlantic Ocean and its golden-sand beaches.

Lined with small, friendly bars, the route begins at La Puntilla park, anchored by the historic San Felipe Fort, a 16th century landmark, and a 24-meter (78-foot) lighthouse, built in 1879. A new amphitheater, which accommodates up to 4,000 patrons, also occupies the site. A sculpture of military hero Gen. Gregorio Luperón on his horse greets arriving visitors.

The Malecón culminates at the stretch of shore known as Long Beach, named by U.S. military occupiers in the early 1900s. A bronze replica of Michelangelo’s statue of David stands at a nearby intersection.

There’s plenty to see along the way. Photo ops include mighty Neptune, Roman god of the sea, who overlooks the city from a rocky perch offshore; colorful fishing boats bobbing in the shallow surf; and the city’s historic fire station, an architectural gem.

Snacks and cold drinks are never out of reach, as small, friendly bars line the wide, breezy walkway. Strolling vendors sell candies, shaved-ice drinks, fresh coconut milk and more.

Under the shade of sea grape and almond trees, locals play spirited games of dominoes while others — Dominicans and expatriates alike — enjoy a peaceful spot to meet and mingle. Joggers and cyclists use a protected lane alongside the malecón.

Soon after sundown, the beachside joints lock their shutters and the activity shifts to the other side of the four-lane highway, where bars, dance clubs and restaurants cater to nighttime crowds.

Planning for the Malecón dates to 1917 but not until 1971 were the broad avenue and ample sidewalk built; the route was remodeled in 2006.

Tubagua Plantation Eco Lodge

Puerto Plata Region at a glance

An overview…

What can you expect on a visit to these shores?


Playa Dorada
Beaches that just don’t quit... Most of the north coast is beach and most of the beaches are unspoiled and undeveloped

View of Puerto Plata coastline from the Panoramic RouteBreathtaking countryside… More than just a strip of sand in the sea, this is the second largest island in the Caribbean with an ever changing terrain and non-stop unspoiled natural beauty.

Friendly
people…
Almost all visitors comment on how Dominicans are the friendliest people they have ever met when
traveling.

Lively
Latin culture…
counterbalanced by the familiar faces and flavors of many Europeans and North Americans who have relocated
here.

Raw nature… but you don’t have to rough it. You can be four-wheeling through jungle roads by day and, at night, be sipping sipping French wine and eating lobster in your cottons beside the beach.

Not expensive … No matter your style of travel, you encounter relatively good value. With few exceptions, dining out costs US$8-$20 and local drinks are about $3 apiece. In other island nations prices are typically 30- to 50% higher than at home; here, virtually all local services and supplies cost the same, or less, than at home.

Easy to get to… Daily flights from Miami (2 hrs), New York (3 hrs), Atlanta (2 1/2 hours) Puerto Rico (1 hr), weekly charters
from dozens of Canadian and European cities.

Backpackers… Lots of pensiones, cheap hotel rooms and inexpensive public transportation. Easy hops from place to place with something different to experience at each one.

Luxury… This destination attracts many very well heeled people who want to get away from all that. You won’t find Marriot or Sheraton but you do find some very exclusive and comfortable owner-operated small hotels and you can also rent million-dollar villas by the week. Most of the large resorts are predominantly filled with economy travelers on all-inclusive vacations; a handful are four-star. Meanwhile, you can get just about anything you want, from private car and driver to helicopters and yachts. Maxim Bungalows in Cofresi, poolside

All-inclusive resorts… There are dozens of all-inclusive beach resorts, where food, drinks, beach equipment and a long list of amenities are all part of a one-price package including airfare conveniently organized out of major European, American and Canadian cities. Lots of great deals available.

Adventure Travel… Dozens of specialty vacations are being offered by people who came as tourists and then moved
back to set up shop because they discovered that this place is great for… horseback riding in the mountains (several
excellent ranches), getting scuba diving certification (one of the least expensive places to get it), windsurfing (excellent schools for learning and all services for pros), white water rafting, whale watching (the largest Atlantic ocean gathering of humpback whales spawning January to March in Samana Bay), hiking trips (the tallest mountain in the Caribbean, Pico Duarte, 10,000 ft, with guides and mules available), mountain biking (bikes and guided tours for all levels), motocross and four-wheeling (dirt bikes and jeeps for rent and you’ll find endless, unmapped backroads). There are plenty of guided day trips and excursions that make it easy to have a tropical or third world adventure and get back to the comfort of your hotel by the end of the day.

Relocating and Investing… Each year more people come and don’t leave. As one of our friends says, “my cost of living is equivalent to my tax and utilities budget back home.” People looking for a place to retire, or who simply dream of living in the Caribbean will find that there are a lot of good reasons. price and friendly people being the main ones, to consider this part of the Caribbean.

. This guide will help you find all of this and more.

Have you already booked your trip? Don’t forget to get a free copy of our Puerto Plata Hot! Regional Visitors Guide that you can download to bring with you maps, coupons and local information that you will be glad you have once you get here!

Dominican Republic Video

Sosua’s beginnings: a haven for Jews fleeing Hitler

Today the Dominican Republic welcomes thousands of sun-worshippers to Sosúa, its popular North-Coast beach resort. In 1940, the Dominican Republic also welcomed travelers, but they were hardly tourists: they were Jews fleeing Nazi terror – and in all the world, this was the only haven offered to them.

The unlikely notion of a Jewish colony in the tropics had its origin in a seemingly unrelated event on March 12, 1938 – the day Hitler’s troops marched into Austria. The next day, the Anschluss (unification) of Austria with the German Reich was declared.

Austrians greeted the takeover with wild enthusiasm. When Hitler crossed the border at Linz that evening, a joyous throng awaited him at the city hall. Göring reported in a telephone call, “There is unbelievable jubilation in Austria. We ourselves did not think that sympathies would be so intense.”

The elation climaxed in a triumphant speech by Hitler in Vienna, before a wildly cheering crowd of 250,000.

Within just a few days of the Anschluss, 70,000 political dissidents and Jews had been arrested.

In the three years since the Nuremberg laws canceled Jewish citizenship in 1935, some 150,000 Jews had fled Germany, mainly for Palestine. But Britain’s strict immigration policies kept most out. The Anschluss had now made some 200,000 more Jews stateless; thousands fled or were dumped by the Gestapo into neighboring countries.

President Franklin Roosevelt had come under mounting pressure from Jewish groups to confront Germany over its treatment of Jews and to push Congress to liberalize American immigration laws. But America was mired in isolationism, which had reawakened in the 1920s and took on a distinctly anti-Semitic stripe in the ’30s.

In many circles it was believed that just as the “Jew Deal” had been engineered by Jews, so would be America’s entanglement in the European war. Likewise, there was entrenched opposition to opening America’s doors to a flood of Jewish refugees. The New York Times of November 26, 1938 reported that New York department stores had to deny rumors they would fire a given number of employees and replace them with Jewish refugees.

The world, said Chaim Weizmann, “was divided into two camps: One, of countries expelling the Jews and the other, of countries which refused to admit them.”

After the Anschluss, Roosevelt realized Europe would soon be awash with refugees. Eleven days later, he invited thirty-three nations to confer on the refugee problem at Évian-les-Bains, France. FDR had carefully circumscribed the goals of the conference to head off opposition: The agenda stipulated that no nation would be expected to admit more refugees than its present laws permitted, making it crystal clear that the haven sought was to be outside the United States. And lest Germany take offense, no mention was made of that country or of Jews.

Sure enough, at Évian the U.S. would do no more than cut existing State Department red tape for German and Austrian refugees. Thus, for the first time, the U.S. would allow the number of such immigrants to reach the legal quota of 25,957. (The U.S. fulfilled its annual quota of German-Austrian immigrants only once in the next six years – in 1939, following the shocked reaction to Kristallnacht, in November 1938.)

The other delegates readily followed suit: France had taken enough refugees; Britain was not a “receiving nation” and Palestine, of course, was off limits; a senior Canadian official said “None is too many.” (A number of high Canadian officials of the day were anti-Semitic, including the prime minister.)

The sole glimmer of hope came when the delegate from the Dominican Republic, Virgilio Molina, rose to declare that his country would take in up to 100,000 Jewish refugees as settlers on the land – a staggering number for a small country of only 1.5 million.

The conference closed after creating a permanent body, the Intergovernmental Committee on Political Refugees (IGC) to study the problem further.

Ironically, the idea of saving European Jews had originated with Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, the ruthless dictator who ruled the Dominican Republic with an iron fist.

Trujillo, widely known as el Jefe, exerted absolute power over the populace with unbridled brutality and a secret police force that didn’t shrink from torture and murder to achieve its ends. Though the nation’s populace was poor, he was counted among the world’s richest men, because he and his relatives used the country as a family business.

The dictator was so consummately evil it was difficult to imagine. He had an interest in medicine; so, Mengele-like, he tested his crackpot health remedies on his unfortunate underlings. The previous year, he had drawn worldwide criticism for beheading 20,000 Haitians living as illegal aliens in the Dominican Republic.

Why would a Latin-American mass murderer offer to save the Jews from a European mass murderer? Some thought he wanted the European influx to lighten the racial stock of the country. Others thought he wanted to curry favor with the United States by helping Roosevelt with the refugee problem.

Perhaps the simplest explanation is the most convincing. When Trujillo’s daughter Flor de Oro was attending school in Paris, the other girls snubbed her because she was dark-skinned. A Jewish girl, Lucy Cahn, befriended her and el Jefe never forgot the kindness: when Lucy married, he gifted the couple with a tobacco plantation.

* * *

More than eight months passed while the United States studied alternative settlement areas, from Alaska to British Guiana (now Guyana).

Finally, the State Department acted on the Dominican plan. The American Jewish Joint Agricultural Corporation was chosen to finance the project. It would be headed by James N. Rosenberg, a western Pennsylvania attorney and philanthropist renowned for his work with refugees.

The Dominican Republic Settlement Association was incorporated under New York State law, with Rosenberg as its president. DORSA would select the settlers, transport them to the Dominican Republic, then support and train them until they were self-sufficient.

Rosenberg drew up the most extraordinary agreement ever made between a corporation and a government. It contained a bill of rights guaranteeing the settlers and their descendants the irrevocable right to live in the Dominican Republic “free from molestation, discrimination or persecution, with full freedom of religion.” It was signed by Trujillo himself on January 30, 1940, in the presence of representatives of the IGC, DORSA and the U.S. State Department.

In essence, the bloody dictator of this tiny nation had returned to Jewish refugees the very rights Hitler had taken away.

Rosenberg and his second-in-command, Dr. Joseph Rosen, an agronomist, traveled to the Dominican Republic to select a site for the settlement. They had worked together before, resettling urban Russian Jews in the Crimea. They selected Sosúa, a 26,000 acre abandoned banana plantation donated by Trujillo.

The dictator was now dubbed El Benefactor by the largest newspaper in the republic, which declared Sosúa would be the largest Jewish settlement, second only to that in Palestine.
On May 11, 1940, more than two years after the Anschluss, the first 37 Jewish settlers arrived at the settlement. A total of 600 would come, but the rescue of 100,000 Jews was not to be.

