Thirty-one years ago Mike and I visited the Dominican Republic for a week. While we were fond of the island, we didn’t fall head over heels over it. We stayed at an all-inclusive on Playa Dorado, near Puerto Plata, and our initial introduction included the chef giving a speech, apologizing for the variety and quality of the food. At that time, he said there was a 300% import tax on food, and they exported all their “good stuff”, so he had little to work with. He said the pork, while not cured, and the beef, while not aged, were actually better for you.
We joked that at every breakfast, lunch and dinner, sea bass was the main attraction. The eggs and bacon looked awesome, at dinner the steak also looked amazing, but without the American treatment of cured and aged, the meat was quite gamey. So sea bass it was for the majority of the stay.
Fast-forward 31 years. In the last 5 months, Mike and I have now sailed over 1000 miles on our boat, Last Tango, and spent the last month in the Dominican Republic. While it was not initially a destination, just a stopping point to points south, we have found ourselves relishing our time here. After spending so much time in the flat Bahamas, the fertile mountains of the DR were a quite a sight to behold. And the food was awesome, apparently the steep import tax has faded away over time.
The DR is one of the poorest nations in the world, so ironically while it is wildly inexpensive; the lack of funds is evident in the infrastructure. At first glance, poverty is your first thought. But first impressions are fleeting, and as we progressively spend more time here, I feel like we are peeling back an onion, finding the beauty one layer at a time.
So far we have found the people are very happy, trustworthy, friendly, fun and like to grin. The terrain is drop-down gorgeous. We are fortunate to have found a couple that lives in Luperon and Santiago who have driven us around and taken us to some very awesome spots, including Puerto Plata, Santiago, and elsewhere.
Places that stand out are Cambiosa for it’s South Pacific feel and small village flair. Mario runs a tight ship at his El Playero Restaurant, and serves whatever seafood he has available. His octopus is delicious cooked many different ways. Donkeys, horses, chickens and more roam the beach and the ambiance is of a Texas ranch on a South Pacific beach.
Sosua is a German town on the north coast with gorgeous cliffs, crystal clear water, and a long sweeping beach with one restaurant after the other competing for your business. Accompanied by locals, we ate the recommended Chicken Cordon Bleu at a restaurant on the cliff overlooking the beach.
Ensenada de Punta Rucia is another gorgeous beach with reefs for snorkeling, diving, and the most beautiful clear sparkling water. The restaurants offer up fresh fish, caught that morning. Ms. Jhaqueline served us an out-of-this-world hogfish, sautéed in butter, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, and who knows what else. The fish, large enough for 2 served with sides, and a couple of beers for each of us came to 800 pesos, or just about $20 US.
Puerto Bahia Marina in Samana on the west coast of the DR was the most decadent. The marina charged $1 per foot per night, in our case $43 US per night; and is a 5 star, luxurious marina with all the amenities including multiple infinity pools, restaurants, bars, showers, laundry, etc. We don’t often stay at a marina as they can get expensive in a hurry. I felt like I was on a true vacation at this idyllic resort complex. We had the boat cleaned, top and bottom, the air conditioning running, I didn’t want to leave this place!
People have said you either love the DR or hate it, little room for in-between, so after peeling back the layers, we have found a country that we have fallen in love with.