Cindy Van Dyck isn’t only a blogger for more than 10 years, since 2018 she’s a full time blogger with a love for islands. That’s how she became the Belgian ambassador for the Caribbean and today she’s sharing with you a story she wrote last year during her first trip to the Dominican Republic. Why relaunching it? She’s currently there for one month and will share more soon.
My love for the Caribbean started years ago by listening to Reggae music and visiting several festivals. It’s where my curiosity for these islands started. In September 2018 I made my first trip to Jamaica. I fell in love with the culture, lifestyle, food and of course the beauty of the island as well. Six months later I was on the plane with Aurelie Van Daelen and Ben, from Ben goes places, to discover the Dominican Republic. It all started with a transit in Madrid and nine hours later we arrived at Santo Domingo where the road trip began…
“You will find beauty everywhere you go.”
Welcome to the Dominican Republic!
Once arrived in the South of the Dominican, at the capital Santo Domingo, we’ve settled in our first hotel: Hostal Nicolas De Ovando. This will also be the hotel I will be staying at within a few weeks when I am traveling back. It’s located in the old Colonial center of the capital. You have mesmerising buildings in the Colonial center that make you feel like you’re back in time and it’s just great to walk around.
Yes, you can! Just step out of the hotel like Aurelie and I did. If you stand with your back to the hotel you can go left and go through the small streets that take you to the chapel of “La Tercera Orden” for example, or go to your right to discover the Plaza de España. Which is very vibrant at night and perfect for cocktails or dinner!
One thing is clear: you won’t be bored a second when wandering around the city. And wherever you go to: take the time to stop, look up to the buildings and just imagine how it would’ve been to live there decades of years ago. I immediately feel the atmosphere going through my veins.
The colonial city center of Santo Domingo
The next morning we visited the “Independence Park”, which is located at the Western edge of the colonial city. At the park, that is surrounded by walls and guardians, you can find the “Altar de la Patria” . Here you can visit the remains of the Founding Fathers of the Dominican Republic. Therefor it’s a very important and sacred site. You can also discover their real life-sized statues. After a visit to the Parc you can continue your day with a walk over their Main Street “Calle El Conde”.
And again, don’t hesitate to discover the small streets around. That’s actually how we found the lovely place “Desiree Cepeda” where you can have breakfast, lunch or coffee. Inside this bar you have a small shop with souvenirs and local hand made crafts. Close by you can also go to Parque Colon and the Museum of Porcelain. It’s all at walking distance.
Next on the planning was our trip to the North of the Island where we spent a couple of days. Even if I always say that the Dominican Republic is an Island, it’s actually a shared island with Haiti! However, the Dominican covers up 3/4 of it. Just a little fact that I’m sharing here :)!
While traveling to the most Northern part, we first stopped at Santiago de los Caballeros. Santiago is the second biggest city of the Dominican Republic. Above you can see the monument of the Heroes of the Restoration. It’s located on a hill at the most colourful place of the City! The monument was build during the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo and got its original name after the fall of him being a dictator. Today it stands for winning the battle against the Spanish empire.
After a small visit we had a very surprising lunch. Why surprising? It was the first time I tried salmon with Strawberries. And even if it sounds like a very strange combination, it was truly delicious. Just how I love my lunch! Also plantain is something you have to try when traveling around. They often serve it with every plate so you can just ask a portion to share. Eat like the locals do loves!
So after a refreshing lunch and visiting the center of Santiago we continued our trip to Monte Cristi. Something typical for the most Northern city of the DR is their culinary specialities with goat meat. From goat stew to goat cheese sandwiches, there’s so much to try and it’s hard to choose just one thing from the menu. Therefor I recommend to share a couple of platters so you definitely not miss anything delicious!
Also the “Mamajuana” is worth a try. The rum based drink is a local herbal mix and also called the Dominican Viagra. Next to being known as an afrodisiacum it has a medicinal value as well. So honestly, why not giving it a try?
Good to know
On our way to Monte Cristi we drove around different small markets where people were selling fresh meat. We’re used to go to a local big market in store or in the city center. At Monte Cristi (and certainly also other small villages) people mostly buy their fresh ingredients at local farmers or at people’s house. It’s a cultural discovery and I love to experience how locals live on each trip I make. Maybe I should learn how to make a delicious goat stew the next time I pass by!
Once arrived at our Eco lodge hotel “El Morro”, we went immediately to the beach which is also called “El Morro”, translated as “the nose”. Next to a mesmerizing sunset, a beautiful quiet beach and beautiful nature, you can have an overview on the “sleeping camel” till the sun sets. It’s shown on the first picture of the “set” of pictures about Monte Cristi here below.
Do you recognise the shape of it, like “the nose” of the camel? On top of the mountain you can hike around as it’s a National Park and there’s even a swing which will give you an overview over the beaches of the area.
Time for the third day
It’s definitely clear that time is flying by so quickly when you travel to another city each day. If I can recommend you anything it would be to stay at least two days in each city. Especially as there’s so much to discover and you don’t want to miss anything. Hike around the National Nature Parc, enjoy the white beaches and local bars for the best Goat specialities in Monte Cristi.
From Monte Cristi we went to Puerto Plata with a stop at Punta Rucia where you can go with a small boat to Paradise Island. Without any doubt a must do! We started this (literally) paradise trip at Villa Isabela and took a boat as it’s only reachable by water.
Paradise Island is actually a very small sand bank in the middle of the ocean. Here you can go diving with the fishes and around it you have different mangroves where the boat can take you into the beautiful nature the island has to offer. And to be honest, I’m not gonna share too much anymore as you just have to go and discover it by yourself. Heaven on earth!