The refugees found themselves in a place that must have seemed like paradise. Sosúa was situated on a striking crescent bay surrounded by palm, mango, and avocado trees, its tropical climate moderated by cooling trade winds.

But conditions were not totally bucolic: there were snakes, malaria, no running water or electricity, and unfamiliar foods. The colonists were cultured, middle class – habitués of cafés and the opera. To them, working the land in a jungle outpost was utterly alien.

To make matters worse, most of them spoke German; only one spoke Spanish. Worst of all, though now safe, they knew that thousands left behind in Europe – including their families – had been less fortunate. Some colonists were simply unable to adjust; one couple committed suicide together.

* * *

A cooperative system was set up, similar to Israeli kibbutzim. It was to be the source of constant friction and discontent. The colonists farmed the land; DORSA provided food, clothing, and social services. The settlers ate in a common dining room and slept in barracks-style buildings.

Communal groups were set up, each containing at least one married couple so the woman could do the cooking and laundering.

The colonists tried to raise a variety of crops – beans, corn, peppers, oranges, tomatoes, pineapple – but often could not find markets for their produce and had to dump large quantities in the bay.

Some ingenious solutions to problems were developed. Mongooses were imported to rid the colony of snakes. The settlers built windmills to pump rainwater down from the hills.

Gradually, they began to replace the society they had left behind with a new one, distinctly Sosúan. Longing for their lost cafés, they built a rustic surrogate in the jungle, Café Stockman. They also built a clinic, pharmacy, school, library, bank, theater, newspaper and synagogue. Local foods were adapted to recipes from home: potato salad was made from yams and dumplings from yucca. Though torn from a dozen European countries, they shared one experience: most had lost relatives; so the colony became their family.

The colonists abandoned farming and turned to livestock production, which proved far more successful. “If you sent four cows out to pasture, six came back,” Ernest Schreiner, one of the colonists, would later recall.

Two cooperatives were set up, to market meat and dairy products. But the Sosúans continued to chafe under the communal system. A normal family structure was lacking; wives were expected to cook and clean for the entire group.

Determined to make Sosúa successful, Rosenberg recruited a consultant in 1944: David Stern, director of Agricultural Colonization in Palestine for the Jewish Agency.

Stern eliminated much of the friction by instituting a moshav system. The colonists would continue to market their products collectively through the two cooperatives, but the land would be individually owned and worked by the settlers.

More difficult to solve was the problem of maintaining Jewish identity. The majority of the emigrants were secular Jews who had had little Jewish tradition in their lives. Men outnumbered women 2-1, and a number of them married Dominican women.

Attrition and intentional obstruction by the U.S. State Department kept the colony from growing beyond some 600 members. When the door from Europe was slammed shut in 1943, further growth from outside was impossible. The dream of rescuing 100,000 was dead and as a Jewish community, Sosúa seemed doomed as well.

But the anti-Semitism they had suffered awakened many of the colonists to their Jewishness, and they made a valiant effort to revive and hold on to it.

As time passed, the community acquired a number of Eastern European Jews whose lives had been steeped in Jewish tradition. They brought to Sosúa classic Yiddish plays, such as S. Ansky’s “The Dybbuk” and Shalom Aleichem’s “Mazel Tov.” A musical, “Die Romanische Hasena,” was so popular that it was presented later to audiences in the capital.

The settlers established a school with a teaching staff of six. The curriculum included Dominican history and Spanish, but also daily Hebrew and biblical history. The whole town joined in huge Purim and Chanukah festivals.

In 1990, more than 300 original settlers and their families returned from Canada and the United States to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Sosúa’s founding; the theme was “50 Sosúa L’chaim.” Both these writers attended.

The secretary to the Dominican president addressed the returnees: “We’re so proud; the real saga is what you have accomplished here.” That night, Dominicans and Jews stood together, clapping to Spanish and Hebrew songs.

All agreed that Sosúa’s history must not be forgotten. To that end, a museum was dedicated to house artifacts of the settlement and photos from the era. The Sosúans felt the town was a place unique in the world – a town entirely populated by Holocaust survivors. They believed that present-day Jews should not forget what happened in Europe and should know that only the Dominican people welcomed Jews in their darkest hour. They must ever be vigilant, as dark days could come again.

Many reunion participants felt the years they spent in Sosúa were the most important in their lives, and feared the gathering would be their last. Indeed it was.

Today, Sosúa boasts a throng of tourist hotels that have wrought profound changes on the area, though Sosúa’s main street is virtually unchanged. The Jewish community is small – numbering fewer than 50 – but its impact on the Dominican Republic has been large. The dairy and meat cooperatives created by the refugees employed thousands of Dominicans over the years. The community still treasures the small, wood-frame synagogue where the original settlers married and held bar mitzvah ceremonies. It is still sometimes used for weddings.

After 68 years, few of those settlers remain. Luis Hess, age 100, was the longtime principal of the school that still bears his name. But Dezider Scheer was its first principal and founder. A teacher in Slovakia in 1938, he was told one day he could no longer teach because he was a Jew. He lost seventy family members in the war. After coming to Sosúa, he established the school and left a lifelong mark on its graduates.

We asked Sheer what the legacy of Sosúa was. He replied that he had seen pictures of children who perished in the Holocaust on display at Auschwitz.

“Walk the main street of Sosúa, and you will come to the school. We had sixty children. They lived to become engineers, doctors. All have made their mark. Their happy faces look down at us from pictures, still hanging in the school. They are the same age as those in the pictures at Auschwitz. The children who lived are the legacy of Sosúa.”

By: Myrna & Robert Ulfik / The Jewish Press / Wednesday, December 03 2008

Myrna and Robert Ulfik are award-winning radio, television and print journalists. Their primary interest is reporting unique stories of the Jewish experience around the world.

Luperón: a Hurricane Hole And An Adventure Of A Lifetime

Luperon Bay
You step onto the dinghy dock. Luperon village is out of sight, but not out of mind, as you ascend onto a wharf built and maintained (somewhat) by the government of the Dominican Republic. Saint Dominic was surely the patron saint of amplified sound, and Gen. Gregorio Luperon, the liberator of guitar music: You can’t see the settlement yet, but you most certainly hear the boom boxes. So you march on wobbly sealers toward refrains of love lost, past the mangrove swamp, and into this not-so-sleepy village of 8,000 people.

A building boom is under way, and the open-air welders on the edge of town are busy banging out decorative iron security gratings for homes of the prosperous. A wash dries on barbed-wire fencing, and a local fishmonger scrapes the neon pink scales off that morning’s catch; he’s getting old, and his tan face sports two-day-old white stubble. Naked brown toddlers chase chickens as grandmothers sit on miniscule front porches bemoaning the price of beans. Girls–formidable in styled hair, tight jeans and red lipstick–attend to their errands from the backs of motoconchos, the motorcycle taxis endemic here.

(Holy moly! There goes a family of four on one of those little bikes; blue smoke puffs out the stern.)

You had planned to stay a week or two, but you lose the urge for going. Your boat throws down roots like a mangrove, and your anchor rode grows a coral reef. It happens all the time in Luperon’s harbor. It happened to me. Welcome to the flip side of the Americas. Goodbye, rational exuberance. Hello, magical reality.

 

Going Native

 

I arrived in March 1999, and stuck around, fascinated. The place had the transitional feel of Spain in the 1960s, where I’d lived as a child. The D.R. today is transporting itself from the 19th Century directly into the 21st, but it’s a little groggy, having somehow slept through the intervening 10 decades. (There’s a story I love to tell, which says it all: I came across a cane cutter walking to the fields at dawn, machete in his left hand, his right holding a cell phone to his ear, talking to his boss, no doubt.)

By May of ’99, I had a job. For the next year, I lived aboard and commuted to work in a shopworn Opel with three other resident cruisers. My Spanish started coming back, and I traveled the width and breadth of the Dominican Republic, a country about the size of New Hampshire and Vermont combined.

During my stay I heard sea stories told by many a skilled mariner as they wet their whistles with fine Dominican pilsners. And I beheld a gaggle of expatriates.

I met a Dutch sea captain who bought a hilltop where he’s building a splendid hacienda. I met a blind British spy, now retired. I met a former anti-Castro saboteur, two English con men and a professional poker player from California (a witty, easygoing, clean-cut fellow without a hint of Damon Runyon in his demeanor).

I met a corpulent Canadian banker charged with money laundering; he beat the rap. I met a woman whose ex-husband was the ex-husband of the sister of a former vice-president of the United States; he was a rake and had absconded with the better part of wife No. 2’s inheritance. I met a South African couple raising two children aboard their 41-foot sailboat, whom I dubbed, despite their nationality, the Swiss Family Robinson.

I met old men seeking young women, and pale women in search of dusky gods of the dance floor. I met a gringo lawyer who refused to sit on seat cushions because he thought doing so would cause germs to enter his body–plastic seats only, please.

Former Fortune 500 execs were a dime a dozen.

The lesser of the con men (I say lesser because of his mitigating streak of generosity) became a friend once he disabused himself of the suspicion that I was CIA. Last time I saw him he had concocted a hat trick of scams to finance his cruising. He was hawking pirated electronic charting CDs, advertising D.R. investment “opportunities” over the Internet, and offering to bring together love-hungry foreigners with Dominican beauties.

“Let me get this straight,” I said. “You are a copyright-infringing, pyramid-scheming pimp.”

“Exactly,” he said.

Calling All Trawlers

 

I met a few delivery skippers on powerboats, but only one real cruiser under power; only about 35 of the estimated 700 yachts that stop in Luperon annually are power, and most of those are sportfish boats on delivery. The one cruiser I met was French via California. He was solo and on his way back to Florida from Saint Martin on a 26-foot Boston Whaler. He also had spent enough time buzzing around Cuba to be declared persona non grata by the Castro government.

Where were all the trawler jockeys? If a crazy Frenchman in a Whaler–not to mention some kids in sailboats whose engines couldn’t be started since the Exumas–can make it from Florida to Luperon, why can’t you? Your boats are tricked out better than the U.S. Navy of 30 years ago. Regular fuel stops line the route all the way from Fort Lauderdale to Venezuela. Sorry to scold, but why aren’t more of you getting as far as Luperon in particular, and the Caribbean in general? Mom-and-pop retirees are getting there in sailboats by the scores, most of the time using those itsy-bitsy engines–that is, by motorsailing into the contrary trade winds.

Luperon, on the D.R.’s North Coast, is a logical stopover on the “Thorny Path” from Florida to Anguilla, where the Caribbean islands take a turn to the south. Until Anguilla, boats from the United States are eastbound and therefore, dead nuts into the relentless trade winds. Add a few thorns for contrary prevailing currents and seas as well. Northern sailors avoid the Thorny Path to windward by voyaging to the Caribbean via Bermuda, thus making an “easting” in the high latitudes above the trades.

For many of us short-legged diesel-sippers, however, Bermuda is less an option. Besides, cruising the length of the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos is great adventure and a fine prelude to a completely different adventure–the Dominican Republic. It is a stunningly beautiful and varied nation; her people are among the friendliest folks you’ll ever meet. Farther down, Caribbean islanders resent your material wealth outwardly, but not in Luperon. In fact, Americans are preferred to Europeans because we tip and because so many Dominicans have family in the U.S.–some of them with well-known names like baseball stars Sammy Sosa and Pedro Martinez.

