caribbean + mexico

Dominican Republic
  • Our Early Winter Getaway to Punta Cana, DR

    Towards the end of hurricane season and right before all the resort prices sky rocket for the winter, the Mr. and I take a trip to the Caribbean. We call it a short trip since it's less than seven days (although six isn't really all that short, is it?). We've gone some place different every time and use different criteria than we do for trips of seven nights or more:

    1. Traveling there takes no more than half a day. We like to be poolside by early to mid-afternoon and we don't like spending our entire last day in the airport. We take a look at flight time, as well as travel time from the airport to the resort.
    2. Affordable value. We don't spend our big bucks on this trip and save our pennies for our longer trips. This means we have to really scour the information out there to find just the right deal. We make compromises (like no view from the room or no swim-up bar.)
    3. Adults only. This is true of all of our trips. We prefer the quiet that these resorts usually offer. However if  we can't find an entire resort, we'll at least find an option with a separate adults section.
    4. All inclusive. We have gone the regular route before and are always amazed at how much those drinks and poolside snacks add up. If we can find an AI we like, we'll always choose it.
    5. Food is above average. We went to an incredible resort one year that had just meh food. Everything about it was awesome but we're unlikely to return. It's a make or break issue for us.

    After putting all of that into our research process, the winner this year was the Barcelo Bavaro Beach Resorts for adults only in the Bavaro area of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. One of the things we learned our first time in the DR, is that "Punta Cana" is a really big area and your resort can be an hour and a half drive after you arrive. This resort is less than 30 minutes from the airport.

    It's a fantastic place to go if you have travelers who want a lot of options. The adult resort is connected to a much bigger family-friendly resort. We were able to go there and enjoy all their amenities (casino, more restaurants, lots of shopping), but they could not come and enjoy ours. We also found the crowd to be much more international (Russians, Canadians, Brits) with only a handful of Americans, which translates into a much more peaceful experience around the pool. No "Woo Girls" or loud hollering after a round or two of drinks. 

    A few highlights from our trip ...

    Clockwise (from top left): a mojito and my favorite drink of the trip, a chechee kapapuka (which tastes like an orange creamsicle); the path to our room (garden view with an extremely comfortable bed); one of several sculptures in the common area near the pool; there is plenty of shade and lounge chairs around the pool

    Top to bottom: a view of one of the unique features of the pool -- it also had a jacuzzi in the center and pool beds in the water; the resort is next to a public area on the beach that has shops and options for various tours

    Clockwise from top left: one of the cool things about Punta Cana is that they have left many of the palm trees directly on the beach; La Pina -- bar at the far end of the resort where you could get tropical drinks in a pineapple or a coconut; the view of the beach to the right of the resort towards the family-friendly section; lots of beds for lounging; and interesting seating sprinkled through the resort

    Clockwise from top left: pool beds, which were quite comfortable (note that the pool is pretty deep so it can be hard to drink your fruity pina colada while wading); the lighting in La Brisa where we had lunch every day (the grilled fish with lime was my favorite!); no swim-up bar at this pool but they did have chair service; the Mr. at the bar at La Pina

    The beach to the far left of the resort near La Pina is pretty empty and a great place to sit if you need some peace and quiet.

    If you are curious about more specifics of this resort, feel free to read my TripAdvisor review here.

  • Sun, Sun, and Sun in the Dominican Republic

    (originally published on January 6, 2014)

    I know it's taken me a while to get around to putting this post together. You'll see why at the end.

    The Mr. and I started a winter survival strategy last year by adding an additional trip to warmer climates right before the snow usually starts falling. With our annual Jamaica trip at the other end, we've created symbolic parentheses to our least favorite season. 

    We took the first flight out of Boston on a mid-November morning. So early that I had this little space all to myself. Even though we were up at 3:30 am, I was psyched for our trip! See face below.

