Rio San Juan, Dominican Republic
Trip Start Dec 10, 2006
5Trip End Dec 24, 2006
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in the Dominican Republic
We were a little apprehensive about this holiday. It was our honeymoon so we wanted to get away somewhere warm (winter in Europe) and for the price the Dominican Republic was definitely value for money. However, we'd heard lots of negative things about the place and we had after all booked an all-inclusive hotel for 2 weeks. Something that we'd never in our lives done before but we thought we'd give it a try all the same.
Arriving on the island we were immediately immersed in the famous meringue music. It plays out of every possible music device in the country and we were immediately addicted too
The beach was great, although because we were on the north side of the island (Atlantic Sea) as opposed to the Caribbean Sea in the south, it was a bit rough and not exactly crystal clear and teeming with fish. We spent the first night smoking the best cigars and sipping the best brandy we'd ever tasted on the beach. The next day we looked around the hotel, played a few games of mini golf (Sabine won as always)and chilled on the beach.
Already we were wanting to discover the area and even though the hotel and grounds were really big our always present urge to explore was getting stronger. So the next day we grabbed our snorkelling gear walked out the hotel and caught a local guagua to a beach called la playa grande. When we got there we realised that we wouldn't be doing any snorkelling as the waves were big and the rip curl strong. That didn't matter though as the beach was beautiful and the weather perfect. We hitch hiked back from the beach and a couple stopped who were from Germany
The next day we decided to go diving so grabbed our gear again and caught a guagua in the opposite direction to Carberete. We found a diving school owned by Germans and bought a package that included two normal sea dives, one wreck dive and a fresh water cave dive. We did these over the next 3 days and had an awesome time. The normal dives weren,t that great. There wasn't that much sea life and the visibility was quite poor. The wreck dive was brilliant especially as you could swim through the sunken ship and watch the shoals of fish that were making it their home. The cave dive was one of the best dives we had done. It was set in the jungle and the water was crystal clear. The network of caves were all relatively large so you didn't need a special certificate to dive there. At the end of one of the caves the sun beams penetrated the water and glistened off the surface. As we looked up through the turquoise water we could see the emerald jungle and brown rocks bathed in sunlight. It was one of the most beautiful scenes we'd seen especially because we were under the water and looking up as opposed to the other way around.
After the dive we ate parrot fish on a beach la playa grande and drank some great pina coladas out of pineapples.
The next day we caught a guagua to Rio San Juan which is a sleepy little fishing town about 45 minutes from the hotel. We looked around the place, bought a few Christmas presents and went to a mangrove swamp which was pretty cool. We found a little beach with a huge boat moored half on the beach half in the jungle that was slowly being dismantled
Since we had our lonely planet with us we had lots of info about the area and country so we decided to head for the capital Santo Domingo in the south. It took about 7 hours to get there on the coldest bus in the world. The air conditioning was ridiculously cold so we sat freezing for a comfortable 7 hours.
Arriving in Santo Domingo we caught a cab to the old part of town. In the capital you really get the feel of the old colonial past. It is the oldest city in the new world with the first cathedral and hospital and where the settlement of the Americas began. We spent a few days here exploring the old part of the city, shopping and enjoying the feeling of travelling again! The place we were staying was ran by some really friendly Haitian guys and although it was really basic it had a great balcony overlooking the street below which was cool to sit on at night and watch the world go by.
On returning from the capital we chilled for a day in the hotel then planned to climb the biggest mountain in the Caribbean called Duarte Peak at 3087 metres but unfortunately I got ill and couldn't do much for a couple of days...a little bit like now which is why I've got the time to write this from my bed in China
So we decided to rent a car and drive to a place called Samana which is a peninsular east from where we were staying. It was a great drive, we stopped off to trek to a huge waterfall called El Limon which took a couple of hours through the countryside, jungle and lots of mud. Just before the waterfall we had our first car chase or rather we were being chased. Basically, there was a check point in a village where you had to pay a little bit of cash. There were two guys on motorbikes who stopped and told us we couldn't go to El Limon alone and we needed their assistance etc etc. We said we were just driving through but they followed. When we slowed down near a sign that pointed to the waterfall they said the same kind of things so realising we weren't going to be able to get to the waterfall unhindered we sped up past the entrance and carried on for a few kilometres. When they weren't in sight we turned the car around and went back to the waterfall. Sure enough they were on the other side and as soon as they saw us started to follow again. But we had enough distance to the waterfall to lose them again, saw a rickety house near the entrance, swung the car into their driveway and parked behind the house. We switched the engine off and waited...they didn't see us and drove by and we felt very James Bondy.
After the waterfall we drove back and stopped off at beautiful beach where all the locals met
The DR sometimes gets a bit of bad press about being a tacky holiday destination but it doesn't have to be if you don't want it to be. If you book an all-inclusive holiday and stay in the hotel or take organised trips then we can see the justification in why it has this reputation. However, if you take time to explore the country, meet its super friendly people and discover the beauty of the countryside you will definitely come away with a different picture. Although, not a backpacking destination we think DR would be an excellent country to travel around with a rucksack. The vibrant, meringue loving people and the Caribbean flare make it a great travel destination. Most of the tourism is confined to the coastal areas but exploring off-the-beaten-track places is most certainly the way to see the country for those who are more inquisitive.
Out of the 14 days we had booked at the hotel we stayed there for 4 and 2 of those was because of me being ill. I think we can say that all-inclusive resorts are not really for us at this stage in life but we made our honeymoon into an amazing unforgettable holiday all the same.