In the Dominican Republic, I like to say, there’s a surprise around every corner. Sometimes it’s a spectacular vista; sometimes it’s a cattle drive coming right at your car. The earliest promoter of the D.R. was Christopher Columbus, who stopped in Hispaniola on his first voyage. His words, written to Queen Isabella of Spain, are as true today as they were on Jan. 10, 1493, when the Great Navigator himself sailed into Luperon:

“May Your Highness believe that these lands are so greatly good and fertile, and especially those on this island, that there is no one who can tell it; and no one could believe it, had he not seen it.”

 

Hurricane Hole

 

Luperon, sometimes referred to as Puerto Blanco, is an extraordinary hurricane hole, made secure by surrounding hills and holding ground of anchor-swallowing gelatinous muck. Thievery happens, but is rare. Many cruisers wait out hurricane season in Luperon because of its shelter, but also because hurricanes avoid this part of the North Coast, tending instead to track through the Bahamas or, like Georges in 1998, pass to the south on the other side of the Septentrional Mountains.

Unlike the Bahamas, the D.R. is a country best seen by land–a truism that affirms and enhances Luperon’s status as a great cruising destination. That’s because Luperon is the best staging area from which mariners can explore the entire D.R.–Santo Domingo included–whether by rental car or guided tour. Leave your prejudices behind, and the Dominican Republic will prove to be immensely amusing, filled with curious contradictions.

On the practical level, everything you need to continue your voyage is either readily available or, with patient investigation, obtainable. This is crucial to cruisers heading west to Cuba, where supplies are short. For eastbound cruisers, Luperon is the place to hunker down and await a weather window. In these waters, that means a period of diminished trade winds and seas; otherwise you face a head-on bash to Puerto Rico with only one port to break up the trip–Samana, a nest of outboard motor thieves.

Approaches

(19°57.0N, 70°56.5W is a point two nautical miles north of the harbor entrance.)

 

Even in the pre-dawn darkness you can see the bold shores of Hispaniola from far at sea, one black mountain ridge dwarfed by a bigger, blacker one behind. After weeks in the salt-scrubbed Bahamas, your noses and tongues will re-acquire a familiar odor. It is the cumulative of soil, grass, trees, manure, cars and charcoal fires, but mainly just damp soil like your garden’s.

As you near the waypoint above, the Hotel Tropical Luperon Beach Resort will stand out as white forms against the terrain. The harbor entrance is just to the east.

Your next waypoint is 19°55.0N, 70°56.5 W, at 1/4 of a mile from the harbor mouth. Inside the mouth, a small headland extends from the eastern shore; from the waypoint, come in toward the tip of that headland on a bearing of 190 degrees magnetic. This will take you between occasionally breaking reefs on either side, which are marked (usually) by red and green balls.

As you enter, the depth should level off at 12 feet then deepen. Before the headland, come right gradually, keeping between green and red stake buoys leading to the westernmost of the harbor’s two pools. Mangroves divide this pool in two parts with Marina Puerto Blanco’s docks to starboard and the government wharf to port. Mind the marks, motor slowly and watch for sandbars.

For local knowledge, put out a call on Channel 68, which is monitored by every cruiser in the harbor. Channel 16, while not restricted to Dominican military use, is nearly useless because no one but the Navy listens to it.

Entry procedures: Anchor anywhere with Q flag hoisted and wait for Dominican entry officials in a skiff; it is customary to offer them a cold soft drink. If they don’t show, dinghy to the government dock and walk into town. At the outskirts, to the left is a path leading to a small bridge and the hilltop naval outpost. The commandante will record your presence, giving you legal permission to wander about on land. The immigration officer will catch up with you later.

Fees are $10 U.S. for the boat, $10 for each passport, a $5 harbor fee and $5 garbage and water fee at the government dock. The passport fee buys you the equivalent of a 90-day (renewable) tourist visa.

As in Mexico, Dominican officialdom enforces an antiquated system of “despachos,” requiring cruisers to check in with the Navy and fill out paperwork at every port. In fact, cruisers are technically forbidden from visiting places that are not ports of entry.

That may change by the time you arrive. As new marinas are developed, the Navy’s top admiral is pushing to establish a system of three-month cruising permits similar to what is done in the Bahamas. Go Navy. Beat bureaucracy.

Charts: Incredible as it may seem, no large-scale government chart of Luperon exsts. Hispaniona 017 by Wavey Line Publishing, available at major chart providers, depicts a small-scale view of the Turks and Caicos, the north coast of the Dominican Republic and western Puerto Rico with several harbor charts on the backside. It’s an excellent chart, which includes waypoints, but again, Luperon is inexplicably omitted. Your solution is in the next paragraph.

Cruising Guides: All the chartlets and waypoints for landfalls between the Turks and Caicos and Puerto Rico are included in “The Gentleman’s Guide To Passages South” by Bruce Van Sant. This excellent resource is not a cruising guide per se, but a discussion of passage-making techniques intended to exorcize some of those thorns from the “thorny path to windward.” But because there is no cruising guide to the Dominican Republic–or Puerto Rico, for that matter–Van Sant has devoted substantial portions of his book to shoreside information about these places, including provisioning tips and an amusing section on how to master “Spanglish.”

Van Sant, himself a denizen of Luperon, keeps his Schucker 440 trawler Tidak Apa in the harbor, while he and wife, Rosa, make their home a dozen steps up the hill from Puerto Blanco Marina. Van Sant long ago traded the real world, where he was an aerospace engineer, for the peripatetic life he has led since.

Whenever he’s not cruising the Bahamas or Spanish Virgin Islands to update his books, Van Sant holds court–he would hate the phrase–at the marina restaurant, dispensing advice and debating politics. Easy to identify, Don Bruce likes to wear a white Panama hat, white shirt with French cuffs and cargo shorts.

The “Gentleman’s Guide” is available at stateside marine stores or through Cruising Guide Publications at 727.733.5322; www.cruisingguides.com.

For the Boat

 

British expatriate Julia Bartlett founded Flutterby Boater Services in association with Puerto Blanco Marina and it’s a clearinghouse of valuable information. She’s a bit of a legend, too, having single-handed across the Atlantic and cruised the Caribbean for years. Don’t worry about having to look for her or her associates; they’ll find you. If Julia’s not off cruising, she’ll be the blonde putt-putting up to your boat wearing butterfly wings, hence Flutterby.

The Flutterbys will boat-sit while you explore the interior, as well as care for your pets. They will deliver your boat to Puerto Rico or provide crew for the sometimes difficult Mona Passage crossing. They will also deliver fresh baked bread to your boat, a small loaf for 25 pesos, larger for 50 (at this writing the exchange rate was 16.5 pesos per U.S. dollar.)

Fuel and water: While there are no gas docks anywhere on the North Coast, quality diesel fuel is available in Luperon. Ask Flutterby to help you arrange a delivery; small amounts will be jugged out to your boat; otherwise you can make an appointment for a fuel truck to meet you at Puerto Blanco Marina or the government dock. Fuel in the D.R. likely will be substantially cheaper than in the Turks and Caicos, your other refueling option thereabouts. Water is available at the government dock and Puerto Blanco marina, but it’s for washing, not drinking. Bottled water in 6-gallon jugs is sold at the marina.

Marinas: Marina Puerto Blanco (809-571-8644) is more than a marina; it is headquarters for the cruising community. Owned by the Fernandez family and managed by Lenin Fernandez, it is a one-stop shop with bar and restaurant, drop-off laundry, garbage facilities, showers, water and car and truck rentals.

The restaurant menu is a balance of Dominican and gringo dishes–cheeseburgers being a favorite. The restaurant/bar puts on film nights, trivia contests, dance nights and, on Sundays, a boater’s flea market in the morning segues into an afternoon barbecue.

Moorings: A couple of years ago the government placed moorings in the harbor, but my correspondents now report that many have broken loose and any remaining are best avoided.

Provisioning: Luperon has three small grocery stores with basic provisions, one of which, Supermecardo El Sol, caters to cruisers by providing free delivery to the dock. A fresh vegetable truck visits the marina regularly, its arrival announced on Channel 68.

Puerto Plata, the North Coast’s biggest city, has three large American-style supermarkets that offer most of the foods you’re used to, including high-quality cuts of frozen meats from the U.S. The inland city of Santiago has a supermarket bigger than I’ve ever seen in the states, but maybe I don’t get around much.

If your vessel runs on beer, this is the place to get it. Presidente and Bohemia are the best in terms of quality and price for a thousand miles in any direction. Aged sipping rums by Brugal and Macorix are as smooth as fine brandy.

A cruising couple, Brian and Margie, have opened a marine store on 27 de Febrero in town, advertising charts, filters, canvas repairs and courtesy flags.

As in Mexico, many drugs sold by prescription in the U.S. are available over-the-counter in the D.R., including Viagra. Luperon’s Danessa pharmacy overlooking the village’s central square is a good place to stock up on antibiotics, seasickness preventatives and painkillers if you are continuing on .

Crew changes: Puerto Plata International Airport is just more than an hour away, with several daily flights to New York, Miami and San Juan. A steady stream of European flights arrive carrying fodder for the area’s all-inclusive resorts. A cab ride from Luperon to the airport costs about $40.

Communications: Codetel on Calle Duarte is the telephone office with direct-dial booths, fax and Internet service. Punto Internet on Independencia also offers email and Internet services as well as a host of computer services and photo developing.

Things To Do

 

Music and dance: Dominican grandmothers bounce babies on their laps to the rhythm of meringue. Dominican teens dance as if their bones were made of rubber, but the moves are quite elegant compared to the “dirty dancing” you may have witnessed in the Bahamas or Miami.

Mario Vargas Llosa, quoted at the beginning of this article, summarizes the relationship Dominicans have with music, but in his list of musical styles, he makes an all-too-common omission. Vargas Llosa fails to mention Bachata, a musical style enormously popular on the North Coast, though it is looked down upon by urban sophisticates who prefer the relentless dance rhythms of today’s techno-meringue.

Bachata, characterized by plinkity-plink guitars and simple drums, is called the “music of bitterness” and is sometimes compared to North American Country Western. The lyrics bewail love lost, and the Dominican people seem to know every word to every song; they sing along with the boom boxes. It seems so romantic–and so unlike Dominican reality. To me, Dominican courtship is highly adversarial, like watching cats mate. Despite or because of that contradiction, I am a Bachata fan, and my favorite practitioner is Antony Santos, who reminds me of a young Frank Sinatra.

Bachata and meringue can be heard at Luperon’s discos, including one next to the Luperon Beach Resort Hotel, which often features live performers. For a night out in the big city, have dinner at Café Cito (see restaurants), then check out Orion Discoteque, a world-class dance venue. Bring earplugs. And beware: Any establishment calling itself “nightclub” is probably also a whorehouse.

