Dominican Republic 2013: Santo Domingo, Bayahibe, and Cap Cana

The Dominican Republic, 2013: Santo Domingo, Bayahibe, Isla Saona, and Cap Cana

When most people tell me that they’ve been to the Dominican Republic, or that they know someone who has, I always ask where they went. Usually, it’s a resort in Punta Cana.

The Dominican Republic, which shares an island with Haiti in the Caribbean, is fairly new to the tourism industry. It has some really spectacular beaches and has recently been building up its eastern coastline with all-inclusive resorts to try and cash in on the tourist dollar that Mexico has been raking in. There is even an airport in Punta Cana, making it very easy for tourists to fly in and out of the area.

The tourists who visit Punta Cana end up in a tourist bubble of resorts and beaches, without actually seeing much Dominican culture or life at all, or eating the delicious Dominican food. There aren’t very many towns near the resorts, and because of the Punta Cana tourist bubble, it’s possible to have technically been to the Dominican Republic without actually seeing much at all.

I also think that this gives Dominicans a specific impression of Western tourists. If you’re caucasian, it is assumed that you are a tourist, you are staying at a resort, you don’t care much about the culture, you have a lot of money, and are therefore a target to make money off of. All tourists are money targets everywhere in the world, but we felt a little more “shaken down” for money here than we did in Mexico. Even the airport kiosk didn’t have prices on the snacks, you have to bargain. Can you blame them?

All that being said, however, the Dominican Republic has a lot to offer outside of Punta Cana. If you travel there, consider getting out and seeing a bit more and not spending all your time at a resort. Knowing a little Spanish is very helpful.

We booked our flights, an airport shuttle in Santo Domingo, and two of our hotels on Expedia with a multi-stop trip booking. We decided to fly into Santo Domingo, and out of Punta Cana which ended up being very convenient and not any more expensive.

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For whatever reason, we got our seat assignments in first class for both flights on the way down. We didn’t pay for it or ask for it, but we certainly enjoyed it. We flew on a night flight from Seattle to Miami, and then from Miami to Santo Domingo.

Below: enjoying our complimentary champagne on our flight to Miami

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We tried to sleep on the floor in the Miami airport, but the AC was cranked up so high that we were freezing the whole time. It wasn’t a fun layover.

**Tip: Bring long pants, socks, and a sweatshirt for the Miami Airport if you have a layover.

Day 1:

We arrived in Santo Domingo around 11:00 AM, withdrew some pesos out of the airport ATM, and met our shuttle driver in ground transportation. He was very friendly and we made conversation as best we could with his limited English and our limited Spanish. He dropped us off at the Hotel Frances, a beautiful hacienda-style hotel in the Colonial quarter of Santo Domingo. The hotel building itself dates back to the 16th century Spanish colonial days. Our room was on the ground floor with a door opening to the courtyard restaurant.

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Hotel Frances, Santo Domingo
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Hotel Frances, Santo Domingo
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Hotel Frances, Santo Domingo

We were exhausted and promptly drew the shutters and crashed for a couple hours. Around 3:00, we forced ourselves to get up, shower, and go out. We walked around the colonial quarter, still exhausted, and decided some caffeine was in order. We found a little cafe on the main shopping street of Calle del Conde with outdoor tables, and sat and had some cappuccinos. It was good people watching, and about all we could muster for the moment. After a good sit and some great cappuccinos, we went back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.

**Tip regarding clothing: Dominicans don’t often wear shorts, so tourists wearing shorts will stick out like a sore thumb. Also, shorts are often not allowed in upscale restaurants or night clubs. Jeans are way too hot, don’t bring those. Paddy has some linen pants that he wore out at night that he loves. (Shorts are totally acceptable at the beach, just make sure you have some pants for dinner restaurants).