However I do have a good lunch tip for you: end your trip with a delicious fresh fish at Villa Isabela. Later you can thank me for this awesome idea!
After the excursion of Paradise Island, we continued to the center of Puerto Plata. Here we stayed at the impressive hotel “Casa Colonial”. Oh wow… this hotel! I felt like Beyonce for a night. It’s a palace, the rooms make you feel like a super star and with the infinity pool. It is the best view for a mesmerising sunset. You will want to stay there for an extra night.
Half-way there! Day four it is.
After waking up in a at Casa Colonial, we had pancakes for breakfast and felt like a royal once more. At the hotel you have a golden beach, Playa Dorada. We enjoyed a little bit of the resort before going back to the center of Puerto Plata.
And talking about beaches: each beach in the Dominican Republic is completely different from each other. Not one will be similar. However, Puerto Plata is one of the cities that I love the most! It’s colourful, historical, close to many other sites to visit and they also has its own airport, which makes it easier to travel over there.
If you’re wondering about everything you can do in Puerto Plata, I can tell you just one thing: a lot! But my suggestions are to start your day at the Central Park (Parque Independencia) where you can visit the Cigar manufacturer “Espigon Cigar”. Have a drink at the “Pachuche by C Brugal cigars” bar, which is a couple of small streets further. Enjoy lunch or dinner if you’re in the city later, at Casita Azul.
After that amazing lunch you can go for a breathtaking view on the Isabel De Torres Mountain which is a National Park. Believe me, that view is nothing like anything you’ve seen before. Go up by the only cable car in the Caribbean and discover the giant statue of Christ the Redeemer. In total you will be on almost 800m height and you will also be able to enjoy the botanical gardens as well. Enough said, it’s now time for you to put Puerto Plata on your to-do-list when visiting the Dominican Republic!
From Puerto Plata we left to spent our fourth night at Cabarete. This city is located on the Eastern side of Puerto Plata and still at the Northern coast line of the Dominican Republic. It’s known for the many people who are kitesurfing here all the year around.
At the beach you will find many cozy bars, you can eat the most fresh seafood ever and also discover the world famous “Casita De Papi”. which is known for its “Camarones a la Papi”. There was no other choice than to try it ourselves and it was truly delicious!
Actually, everywhere we had lunch or dinner, it was just more than amazing. It’s some incredible kitchen skills they have and I can really learn a lot from them as I don’t like to cook a lot. Even breakfast was awesome at the small bar “Friend’s” where they had pancakes, eggs, bacon, yoghurt bowls,… Like you name it and they had it.
Samana is waiting for us on day five!
After having a good breakfast at the colourful ‘Friends’-bar, we left for our last stop of the trip: Samana. This area of the Dominican Republic is known for its Whale watching at the Bay of Samana, but it’s also the only place on earth where there are these many palmtrees per square meter.
Our first stop on the way to this magnificent city, we had a boat tour through the mangroves and around the beautiful coastlines of Rio San Juan. Later on we went to the Blue Hole in Cabrera, climbed into some palmtrees and we had lunch at Las Terrenas, Dulce Playa, with again another breathtaking sea view.
Once arrived at our last hotel, The Bannister Hotel & Yacht Club at the bay of Samana, we had a good and well deserved cocktail, another sunset and a cozy dinner in the hotel itself. A small side note: everywhere you have these beautiful sunsets and sunrises. All around the Island and as I’m personally a nature lover, I will always make sure to not miss any of them!
“Hello Whales” on the sixth day.
As said before, the bay of Samana is known for its whale watching. Every Spring they’re pairing there, in the bay, and it became of course a well known touristic place for people who want to experience this maybe or probably – once in a life time – moment.
I’ve never seen whales before, neither have I been close to them. Aurelie and I were exciting, wondering if we would see them and YES! We did. It’s important for you to know and for me to tell you, that these boat tours are done very professionally.
During the trip they give the whales enough space to move around without feeling trapped. This means that we stay on a safe distance for them to not feel our presence too much. And when you’re lucky, like us, they will come to the surface which was truly a once in a lifetime experience for us!
In the afternoon we went for an adventurous ATV ride through Santa Barbara de Samana, where we’ve been to many beaches want white sand and unbelievably amounts of palmtrees. Well, quite normal when you’re in the area with the most palmtrees worldwide, but it’s beautiful how nature can be. The more time you spend in the Dominican Republic, the more you love it. Those who’ve been there before will understand me right away. And those who don’t yet, go there as soon as possible and let me know!
A personal tip during the ATV tour: ask your guide to bring you to non-touristic beaches. Some have only locals, are private and have hidden lagoons.
Last but definitely not least! Discover our last day…
It’s always sad to prepare for departure when you finally start to feel home, get used to the Latin vibes, the beauty of the Island’s nature and the heartwarming locals. But we did spend our last day very well. A little bit unexpected though, as we ended up doing a 12-parkour zip line! I thought I was going to die, haha.
So we started in the early morning with a boat tour around the biggest Nature Park of the Island: Los Haitises. It’s also a protected area of nature where you have incredible birds, fishes and caves. We visited some of them, got on a couple of little islands and discovered more of the beautiful nature.
It was a wonderful morning that got an even better during the afternoon because the zip-lining. You start on an incredible height, go down by 12 zip lines and you end up with a refreshing drink at the Tree House Village. A hotel I can’t wait to stay at one day! It’s super romantic, calm and makes me think of the being in the Mountains of Jamaica. So this hotel is definitely on my to-do-list when I go back and this together with more adventurous activities. I keep you posted!
A little update: As you know I’m currently back in the Dominican Republic and we were supposed to stay in the Tree Houses. However they cancelled it last minute so it’s still on the bucket list which is a great excuse to come back soon…