One of the perks of living along the eastern coast of the United States is the fairly easy flight to the islands of the Caribbean. Assuming all goes as planned, in just a few hours you’ve got your toes in the sand and turquoise waters ahead. With that being said, I have no idea what took me so long to visit this part of the world. Whatever the reason, the trip was long overdo and an extended weekend seemed like the perfect opportunity to venture away.
Getting there: Flying out of New York into Santo Domingo was the easy part, then came the driving. Now, if you pull up a map of the Dominican Republic, you’ll notice that Santo Domingo is in the south central part of the country. To the east of it you’ll find a well-known tropical destination: Punta Cana. The airport in Punta Cana would probably be your best bet if you plan to stay anywhere along the eastern stretch. But for this trip, Santo Domingo was a better option as I was heading west, down a somewhat less traveled path.
Renting a car at the airport was convenient and hassle-free. Once on the road things got a little tricky. If you’re not prepared for it, driving through government checkpoints and passing guards with rifles can be a bit unsettling at first. Thankfully no issues came up and eventually it became less alarming.
A couple tips if you decide to hit the road:
- If you can, avoid driving at night. It’s important to be aware of your surroundings and driving along minimally lit roadways in the dark can make that difficult.
- Don’t pull off the road without a legitimate reason. My vehicle was subjected to a traffic stop by a “police officer” who was simply looking to shake down tourists for some extra cash.
- Consider getting a full insurance coverage option for your rental, just in case.
- Invest in the GPS offered by the rental company or bring your own.
The road trip spanned roughly 120 miles (one way) from the airport in Santo Domingo to Barahona- a decent-sized port city along the southern edge of the country. The drive ended up being safe, scenic and the roads were definitely manageable.
Where to stay: Casa Bonita Tropical Lodge in Barahona immediately caught my attention when I was researching where to stay because it didn’t look like a typical ‘resort’. I have a strong appreciation for low-impact, low-volume, secluded accommodations and seek them out wherever I go. Casa Bonita is that type of place. If you have a minute, read the story behind it on the hotel’s website. Meantime, I’ll quickly summarize. In the 1970’s the daughter of a prominent Barahona native used the property as a summer home. Since then it’s grown a bit in size, but the incredible view it offers of the Caribbean Sea hasn’t changed much. The family preserved the estate impeccably throughout the years and maintained a strong relationship with the locals. Then in the 1990’s, after adding a few rooms, the house became a small inn. Finally in 2006, further renovations were made to make Casa Bonita what is it today. Three generations have lived in, taken care of and grown this property. You can tell they are proud to share it with their guests.
Every room at Casa Bonita has a private balcony that offers both sea and mountainside views. But make sure you get up early at least one morning during your stay and watch the sunrise from the pool area.
Casa Bonita’s location is in a far less touristy part of the country. This allows you to really discover what true Dominican life is all about. There are no big resorts or hotels near Barahona. The lodge is on a hillside overlooking the local village below. But even though it’s in a more remote part of the country, you can still enjoy modern amenities like air-conditioning and wi-fi.
The kitchen is all about sourcing locally and offering an organic, farm-to-table dining experience. Hotel guests can even partake in the fruit and vegetable harvesting process. The food is fresh and delicious. If you’re a fan of seafood, know that the fish is caught by local fisherman and that the fried snapper is outstanding.
Where to go: Bahia de las Aguilas (translation: Eagle’s Bay) is considered by many as the most beautiful beach in the Dominican Republic. This is the only Dominican beach I’ve been to so I can’t fairly assess, but nonetheless, I would confidently stand behind that statement. It’s located along the southwestern portion of the country near the Haitian border. The bay is part of a national park and is a protected area. The water, sand and everything in between is pristine. Here is the best part (at least in my opinion): it’s completely isolated. No construction whatsoever. But, as with many isolated places, you can only get to the beach by foot, a small boat, or with a vehicle that can handle the terrain.
Note: It took about 2.5 hours to get to Bahia de las Aguilas from Casa Bonita, in Barahona. There are many small and crowded towns peppered along the way which can slow down the drive. If you intend to head back the same day, as there are few places to stay near the beach itself, plan your day accordingly.
Where to eat: Before you get to beach, you will stop at a small village right on the shore. There you’ll find Rancho Bahia de las Aguilas, a restaurant where you can grab a drink or get a meal before you hit paradise. There is not much else around and luckily this place has great food and great service. If your diet permits, try the fried chicken!
I admit, I had wrongly associated the Dominican Republic with sprawling resorts and developed beaches. It’s amazing what you can find when you take a turn in an expected direction.
*These are simply my opinions, observations and suggestions.