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    It was the first time we were able to keep our electronic devices on during takeoff so I popped in some Bob Marley and relaxed the 45 minutes to NYC and then the few hours to Punta Cana. And once there, we had an experience that made my heart soar! We disembarked out of the BACK of the plane, on to the tarmac, and into the palaba-style airport. SO AWESOME!

    However, the experience inside the airport was the antithesis of Jamaica's no-worries-mon arrival. I was STRESSED. People pushing, grabbing bags, luggage carts digging into the back of my legs, elbows jabbing. And then our transportation to the resort fell through and we had to rely on the kindness of one of the luggage guys to get us where we needed to go. I will admit it, I was rude to him. So rude. Luckily, the Mr. is much more trusting than I am and the guy totally saved our vacation. Despite how rude I was. Lesson learned.

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    After about an hour's drive, much of it on a disappointing stretch of highway (no water views), we arrived on the most beautiful beach with amazing resort grounds to match.

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    The beach was so wide and the surf really intense. The first day we were there, I decided to take a walk on the beach while the Mr. snoozed by the pool. As soon as I set foot on the sand, I noticed people running and hotel employees with walkie-talkies rushing past me. And then I realized there was someone in the water and he was in serious trouble. I mean serious trouble. No one could get to him and he kept getting pulled out further and further. They had to launch a boat (that barely made it over the waves intact) to rescue him. I honestly thought we were watching someone lose their life. Needless to say, I did not venture past my ankles the rest of the trip. (And, people, use your brains! That red flag is there for a reason. Don't you watch Dateline?)

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    Luckily, the pool at the resort was incredible. It seemed to go on for miles! There were plenty of chairs and beds (yep! we took a very nice nap on one). Some had palabas, some did not. We also got in the habit of walking from one end to the other to cool off. There was also a separate quieter pool (bottom left hand corner below) that we never got around to visiting.

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    The swim-up bar was in the middle of the pool, never too far away.

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    And the rest of the resort was equally as amazing and had all sorts of activities like squash courts, pool tables, tennis and basketball courts, a giant chess set, archery, miniature golf, a casino, on and on. There were games and activities (like a pineapple throwing contest which the Mr. participated in and meringue lessons.) If you were bored here, it was your own fault!

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    We may have had a few cocktails while we were there. The Coco Loco was my favorite -- they would chop off the top of the coconut with a machete, pour the contents in the blender, add rum, add coconut milk, blend with ice and pour it back in the coconut. It tasted nutty and not so sickly sweet as some of my usual fruity favorites.

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    There were 10 restaurants on the resort, one of them was right on the beach, Las Olas, which was just the perfect beach lunch place.

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    They made pizzas there in a wood fire oven. They were quite popular! We also tried the Dominican rice (upper right hand corner below.) I will say the food overall here was hit or miss. Some of the meals we had were really good and some were just ok. I will say I very much appreciated the waiter at The Grill going next door to The Lobster House to get me some lobster to go with my steak. Service here was really good and everyone was very friendly.

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    The resort also had a botanical garden that I went to visit every morning on my walk around the grounds. There was a small flamenco of flamingos, some beautiful and friendly parrots, and some of those gorgeous white egrets.

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    I just love this photo and how you can see his feathers flying in the breeze. Beautiful, beautiful birds!

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    One more look at that beach, the palm trees, and the surf!

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    One observation I would like to share: I'm a pretty laid back person and I like to just chill most of the time. I found there to be a slightly elevated energy level here. I'd like to see more of the island to see if it's the culture of the place. It may have been the high-energy salsa music and the energetic staff (quite different from the reggae music and no-worries-mon vibe of Jamaica.) 

    So, why I've been dragging my feet on this post: I don't support the Dominican Republic's recent ruling to strip citizenship rights from people born in that country to parents who were there without documentation (read Haitians.) If you have no idea what I am talking about, please read this. While we had a wonderful time and would like to see more of the island, we've decided not to return until the government changes this policy.