Our guidebook strongly recommended Meson de Bari, which we later found out was also featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. The atmosphere was colorful and lively, and the service was great. Unfortunately, we ordered the wrong things and they were a bit bland. Stick to the house specials of stewed goat or crab, or lambi (conch) empanadas. Outside of the house specials, the food seems to be a little on the drab side. We recently watched the No Reservations episode, and whatever Tony was eating looked a lot more interesting that what we ordered, which was shrimp and beef with creole sauce.

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Mason de Bari, Santo Domingo
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Mason de Bari, Santo Domingo
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Mason de Bari, Santo Domingo

After dinner we had a few drinks at the bar in our hotel, which was a tiny little bar off the corner of the courtyard. If we’d had more time in Santo Domingo, I would have liked to have dinner at the hotel courtyard restaurant. It was dimly lit and romantic. The entire atmosphere of the Hotel Frances was upscale and historically charming. I would definitely recommend it.

 

Day 2:

After a good night’s rest, we were ready to go out and actually see some stuff. We headed down to Calle del Conde and found a little cafe on the edge of the Parque Colon, a square named after Christopher Columbus. The park features a nauseating late 19th century statue of Columbus, with a naked Taino slave girl worshipping at his feet. Santo Domingo was the first successfull Spanish settlement that Columbus established in 1496, and the oldest continually-inhabited European settlement in the Americas. The settlement was then governed by  Nicolás de Ovando from Spain during 1502-1509, during which the native Taino population was brutally decimated down to roughly 12% of what it was when Columbus arrived.

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Parque Colon
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Parque Colon

We ate breakfast outdoors in the shade and watched several groups of cruise ship tourists walk by with cameras, shorts, and socks with sandals. Breakfast was standard American fare and a very tasty Spanish omelet (“tortilla”). The Dominican coffee was dark and delicious.

After breakfast, we explored the colonial quarter. It was interesting to see old Spanish-style buildings from the 1500’s here in North America.

Up the hill from our hotel were the ruins of El Monasterio de San Francisco. It was constructed in 1508, suffering setbacks of hurricanes and later earthquakes in the 1600’s and 1700’s. It later became a mental hospital in the 1880s (I can only imagine what that entailed….my guidebook said that some of the shackles that patients were chained up with are still attached to the walls). Another hurricane severly damaged the building in the 1930’s, and it has been in ruins since.

Down the street from the ruins of the Monasterio de San Francisco are the ruins of the Hospital San Nicholás de Bari, constructed in 1503. It survived many hurricanes and earthquakes, but finally succumbed to a hurricane in 1911.

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Hospital San Nicholás de Bari, Santo Domingo

Next, we visited the Fortaleza Ozama, a Spanish castle built in the 1500’s overlooking the Ozama River. It is the oldest European military building in the Americas, and weathered the natural disasters better than the hospital and monastery. The building served as a prison in later years until the 1960’s.

We bypassed a random guy asking us for money for a tour (the site is free) and did our own tour.

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Fortaleza Ozama, Santo Domingo
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Fortaleza Ozama
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Fortaleza Ozama, Santo Domingo

We were getting hungry, so we made one last quick stop at the old church in Parque Colon.

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Parque Colon

For lunch, we went to the El Conde Hotel restaurant on the corner of the Parque Colon. It was busy, with shaded outdoor seating and indoor seating. We had some American-style sandwiches, lemonade, and Presidente beer.

After lunch, we did a little shopping on Calle del Conde and ran into a small parade. It almost seemed impromptu, as it was really small and no one was lined up along the streets watching it. It was a nice surprise. We asked a local what it was for and were told “spring.”

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When I was an exchange student in Denmark in high school, one of my closest friends was a fellow exchange student from the Dominican Republic, Ramses. Ramses had moved to Colombia a few years prior to our visit, but hooked us up with his younger sister Stephania and his mother Violeta. I got in contact with them before our trip and they were more than happy to show us around for the evening.

