I recently returned from a week on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic with my family – and by that I mean, 15 of us – where we were celebrating a family member’s birthday. I had a feeling when planning this trip that we would be in for a treat, but I had no idea we would be able to achieve the “experience” we had at our rental home there. Let me start by saying that I did A LOT of research on traveling with a big group in the Caribbean.
While we found a few hotels that seemed like they might fit the bill, my concern was keeping the group together and minimizing the hassle of organizing restaurant reservations, beach chairs and group activities that is inherent in trying to reserve for a group of our size, not to mention that we were looking to accommodate the enormous age range in our multi-generational crew. Initially I was hesitant to book a house for the week because we are an active group and I feared we would either get bored or be too on top of each other to enjoy a full week in a house. But I was dead wrong. Traveling in a group ranging from age 3 years to 72 years old can actually be fulfilling, relaxing and really fun.
The northern region of the Dominican Republic is beautiful. It’s green and lush with a dramatic coastline and a stunning, although not always child-friendly, Atlantic Ocean hugging the coastline. We rented an exquisite house with a full-time staff, including house cleaners, a brilliant chef and a house manager who checked in daily to answer any questions and assist us with any plans we wanted to make for the day. The house staff and other locals we met during our stay were absolutely lovely, the food was delicious (and made to order each day) and the weather was perfect. The price tag, while high, was very fair considering all the services included in our stay.
We only went on a few outings. The first was a sunset boat ride through Laguna Gri Gri near Cabrera.
It was a relaxing 1.5 hour tour through mangroves and out along the coast – we learned about local wildlife as well as some interesting historical facts about the region. Another day we went on a jeep “safari” (which wasn’t really a safari at all) to visit a few nearby beaches and to see where and how the locals in the region live.
This outing was probably longer than it needed to be but still interesting and culminated in a lovely pre-arranged lunch at Playa Grande, which is one of the most famous beaches on the north coast of the DR. In fact, for anyone who knows the luxury Aman resort chain, rumor has it they are currently building a resort and villas on this beach.
The remainder of our time was spent at the house, which was loaded with amenities to keep us busy for hours each day. It had a pool table, ping pong table, karaoke, speakers with music piped throughout, amazing indoor and outdoor sitting areas, a fire pit set between the house and the ocean and the most incredible three-sided infinity edge pool I have ever seen. The house sat just above the Atlantic Ocean and from it we were able to walk on a well-marked path to the nearest beach. This beach was not really swimmable, although my brother did manage to go for a dip one day and emerged from the water unscathed and refreshed!
Visually, it was a beautiful beach and a favorite place for us to visit in the afternoons. In addition, with the help of our house manager, we arranged for a few activities at the house – on two occasions a group of masseurs and facial aestheticians came to the house. We were all in heaven after our respective services-these people were GOOD! We also organized a cooking demonstration one day where the house chef, Mario, walked us through the steps of one of his beautifully prepared meals. One evening we hired a merengue trio to come play for an hour while we enjoyed cocktails on the terrace and the kids played and danced in their pajamas.
Although our Spanish is not strong and not all the house staff’s English was perfect, there was no real language barrier – communication was practically effortless thanks to the staff’s consistent warmth and patience. At the end of our trip everyone in my family wrote on a piece of paper his or her suggestion for our next family vacation. I think we all agreed that my husband’s wish was the best one – back to the DR to duplicate the week we had just spent there!
To note: we stayed just outside of the town of Cabrera, which is approximately 1.5 hours by car from the Puerto Plata airport. There is not much to see in Cabrera, although there is a small inn nearby called La Catalina (http://www.lacatalina.com/), which I understand has a cute bar and restaurant worthy of an evening visit. The town of Samana is supposed to be fun and have a surprisingly cool French influence. If you’re looking for a hotel there, I’ve heard Sublime Samana is a great one to check out (http://www.sublimesamana.com/). It is approximately 1.5 hours east of Cabrera (in the opposite direction of the POP airport). And if you’re looking for the fully staffed villa experience I described above, luxuryretreats.com and villasofdistinction.com offer some great options!