My holiday of a lifetime to the Dominican Republic
I have just got back from an unforgettable holiday, thanks to The Holiday Place, where I got to do so many wonderful things. We had such a fantastic time I don't even know where to begin. It was a holiday that is certainly going to be extremely difficult to top.
We spent seven days in the Dominican Republic. We stayed in three different hotels (all five star Iberostar luxury hotels), went on five different excursions, and it felt like we uncovered every corner of the Dominican Republic. I knew a holiday in the Caribbean was going to be special, and the reality exceeded my expectations.
The Dominican Republic is located in the Caribbean, and has around 10 million inhabitants. Interestingly, it was first discovered by none other than Christopher Columbus. They speak Spanish in the Dominican Republic, and have a Spanish colonial history spanning 500 years. In neighbouring Haiti, which is much less developed and very poor, speak French and Haitian Creole French.
I was on a mission to prove that the Dominican Republic has more to offer than just breathtaking beaches and plush resorts. It can certainly be that kind of destination if you want it to be, you can spend a week doing absolutely nothing but soaking up some rays on the white sandy beaches or drinking cocktails by the pool.
However, I was after something more. I knew this destination is underrated, and in order to prove otherwise, I had to plan a holiday filled with the best activities and excursions the Dominican has to offer.
I went with my friend Hannah, and our aim was to have an action packed but luxurious girl's holiday. While we were there we saw a lot of couples. It's obviously quite a romantic destination. There's no better place to spark romance than somewhere that looks and feels like paradise.
However, while we were there, we both said we were really pleased that we weren't with our partners (sorry boys), because going just us girls gave us a real chance to see the other side of the Dominican Republic, and we had so much fun.
I would actually really recommend booking a girls holiday to the Dom Rep. From drinking rum on a catamaran and enjoying cocktails on an idyllic island, to an endless selection of entertaining and enlightening excursions, this is an ideal place to have a laugh and enjoy some relaxation with the girls.
Some of my fondest memories from the trip include doing some "Merengue" dancing on a boat in the sunshine, swimming with sharks, drinking far too much rum on a beautiful island, and zooming down a zip wire through the jungle. I definitely became Dora the Explorer, except not quite as cool. Amstar, the company that managed all our trips were absolutely fantastic, they were organised, punctual, helpful and their reps extremely warm and friendly people.
Beaches of the Dominican Republic
I think these pictures say it all really. After a long flight, the first thing we did was head to the beach, and it was even more breathtaking than I had imagined. Picture a tropical beach lined with palm trees, bright blue and turquoise sea, and the softest sand you have ever had the pleasure of walking on.
We ran across the silky sandy and dived into the refreshing Caribbean sea. It was exactly the right temperature, cool enough to provide respite from the heat, but warm enough that you can happily float around for as long as you like. If world class beaches are a priority for your holiday, then you will adore the Dominican Republic.
We went to several different beaches, perhaps the most impressive being the beach on Saona island. We also went to a secluded beach on the outback safari where we had the chance to go bodyboarding, if you enjoy swimming in the waves then this is the place to go. I spent ages having the time of my life in the waves. It was the perfect ending to a day of exploring, there was no one there but our safari group, and we had to walk a few minutes through the jungle to get to the beach.
Action and adventure
This was no spa or beach holiday, we were out and about doing something every single day. I will be doing a full post on all the excursions we did in detail. Our first excursion was Scape Park, and I think overall it was our favourite one because it offered so much variety and the Scape Park staff were fantastic.
There's around ten different activities to choose from including including zip lining, horseback riding, top buggies and caves tours. The park covers more than 1 million square metres and has unique and fascinating natural features such as caves, caverns, and cenotes (natural lagoons).
We were taken by our guide to see the magnificent blue hole, it's a cave-based cenote which is a natural sinkhole made from the collapse of limestone, exposing bright blue waters underneath. There were turtles swimming around and you can dive right down into the hole. Surprisingly, its waters have a depth of 37 meters in its deepest point.
We also went zip lining across the jungle, which was a (slightly nerve racking) but spectacular experience, the views of the nature reserve were jaw-dropping. Next we set off on a caving adventure underground, and we topped off a fantastic day with a sunshine cruise on a multi-deck boat.
We had so much fun on the boat, drinking far too much rum from the floating bar in the sea, taking part in some Dominican dancing on deck and snorkelling amongst colourful fish.
The next day we went on the Reef Explorer excursion, and I'm pleased to report I conquered my fear and swam with sharks (harmless Reef Sharks, but still) and also got to hold a sting ray. This was a relaxing morning where we got to choose from several different activities including paddle boarding, snorkelling, kayaking, sea life encounters and we even had a soothing massage. It's the perfect excursion if you want to be a bit active but chill at the same time.
Next up was the Outback Safari, which we absolutely loved. You get taken through some of the Dominican Republic's most beautiful natural scenery including mountains and jungle, and also see how some of the locals live.
We tasted coffee and hot chocolate made by the local people, had a look around a traditional Dominican home and discovered some of the natural fruit they grow. We got to stop off at a picturesque natural lake with bright green water and unspoilt surroundings. To finish the day we went to a pretty secluded beach to try body boarding.
Our fourth day consisted of a slightly more chilled out Puerto Plata city tour, the best part of this day being the cable car with the most spectacular views of the city, coastline, ocean and lush mountains. We also went to a rum and chocolate factory and did some souvenir shopping in the city.
Our final day trip was to the picturesque Saona island, this was the perfect activity for our final day in the Dominican. We jumped on a speed boat which took us out to a rather impressive catamaran. After doing a bit of snorkelling amongst some of the most colourful and pretty fish we had seen all holiday, we hopped back on the catamaran and sailed out on the Caribbean sea to Saona island.