Stephania and Violeta picked us up at our hotel and we went to the restaurant that Ramses said we absolutely HAD to eat at, Adrian Tropical. It is a Dominican restaurant featuring the popular Dominican dish, the mofongo. The mofongo is a dish made up of fried plantains, pork cracklings, broth, garlic, and other lovely items mashed up together with a mortar and pestle. If you go to the Dominican Republic, your trip won’t be complete unless you’ve had one. They are delicious and they seem to be the favorite food of every Dominican I’ve ever met.

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Mofongo
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Adrian Tropical Santo Domingo

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I had the shrimp mofongo, the “camarofongo.” It was also delicious.

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Camarofongo

After dinner, it was a special night in the colonial zone and all the museums were free and open until late. We had a difficult time finding parking on the tiny streets, and when we finally found a space the museums were closing. Stephania and Violeta sweet-talked the man at Alcázar de Colón into letting us in really quick before they closed. Alcázar de Colón is the former home of Diego Columbus, Christopher Columbus’ son.

After the museum, we walked across the square to El Patio del Canario, a bar owned by a local salsa music star. It is a tiny bar, and super charming. We got to see some locals dancing merengue which was quite impressive. Violeta tried to teach me some salsa dancing, not sure how well I did. The Presidente beers were frosty cold. They drink their beer colder in the Dominican Republic than anywhere we’ve ever been to. They come with a layer of white frost on them, and are said to be wearing a  “vestida de novia” or wedding dress. It was a hot night and that beer couldn’t have tasted better.

We called it a night around 1:00 AM and thanked Violeta and Stephania for a great evening.

 

Day 3:

The next morning we had a very nice (albeit expensive for Dominican standards at $15/person) breakfast in the Hotel Frances courtyard. It was worth it–there were a lot of options, eggs cooked to order, and a beautiful courtyard to sit in.

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Hotel Frances breakfast Santo Domingo Domincan Republic 086

We had reserved a shuttle to the town of Bayahibe with Domincan Shuttles for about $120.00. I’m sure that there are less expensive ways to get to Bayahibe with the public bus, but we were willing to pay the extra money to go on our own schedule with direct service to our hotel.

The shuttle driver was very friendly, and the ride was about 2 hours. He made sure that we were let into the gate at our hotel by the owner before he left, which was much appreciated. We had booked three nights at the Hotel Villa Baya, a small and inexpensive mom-and-pop hotel in the town. The room wasn’t anything fancy, but very affordable at $40.00/night and had everything we needed. It had a double bed and a twin, a small table and chairs, ample closest space, a tiny TV, an outdoor patio, and a kitchen with a gas stove, sink, dishes, and a mini fridge. No A/C, but there was a fan. We were on the ground floor, and I think requesting an upper floor unit might be a little better with a more private deck.

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Hotel Villa Baya Bayabibe Domincan Republic 089

The hotel also has a locked gate to the property that you need your key to get in and out of, providing extra security. There wasn’t a safe, so we hid our valuables that we didn’t take with us in socks deep in our backpacks in the closet, and made sure to leave a tip for the maid each day. We had no problem.

We walked around the tiny town, getting extra cash at the ATM at the grocery store, and water, beer, and wine to stock our mini fridge. We found the grocery store souvenir prices to be best here out of anywhere we went. They all had price tags on them too–a rarity in DR.

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Road back to the hotel from town

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That evening we ate at a little beach restaurant near the harbor, Chiky Blue. It was a super cute little beach spot with a grass roof, Christmas lights hung around for ambiance, and very friendly staff. I ordered a fried fish with rosemary potatoes, and it was the best whole fried fish I’ve ever eaten in my life.

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Whole fried fish at Chiky Blue Bayahibe
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Chiky Blue Bayahibe

At night there was a congregation of locals around a bar/convenience store near the grocery store in town, partying, socializing, and listening to Dominican bachata music.

