“Long Time No See” and Island Hopping to the DR

We left Curacao on a lovely warm day flying in a small passenger Airbus over the teal blue Caribbean above puffy, white cumulus clouds.  We were headed north towards the island of Hispaniola and Santa Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic, where we would meet our friends.

A funny story about our friends. We first met B & C in January, 2013, in Merida, a good-sized colonial city (population approximately one million) in the Mexican state of Yucatan.

Paseo de Montejo Intersection, Merida

Paseo de Montejo Intersection, Merida

We spent our month-long visit walking miles around the city, locating various parks and neighborhood churches, visiting museums, wandering down the lovely wide avenue Paseo Montejo, waiting in the bus station to hop buses to the near-by ruins of Uxmal and Chichen Itza’, the seaside city of Progresso, the yellow city of Izamal, among other places.  And we kept bumping into the same couple, strolling about sight-seeing.  We’d nod, exchange a few words and a laugh and go on our way.  One night we ran into them again at dinner on Avenida Reforma and carried on a lively conversation, filling in our backgrounds and exchanging travel stories.  At the end of our stay in Merida we moved on to further travels throughout the Yucatan Peninsula and  Chiapas and then on to Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and…

Nicaragua. Late December of 2013 found us in Granada strolling the streets when we heard a familiar voice say, “Long time no see.”

La Catedral, Granada, Nicaragua

La Catedral, Granada, Nicaragua

And there they were. What were they, stalkers? This time we met for a lunch, exchanged email addresses and actually arranged to meet again for a short jaunt to San Juan del Sur in January of 2014.  Again, we went our separate ways but this time we stayed in touch updating each other on our plans and travels until …

Ecuador.  There we were, contemplating a 7-week housesit in Curacao for January/February of 2015, deciding where to go in December (Colombia) and figuring out what to do with the several weeks we had in March/April until we departed for Europe.  A note from B & C said “We’re in the DR for four months – feel welcome to come and visit …” And so we did and here we are in …

Punta Cana on Map dominican_republicPunta Cana, Dominican Republic. After a week of staying with B & C we found an airy condo unit on the second floor of the same complex – because, after all, we’d like to cultivate our friendship not smother it!  We split the cost of a month-long car rental which makes getting around the spread-out, ill-defined area that offers stores, restaurants and other services much easier. The car rental has the additional advantage of simplifying navigating around this island nation to visit other towns and cities, historic landmarks and the rural countryside and coasts.

walled cityAlthough the coastal town of Punta Cana is written on a map it’s hard to encapsulate its location in precise terms since there’s no such thing as city limits for the sprawl.  Large cement letters lining a wide road and spelling out D-O-W-N-T-O-W-N Punta Cana lead to … nothing.  Poorly regulated growth has spawned these place holders for the all-inclusive end-destination resorts that blanket the eastern end of the island. These resorts tend to keep the vacationing guests and their money inside the gated walls and exclude the “others”, be they ex-pats or Dominicans, from the mix. Approaching the resorts from the land side is not an option due to the high walls and sentries at the gates which offer tantalizing glimpses of vast pools and lounges for reclining sun worshippers.

resort map

resort map

Access from the beach is ill-advised as well since the public area is small and the resort areas with their vast stretches of beach, while not roped off per se, hurry to shoo away folks who might decide that their beach stroll would be improved with a cold beverage or a bit of sit on a lounge in front of any particular resort compound.  Colored wrist bracelets clearly identify those who belong versus those who don’t.

For those not ensconced in the all-inclusive resorts, the people who actually live in Punta Cana or long-term visitors like our friends (who won’t return) escaping from harsh northern winters, the area presents a clean, modernized face with many amenities on its soulless interior. Certainly this is a vacation paradise where the living is easy but the city lacks any authenticity. “There’s no there, there.” aptly describes this urban area. For the sun worshiper it’s a vacation paradise. However, for someone seeking to learn about another country, Punta Cana is an unfair and unflattering representation of the Dominican Republic that is packaged and presented in this pasteurized, homogenized tip of the island.

By Anita and Richard

 

 

34 comments

  • Looks like a fun place if you just want to stay in one place and relax. Definitely not for everyone.

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  • Hi Anita and Richard,
    Of course the best part of your Dominican Republic trip was your friends. So glad for all of you that you met and cultivated a nice relationship. You four will have to go to a new and better location next time!
    Regards,
    Josie

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    • Making new friends as well as hanging out with old friends has been the high point of our stay in the DR. We split the cost of a car rental during our stay which has made the whole island accessible and, with four heads figuring out the directions and places to see, find that we’re a lot more adventurous, too!

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  • Thanks for the warning about Punta Cana! But that yellow church is cheerfully inviting!. Meeting friends like that has never happened to us. How neat!

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  • That running into the same people thing has happened to us on a couple of holidays but I don’t think we’ve ever spread the encounters across more than one trip like you.

