Beaches, Caves, and Cane Fields: Five Surprises of the Caribbean DR
Only a two-hour flight from the U.S. and home to 1,015 miles of Caribbean coastline, exquisite white-sand beaches, swaying palms, and friendly locals, the Dominican Republic has long been a popular vacation destination. Every year four million people visit its shores to stay in all-inclusive hotels or as part of a cruise itinerary. But they’re missing out… because the DR has plenty of secrets you won’t find in a brochure. Here are five of the best:
Los Patos: Untamed and bursting with natural beauty, the southwest corner is one of the country’s best-kept secrets. Leaving the capital, Santo Domingo, by Highway 2, it’s around three hours by car to Barahona, the biggest city in the southwest.
From Barahona take Highway 44, one of the most scenic and spectacular coastal roads in the Caribbean. The drive itself is worth it, but after 23 miles you will arrive at the little village of Los Patos, meaning “the Ducks.”
Los Patos is where savvy locals and expats come to savor the Caribbean. You’ll find a long beach and a small river flowing into the sea. At one of the shacks selling fried fish and drinks, two people can eat their fill, washed down with a bottle or two of the local Presidente beer, for $10. There is no better way to spend the day than swimming in the river and walking along the pebbled beach. To experience true local flavor, go at the weekend when it is full of Dominicans enjoying themselves.
Casa Bonita: On the same road – but only 10 miles from Barahona – is the village of Bahoruco. Turn right up the hill just before the bridge and you arrive at a country inn called Casa Bonita (Casabonitadr.com). Built as a summer house by the Schiffino family in 1976, this small luxury hotel opened in 1991. It’s a great place to relax, unwind, and feel at one with nature.
An infinity pool overlooks the Caribbean Ocean, and each of the 12 luxurious rooms is decorated in natural materials. You can dine on delicious local produce here (a meal for two costs around $50 without wine). It’s a splurge at $240 a night per room.
La Cueva de las Maravillas: Take highway 3 from Santo Domingo, go past San Pedro de Macoris on the way to La Romana, and there you will find The Cave of Wonders, just before the village of Cumayasa. The journey from Santo Domingo takes a little over an hour.
Knowledgeable, multi-lingual guides take small groups on one-hour tours. Make sure you’ve got some small change to tip them with afterwards. The guides will lead you through beautifully maintained gardens full of tropical plants. In the cave itself, dim lighting casts a magic glow over the rocks. Look up to see many bat holes – though the bats tend to stay out of sight during visiting hours. The caves were originally home to Taino Indians, who inhabited the island when Christopher Columbus arrived. More than 250 fabulous Taino cave drawings exist in almost perfect condition, giving an incredible insight into their lives. You will walk past pools of crystal-clear water and fabulous rock formations and be amazed by spectacular stalactites and stalagmites. The caves are open every day except Monday and the entrance fee is around $8.
Sugar Cane Fields—Higuey: In the east of the DR, Punta Cana is home to a major airport and most of the all-inclusive hotels. Normally a four-hour drive from Santo Domingo, you can cut an hour off the trip – and add some cultural insight to it – by opting for a dirt-road route that winds through sugar-cane fields.
Driving from La Romana toward Higuey, after the right turn to Boca de Yuma, turn right where the railway track crosses the road. The dirt track you’ll be on runs alongside the railway all the way and eventually comes out around 14 miles from Punta Cana.
Along this route, you’ll find sugar cane as far as the eye can see in all directions, and you’ll pass through several Haitian bateys (settlements). The fields are full of workers stripped to the waist, bodies glistening with sweat, cutting the cane with their machetes in the same way it has been done for centuries. Teams of oxen pull wooden carts laden with cane to be loaded onto the rusty old train carriages and taken off to the mill for processing. The road is easily passable for any type of car, although if it has been raining heavily it is best done in a four-wheel-drive.
Monción Dam: Taking highway 1 out of Santiago toward the northwest, you will pass through the town of Esperanza and then arrive in the pretty town of Mao, also known as Valverde and famous for its beautifully preserved wooden architecture. Leaving Mao and the rice fields behind, you turn left for Monción and climb the foothills of the central mountain range, with spectacular views on all sides.
On a clear day you’ll be rewarded with the sight of Pico Duarte, the highest mountain in the Caribbean at 10,164 feet. Arriving at Monción you will discover the dam, which supplies water to the whole northwest of the country. It’s a beautiful spot to picnic and walk while you breathe the fresh mountain air and enjoy they dramatic views.
Editor’s Note: This article was taken from a past issue of International Living’s monthly magazine. To get full access to all past and future articles and to receive the magazine in the mail or online each month, simply click on the below button to subscribe to International Living magazine at the special introductory price of $49. You will get instant access to the current issue of the magazine as well 10 years of back issues. As an added bonus, we will also send you a FREE report – How to Retire in Paradise on $30 a Day. (You can cancel your subscription at any time.)