Sights And Tours: Once again Flutterby is a good source of information, and Julia herself organizes regular horseback riding tours from Mario’s Ranch in Luperon. Horses are best for touring the area’s lush and otherwise inaccessible countryside. Mario will find a beast to match your skills as a rider because if you’re up to it, the sand flats are good for galloping.

About 45 minutes down the road to Puerto Plata is the crossroads city of Imbert (which has the nearest ATM). Just outside of town and set back in the forest are falls that will remind you of God’s own waterslide. A hired guide will help you alternately climb and swim up successive levels until you’ve reached your limit (four is usual, seven for the boldest souls). You then slide down granite half-pipes worn as smooth as polished marble by eons of rushing water, and leap into a deep pool at the base of the cliffs. Climb and slide take about a half hour.

About 10 miles west is the seaside village of La Isabella, site of the first European settlement in the New World, founded by Columbus. Himself. There is a museum and ruins of the old Spanish fortress, which was bulldozed by mistake in the 1950s.

(That’s a good story. Dictator Rafael Trujillo, villain of the previously mentioned novel “The Feast of the Goat,” wanted to impress visitors with a tour of the old fort so he phoned ahead to local authorities. “Clean the place up,” he ordered, and when Trujillo wanted clean, by God, you cleaned. They revved up the bulldozers and flattened the place. Trujillo, responsible for the deaths of 100,000 people during his three-decade rule, was ambushed and shot to death by a group of brave young men in 1961.)

There are several good tour guides in the Luperon area that can help you hire a late-model minivan and driver for an overnight trip to the capital or a visit to the mountains. In a day you can traverse lush lowlands, cross a desert and finish the day with mountain views, including Pico Duarte, the highest point in the Caribbean at 10,094 feet. Duarte is one of 20 peaks in the “Dominican Alps” higher than Mount Washington in New Hampshire (6,288 feet) or Mount Mitchell in North Carolina (6,684 feet).

On one of those Dominican mountains, is the village of Arrastrando Tu Pierna, where there is said to exist a gravitational anomaly that allows the villagers to bounce around like squirrels and chickens to roost in treetops.

Shopping: Bruce Van Sant’s wife, Rosa, operates a nifty little gift shop at the marina. Called the Dominican Treasure Shop, it sells high-quality jewelry and clothing. Rosa, who is Dominican, is a reliable source of local knowledge, and her shop has a boater’s directory of local suppliers and services compiled by boaters. The Dominican Republic is a mother lode of amber, some of it complete with an ancient insect inside. Larimar, another semi-precious gem, is found only in the D.R. It comes in colors ranging from sky blue to blue-green. This is nice stuff and looks great set in gold and silver.

Cigars: Tim Hall is an expatriate Montrealer, a long-time refugee from the frozen north who wears several hats. By day, he operates a Canadian consulate from a sidestreet in Puerto Plata. By night, he moves to the second floor where he runs Café Cito (a restaurant to be discussed later). Behind the consulate he maintains a well-humidified room filled with Cuevas Hermanos cigars.

Hall took me on a tour of the Cuevas Hermanos factory on my last trip to the D.R., explaining in his gravelly voice that most Cuevas production is bought by famous brands and resold under their labels. As dozens of workers rolled the aromatic brown leaf, light skinned, well-dressed caballeros walked the floor puffing puros. I was warned not to take their pictures lest some reader make the connection between this factory and whichever name-brand these gentlemen represented. Secretive bunch, these stogie-mongers.

Hall led me through the stages of cigarmaking, culminating with a puffing machine, which sends a measured blast of air through each cigar to ensure a good draw. Cigar Aficionado in its April 2001 issue called the factory “one of the best examples of the boutique manufacturer’s art.”

The D.R. is one of the biggest cigar producers in the world, so you can expect to find cigars for sale around every corner–the good, the bad, the indifferent–often at disproportionate prices. Hall, in his effort to create a “cigar culture” for his restaurant, has honed in on the Cuevas house brands to ensure consistent quality.

Because I don’t smoke, I’ve relied on correspondents to whom I provided a Christmas supply of Cuevas smokes for testing.

“The Cuevas Habanos was a surprisingly good cigar, well-rolled with an even cool draw. Mild to medium bodied in flavor, it was an unexpected pleasure. The 1492 with its slightly darker wrapper turned out to be a top-notch smoke with perfect draw, great white ash and again, a mild to medium bodied punch,” wrote Wayne Chick, a New Hampshire newspaperman. “Good and smooth,” commented Ray Kucklinka, a New Jersey high school teacher.

Hall wears a fourth hat. He operates an excellent website providing information on the North Coast of the Dominican Republic: www.popreport.com.

Restaurants: Unlike Mexico, the D.R. is no dining destination. Dominicans eat a healthy, if monotonous diet of beans and rice, salad and small portions of fried chicken, pork chops, stewed beef or occasional fish. So popular is chicken with beans and rice, in fact, that it’s called La Bandera Dominicana, the Dominican Flag.

Dominican food is OK as far as it goes, but what saves the cruising palate from certain boredom is the institution of mixed marriages. Several restaurants in the Luperon area are Belgian-Dominican or German-Dominican husband-and-wife teams. This includes El Belga, Pequeno Mundo and La Casa Del Sol.

Just Go

Conversations with boatbuilders suggest that most power cruisers, at least on the East Coast, aspire not so much to bluewater passages as those comfortable slides down the archipelagoes that lead step-by-step from the Florida peninsula to shores of South America. Island hoppers take a left at Luperon for the Lesser Antilles; a right for Cuba and the Yucatan.

Luperon’s strategic position opposite the Turks and Caicos on the D.R.’s North Coast makes it an obvious component of any southbound cruising plans. The bonuses of such a layover are manifold, not the least of which is the potential for a rich cargo of memories, which in the end are all we have left worth a damn.

Two paragraphs above I used the word “aspire” because as a community our potential for great adventure is largely unrealized. You’ve got the dream. You’ve got the boats. The path lies before you. Luperon awaits

by Peter Swanson
photography by the author

Perla de Sosua

Published 25 Nov / 12 for 1 year 60$

brentlewis@rentavillas.com

Well appointed private villa in Lomas Mironas

First posted November 25 2012 / 1 year contract / 60$

Luxuriating at Villa Castellamonte

My Magical Villa Birthday Bash in the Dominican Republic

I have been coming to the North Coast of the Dominican Republic for more than 15 years and it has come a long way baby! Your North Coast experience can be anything you want it to be. Now being called the Amber Riviera, upscale is the direction in which the whole area is going.

If you fly into the international airport for Puerto Plata (POP), minutes away is the popular Playa Dorada resort. One of the first resort complexes in the country, it put the D.R. on the tourist map with its all-inclusive hotels. There are about a dozen with the exception of the five-star boutique beauty, Casa Colonial. Those dozen are renovating and upgrading to compete with the newer genre of all-inclusives in Punta Cana. The standout, (Casa Colonial) designed by the celebrated architect, Sara Garcia, is pricey but hotels of a comparable quality in the Caribbean, particularly in the French islands, can cost three times more.

When you venture out to more remote areas, the North Country is like Eden. Rich, tropical vegetation grows up the hillsides to the cliffs. The beaches between Rio San Juan and Cabrera are unspoiled, pristine and relatively unpopulated. (Unspoiled beaches and land are becoming a rarity in the Caribbean.) On some, you feel as if you were set adrift from your larger vessel and landed on an undiscovered isle. Play castaways or better yet, Adam and Eve.

Just one hour down the coastal road from the cacophony of Cabarete, (30 minutes from the POP airport) Cabrera is a new “in” destination. The phrase “The Dominican Hamptons” has been coined, and with validity. This area is helping to redefine the D.R. vacation experience and the vacation rental company to help you experience it is North Coast Management (NCM).

Sosua and Cabarete have their fun quotient, but can be too much of a good thing, with the negatives that accompany party towns, not to mention the traffic and diesel fumes and dust. The action is there if you want it, just an hour’s drive to the west over a well-paved highway. More gentile types, well-heeled travelers, baby boomers, and upscale wedding groups prefer the luxurious residences available as rentals in the towns of Cabrera and Abreu, This area now has some of the most high-end holiday homes in the country. Most are within private resort/residential enclaves, many fully staffed and offering the kind of lifestyle pictured in society pages.

These vacation villas were unimaginable even a decade ago in this farming community. This campo (countryside), where most of the land was, and still is, in livestock and agriculture, is becoming a boom-town. Interestingly, el centro, or downtown Cabrera, is still a sleepy, dusty Dominican town with a central square. In a land of warm, hospitable people, Cabrerans are among the nicest.

We had the thrill of staying at Villa Castellamonte in Orchid Bay Estates for my birthday week. I took the experience as a sign that aging was going to be pleasurable! The first time I ever saw Orchid Bay’s beach, the blue dream of the sky and the aquamarine waters, it seemed surreal. Fragrant almond trees dipped sensually to the golden sands. The staggered sea cliffs were colored with wild orchids that bloomed a lipstick shade of hot pink. Villa Castellamonte is the crown jewel of a boutique collection of waterfront estates there.

The Sporting Life

Several sporting options are in easy range of the Cabrera/Abreu area, “beaching it” being the perennial favorite. Among other possibilities are championship golf, scuba diving, atv rides, surfing, horseback riding and the list goes on. A little farther afield, the range goes from mountain biking to kite surfing in Cabarete and even whale watching in Samana.
Beach aficionados rave about the ones in this unspoiled region and Hollywood filmmakers have used Playa Entrada as a set (most recently for Love Wrecked). It is one of the longest stretches of beach on the north coast that is untouched. And in the lens of a movie camera, it looks like it is at the end of the world! Yet you can get a cold beer and a hot empanada at one of the beach shacks. If you are looking for this beach, it is in La Entrada, which is part of Cabrera, at the Km 21 marker on the Rio San Juan – Cabrera Highway.

Playa Grande (Big Beach) is perhaps the most famous of the area beaches, and is where the storied golf course of the same name is. Condé Nast Traveler listed it as one of the top ten beaches in the world. It is an amazing stretch of golden sand, with cliffs on either side. These promontories are punctuated with some of the course’s most celebrated holes.

Preciosa in Spanish, should you not be able to be figure it out, means precious; the beach next to Playa Grande (playa is beach, by the by) is named Playa Preciosa… because it is so very beautiful. Alas, it is excellent for wave surfing…if you are looking for calm, go instead to Playa El Breton, Playa Caleton or Playa Diamonte. Take snorkeling gear as it is lovely under the surface and a bag, for sea shells are there for the picking. BYO in general, for there are no facilities, but that means quiet and no litter, either, which is a good thing.

Simply put, I have always said: Things look different from the back of a horse. This is as true here as anywhere, even more so, because this country is so physically beautiful, from the beaches to the mountains and everywhere in between. The area around Cabrera is ranch country. Ranch country translates to horse country, just like in our western states.

It is well worth abandoning your chaise lounge for a few hours to explore the interior. You go through trails that traverse the countryside and into the rainforests, which is a singular adventure. (You won’t find them in Wyoming!) Rainforests have a preternatural stillness about them, one that all but commands you to hush-up. You listen to the nature noises and watch for wildlife and get into the rhythm of your horse, with the cadence of his hoof steps. Other times you get silly, singing cowboy songs and after a rest stop, repeating such western clichés as “Head ‘em up and move ‘em out!”

