After a bit of crazy busy time in 2012, my fiance and I finally managed to get away on a real vacation. Not the kind where you actually have work to do but take a few extra days or hours to see some sites and visit cool places, but the kind where the sole purpose of the trip really is to relax and be away from work – YAY! Since we were looking for some sun in the middle of a Midwestern winter, we decided to head to the Dominican Republic. The flights were just about the right price so that we could cover the costs with the vouchers we received last summer after being bumped off a flight to Austin, TX. Both our leaving and return flights routed us through Atlanta so we took advantage by spending our first night in Atlanta with some close friends. We had a wonderful Spanish tapas dinner in Decatur and lots of relax time and good laughs. The next morning we were off to the sunny skies and beautiful beaches of Punta Cana.
We arrived in the early afternoon and got settled into our hotel. We actually switched hotels at the last minute and don’t at all regret going with the cheaper, but likely equally luxurious option. The MT Hotel suite that we booked was just $70/night! The room was extremely spacious and was equipped with A/C, jacuzzi, free cable, a small table with chairs, mini fridge, safe, walk-in closet. The price even included a small, yet tasty breakfast each morning. The hotel was located in a plaza with 3 restaurants that we also found impressive, especially the small chicken joint (Solo Pollo) and the German bar (Restaurant Bavaria).
This place really was a steal with one drawback – the distance to the beach was advertised to be about 2 km, but it was actually about 2 miles. What a difference units make! We walked down to a part of the beach called El Cortecito. Here we found almost all of the restaurants that we saw reviews for online. They were beach-side restaurants as this beach was tiny and there really wasn’t room for anything else…no sun-bathing, playing frisbee, sitting under a palm tree – nothing. You had to either patronize an establishment or be a part of one of the resorts which then had some area extended inland for such activities. We had a drink at one of the locales and then headed back of the road wondering if we could find a taxi back as we were so tired from the walk down.
Taxi? Well we couldn’t exactly find a taxi but we did notice that there were many men and boys taxiing people on mopeds and super small engine motorcycles. Did we really want to hop and and hold on to a stranger’s love handles? No, but it sure seemed to beat the idea of walking home in the dark. I only have a few words to say about it – it was an EXPERIENCE. It made us a bit sad to see these people and the tourist shop owners begging and pleading for money. Outside of the huge gated resorts, it was obvious to us that the country was very poor. As one of the natives told us on our way from the airport to the hotel, the Dominicans have very few public beaches. Most of the coastline is apparently owned by Spaniards who build these huge resorts with walls on all sides. That night we ate at Italian restaurant in our plaza. Gluten-free at this place was challenging, but it was edible for sure.
After learning our surroundings on the first day, we decided we should rent a car to go find the oh-so-rare public beach 25 kilometers north. The beach was called Macao and as soon as we arrived a nice man came and offered us a table, umbrella, two chairs and fresh fish. The fish was quite possibly the best we’d ever had. The chef called it Putu but I have not been able to figure out if it exists elsewhere and if so under what name. We devoured that fish as if we hadn’t eaten in weeks. Yum yum yum! That night we went back down to the Cortecito and had dinner at a French restaurant that had some pretty good reviews. It was romantic despite the view of the road (as opposed the beach!). We had wine, fondue and a nice relaxed evening.
The following day we wanted another adventure and thought we’d try out the suggestion of the woman who rented us our red mini. We drove about an hour south to the south side of the island and took a small motorboat from Bayahibe to Saona Island. It took us about a half an hour and the first 10 minutes were a bit scary. I’ve never hit the water so hard on a boat. My core was tired and my spine was whacked but we did manage to make it without getting too wet and more importantly without falling overboard. On the way we stopped at a natural swimming pool. The water really was as clear as a swimming pool. There we found and took pictures of huge starfish. Very cool! When we finally arrived at the island we were in heaven. The beach we stayed at most of the day truly lived up to its name- Playa Bonita. For lunch we ate fresh lobster, chicken and the traditional accompaniment: tostones (plantains mashed up and fried as little patties). After we got back from the island we had Mojitos and then walked to a public area of the beach to watch the sun set. Another lovely day it was! We went back to our plaza for dinner and were pleasantly surprised at how good the German restaurant was. Naomi had a very flavorful pork chop and I had some German sausage.
On our last day we decided to just stay at the hotel and take in our last bits of the sun pool-side, which really was a great atmosphere as well. It was a well rounded, yet relaxed little trip that didn’t break our bank. Two thumbs up for the Dominican Republic!