Beyond Punta Cana: “Real” Dominican Republic Travel

A beach in the Dominican Republic

When Explorer Chick was still just a gleam in her eye, founder and CEO Nicki Bruckmann traveled to the Dominican Republic on several occasions to explore the beauty and culture. Not only did it leave a lasting impression, it became the very first official Explorer Chick adventure. Here, she shares her tips on “real” Dominican Republic travel, one of her favorite recipes, and the best place to bookend your Explorer Chick trip ¡Disfrutar!

Experience the Authentic Dominican Republic

When people hear “Dominican Republic,” they immediately think of Punta Cana—the Mecca of all-inclusive binge drinking and gluttony. This breaks my heart every single time. I have had a love affair with the Dominican Republic for years, going back to when I first stumbled upon a mountain top property in Las Terrenas listed online. My fascination with the Caribbean country that shares an island with Haiti was ignited! In 2012, I finally traveled to that mountain-top property, and my love for the country grew stronger. I was surrounded by beaches, mountains, jungles, and a very kind community. Even before leaving, I vowed to return. The Dominican Republic had captured my soul and my entire being.

Energy and Inspiration

From that first trip to whenever I return, I immediately feel an energy surging through my body upon arrival. Maybe it’s the warm weather mixed with the fresh air and the excitement of being immersed into the country’s natural beauty.

When in the Dominican Republic, travel trips along the coast and further inland make me feel inspired. I feel alive. Sitting behind a computer is nearly impossible. Sitting with a cup of Dominican coffee on a balcony overlooking the ocean is desirable. Days are spent walking the beaches, strolling through town, giggling with the locals as we try to charade our way through a conversation. Bachata music can be heard echoing through the mountains and shopkeepers seen dancing the merengue whenever the mood strikes.

The Food

Dining takes place at plastic tables set on the sand with fishermen’s boats moored to the beach mere steps away as you devour their catch of the day cooked in fresh coconut milk and washed down with a bottle of Presidente. Venture to a fruit stand to discover avocados the size of your hand or even your head. For spare change a man will take his machete to a coconut and pop in a straw for a taste of the creamy and delicate milk. The words “local”, “free range”, or “organic” are rarely seen since there is no need to separate the good from the bad. And…McDonald’s what?

The Beaches

Adventure is always only footsteps in any direction. The country is a natural playground for us humans. The most obvious are the beaches that each carry a personality of their own. There are beaches for kite surfers, for board surfers, for sipping Mojitos on loungers, for untouched beauty, and for simple gratitude. A swim in the ocean purifies the soul as only the sea and its healing salts can.

The Mountains

Going inland, you’ll find a country dotted with mountains. The Dominican Republic is home to four of the five highest peaks in the Caribbean, creating diverse geographical landscapes and cultures. Rivers that carve through the Cordilleras form a natural water park for leaping off waterfalls, sliding down limestone chutes and rappelling rock faces. All of this happens while shaded underneath the rain forest’s canopy.

The Motoconcho

Love motorcycles and need a lift? Then say hola to the motoconcho: the Uber of the Dominican Republic. They are everywhere, and ready to give you a lift to wherever you are headed. Hailing them? Unnecessary! When walking down the street, they are always asking if you need a ride. Click here to learn our four tips for riding a motoconcho like a local, and watch a super-nifty video about them, too! (If riding on the back of a motoconcho isn’t your thing, no worries! Hop in a cab or enjoy the walk around town or along the beach.)

The People

Cabarete Surfing

The people of the Dominican Republic are incredibly hospitable and genuinely caring. I giggle when remembering the many interactions I’ve had with the locals. There was the woman who taught me the word peligro (danger) my very first day in the Dominican Republic, when she saw me venturing toward a crumbling stairwell. In Las Terrenas, I was picked up by the police. Not because I was up to no good, but he found me walking on the side of the road and offered me a ride into town. My favorite was when I dipped into a lingerie shop to buy nude underwear for the white dress I had purchased. She spoke only Spanish, so the charade that ensued had us both laughing.

All Are Welcome

This is Dominican Republic travel. This is the country I so dearly love. A slice of paradise that whisks you away from the concrete, hustle and bustle of life in the States. You can’t help but enjoy the slow life because it’s so deeply entwined in the Dominican culture. You’ll quickly learn about the Dominican 5 minutes, then learn to appreciate it.

