Waking to the sound of crashing waves and the smell of freshly brewed coffee is pure heaven for me. I am not a morning person, so I relish a gentle nudge into the day.
During my recent visit to the Dominican Republic, each day in this Caribbean paradise started perfectly.
After hearing about the Dominican Republic, I had to check it out for myself.
I wasn’t disappointed.
Most people flock to Punta Cana where the all-inclusive resorts dominate the view and you can walk the beach from chaise to chaise without ever touching the sand. We wanted a less common island experience, so we ventured north to Samaná Bay and the friendly community of Las Terrenas.
Here friends greet each other in French, English, Dutch, German, and Spanish (that last the official language of the country). The boutiques and shops have a strong European feel, and the restaurants are surprisingly varied for a beach town.
Our group of six friends rented a condo directly on Playa Bonita in a gated community conveniently called Playa Bonita Beach Residences. The accommodations were lovely, with every modern amenity.
Playa Bonita is also ideal for paddle boarding, kayaking, and body surfing. Other nearby beaches are better suited for surfing and kiteboarding because the waves are bigger and the wind is stronger.
Because Playa Bonita is situated in a protected bay on the north shore of the island, extreme weather is not a concern. We learned that the palm trees along the beach are a great indicator of whether that area has experienced hurricane damage.
First, the mere presence of palm trees is a sign that the weather is usually mild. Then look at the tops of the trees. If they are in good shape, the trees haven’t suffered extreme winds, which cause broken palm fronds.
The amazing beach at Playa Bonita was lined with tall, swaying palms topped with beautiful, healthy fronds and coconuts. The palm trees provided refreshing shade for those days when you’ve had enough vitamin D and just need to rest in a cool, breezy lounger close to the surf but protected from the shining sun.
Each day on the sand, a Dominican man sells fresh coconut milk straight from a coconut that he cuts open with his machete just enough to poke in a straw. We also met Roca, a local fisherman who is famous for his lightly fried pulpo (octopus) and calamari. After a free taste, he offers a full lunch for US$6.
A young boy also stopped by our lounge chairs to show us the bucket of shrimp he had harvested that morning. Otherwise, though, we weren’t bothered by vendors or hawkers as we have had to deal with on other beaches.
The best way to get a sense of the culture and diversity of Las Terrenas is to take the quick but sometimes harrowing drive into town.
The many one-way streets are not always clearly marked. On one trip we couldn’t understand why so many cars coming toward us were honking, until we passed a couple of policemen, sitting on their motorcycles, laughing at us as we drove the wrong way against traffic.
Pedestrians cross the street at any opportunity, dogs dart in and out of traffic, and motorcycles don’t seem to follow any traffic rules as they sneak through the tiniest spaces. Fortunately, vehicles move slowly so accidents are uncommon.
Restaurants provide menus in multiple languages and offer a variety of cuisines. We learned the hard way, though, that not all places accept credit cards.
Other than the traffic in the heart of town, the overall vibe in Las Terrenas is chill. This is island life at its best.
The best way to get to Las Terrenas is to fly into the capital, Santo Domingo, and then take the 90-minute drive north to the Samaná area. The highway is modern and smooth, but be warned; it is a toll road, and only pesos are accepted at the toll booths.
Because we arrived in the dark, we missed our turn onto the road leading north to Las Terrenas. Luckily we spotted a military highway police vehicle and asked for directions. Rather than just pointing us in the right direction, the officer called another policeman who personally escorted our van back to the correct interchange and made sure we were on the right road before wishing us good night.
Based on our first impressions of the Dominican Republic, we will be back. Although I don’t expect another military police escort next time.