I felt so relaxed and in my element, sipping rum whilst sunbathing on the nets of the catamaran, with the bright blue ocean passing by underneath me. Although Saona island itself was amazing, I didn't want to get off the catamaran! We spent a few hours on the island and enjoyed a traditional Dominican lunch with freshly barbecued meat and seafood.
We managed to see a surprising amount of nature and animals on our trip. From huge parrots and monkeys to iguanas, stingrays and even sharks. It was pretty cool being able to touch and hold a sting ray, they are such amazing creatures. They feel really soft and smooth.
I was pleasantly surprised by my shark encounter. I was obviously very nervous at first, but as soon as I got close to these impressive sharks, I realised they were relatively harmless. The reef sharks were just lingering together in small groups at the bottom of the ocean. When they moved I was a bit startled, but they moved with grace and were so different from what I imagined.
At Scape Park you can hold and feed a little monkey, as well as rest two enormous parrots on your hands. We also saw lots of cattle out in the fields on the outback safari, and at their centre they had a variety of animals including turtles and an iguana.
I was also lucky enough to capture two large pelicans swimming in the sea and videoed them as they flew off into the distance. The hotels also had a variety of birds within their resorts including bright pink flamingos and even a couple of swans!
It was really wonderful to get out of the more developed areas and go on an adventure into the jungle and countryside. The footage I have of the scenery on this excursion was stunning, with lush green fields, palm trees, mahogany trees and some beautiful native plants and flowers.
Dominicanos: lovely people
I think I can honestly say, of all the places I have been so far, the Dominican people are by far the happiest people I have ever met. They approach life with such vitality and positivity. Their zest for life is infectious, and you can't help but feel happier in their presence. We could all definitely do with taking a page from their book.
You might just assume it was just the tour guides doing an excellent job, but we met quite a few locals too. The locals who lived in the modest and poor community we visited didn't have much, but that didn't seem to bother them at all.
The tour guide said they do really well living this way, and many live very long and most importantly, stress free lives. Seeing these people really put things into perspective for me. I wish I could have captured their spirit in a bottle, so that whenever I feel life is getting on top of me, I can draw from their outlook on life.
In order to see as much of the country as possible, and explore different areas, we stayed in three different Iberostar hotels. All three hotels were of a very high standard, every room we stayed in was comfortable, stylish and luxurious.
However, even though these hotels are all the same brand, there were subtle differences in their character, location and atmosphere. I think overall our favourite was the Iberostar Hacienda Dominicus. I will be doing a full blog post comparing the hotels in details, but here's a brief summary of each one.
Iberostar Bavaro - Punta Cana
I think the interior of our room at this hotel was the best, and the beds were by far the most comfortable. The Iberostar Bavaro hotel is in an idyllic location with the most beautiful tropical beach and island-style bungalow suites. There's an 18-hole golf course for golf enthusiasts and an impressive splash park for the little ones.
Our room was located right next to the pool, which was convenient, although we did not have a sea view. There's four speciality restaurants here, we tried the Steakhouse which we really like, I had a mouth-watering steak. We weren't overly impressed with the buffet food court here, it's definitely worth booking a table in advance at the speciality restaurants.
Iberostar Costa Dorada - Puerto Plata
I would say out of all the hotels this one had the most character, it definitely had a more traditional feel to it. The Bavaro hotel was slightly more modern in design, but I usually prefer unique places so felt right at home at the Iberostar Costa Dorada. The buildings were more colourful, the reception area felt more like a traditional Dominican style hotel. The brochure does describe it as a "Caribbean-style" setting after all. Punta Cana was the first big tourist destination in the Dominican.
There's six speciality restaurants here, and we sampled the Mexican. The food wasn't amazing, but we did enjoy the live music whilst we were dining, and to be fair we only had time to sample one speciality restaurant.
The climate here is more humid as it's closer to the mountains, it was definitely sunnier and drier in Punta Cana (although that could have just been the weather on the particular days we visited). There was also more wind here, so it's ideal if you like a bit of a breeze when sunbathing.
Iberostar Hacienda Dominicus - La Romana
By far our favourite hotel for lots of reasons. The buffet food here was excellent, with better quality food, a more attractive buffet area and better options such as fresh lobster. We also had a lovely meal in the steakhouse whilst being serenaded to the Caribbean version of "Stand by Me".
This hotel was stunning, the ground at the Iberostar Hacienda Dominicus were stylish and very relaxing, with lots of birds wandering around (including flamingos and swans). It really felt like a plush five star resort. The beach was pretty impressive too with a striking lighthouse, and the pool was by far the best of all three hotels.
La Romana itself is a relatively new tourist area, and the hotel is ideally located if you want to go on the Saona island trip.
The Dominican Republic has it all!
After doing so much it's hard to summarise my trip, but I want to gather my thoughts and reflections on the Dominican Republic as a holiday destination. Here's some key things to keep in mind:
- The beaches really are as perfect and pristine as you imagine.
- You can really immerse yourself in the dance, rum drinking and local culture.
- You won't meet friendlier people than Dominicanoes.
- It's not just a couples holiday, it's ideal for girls holidays too.
- You can be as active or as lazy as you wish, depending on your priorities.
- There's so many wonderful, thrilling, beautiful and educational excursions and trips to go on.
So what are you waiting for? If you want to experience all the above, book your next holiday to the Dominican Republic now!
So that's what went down, and my impressions of the Dominican Republic. I hope you have enjoyed reading about my trip, don't forget to check out all the videos on my YouTube Channel.
Thank you so much to The Holiday Place for making our trip so memorable. There will be more posts to follow about our trip covering the hotels, culture and excursions in more detail. Please share this article to show more people what the Dominican really has to offer.