We picked up some milk and cereal for the morning, as we were getting up really early the next morning to leave on a tour. Having a kitchenette in our room was definitely a convenience.

 

Day 4:

We had booked two tours with Seavis Tours, an eco-tour company based out of Bayahibe. Originally, I had wanted to do the Jungle Tour in the Parque Nacional de Este, but it wasn’t offered on Mondays. They said the tour they had available on Mondays was the Monster Truck Safari, operated by a third party tour provider. We looked it over, the words “monster truck” and “safari” setting off major red flags of a horrendous tourist experience. It promised an educational tour of rural country life, a farm, and a rural school. It sounded interesting enough, so deliberated and decided to go for it.

We were picked up in front of the police station near our hotel by a shuttle driver, and then made a few stops at some resorts to pick up several other tourists, all European. When we reached the nearby town of Higuey, we were loaded into a hideous “monster truck” that made us cringe.

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We climbed aboard and monstered our way out into the countryside. If there was one thing I enjoyed about this tour, it was the driving part through the country. We passed houses and farms, getting a chance to view the vast diversity of country living.

Our first stop was at the home and farm of a middle class Dominican family. We were given a tour of the farm and it’s fruits and vegetables. The family who owned the farm was going about their day in the house, doing laundry, cleaning, watching TV, etc. We were told to go in and see the house, but Paddy and I didn’t feel very comfortable going in and gawking at a family in their home. I know the family was getting compensation for the tour, but it just felt weird and intrusive.

Next, we were led down the road to the family’s small store, and told that we were going to be visiting a Haitian village where the kids were very poor later in the trip. We were told that we should buy school supplies or candy to give them. Here’s where things got gross: They had TWO spiral notebooks and TWO pencils for all of us to buy for the kids, and a giant amount of candy. All sold by the family who owned the house at expensive American prices, not Dominican prices. We bought a small bag of candy and a notebook and pencil. None of the other tourists bought the remaining school supplies, all candy.

Now, had we known this was part of the tour, we would have stocked up on school supplies, food, toothbrushes, and other necessities from the grocery store in Bayahibe to give out to the kids. (At the end of the trip, we all realized that this was all part of a big show put on for the tourists so that the family with the farm could make money. None of it was about helping poor Haitian kids. )

Next, we visited a rural country school. It was spring break, so the kids were gone but we were shown the classroom and told a bit about Dominican schools.

Rural school Dominican Republic

rural school Domincan Republic

rural school Domincan Republic

Before we left, our guides brought out some ugly safari hats with “Monster Truck Safari” on them, and told us that if we bought one (at $20 each) the proceeds would go to helping the school. No one bought one, until the guide put some pressure on us and one of the Europeans finally forked over $20.  My suspicion is that very little goes to helping the school, and that most of it goes to the Monster Truck Safari people. Had there been a teacher there talking about the school with a donation jar, we would have donated. Instead we felt a little put off.

Next we stopped at another “farm” where a family was selling jellies and fruit leather. More pressure to purchase, and not much in the way of a tour.

We then continued through the road, and past a sugarcane plantation with a giant mansion up on the top of a big hill overlooking the sugarcane fields. We turned a corner and approached the “Haitian village.” Kids were waiting for us, and we gave them our candy. They were jumping and grabbing for it, and we were told not to toss the candy to them because they fight. It was like feeding animals. I handed the notebook and pencil to one of the few adult women with the kids, who grabbed for it and gave it to a specific little girl. I’m sure she knew which kid needed it the most, and that was the only part that made us happy.

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As we drove away, monstering over a river and up a hill, the whole picture became clear. This wasn’t a “Haitian village,” it was a migrant farm-worker community who work the sugarcane fields for the rich guy on the hill with the mansion, who obviously pays them next to nothing. Their houses were shanties built with whatever scraps of building materials that they could find, and the “village” was just a section of the plantation owner’s land that he lets them live on.