Rancho Marabel has horses, and there are others that rent out mounts, but me thinks it is best to take the advice of your villa manager and let him make the arrangements. They will determine if it is better for your group to go with Iguana Mama, the area’s top adventure tour company. This way your transportation is taken care of and you have Spanish-speaking staff to help with translating questions and requests. Usually, you will have at least one English-speaking guide on the trail and the cost is quite reasonable, especially considering the drinks and snacks.

Welcome to a whole other water world! One can snorkel by just walking into the ocean or book passage on a dive boat to a sandy beach and have a look-see at colorful, underwater gardens and offshore reefs. The north coast has numerous walls, wreck and caverns. Ancient sunken galleons are among the lures.

We booked a cavern dive that departs from Gri Gri Lagoon in Rio San Juan. (Inquire in advance if you will be given an underwater flashlight.) Some of us snorkeled while others dove and then entered some sea caves. We then visited an idyllic beach in a quiet cove and were amused by the unexpected sculptures. Our boat glided briefly and quietly through a mangrove swamp, teeming with tropical sea birds, before it docked back in the lagoon.

I advise that you go with a PADI 5-Star dive shop to be assured of quality, dependability and safety. NCM generally phones Northern Coast Diving, based in Sosua. (It’s the only National Geographic Center in the D.R.) If you have rented a car, you can meet them at the Lagoon, or they will transport you by van.

Between the towns of Rio San Juan and Cabrera, Playa Grande Golf Course is described as the Pebble Beach of the Caribbean, with 10 holes along cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The standard remark: “Challenging for the best players, but playable for everybody,” actually applies here. You may have heard tell of this oceanfront course, perhaps from a friend who came last year and tipped you off to the villa possibilities in this area.

Playa Grande carries the signature of Robert Trent Jones, Sr., and in fact, was the last course he designed before his death. Greens are huge, varied in shape and steeply sloped, but with few tricky undulations. Since everything grows so well here, fairways are incredibly lush, and the course is naturally landscaped with native flowers. It is less expensive and less crowded than other prominent courses because it is some distance from the major tourist zones. Alas, this noble course is going private but the new Playa Grande Resort with Aman Resorts coming to build one of their own crown jewels will definitely spice up the area.

This course will be closing in early 2009 for renovations and will go private when it reopens, available to members only. Home owners in the area will likely have memberships. Playa Grande Resort is developing a second course in the coming year as well. It will be semi-private and pretty much open to a wide variety of people. Until then, and for the remainder of 2008, villa guests can easily get tee-times at what just may be one of the great golf courses of the world.

The Night Life

Much of what you do at night, like in “The Big Chill,” will take place in the privacy of “your home,” enjoying your lavish surroundings and the pleasure of the company of your housemates, be they family, friends or colleagues.

One lifetime memory was my birthday night at Villa Castellamonte. We had a progressively wonderful dinner starting with yucca fritters and crudités accompanied by Moet Chandon, Pork tenderloin stuffed with goat cheese and spinach atop tamarind sauce followed, accompanied by a sweet potato puree and an arugula salad.

The British pastry chef made a pineapple upside down cake at my request, and after the dinner plates were cleared away, the lights were dimmed. Through the swinging kitchen door, the cake emerged, flaming with candles and followed by the villa staff singing Feliz Cumpleaños. It was dramatic!

We adjourned to the game room for some vintage rum in snifters, some of the men smoking their Fuente cigars outdoors. We had two teenagers amongst us, a 14 and a 17-year-old, and they alternated between playing ping-pong, pool, and shuffleboard.

Three of our gang got involved with the karaoke equipment; with the lyrics coming clear on the wide screen TV. They became addicted and sang their heart out for a solid hour. One of the guys seductively unbuttoned his shirt while crouching low to mouth an Elvis ballad. Another gal was consistently scoring 90s on the karaoke Richter scale, as she belted out one show tune after another. It was really fascinating to watch as who-was-playing-what gradually changed.

The boys abandoned the ping-pong table for the video games and their father, Elvis reincarnated, started to play pong with another guy, who previously was content to smoke his Opus X. His wife joined me as we tried our talents on the karaoke mike, while my niece and the high-ranking soprano wet their tired whistles. And so it went until everyone gave up the ghost and retired to their luxurious suites. For me it had been a glorious birthday, and as the B’Day girl I had the master suite. Looking up from the many, downy pillows to the sensual ceiling painting illuminated by the gas fireplace, I said: “This is the good life!”

That was September and I just received an e-mail from one couple who said they are still talking about my birthday bash. Memories were made of this!

As for other nocturnal adventures, we enjoyed the nights we would make forays into town, particularly right around Happy Hour. You can get a drink to go (para llevar) from one of the bars, like the Town Square, and mingle with locals in the park. They head there after work and always on a Sunday. Later in the night you can safely hit some of the Dominican bars and discos. They can be a fun change of pace and the people are dancers! In a single night, you can learn to merengue and bachata, and discover body rhythms that you never knew you had.

Every town has a patron saint and in Cabrera, the annual Patronales Festival in late September, lasts for nine days. Like everything else here, the action is centered in and around the central park and the whole town comes out. From the makeshift stage, live bands electrify the night. Some years, national recording artists perform.

Food booths serve the favored local snacks, like empanadas, and there are Presidente beer stands. Vendors sell inexpensive souvenirs and jewelry and kids’ stuff. Meanwhile the children of the Dominicans and expats are in a frenzy racing between the carnival rides and the cotton candy stands.

On a normal weekend, “the” thing to do on a Friday night is to go on up to the Hotel La Catalina. Make dinner reservations according to the time the songbird starts to sing. This hillside hideaway has dramatic oceanfront views from its terrace, so go for cocktail hour. The bar is convivial and you can easily make new friends, a diplomat just in from the capital, a French Canadian escaping Montreal’s winter.

Luxury Villas – Another Way to Vacation

Once you are aware of the villa alternative, and then experience it, it is hard to go back. It is like the old adage: Once you have been to Paree, it’s hard to go back to the farm. It takes you no time at all to get used to the good life.

Having had years of all-inclusive experiences, what an incredible difference it is not to have to elbow your way through a throng of strangers to get a cocktail. Often, amidst those strangers there is not anyone you would normally want to party with and the cocktails are substandard, a Dominican brand of liquor and some juice made from a powder.

“At our own villa,” we had an inventory of top-shelf liquors and quality mixers, even coconuts and fresh-squeezed juice. Our butler served it on a silver tray decorated with tropical flowers. This old saying may now be politically incorrect, but one of our gang asked: “I wonder what the poor people are doing?”

Luxury villa rentals are not for your average Joe, this be the facts. They are for savvy travelers who don’t like crowds and who are seeking a personalized vacation experience with privacy a priority, particularly around the pool and in dining areas. Again, if you have ever been to an all-inclusive resort, which has some 2,000 guests and is a low four star or less, you will remember litter and un-bussed tables. You will remember over-populated swimming pools with Dominican music at a deafening decibel and animation boys blowing whistles and aggressively coaxing you into the games people play! Whew!

One of the things we loved was our pool complex, which was beautifully designed with a bubbling hot tub. There is a diving board and my niece has a diving talent and performed tirelessly for us. The teenage boys were like dolphins, in and out, up and down. We had the sound system going but with our choice of music. If we were loud, it was our noise not that of a multi-generational, local family with a half dozen kids out shouting each other.

A favorite recollection was the first night the boys arrived and the older one, always impressed with wealth, said: “You didn’t tell us we were coming to a palace?”

I said: “I told you it was a palazzo, and that means palace in Italian. The name of the villa is Castellamonte, get it?” (little castle on a hill according to the owner)

“Right,” he answered and said: “Let me get a towel, I believe it’s hot-tub time.”

He reemerged in the terry-cloth robe that was in his suite. He had rolled up the sleeves and was wearing a gold chain and walking with a swagger. He had his arm cocked and a beach towel was hanging from it. “Jacuzzi anyone?” he queried. We laughed! Our young Huge Hefner!

In most of the villas that NCM manages, meals are not in the rental price, but must be added for a moderate daily supplement, which includes an allotment of wine and liquor. “At our place,” we enjoyed snacks and meals when we wanted them. The cookie jar was always filled with something homemade and scones were a breakfast favorite. Although, we would give our personal chef an idea of when he should be ready, we weren’t locked into specific time frames, like at a resort. We were able to choose our meals in advance, based on individual preferences. Our well-trained staff really went out of their way to please and pamper, and they were fun…not formal. Several of the key employees spoke English well.

Villa Castellamonte’s philosophy is: “Your vacation is all about you – what you want, how you want it, and when.” That works for me!!

And one of the very best things about one of the greatest vacation weeks ever, was interacting with the Matthews family who owns and operates North Coast Management. A retired self-admitted techno-geek, Jason, and his lovely wife Michelle, started the company to help manage their own vacation home (the very same Villa Castellamonte). They are ultimately efficient, not to mention hip, hospitable, and helpful. A small example: For my birthday dinner they brought fresh arugula from their farm, as I had mentioned in passing I wanted an arugula salad.

Felicita, the villa concierge, can make anything happen in Cabrera, which is her hometown. Once married to an American, she understands our North American mentality, which was a big plus. She also coordinates some dozen, glorious weddings a year at Villa Castellamonte and other nearby ultra-luxury villas overseen by NCM. In all of Orchid Bay, Villa Castellamonte del Mare is one that is most in demand for on-site weddings and is my personal favorite.

Villa Flor de Cabrera, also located in Orchid Bay Estates, is another drop-dead dazzler. We paid it a neighborly visit; the Association of South Carolina Chiropractors had just vacated the 10 bedrooms, leaving behind their positive comments, which were more like rave reviews. The pool with its water sculptures and the view of their pristine beach are dreamy. Excellent taste is exhibited throughout, from the architecture to the contemporary furnishings of this, the newest of the mega-villas.

The kitchen staff is fine-tuned for feeding upscale groups, especially wedding parties. There are two kitchens; one is a huge commercial one. Each of NCM’s villas has its own unique features. Another plus for this one is that there is a separate, master casita, ideal for a bride and groom or the big Kahuna of a corporate group. One of the most costly in the inventory, it is heartwarming to know that after expenses are covered, this villa’s profits all go to local charities benefiting the Dominican people.

There are no cookie cutters amongst the villas of North Coast Management. Each is architecturally designed and individualistic. The unique character of these villas is a key attribute as are the differing staffs, all with wonderful personalities reflective of the villa and the owners.

Another fave of mine, perhaps because of my fond memories of Indonesia, is the multi-unit home that looks like a modern Balinese village. At Sunrise Villa there is the “Manana Bar” where you feel immediately relaxed as you start drinking…an ancient island ritual. A fun, party place, a giant, outdoor chess set stimulates competitiveness. It does not have the elegant furniture such as Castellamonte or Flor de Cabrera, but the casual environment is ideal for golfing buddies or families with kids. Yet it has privacy in that each bedroom suite is in its own building. The on-site manager, Chris, is one of the American owners and is a very cool type. He can boast an 11-handicap and is always willing to play a round of golf with an in-house group.

