This time last year, my family celebrated my twin sister (Molly’s) graduation from Columbia in NYC. Shortly thereafter, she moved to the Dominican Republic to start her career at a local nonprofit, The DREAM Project. So we packed our bags again this May and set off for a week in paradise! Molly greeted us at the airport in a taxi, which transported us to our first hotel of the week, Villa Taina, in Cabarete. Drinks were in order after a long two days of travel, so we headed to one of Molly’s favorite beach spots, Mojito Bar, for fresh mojitos and plenty of Presidentes, the local beer.
We also got our first taste of Dominican fare at Mojito Bar. The traditional Dominican sandwich consists of ham, white cheese, mayo and (oddly enough) ketchup, sometimes topped with lettuce, tomatoes and/or onions and almost always served on white bread. While we dined, Molly explained that our young waitress was a recent graduate of DREAM’s job preparation program, who had never before been employed and was initially very shy on the job. It was a true testament to the work DREAM is doing as Molly explained how much the young lady had grown and accomplished since graduating – she was even confident when communicating with us in English.
Villa Taina was located in the center of it all, so we were immediately immersed in the hustle and bustle of the city. At every corner, men on “motos” waited to try and earn our business by offering to transport us where we needed to go. Molly explained that motos are the most common form of transportation in the DR, especially because many cannot afford cars. We walked a short distance from our hotel to Molly’s apartment, a cozy studio which is very nice, though she has no air conditioning and frequently loses electricity J. As we walked through her neighborhood, I was struck by the conditions in which many Dominicans live. So many homes are nothing more than makeshift shacks that, as long as they have roofs, are enough for the locals.
After exploring, we took advantage of our first floor hotel room with a patio that expanded onto the pool deck. We were all tired, so we bought some Brugal rum to make drinks (called a Santo Libre when mixed with Sprite and a Cuba Libre when mixed with Coke) and sent Molly and her friend Carlos, who is a native Dominican, to pick up pizza (yep, even the DR has it) from Paparico. We just stayed at our hotel all night, which was probably a good thing considering how swollen my feet were from the travels!
The next day, we headed to what Molly considers a more beautiful and less crowded beach at Sosua. Molly has excellent Spanish skills now and, along with Carlos, was able to negotiate prices for us on the beach. I found out that it’s typical to buy any food/drink during your stay from the same person who sells you beach chairs.
Fresh fruit is EVERYWHERE. We had fresh mango off the tree, and saw other native fruit-bearing trees/plants, such as coconut, avocado, almond, banana and pineapple.
Selecting our fish for the day.
A typical Dominican lunch with rice, potatoes and tostones (fried plantains that are even better with salt).
After a few days in the city, we commissioned a cab to drive us the 3.5 hours to Samana/Las Galeras, which is a much less touristy area than Cabarete, to get the true local experience. We stayed at Casa Dorado, a bed and breakfast owned by Molly’s manager at DREAM. Though there are four bedrooms total, we ended up having the whole place to ourselves for both nights.
My favorite part of Casa Dorado was the home cooked meals prepared by the local staff. Dinner the first night was one of my favorites of the whole trip with coconut rice (I’m going to perfect this soon), stewed chicken, fresh tomatoes and more totones. We got breakfast, too. Fresh fruit and fruit juice every day, with scrambled eggs, ham and red peppers, and the most amazing pancakes I have EVER tasted.
From Casa Dorado, it was a quick walk to secluded La Playita (the beach), a walk that was much different from what we experienced in Cabarate. To me, it felt more rural as we passed men on horses carrying shears, which we later saw tending to their land. Throughout the trip, it was great to have Molly as our tour guide. I know we explored places we never would have otherwise and got to see so much more of the island.
One of my favorite parts – spotting crabs on the beach! Cuties.
We celebrated my dad’s birthday with dinner at El Cabito on Wednesday night, which involved a remote taxi ride through the mountains to arrive at the quaint cabana on a cliff with a spectacular view. The photos speak for themselves.
Loved the after-dark ambiance, too.
We topped our meal off with a fruit flambé. And some rum shots (on the house, of course).
For the remainder of our trip, we headed back to Cabarete for two nights at Velero Hotel. We spent most of our time relaxing at the infinity pool, which backed right up to the ocean, enjoying the sunset, and laying on the cabanas as we watched the snorkelers and locals “fish” for crabs. I would highly recommend this hotel for travelers to Cabarete as it was just far enough away from the craziness of town but close enough you can walk to all of the beaches and nightlife.
We saved French-Caribbean restaurant, Otra Cosa, for our last night, which was conveniently located right outside our hotel. Hands down some of the best food we had in the DR, starting with an eggplant puree, crusty bread, a warm goat cheese and almond salad, and mahi mahi with caramelized shallots and rice. I’m telling you, I’m normally not a big rice fan, but the Dominicans know how to cook rice to perfection. I didn’t take any food photos this night as it was already dark, and I wanted to enjoy the beachfront ambience with my family. Though expensive, I would definitely add this restaurant as a must-do on your trip to Cabarete!
We had the best time on our visit to the Dominican Republic, and I’m already looking forward to going back with Aaron (who just started a new job and couldn’t make it). I can see why my sister enjoys living there, and I know her work is having a huge impact on the community. It made a world of difference to have someone who knew the ropes there with us, too, and made for an unforgettable experience. All-inclusives have their place, but I much preferred seeing the culture. Next trip: family visiting us this winter in the Rockies!