The Monster Truck Safari people do this tour once a week, help the family with the farm make some money off the tourists by selling them candy at high prices, and then show the tourists the “poor Haitian kids” as a tourist attraction, like animals in a zoo. Those kids don’t need candy once a week. They need necessities, things that won’t rot their teeth.

We were pretty disgusted and bummed out by the whole ordeal. The guide tried to get “party time” going on again as we headed back to Higuey, trying to interest us in rum and cokes and beer. We weren’t interested.

Our last stop was in Higuey, where we walked through a market and then were brought to a store where we could buy souvenirs (big surprise) at “the best prices in the Dominican Republic.” They weren’t the best prices. For the resort tourists, they might have been as the resort gift shops charge exhorbitant prices. We got most of our souvenirs at the Bayahibe grocery store instead for very reasonable prices.

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Market in Higuey
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Higuey

When we got back to Bayahibe, they dropped us off first, in front of the dirt road to our little hotel. Kids and chickens were running around the road, and the resort tourists were somewhat horrified by our digs. We bid them goodbye and good riddance.

For dinner that evening we went to Bamboo Beach, another grass-roofed little spot with a view of the water. It was owned by French expats, and most of the customers appeared to be French tourists. The food was good and the atmosphere was nice.

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Bamboo Beach, Bayahibe
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Bamboo Beach, Bayahibe
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Bamboo Beach, Bayahibe
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Bamboo Beach, Bayahibe

 

Day 5:

The next day was a lazy beach day. Bayahibe has a very nice public beach, with beach chairs for rent for $5.00 for the day.

**Tips:

1. You get a better deal paying in pesos for beach chairs instead of dollars

2. Stock up on water, beer, snacks, and toilet paper at the grocery store before you head to the beach. The public restroom is a bring your own TP type of situation, and the beers at the beach are ridiculously overpriced.

3. Take the back beach trail, not the one along the water to avoid the aggressive souvenir stands.

We had breakfast first at Cafe La Marina, an open air restaurant right in front of the main harbor. I think the owners were Italian. There were a lot of Italian style baked goods, and I got a very good foccacia bread with tomatoes. Coffee was tasty.

We took the back trail to avoid the touts at the souvenir stalls, and passed a small beach cemetery.

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Bayahibe Beach cemetery Domincan Republic 143

The beach itself was really nice, with soft sand, minimal coral, and bathtub warm water. My sunscreen expired a little before we left and I got a tiny bit burnt. Remember to re-apply!

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Bayahibe public beach
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Bayahibe public beach
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Bayahibe public beach

**Bathroom tip: Don’t use the “bathrooms” near the beach parking lot. They are the grossest outhouses I’ve ever seen. Head back to the public restroom near the town–make sure to bring your own toilet paper.

When we’d had enough sun, we walked back to the main marina area and had lunch at the Saona Cafe, a little bar and grill owned by French Canadian expats right in front of the harbor. We had some very tasty fish burgers and ice cold Presidentes.

Later that evening after a rest in our room, we went looking around for a place for dinner. There were a few interesting little spots on the harbor, but we ended up getting pizza back at Chiky Blue again. It had such great atmosphere and view, and the food and prices were great.

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Bayahibe Harbor
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Chiky Blu Bayahibe
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Chiky Blu Bayahibe

 

Day 6:

We had one more tour scheduled with Seavis Tours to the popular Isla Saona in the Parque Nacional de Este. While our last experience had put a really bad taste in our mouths, we suspected (and were correct) that the Monster Truck Safari tour was contracted out by a seperate company. We hoped that this tour from the self-described “eco tour” company would be better. Fortunately, it was and it was one of the main highlights of our trip.

We checked out of Hotel Villa-Baya, leaving the key in the room as the front desk people were often absent. We walked down to the Seavis Tours office on the public beach, and were met by the Dutch couple that helped us make our reservations. They were very accommodating, and stored our luggage for us in the office for the day. We also pre-arranged a shuttle with them that evening to our next destination in Cap Cana.