Sunrise is an earlier design of Sara Garcia, and perhaps because I know and admire her, I am drawn to another nearby residence that she did in Seatree Estates, the newest gated community in the nearby town of Abreu. Villa Cantamar is a contemporary dream house with four-bedrooms and is priced as moderately as $800 a night in low season. Because it is so reasonable and romantic, couples, particularly honeymooners, take it on their own.

Villa Cantamar stirs the blood…its secluded location is dramatic…on a cliffside elevation looking down to the ocean and onto a picture perfect horseshoe bay framed by a rugged coastline. You see no other houses, just raw beauty. A 2.5 acre estate, it is set back on a rolling lawn. Security, like at all the villas, is staunch, yet unobtrusive. The all-night security guards are seldom obvious to guests, but they are there.

I had occasion to visit another ultra-luxurious vacation home managed by NCM, in the well-established enclave of Sea Horse Ranch, between Cabarete and Sosua. Villa Catalina, also known as Numero Uno (its address within the compound) is a jaw-dropper! Once you see this place it is indelibly etched in your memory bank. If you are a lover of expensive modern art, enjoy the whimsy of offbeat sculpture, including life-size cartoon creations, even a Soprano’s pinball machine, you will be dazzled by this seven-bedroom, contemporary mansion. With a rose-colored stucco exterior, it has its own beach, an ocean cavern, 3 1/2 acres of sweeping lawn that drops down to the water, a white-on-white interior, and art, art, art in every room on every floor.

If someone asked me if we would opt for a luxurious villa again, the answer would be a resounding “yes.”

Should you?

To begin the decision-making process, you need to consider the type of individualized experience you want, your personal preferences and budget and how important your privacy is to you. Although, initially, the villas, particularly the larger ones, may seem out of reach financially, you have to take into consideration the number of bedrooms and divide the total price by that figure, providing that you will have all of them taken.

Larger villas of eight to ten bedrooms or suites are generally booked by larger travel parties such as family reunions, corporate retreats, wedding groups and those celebrating anniversaries or landmark birthdays. They are perfect for a “Big Chill” gathering. It comes out to be about the same cost as a five-star hotel room – and then you just have a room.

Here in a private vacation villa you have the amenities of the five-star hotel but with the entire facility for your private use along with a personable staff dedicated solely to your pleasure. (The Dominican nannies love children.) Then there is the food supplement, which takes in all of your meals and snacks and yet is about the price of a good dinner.

Not all vacation homes are ultra-luxurious; there are others available that are quite moderate in price. NCM has some that are popular with honeymoon couples, spacious but not mega-houses, with pools and the best attribute — privacy.

Another consideration is that even if a villa is super-posh, it still has a warm, homey environment, especially in comparison to the impersonal and commercial nature of a resort. Cleanliness factors into the equation, as it is a private home and not a heavily trafficked hotel with a high litter quotient.

For me, I loved that there was free broadband WiFi at Villa Castellamonte as well as a dedicated DSL line; long distance calls were easily made and were literally free because they were Internet phones! I could do what work I had to either in the office, if everyone was in the game room, or in that room if the others were outside, spreading out my papers on the oversized coffee table and enjoying the sound system. As opulent as it was, our place was as laid back as the garden hammock, where I would take my afternoon siestas.

Many adults who chose the villa alternative and particularly their children, have never experienced anything like these grand homes. They just may be spoiled forever for any other kind of vacation. It is like that ad campaign for MasterCard that gives the prices of various necessities and luxuries that one can buy and finishes by saying:

The price of a villa vacation? Priceless

For further information please click to North Coast Management

– opens new page




Whale season Jan 15 – March 25

SAMANA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC—Kim Beddall left her hometown of Pickering, Canada, in 1983 after answering a newspaper ad looking for someone to teach scuba diving in the Dominican Republic.

“I wanted to live where it was warm and go on ski vacations, instead of doing it in reverse,” she says with a grin.

But Beddall soon found that while the weather was wonderful on the peninsula at the north-eastern end of this popular Canadian destination, the diving was hardly spectacular. It was only in talking to local fishermen that she discovered something else.

“We have whales here,” they told her. “We don’t know why they come or what they are doing here, but we have whales.”

In fact, as Beddall was to discover later, the Dominican Republic is home to a huge number of North Atlantic humpback whales that arrive in late December and leave in mid-March each year, mating and calving in the wide, sheltered bay.

So, after watching and studying the whales for a few years, Beddall bought herself a little fishing boat and started taking tourists out in the bay. There they heard the humpback’s solitary courting song and saw a dramatic display of whales breaching, diving, lob-tailing (smacking the surface of the water with their tail) and flippering (rolling and hitting the water with their flippers).

These days, Beddall’s boat is the 50-foot fibreglass Victoria II which can hold 60 people.

“Over the years the boats got a little bit bigger and better,” Beddall says. “This one is very comfortable and you have 360-degree viewing from both decks.”

An estimated 10,000 to 12,000 whales visit Samana Bay throughout the season, alone or in pairs.

“They are eating one ton of small fish in the North Atlantic on a daily basis, so you don’t want to hang out with many friends,” Beddall notes with typical dry humour.

“They maintain that loose social structure, except when there’s fertile female. Then you can get anytwhere from two to 20 males, fighting it out for the right to escort the female.”

And thanks to her pioneering work, whale-watching is now big business in Samana, with eight established companies and about a dozen “independents,” as Beddall calls them. Some of her employees have been with her for 14 years, she says, and others have gone on to found whale-watching companies of their own.

“Technically I suppose I would be considered the founder of whalewatching in Samana,” she say. “It’s been really exciting to see it develop and to see the economic impact on the area.”

Beddall estimates that whalewatching along the whole north coast of the Dominican Republic generates about $8 million (U.S.) a year.

And it is the economic benefits that she stresses in her fight to enforce whale-watching regulations, such as how many boats can watch whales at any one time and how close they can get.

“In developing countries you need to give your resource an economic value — I can buy clothes for my kids, I can fix my roof. And if the whales don’t come back, you lose your income.”

The rate of compliance is about 70 to 75 per cent rate, she says. “Some people are a little less disciplined than others.”

But she’s satisfied with what’s been achieved so far. “Samana Bay is the third most important reproductive area for whales in the North Atlantic and we are considered one of the top ten places in the world to watch whales,” she says with pride in her voice.

But one small regret remains.

“I have taken people from all over the world whale-watching, but very few Canadians,” she says. “I am crazy to have Canadians on board.”

by Robert Crew / Toronto Star

BOOK THIS / INQUIRE

New route guide highlights the Santiago-Puerto Plata panoramic mountain pass

The Ruta Panoramica between Santiago Puerto Plata crosses the dramatic northern mountain range

PUERTO PLATA — A new eco-tourism option has emerged in Puerto Plata Province with the recent launch of a map-guide that promotes activities and points of interest along the Gregorio Luperon Tourist Highway, a scenic mountain road that connects the Puerto Plata coastal region with Santiago and the Cibao Valley

“From ocean to mountains, enjoy 30 kms of “Pure Nature!” says the guide,  while summarizing the services, attractions and activities available between La Cumbre and Gran Parada, including the amber mines in La Cumbre, the fertile coffee region of Pedro García and the sugarcane traditions of Montellano.

Easy to use, the guide’s information is ordered sequentially and correlates with a series of A-B-C etc marker signs installed every two kilometers along the highway. The signs were installed in conjunction with the initiation of the highway’s re-construction currently underway.

The map-guide promotes day trips along this scenic mountain road to shop (organic produce, local cheese, yogurts, jams, exotic flowers in more than six different nurseries, handmade gifts and furniture); for adventure (zipline, hiking, cascading, horseback riding) and discovery (amber mines, the Mirabal Sisters monument, panoramic views). It also invites you to a novel opportunity, to enjoy an authentic Dominican lunch in selected private homes along the highway.

The route guide is available in print along the route at selected points and can be downloaded free at www.RutaPanoramica.com

This project was underwritten by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency in cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism and the Institute for Professional Formation (INFOTEP), as part of the TURISOPP project for rural tourism development in Puerto Plata Province through private  – public sector cooperation. It is an initiative of the Municipal Unit for Cultural Heritage (UMPC) of Montellano – Yasica Arriba – Pedro García, an NGO constituted to create frameworks for the development and co-management of eco-tourism and cultural activities that contribute to sustainable growth for the region. It coincides with the efforts of US-AID and the Puerto Plata Tourism Cluster to reform the identity of Puerto Plata as a tourism destination.

Download the Panoramic Route Guide

Ocean World, the world’s first fully interactive marine park

by Ron Añejo – The POP Report

PUERTO PLATA- The brand new, $30 million Ocean World located in the exclusive Cofresi resort area isn’t about just sitting around and watching “Flipper” dance on his tail in the water — it’s about jumping in and dancing with him.

And it’s not about strolling past gigantic aquariums teeming with coral reefs and tropical fish and sharks— it’s about actually getting inside the aquarium and swimming with them.

“This is the first park of its kind, where you’re interactive with all the animals sea lions, dolphins, sharks, stingrays, tropical fish and tropical birds,” says Eric Bogden, director of operations.

Eric is an18-year veteran of Sea World parks in the States. He was netted by Ocean World’s owners to manage the design and completion of this unique park’s exhibits.

This is the second park operated by the same owners. Their first one, Dolphin Encounters, is a huge success located on Blue Lagoon Island near Nassau.

Ocean World is brand new and some of the exhibits will open over the next several months. “We’re training the sharks right now. Just this morning I had one sitting on my lap,” says Eric proudly. When the shark pool is ready, your friendly shark will stick his jaws out of the water for a photo op with you.

Open a scant six months, the dolphin swims and encounters are already selling out, attracting more than 100 people per day. Dolphin Swims, the ultimate experience where you actually get towed around the lake by a friendly pair of dolphins, are limited to 10 people twice daily, and are sold out more than a week in advance. And while we had to settle for a Dolphin Encounter, where up to 30 can participate; it turned out to be an unforgettable experience just the same.

“These animals are super sociable and want to have a good time,” explained one of the three trainers who were assigned to our group. “So the more you whoop it up, clap and have fun, the more they will respond and interact with you.”

Indeed, this isn’t about sitting in bleachers and watching animal tricks from a distance. This is about getting into your bathing suit and sitting with just a couple dozen people on a floating deck, with three trainers attending and three dolphins sharing an enclosed pool not much larger than a jacuzzi.

This is about standing in shallow water as a 400-pound dolphin comes up erect in front of you. You hold his fins, and, as the trainers whistle a quick five bars of merengue, you feel the power as he dances in your outstretched arms.

This is about standing in shallow water as Boomer, the newest arrival at Ocean World, comes right up to you for a hug, pressing his body against your chest, head on shoulder. And you feel the strength, the power and the gentle affection of these incredible mammals as they wiggle their snouts against your cheek for a friendly kiss.