The DR is a country that is raw, it’s genuine. There is a sense of community where all are welcome. There exists an adventurer’s paradise beyond the gated resorts of Punta Cana just begging to be explored. With the enchantment of its natural beauty, the Dominican Republic will quickly leave its long lasting mark on you as well.

Bookend Your Explorer Chick Dominican Republic Travel with Santo Domingo

Explorer Chicks flying into Santo Domingo for their Dominican Republic Tropical Vacation may want to spend an extra day or two exploring the Dominican Republic’s capital. It’s rich in history, culture, and architecture!

It’s fitting to begin your Adventure in Santo Domingo. It was the Gateway for Explorers. As Ponce de Leon, Hernan Cortez and others discovered new lands, they had to stop at Santo Domingo to check in and “make it count.”

Taste of the Dominican

After a very long flight (17 hours and two layovers) and entirely too much bad airport food, a nice sit-down dinner was in order. I walked the short distance from my hostel to the Zona Colonial, where the street lamps left a golden hue on the historical district. Finding a seat at El Conde, my heart opened and gratitude rushed through my being. Moved by the moment, I pulled out my phone and started journaling:

“I find myself sitting at an adorable outdoor café. You know the kind. With small café tables underneath large umbrellas around a plaza with a large monument at its center. I am in love with life. Taken back by the fact that here I am about to enjoy a glass of wine and red snapper cooked in coconut milk with rice. Children chase the hundreds of pigeons that gather in the square. This place feels more Italian or French than Dominican. The languages spoken vary but are all beautiful music to my ears while street bands chime in with their island beats.”

I can still feel that moment. Hear the sounds. See the Cathedral across the plaza. Taste the fish and wine. This would be the first of many times that I would order the Pescado con Coco. It’s hard to turn down the opportunity to eat freshly caught fish cooked in coconut not from a can. In Las Terrenas, there are shacks that line the beach where you can order the catch of the day cooked in coconut for less than $10.

Pescado con Coco (Fish with Coconut Sauce)

Adapted from Simple by Clara

Pescado con coco

I always try to replicate and share the food of Dominican back in the States. Does it taste as good as it does in the Zona Colonial? Nope. However, it’s delicately delicious and perfect with a side of coconut rice. Most importantly, this meal embraces the Dominican culture when you cook it with friends and family.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 grouper or red snapper filets
  • 1 clove of minced garlic
  • 1 Tsp of annatto (I substituted turmeric)
  • 1 Tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 1/2 onion cut into strips
  • 2 cups of coconut milk (Fresh if you can find it! I used canned.)
  • Chopped Cilantro

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Clean fish. Score diagonal cuts across the fish about 1.5 inches from each other.
  2. Mix the garlic, annatto, and salt. Rub the mixture on the fish making sure it penetrates the cuts.
  3. Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat.
  4. Cook fish lightly on side, flip, and cook the other side equally. Lower heat.
  5. Add the onions and peppers. Cook until onions are translucent.
  6. Add the coconut milk. Simmer over medium heat until the liquid reduces to half. Rotate the fish regularly. Caution: Do not turn the heat up too much or the milk will separate losing its creaminess.
  7. Season with salt as necessary and top with chopped cilantro. Serve with rice.

Touring Santo Domingo

I spent a couple nights in Santo Domingo near the Zona Colonial so I could tour the city. I began my journey with the decision to take my Lonely Planet guidebook and stroll through the Zona Colonial. After touring and exiting the Cathedral, I was approached by Bill “Chino.” Chino convinced me that he was The Man to guide me around his city. Boy, was he right. We spent the first part of the afternoon touring the old city on foot. He then took me to his favorite restaurant for a typical Dominican meal: Rice, beans, and chicken stew. Four dollars of greatness! Afterwards, we hopped in a van with “Lil Chicken” at the wheel and drove around the “New City.”

What I got was an amazing afternoon and introduction to the history and culture of Dominican Republic. Chino loves his hometown and took great pride in sharing it with me. And, he had jokes. From his Samuel L. Jackson statue and the Baby Factory, there was plenty of laughter.

Here’s a photo journal of my Santo Domingo tour. Enjoy!

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