Our tour guide was another Dutch expat, very sun-tanned and blonde with a well-traveled look about him. We got in the boat with our fellow tourists, slapped on our national park bracelets, and set out towards the caves and Rocks of Penon. The rocks were a former home of the native Taino people who inhabited the island before the Spanish conquistadores brutally desimated their populations.

After a quick stop and explanation, we moved on to the Piscina Natural, or the “natural pool”. It is a shallow sand bar pool a ways out from the coast where you can find red sea stars. There were a couple other tours there as well. Our guide was very careful about making sure that no one took them out of the water, and explained their life cycle.  (If they are taken out of the water for more than about a minute, they die. I read in my guidebook that many guides aren’t so careful about this, unfortunately.)

Complimentary rum and cokes were also offered, even though it was 10:00 AM. Why not.

After we spent some time learning about the sea stars, we went by some mangroves, and a driftwood log with pelicans scanning the shallow water for lunch. Our guide explained the environmental impact of the resort building in Punta Cana, which included mangrove and seagrass removal on the coastline. This lead to the loss of habitat for marine life in the area, as well as increased sediment runoff into the ocean and increased water pollution. The good news is that there are environmental groups working on a mangrove reforestation project in the area.

After we bid the sea stars and pelicans goodbye we headed to the main attraction, Isla Saona. Isla Saona is in the Parque Nacional de Este, and has one small village on it called Mano Juan. No one is allowed to live or move to the island, only the approximate 400 locals who have been there raising families for years. The only electricity in the village is through solar panels, and the community thrives on subsistence farming and tourism.

We walked through the village, looking at the happy, laid back lifestyle. It made me want to run away and live there. We visited a  sea turtle sanctuary and learned about sea turtle conservation. Their numbers are decreasing as predators prey on their eggs. Unfortunately sea turtle eggs are thought of as an aphrodisiac in the Dominican Republic and Latin America, and are sold for thousands of dollars. This group on Mano Juan is trying to educate and protect the turtles. It was refreshing to see.

We visited the local hospital, which had no one in it at the time. They receive a new doctor doing a year of community service after finishing school each year to work at the hospital. Some of the other tourists were horrified at the primitive facility. It didn’t look bad to me, just simple. One lady said, “being here really makes you appreciate what we have at home.” Being there for me made me want to leave home. What do people really need? Family, friends, health, and happiness. It seemed to me that the villagers in Mano Juan had all of those things.

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Isla Saona Hospital
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Isla Saona Hospital
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Isla Saona Hospital

After the village tour, we went back to the main beach for a buffet lunch. The food was excellent. While we ate, some local kids came and played music for us and sang for donations for their school. The tour guides explained that kids begging tourists for money end up making more money than their parents, and wasn’t teaching kids a good work ethic. They are teaching the kids music in schools and that they need to do something to earn money, not beg for it. The kids looked super happy playing their instruments and singing. We made sure to make a donation for their school.

After lunch, we headed out to the other end of the island, with a beautiful uninhabited beach for some swimming and snorkeling. It was truly one of the most picturesque beaches we’ve ever seen.

There were a few patches of coral, and some fish but the snorkeling wasn’t great. It was enough of a good time just to sit or walk along the beach and swim. It was so beautiful.

Unfortunately this was also the trip that my water bag for my camera decided to no longer be waterproof. It was my old camera, and fortunately I had my regular camera still. The camera bag had been on many snorkel trips, but this was it’s last one. (I now have a waterproof camera instead of a bag).

Our guides brought out a little dessert of pineapple cake, and shortly after we headed back to Bayahibe. We arrived back, collected our luggage and were sent with a shuttle driver to our resort in Cap Cana, a smaller area south of Punta Cana.