“I was amazed with the quality of the whole event,” said Jan Maclean, a veteran diver who has swam with dolphins and whales in the open sea. “It was obvious the trainers were completely wrapped up in what they were doing. They really care about the animals”

“I found the setting to be spectacular,” said Jean Hall on vacation from Montreal. “It looked like a magazine picture of the Caribbean. I’ve never been to a place where the public is invited to touch, dance, stroke and feed the animals. Being that close to such a large animal, standing stomach to stomach with him was incredible.”

Ocean World has become a must-see in Puerto Plata. It’s open every day but you’d do well to reserve in advance.

***

OCEAN WORLD ADVENTURE PARK is the most advanced marine interaction park of its kind.  Boasting the largest man-made dolphin habitat in the world, Ocean World is a must-see attraction for everyone visiting the Dominican Republic.
Guests of Ocean World Adventure Park have the opportunity to touch, pet and feed dolphins, sea lions, sharks, stingrays, exotic tropical birds, meet tigers, walk through a tropical rain forest and much more.
Ocean World Adventure Park emphasizes personal experiences between guests and marine animals through interactive programs.  There are only a handful of such facilities in the world, and none that rival the variety and quality that Ocean World Adventure Park provides.

Sea Lion show & Encounters. The Patagonian Sea Lions featured in this program originated from Uruguay.   Two of them are male and six are female.  Guests are provided with an opportunity to touch, feed, pet and play with these wonderful animals in the Sea Lion Encounter Program. The Sea Lion Show draws great reviews as guests watch the animals perform amazing behaviors and stunts.
Sea Lion Facility Features
•    Total Area 780m2
•    Stadium seating 350 guests
•    Water volume 60,000 gallons in 4 pools
•    Filtration system high rate sand filters, protein skimmers, ozone treatment

Snorkel Reef. In the coral reef aquarium, snorkelers swim in a colorful reef teeming with hundreds of exotic fish.  The snorkeling here is available everyday of the year.  Visitors are most likely to encounter angel fish, puffers, grunts, tangs, jacks, butterfly fish, spade fish, look downs and lobsters.
Snorkel Reef Facility Features
•    Total area 305m2 and 2.0m average depth
•    Water volume 150,000 gallons
•    Estimated number of fish 2,000
•    Filtration system, high-rate sand, protein skimmers, biologic, ozone treatment, temperature controlled
•    Split level underwater viewing panels 1.5m high and 15m long

Dolphin Swims and Encounters. For many guests, the highlight of a visit to Ocean World Adventure Park is the rare opportunity to swim and play with beautiful Atlantic bottlenose dolphins.  The Dolphin Swim experience begins with a brief orientation and educational program.  Then guests enter the water for their introduction to dolphins.  Guests learn about dolphin behavior and discover how Ocean World Adventure Park trainers use hand signals and positive reinforcement to communicate with them.  Taking the experience one step further, guests encounter, kiss, hug, pet, and feed dolphins one on one in their environment.
West Dolphin Lagoon Features
•    Total area 2,400m2
•    Volume 4,000,000 est. gallons, up to 4.5m deep
•    Filtration turnover rate 4 hours
•    Stadium capacity estimate 450 seats
•    Filtration system high rate sand, protein skimmers, ozone treatment
East Dolphin Lagoon Features
•    Total area 24,000m2 average depth 3.5m
•    Water volume 14,000,000 gallons
•    Turnover rate 4 hours, 24,000 gallons per hour
•    Filtration system, protein skimmers, ozone injection, system first of its kind in the world
Ocean World Adventure Park’s dolphin habitat is the largest of its kind in the world.

Shark Encounters. The sharks at Ocean World Adventure Park are an exciting variety of nurse, bonnet head and brown sharks; all indigenous to local waters. This rare award-winning interactive program includes touching, petting, feeding and snorkeling with the sharks.
Shark Pool Features
•    Water volume 200,000 gallons
•    Total area 360m2 and 2.5m deep
•    Filtration system high rate sand, protein skimmers, ozone and U.V., biologic filtration and temperature control
•    Two viewing windows 2m high and 8m long
•    Artificial reef structures decorate the bottom
•    The only shark pool specifically designed for human shark interaction

Stingray Encounters. Guests wade into the Stingray Basin, float and interact with the stingrays.  These fishes, which glide gracefully through the water, will provide you a really unique and memorable experience.
Stingray Basin Features
•    Total area 142m2
•    45,000 gallons of filtered sea water
•    2 separate water falls

Rainforest & Aviary. Ocean World Adventure Park has created the perfect rainforest.  The exotic tropical oasis is complete with waterfalls, sandy beaches and rocky lagoons.  In this area there exists a large free flight aviary, where guests are able to feed, touch and mingle with over one hundred colorful tropical birds.  Aquariums here feature exotic and unusual freshwater fish including arapaima fish.
Rainforest Features
•    Total area 3,650m2
•    Aviary 156m2 walk-through facility with tropical trees and waterfalls
•    Large Amazon fish exhibit of 24,000 gallons, 1.5m high 8m long view panels
•    Small Amazon fish exhibit of 25,000 gallons, demi-tube underwater view 7m long

Tiger Grotto. The highlight of the Tropical Rainforest is the tiger grotto.  Here, guests are invited to take a refreshing dip in the water next to the tiger habitat separated only by glass!  The pool stretches out toward what is reminiscent of ancient ruins overgrown with thick vegetation and waterfalls.
Tiger Grotto Features
•    26,000 gallon pool and total area of 450m2
•    Four rapid flow waterfalls
•    Rainforest stream entry
•    Swim cave

Trainer for a Day. Trainer for a Day will ensure a true dolphin trainer’s experience. From playing animal chef to issuing dolphin commands during a regular program with regular guests!!  Education is a significant and valuable part of this unforgettable day.
Trainer for a Day Features
•    Includes Ocean World T-shirt, hat, Trainer for a Day Certificate
•    Lunch with the Trainer
•    Dolphin Encounter interaction as a guest

SCUBA with the Dolphins or Sharks. New and exciting programs have begun at Ocean World Adventure Park; the fantastic once-in-a- lifetime opportunity to interact with dolphins or sharks underwater.  In these incredible programs visitors put on a wet suit and SCUBA gear then become immersed in an underwater paradise. The staff of Dolphin SCUBA offers instructional programs that prepare guests with the PADI open water SCUBA certification required for these programs.
Depending on experience levels; programs feature 5 different SCUBA adventures.

A ONCE IN A LIFETIME EXPERIENCE!

Click here to inquire or reserve

Click here for some interesting Facts about Dolphins

Local hotel & restaurant association publishes guide book


Our quest for the ‘right’ cigar

After a year of legwork we discovered an ideal combination of quality, price and consistency from a small, Cuban family-run factory hidden away in the Cibao Valley

At Cafe Cito, we have always enjoyed introducing customers to such discoveries as the Dominican Republic’s premium sipping rums, some of which are close to cognac in their smoothness and flavor. Likewise, we have always wanted to be able to offer a good ‘discovery cigar’; one we could recommend with confidence and sell for a reasonable price. But for the longest time we were reluctant to recommend any particular brand, aware that:

  • Almost all of the famous brand name cigars sold in tourist shops – Cohiba, Davidoff, etc. – are knockoffs or counterfeits: you pay for the name but you don’t get the real thing.
  • Much of the product available is simply unknown to the buyer and sold at prices that don’t necessarily speak for the quality, and with no way to try before you buy.
  • There is nothing worse than buying for a cigar-loving friend back home, only to find out too late that you have bought him a box of junk.

We concluded that there must exist in the Dominican Republic a cottage industry of highly talented cigar makers who can make an excellent cigar and whose prices reflect the fact that they are not well known. After all, there are dozens of cigar manufacturers in the Dominican Republic. Many have come from Cuba, others have been professionally trained in factories located near Puerto Plata that produce some of the world’s most famous cigars. So we set out to try to find one of these unknown talents.

As for the quality of the ‘smoke,’ our criteria was simple: the cigar would have to be a comfortable smoke, meaning an easy draw, a good burn and a flavor that wouldn’t knock the bejeezus out of your taste buds. In short, we were looking for a decent cigar at a decent price that would be both satisfying for the beginner and respectable to the connaisseur – something you take home to father-in-law and he actually thanks you for it.

The final criterion for us was consistency in product. One problem with cottage industries is that a well-meaning beginner might put out a good product one day, yet prove unable to keep up with his own success. We wanted a source that could provide reasonable assurance that next month, next year, we could buy the same cigar we enjoyed before.

As it turns out we didn’t have to go out looking for this because it ended up coming to us. One Sunday a regular client of Café Cito, Robert Daoust, showed up for a leisurely afternoon lunch with an associate of his, Don Luis Cuevas.

Robert is a Canadian businessman who over the last few years has developed his own brand name, ‘Don Roberto,’ and started a distributorship out of Montreal that today spans the country. While operating on a much larger scale than us, he had the same objectives; a good smoke, a good price, consistent quality. Several years ago and after a few false starts, he found what he was looking for in Don Luis, a virtual walking cigar encyclopedia who heralds from the famed tobacco region of Pinar Del Rio, in Cuba, where his family’s tobacco plantation traditions go back three generations.

“The first thing I remember as a kid is tobacco,” says Don Luis. “I don’t know anything else. When we were kids my mother used to roll us little baby cigars before anybody even knew about cancer and all that.”

Don Luis has been producing cigars in the Cibao region of the Dominican Republic for the last twenty years. He found his niche in the anonymous side of the business, that of running a factory and making cigars for other people who have their own brand names and distributorships in different parts the world. Along the way he also developed his own line under the name Cuevas Hermanos.

Some very respectable brand names come out of the Cuevas Hermanos cigar factory, brands that are well known throughout Europe, North America and The United Kingdom. During a visit to Luis’ factory, we leafed through a couple of issues of Cigar Aficionado Magazine. In each issue, they publish a rating of different cigar brands in a single category or size. In this rating system, anything from 90 to 100 is considered outstanding, 80 to 89 is considered very good to excellent. Below seventy means not recommended. In the issues we looked at, we found at least a half dozen of the brands produced at the Cuevas factory; many scored in the high 80’s – excellent.

“We have been coming out on those lists ever since 1994,” he says.

Considering that cigars that rate in the 90’s are either impossible to find or tremendously expensive, Don Luis’ high-eighties ratings convinced us that indeed he had a product that promises consistently high quality.

All this of course was merely confirmation of what our own experience had told us when smoking his cigars. Over a year of Don Luis’ occasional visits to Café Cito, we had tried a variety of his cigars and also gave several dozen away to our cigar-smoking clients. Everyone agreed that Don Luis’ cigars were very well made, burn evenly and draw nicely. Even people who weren’t veteran cigar smokers found themselves, not with a half-smoked cigar in the ashtray, but puffing away right to the very end.

Click here to purchase Cuevas cigars online

A family trip to Cabrera

My family and I started going to Cabrera, a quiet surfing area in the Dominican Republic, when friends took us there four years ago—right before my second daughter, Gigi, was born. We’ve been back 10 times since. Cabrera has always felt like our own secret spot, and part of me wants it to stay that way—even now, I’m not sure why I’m writing about it in a national magazine. On the other hand, it’s one of those places that’s so uncommonly special, you want other people to enjoy it, too.