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    • These chance encounters have happened a couple of times over the years in totally unexpected places which is why, I’m assuming, the term “It’s a small world” came into use. We try to keep in touch with several people that we’ve met through our travels and share future plans for meeting up in new places. It’s always fun to renew and refresh a friendship!

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  • Good advice about Punta Cana. We stayed at an all inclusive in Los Cabos for a wedding, and it was great for that purpose. It was easy to eat together and spend time with our group. But it’s not our travel choice. It’s hard to experience a place or its people from behind a high wall.

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    • You’re right that there are many great reasons to select an all inclusive when traveling and we think a special occasion celebration with a group of people would be a fun time as well as a wonderful memory. Many people choose to avoid any kind of stress on vacations, too (we remember those days!) and resorts offer some lovely ways to relax and recharge. That being said, it’s not for us!

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  • Punta Cana doesn’t sound l like my kind of travel destination either. I’ve been wanting to got the DR, so grateful to get the tip about where not to go. Love reading about your budding friendship with your “stalkers”. 🙂 Great travel experiences do so often involve the people you meet along the way.

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    • Cathy, we’d recommend looking at the northwest coast of the Dominican Republic by Cabarete with its beautiful beaches. While there are many resorts ranging from budget to luxury there are also small and boutique hotels and even condos for longer stays and the towns allow mixing it up with tourists and local people. There’s not the feeling of inclusion/exclusion that we’ve found in Punta Cana.

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  • I’ve never been to an all-inclusive resort. I can understand the appeal for some people but it’s not for us. Nice that you spent time with your new friends though!

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    • We can also see why some choose to spend their vacations in all inclusive resorts where they’re surrounded by the familiar and just enough exotic to feel like they’ve seen something different. For us as long-term travelers (like you) travel is about trying new things, wandering down unknown roads and learning about new cultures rather than staying behind walls.

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  • Sounds like the main reason to visit the Punta Cana area would be to chill out in one of those resorts. Good to know!

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  • Good thing Punta Cana isn’t on my bucket list!

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  • Great post – serendipity at work. I really can’t do packaged type places like Punta Cana anymore. I have been there when my kids were little and we needed a break at a reasonable cost but never again. In Canada, every beach is accessible no matter who owns it if you stay below the high tide line.

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    • Punta Cana could have so much going for it as it’s in a gorgeous location and the people that we’ve met are warm, friendly and welcoming. We’ve never tried an all-inclusive resort (so maybe we’re knocking something we know nothing about!) but we feel that part of travel is the challenge of stepping out of one’s comfort zone. Trying new foods, meeting new people, exposing oneself to new cultures and ideas is a huge part of the travel experience!

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  • I love the story about meeting your friends – it is truly one of the joys of travelling. We’ve made some great friends amongst other ‘overlanders’ and there is nothing more heartwarming than driving down a road and unexpectedly seeing a familiar vehicle coming in the other direction. The most notable was on the Carretera Austral in southern Chile and the car we saw approaching belonged to friends we hadn’t seen since Bogota at the other end of the continent! Such a wonderful feeling.
    As for the resort-dominated Punta Cana – no thanks, but thanks for the warning…

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  • Any place the Real Housewives of New Jersey adore – and Punta Cana is such – is probably not the place for you and me. 😉

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  • Love meeting people when traveling. I don’t have this place high on our list

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    • Meeting people and making friends is one of our favorite things about traveling. We’ve kept in touch with many people through emails and social media and some of these initial meetings have ended up with future plans to meet-up again in other countries. It’s great to be “homeless” and yet have so many friends in so many places – we feel very privileged!

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  • Really enjoyed this post. One of the things we love most about traveling is the wonderful people we meet everywhere we go. It’s interesting to find out what a small world it really is. It will be fun to meet you someday.
    Suzi

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  • Just goes to prove that it is a small, small world. 🙂

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    • We have a couple of other unexpected encounters with friends that have occurred during our travels (the best was of a former college friend who we hadn’t seen for years from Missoula, Montana, in a restaurant on the Big Island of Hawaii) and your comment is so true. Life is full of serendipitous moments and meetings!

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  • Interesting, Anita. I once had a contract with a world-wide hotel directory to review all the 1st class hotels in the DR. After doing a bit of research, I declined the gig as I too could tell that those high walls separating the “haves” from the “have-nots” would not suit my travel cuppa tea..

    That said, I’m wondering… so perhaps in other corners of the DR the all-inclusives haven’t taken over? Perhaps along the northwest or southwest coasts?

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    • Great questions, Dyanne. We’ve traveled to (and through) several areas near Punta Cana while we’ve been here and also spent a few days last week in the interior as well as visiting the northwest coast of the island. The economy along the coast is, of course, built on tourism but the inclusive resorts seem much less prevalent and there seemed to be some mixing between the locals, expats and the tourists. We have to agree with you that, while we like our creature comforts as much as the next person, we don’t like the feeling of exclusion or entitlement that seems to be widespread in some resort areas.

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