Many people picture the Caribbean island of the Dominican Republic, if they think of it at all, as a place of golden sand beaches and inviting all-inclusive resorts. While there are many such settings, I had other things in mind during my visit.
I was intrigued by a lengthy choice of activities that provide opportunities to explore the largely unspoiled countryside, interact with residents, visit villages little touched by tourism, and enjoy encounters with Mother Nature.
In 1492, he spotted the island that the Dominican Republic today shares with the country of Haiti/ A colony was established there ten years later.
Among reminders of Spanish colonial days is a stone fort, Fuerte de San Filipe (“Fort of Saint Phillip”), which still gazes out over the north shore. Its massive walls enclose a little historical museum that tells the story of the Dominican Republic’s fight for independence, which was finally achieved in 1821.
Today, many visitors head for the vacation complex of Puerto Plata, which is well located for excursions to nearby towns and beaches. Playa Cabarete (Cabarete Beach) is popular among both locals and tourists. Its semi-circular stretch of golden sand is set against a backdrop of restaurants and bars.
In the past, it was a tranquil fishing village. In recent years, Sousa has grown into a bustling little commercial community. Small shops and restaurants line the beach, and vendors stroll along the sand selling snacks and trinkets to sunbathers. When I sought a change from checking out beaches and sightseeing attractions, the challenge became an attractive choice of alternatives to select.
I decided to focus on new experiences and found the perfect solution. After asking around, I was directed to Iguana Mama, an outdoor tour operator which offers a wide array of engaging activities.
That heart-pounding climb up and plummet down rushing waterfalls that I had experienced is but one choice among its menu of offerings. Along with the recreational pastimes available at many vacation spots, the company throws in a few that catch your attention and, if you participate, your breath.
I selected two options that appeared to provide challenge enough but not too much. One was a bike ride over dirt roads that passed through neighborhoods of modest homes. I waved to children playing in the streets while steering to avoid bicycle-eating potholes and chickens scratching in the dust.
Then, after loading the rented bike onto a rundown outboard motor boat, I enjoyed a ride on the Yessica River, past cows grazing in fields and fishermen casting their nets. Back on land, I sipped a cool drink of coconut milk from the shell, then pedaled back to my starting point.
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Another day, another outing. This time, it was a hike in the Choco National Park, named for the chocolate (“choco”) color of the earth. It included exploration of several of the more than 100 limestone caves, many connected by underground rivers, that add a whole new dimension to the usual walk in the woods.
An appealing bonus was an encounter in the forest with an older man who invited me into his tiny, primitive hut made of palm tree wood and fronds and offered a snack of warm yucca. That generous gesture epitomized every experience with the Dominicans I met, who invariably were friendly and courteous.
People I encounter when traveling have much to do with how much I enjoy a destination. Add beautiful beaches, magnificent scenery, and tiny towns, plus a long list of activities, both familiar and less so. The Dominican Republic has much to offer those seeking active days, hours lolling on the sand, or a combination of both.
If you go for information about visiting the Dominican Republic, log onto godominicanrepublic.com.
All photos Victor Block
After gallivanting throughout the United States and to more than 75 other countries worldwide and writing about what he sees, does, and learns, Victor Block retains the travel bug. He firmly believes that travel is the best possible education and claims he still has a lot to learn. He loves to explore new destinations and cultures, and his stories about them have won many writing awards.