Located in the northern part of the country, Cabrera is paradise—but you have to appreciate that it’s not swanky St. Barths. It’s a more rustic, wild kind of paradise, and for me; my husband, Bill; and my daughters, Kit, 10, and Gigi, 4, that’s exactly the appeal. In New York City, we have a polished urban lifestyle, so a real getaway for us means something completely different.

Generally we spend just four days on the island, Thursday through Sunday, but those days are action-packed—as in dawn-to-dusk action-packed. As nice as Cabrera’s Hotel La Catalina is (it’s a bargain, too, by the way, starting at $82 a night), we don’t spend much time there. Maybe we’ll take a dip in the pool or walk around the garden, but hanging out at a hotel all day feels too quiet, too normal for us. We’ve never been the relax-by-the-pool type of family anyway.

Instead, we explore. On a typical trip, after arriving in the early evening on the four-hour flight from New York, we drop off our stuff at the hotel and head right to Playa Diamante. There, the girls and I cover ourselves head-to-toe in the claylike volcanic sand, which I swear has special beautifying minerals. (Bill thinks the whole thing is ridiculous.) Then we wade out into the shallow water to rinse off before heading to our favorite roadside stand for pineapple yogurt.

Since Bill and I are avid surfers, we tend to spend at least one afternoon at Playa Grande, known for its waves. The water is usually too rough for the kids, so he and I take turns on the shore with Kit and Gigi doing, basically, circus tricks: cartwheels, human pyramids, swinging someone around in a towel. Maybe we’ll dig a hole.

Beyond that, the activities vary. We’ve visited a fresh­water lake known as Lake Dudu (you can imagine the joke mileage the kids get out of that name), where we rope-swing out and splash into the water. We’ve hiked through a jungle, following a guide who hacks through it with a machete, to reach a fairy-tale cave with stalagmites inside and a banyan tree growing atop it. And on our most recent trip, we ended up at a restaurant called Babunuco, which an eccentric artist runs out of his house. You eat whatever he’s cooking that day and sit among the strange, beautiful objects he’s made—a whale-vertebrae stool, a bar made out of a surfboard.

The restaurant is raw and magical—just like Cabrera itself. Lately we’ve started inviting friends and other families along, and everyone falls in love with the place. In fact, one friend who came with us last year loved it so much, she still hasn’t left.

What to Eat

Babunuco

Run by artist (and cigar maker) Juan Alberto Garcia in a building next door to his home, this restaurant has unpredictable hours, so call ahead to make sure he’s cooking that night. The menu typically consists of delicious, simply prepared fish or meat, and there’s usually jazz playing on an old jukebox in the background. Camino de Saltadero, (829) 338-8707.

Playa Grande Casitas

At the 15 food shacks on the beach, you can order a fresh pineapple or coconut with a straw in it any time of day. At lunch, they’ll let you choose your fish or lobster, then serve it with a salad and rice and beans. (Kids—my kids, at least—will eat anything mixed with rice and beans.) The casitas are set among palm trees about 50 yards from the beach, but if you want to have a picnic lunch even closer to the water, they’ll bring your food and table setup there, too.

Don Bululu

A big part of a great food experience is the setting. I would never think to get pineapple yogurt at the grocery store back home, but at this roadside stand a short drive from Playa Diamante, it is just about the purest, most delicious thing you’ve ever tasted. Highway 5, La Entrada, (809) 669-2942.

Getting Around

Fly into Puerta Plata (nonstops are available from New York, Miami, and Atlanta). Arrange through Hotel La Catalina for a taxi from the airport ($96 round-trip)—you won’t want to navigate the 90-minute winding drive yourself. To get around during your stay, book a rental car through the hotel—the car will be waiting for you there—or take its shuttle service to most major sites. (Car seats are rare, so bring your own.)

When to Stay

Hotel la Catalina

This well-run family-owned hotel consists of 36 rooms and condominiums. We usually stay in a one-bedroom condo, which is basic but comfortable: a simple kitchen and charming painted rattan furniture that reminds me of my ’70s childhood. The hotel is less than 10 minutes’ drive from the nearest beach and has beautiful gardens, two pools, a pond with turtles, and fantastic food—we always fuel up on the fresh juices and crepes for breakfast before setting out. From $82 a night for two adults and a child in a double in low season (June through October) to $168 a night for a two-bedroom condo in high season (November through May).

Beaches

Head to Diamante or Caleton for calm, shallow water; for surfing, try Playa Grande. (You can rent boards on the beach.) All the beaches are a drive of 20 minutes or less from the hotel, but be warned: Only Caleton has public restrooms.

Lake Dudu

At the larger of the two swimming holes here, local teens dive from great heights (while we all scream, “Don’t do it, don’t do it!”). Our family often has the smaller one, sheltered by a cave, to ourselves. $2 admission fee; off Highway 5, La Entrada.

Horseback Riding

A guide named Junior will bring horses right to the hotel and lead you on different paths. It’s very informal: Helmets are available, but there are no waivers or age requirements, so you ride at your own risk; Bill and I each double up with one of the kids. $20 a person for a one-hour ride; book through Hotel La Catalina.

Laguna Gri Gri Rides

You can book an official tour at the dock, which is about a 30-minute drive from the hotel, but we just hired one of the fishermen by the water to take us on a ride. The lagoon is amazing, full of wild tangles of mangroves and the biggest vultures you’ve ever seen. Calle Duarte, Rio San Juan.

Rowley’s trip tips

The designer’s strategies for making any family vacation smooth sailing.

1. Start with the flight. When we were trying to find a warm-weather place for a long-weekend getaway, we first narrowed down our options by looking at flight schedules: Where could we fly directly and arrive by the afternoon? That’s how we initially homed in on the Dominican Republic.

2. Stay in the zone. We’ve taken big family trips to Japan and China, and I have to say, it’s always better to travel as close to your own time zone as possible. Otherwise the kids are up all night and sleep all day—which, of course, means the same goes for the parents.

3. Pack lightly (and creatively). To save time and avoid baggage claim, no one is allowed to check luggage, and everyone, even 4-year-old Gigi, has to carry his or her own stuff. We make a game out of trying to pack things that can be used several ways—I bring a top that Kit can wear as a dress; Kit brings a shirt that Gigi can wear as a dress; we all share sun hats … that kind of thing.

4. BYO fun. I always bring little notebooks and crayons, which keep Kit and Gigi entertained the whole time we’re away. It’s also a ritual that we let the girls pick out something special at an airport gift shop before each flight. It keeps them excited both as we wait to board and once we’re on the plane.

5. Let everyone call the shots. On the first morning of each trip to Cabrera, we sit down at breakfast and make a big plan—some activity, like fishing or horseback riding, that’s been on our wish list. Then we make the smaller plans: Gigi picks an activity, Kit picks an activity, and the grown-ups pick an activity.

By Cynthia Rowley http://www.cookiemag.com

Trip Planning: how much should you spend?

The cost of travel varies greatly between countries; even such indicators as star ratings can be misleading as to what you can get for your money. You’ll find an informative overview of what to expect cost-wise in the Dominican Republic, along with many other informative resources at  www.DominicanRepublic-guide.info

Puerto Plata Hot! Magazine: what’s hot in Puerto Plata

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Cigar factory photos: “Made by Hands” in Dominican Republic

Post card collection depicts the hands of people at work rolling fine cigars in the Dominican Republic. Photographed by Owen Franken at Luis Cuevas factory, a duotone treatment of these recent pictures emphasizes how this caring, handmade process is a tradition that has gone unchanged since its very beginnings.

Courtesy ArtisanCigars.com



Live Jazz in style Saturdays at the Waterfront

Saturday 14 Noviembre 8 pm

Rafelito Mirabal & Sistema Temperado

No cover

at

On the Waterfront Restaurant

1 Dr. Rosen Street, El Batey, Sosua

809 571-3024 / 829 755-6068

waterfrontrestaurantdr.com


Regional Map


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La Roca Restaurant

Click here to download this listing in our free printer-friendly Visitors Guide

Bravissimo! Nightclub Show

Ocean World Marina guests enjoy a wide variety of services and truly unique experiences unmatched in the region. By day our visitors enjoy our exciting marine park; by night they can have a sunset dinner overlooking spectacular ocean vistas in several restaurants and bars, enjoy a Vegas-style tropical show, or try one’s luck in the Caribbean’s most glamorous new themed casino.

So if you’re in the area be sure to plan for a great night out at Ocean World. You can book a package including dinner, show and transportation for only $89. See below

OCEAN WORLD CASINO overlooking the Marina is the most exclusive Casino in the Dominican Republic. Guests experience Las Vegas gaming in the setting of a true Caribbean paradise.
Here one can enjoy a choice of the most popular table games and slot machines in luxurious surroundings.
This glamorous building is adjacent to the famous Ocean World Adventure Park, the newest and largest marine park attraction in the Caribbean.
Ocean World Casino Features
•    Open daily starting from 7pm
•    Complimentary national drinks, snacks and cigarettes while playing
•    Valet parking
•    Slot Machines and Table Games (Black Jack, Caribbean Stud Poker, Roulette, 3 Card Poker, Craps, Texas Hold’Em, Baccarat)
•    Scheduled Tournaments every Tuesday and Saturday at 7pm

OCTOPUS BAR & GRILL, the restaurant overlooking the Ocean World Marina, is specialized on light and grilled snacks. Serving premium beverages and variety of premium drinks and refreshing cocktails, this is the perfect place to enjoy drinks with friends.
Octopus Bar & Grill Features
•    Open daily from 9am to 1am, for lunch and dinner
•    Terrace sitting area
•    Pool facilities
•    Swim-up bar
•    Plasma TV

POSEIDON ‘A-LA-CARTE’ RESTAURANT. This stylish modern setting combines sleek architectural features with a fusion of oceanic artifacts, creating an incredible ambiance. This different hot new concept in dining features various mouth-watering international cuisine favorites with a special focus on succulent seafood choices.
Poseidon A-la-Carte Restaurant Features
•    Open Tuesdays through Sundays from 7pm until 12am.
•    102 seats inside
•    Air conditioning
•    International cuisine specialized in seafood
•    Scheduled culinary activities

BRAVISSIMO SHOW is a Las Vegas style dance show with a tropical flair.  Gorgeous performers take guests on an enchanted journey throughout the Caribbean by presenting their interpretive dance collection from throughout the destination, with more that 100 costumes that will leave you breathless.
Bravissimo Features
•    Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 9pm
•    Thursday at 10pm
•    26 dancers
•    No pictures/filming permitted

LIGHTHOUSE LOUNGE & DISCO is with no doubt the most spectacular and classy Lounge & Disco Bar of the island, completely dressed in white, with comfortable sofas where you can relax and enjoy the unparalleled view and the best music.
Lighthouse Lounge Features
•    Open daily from 9am until sunrise
•    Spectacular ocean view
•    Wednesdays: Karaoke
•    Fridays: Ladies Night
•    Saturdays: Party Night
•    Also available for private events

Price:

Show Only $45

Dinner, show and transportation $89

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