The resort we stayed at was Sanctuary Cap Cana, an upscale all-inclusive resort. While I was researching the Dominican Republic, I was looking on Google Maps in the sattelite mode at the Punta Cana coastline. It was full of what appeared to be beautiful beaches, and tons of resorts. Then I noticed a beach farther south that looked really nice, with barely anything around it. I looked closer, and found it to be Juanillo Beach, with Sanctuary Cap Cana right next door. We’d never done the all-inclusive thing, so figured we might as well try it out and relax the last few days before heading home.

Below: Sanctuary Cap Cana lobby

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Sanctuary Cap Cana lobby

We had booked their most inexpensive room, a “junior suite ocean view.” Check in was easy, and the room was beautiful. We were offered an upgrade to a suite with a private plunge pool for an additional $250 a night, but declined. Way too much money.

We were starving, so we took showers and cleaned up for dinner. Something to note here is that they do have a dress code in the nicer restaurants. Men are not supposed to wear shorts, tank tops, or open toed shoes to dinner. Women need to dress nicely as well, no flip flops or shorts.

Not all the restaurants are open on the same nights, they rotate on a schedule. That night we had a choice of the Italian restaurant, Capriccio or the Steakhouse or the buffet. We went with the Italian restaurant. Service was excellent, and the food was as well.

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Capriccio, Sanctuary Cap Cana
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Capriccio, Sanctuary Cap Cana

The resort has you sign for everything you order, as some people are not on the all-inclusive plan. This also gives the option of leaving a tip without carrying cash around, which was really convenient. We could leave everything in the safe and didn’t have to carry our wallets around at all.

Some people complained on Tripadvisor about having to sign for everything or having to tip at an all-inclusive. I’m sorry, but if tipping is customary in the country you are visiting, you should be tipping the staff for good service. These people work hard and make small wages. If you can afford to stay at this kind of resort, you can afford to tip. Don’t be an asshole.

After dinner, we went to the main bar off the lobby, the Love Bar. We were told there was a Latin American dance show in half an hour, so we hung out and had some drinks and waited for the show. The show was campy, but good entertainment.

After the show we had another drink or two (all-inclusive, right?) and then went to bed. It was a pretty long (but awesome) day.

 

Day 7:

The next morning we went to the breakfast buffet at Casa Bella, the buffet restaurant. It was great and had a very large selection of pastries, meats, cheeses, fruits, and eggs or omlettes cooked to order.

After breakfast, We were ready to explore and spend a lazy day at either the beach or pool.  We checked out all the pools, then walked to the north wing of the resort campus and out a trail to Juanillo Beach. It was gorgeous. The downside was that there was very little shade, and it was sweltering hot. There was a little cafe with some sun loungers and umbrellas, but it wasn’t part of the resort and you had to spend a hefty minimum to sit in them. The beach has a gated access, and clearly this was a beach for the super rich. We were too hot, so we went back to the pool. I hoped to make it back to the beach the next day.

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Playa Juanillo
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Playa Juanillo

The main pool with the swim-up bar was packed and there were no loungers with umbrellas available. We found two loungers with an umbrella at a smaller, quieter pool. We had a nice day swimming, reading, ordering drinks and food, and relaxing.

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Sanctuary Cap Cana main pool with swim up bar
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Sanctuary Cap Cana smaller pool with water fall

Unfortunately, tragedy struck again and I dropped my camera on the tile patio near the pool, and all photos after that were slightly blurry. So this was the vacation that ruined both my cameras. Fortunately, it happened towards the end of the trip, and how many pictures does one need of a resort, anyway? I do wish I had a few more to share, though.

That night there was a seafood buffet at the Blue Marlin restaurant, an over-water grass roofed restaurant near the pool. It was good, there were a lot of options. The atmosphere and location were the best of all the restaurants.

Sanctuary Cap Cana

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After dinner we went back over to the Love Bar, where we sat and talked to the bartender for a little while. He told us that his family lives a six hour drive away near Santo Domingo, and he gets to visit them once a month. The rest of the time he stays in the employee quarters. I wonder what the employee quarters are like. I hope that he gets to see his family more in the off-season….but then he might have a more difficult time making ends meet then.

After a few drinks, a rainstorm started and it was coming down in buckets. I went back to the room to chill while Paddy stayed and had a few more drinks.

 

Day 8:

The next day the rain was still pouring down, much to our disappointment. We hoped it might clear up after breakfast, but it didn’t. We decided to make the best of it and book some pedicures at the spa. Neither of us had ever had pedicures before. Paddy said his friend told him that pedicures are awesome, and he was totally into the idea. We made back to back appointments at the spa. The lobby had a price list for the spa, and we had been given 10% off coupons at check in. When we got to the spa, we were shown a different price list that was 10% higher, and told that the coupons were only good for that price list. CHEESY.

Anyways, our first pedicures were awesome and the spa was very nice. The spa was located in the Castle building of the resort, which has all the swim up suites and suites with private pools. It was pretty empty. My pedicure was first, and when I was done I went to the bar in the Castle building which had a pool. The bar and pool lounge up there were totally empty, and the pool was really nice. I wished we would have known about this place yesterday. The only downside is the food they have–I had a pre-packaged chicken caesar salad that wasn’t very good. None of the bar snacks are made to order, there isn’t a kitchen. But whatever, it was all-inclusive. And so was the champagne, which I kept flowing. The sun came out a little bit and I had a tiny bit of sun time on the deck.

**Tip: For a quiet, kid-free pool experience, check out the Castle pool and bar.

Paddy came back and we read books and drank beers and champagne until we had a good afternoon buzz going. The clouds rolled back in, so we went back to the room and watched DVDs that we brought with us in our little living room.

That evening we went to the Steakhouse, which seemed to be the most prestigious restaurant and the busiest. It is Argentinian style, and meats and fish all come with chimichurri sauce and grilled vegetables. We had 10% off coupons on a bottle of wine off of the wine list as well (only house wine is all-inclusive) so we ordered a bottle with dinner. We gave the server the coupons, but the discount didn’t wind up in the bill. We didn’t bother complaining, it just wasn’t worth it. It basically seems like those coupons they give you at check in are pretty worthless. Overall, the Steakhouse meal was probably the worst one we had. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t that great. The chimichurri was really oily and my tuna steak was overcooked.

 

Day 9:

Our last full day. We hoped and hoped that the sun would be back out in the morning but unfortunately it was still cloudy. We went to breakfast, and eventually the sun came back out a little bit. We rushed down to the main pool and staked out our beach chairs with an umbrella. We had some bloody marys at the swim up bar, and read books. The beach area had some cabanas with a futon bed under a grass-roof that were really cool. They were always in use. There was one that had a towel and some magazines on it with a rock holding them down, but after two hours, I had seen no one come back to it. We went over and moved the stuff and snagged the cabana. No one came back to try and claim it, and it was super nice to have a bed on the beach with food and cocktail service.

**Tip: To get a beach cabana bed, get up early in the morning and stake your claim. Will getting up early matter? You just have to go back to a bed on the beach. Shade provided. Totally awesome.

The clouds came in and out, but it was warm.

That night they had a Dominican night at Casa Bella buffet restaurant. We went and checked it out and it was the best meal we had at the resort–hands down. There weren’t that many people there, either. I think most of them were at the Steakhouse. If you’re there during Dominican night, DON’T MISS IT. Seriously, the local food is outstanding.

It was a good vacation, and if we ever go back to the Dominican Republic we’ll probably skip the Punta Cana resorts altogether. I’ve read a lot of great things about the Samana Peninsula in the North, and if we go back we’ll go there. On this trip, Santo Domingo and Isla Saona were the highlights, and I’d recommend the Seavis Tours Isla Saona tour for sure. Skip the Monster Truck Safari.

 

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