“You expect me to climb that?” I asked Carlos, my guide on a morning outing in the Dominican Republic. “And then slide back down?” I added with trepidation in my voice.
Reassured by our leader’s words of encouragement, but only slightly so, my wife Fyllis and I scaled the first of 27 waterfalls created by a rushing river whose arctic-like water contrasted with the heat of the surrounding forest.
Only the devil-may-care attitude which Fyllis displayed as she plummeted down the chute prompted me to follow.
After returning safely, if slightly bruised, from our adventure, Fyllis and I stopped for a lunch of pit-roasted pig washed down by a cold local brew. That was followed by hiking in a rainforest and pausing to explore caves that have been carved out over eons.
Many people picture the Dominican Republic, if they think of it at all, as a place of golden sand beaches and inviting all-inclusive resorts. While there are many such settings, we had other things in mind during our recent visit.
We were intrigued by a long list of activities that provide opportunities to explore largely unspoiled countryside, interact with local residents and visit towns and villages little touched by tourism. Plus, we looked forward to enjoying encounters with Mother Nature.
Christopher Columbus spotted the island in 1492, and a colony was established there 10 years later and named Puerto Plata (“port of silver”). Among reminders of Spanish colonial days is Fuerte de San Filipe (“Fort of Saint Phillip”), which gazes out over the north shore. Its massive walls enclose a little historical museum and a tiny cell in which Juan Pablo Duarte, a hero of the Dominican Republic’s fight for independence, was once detained.
Puerto Plata is well located for visits to nearby villages and beaches. Playa Cabarete (Cabarete Beach) is popular among both locals and visitors.
Once a tranquil fishing village, Sosua evolved into a bustling community known for an enclave of Jewish residents whose relatives fled from Austria and Germany just before World War II. The town is home to the first synagogue that was established in the country.
When Fyllis and I sought a change from checking out beaches and sightseeing attractions, the challenge became which of an inviting choice of activities to select. As non-golfers, we couldn’t take advantage of some of the best courses in the Caribbean.
We decided to focus on new experiences. We put mountain biking, wind surfing and deep sea diving on our “not in this life” list. Whitewater rafting, kayaking and horseback riding had appeal, but we have enjoyed them in other places at other times.
Then we found the perfect solution. We were directed to Iguana Mama, an outdoor tour operator that lives up to its slogan, “Mama knows best.”
That heart-pounding climb up, and plummet down, waterfalls described above is but one choice among its long menu of offerings. Along with the recreational pastimes available at many vacation spots, Mama throws in a few that catch your attention and if, you participate, your breath.
Zip lining and canyoning provide trips over and down into the landscape. Sailing on a catamaran, ocean fishing and whale watching cruises get salts and landlubbers alike out to sea.
We selected two options that we thought would provide challenge enough but not too much. One was a bike ride over dirt roads that passed through neighborhoods of modest homes. We waved to children playing in the streets as we steered to avoid bicycle-eating potholes and chickens scratching in the dust.
Then, after loading our bikes onto a rundown outboard motor boat, we enjoyed a ride on the Yessica River, past cows grazing in fields and fishermen throwing their nets. Back on land, we sipped a cool drink of coconut milk from the shell, then pedaled back to our starting point.
Another day, another outing. This time, it was a hike in the Choco National Park, named for the chocolate (“choco”) color of the earth. It included exploration of several of the more than 100 limestone caves, many connected by underground rivers, that added a whole new dimension to the usual walk in the woods.
An added bonus was an encounter with an elderly man who invited us into his tiny, primitive hut made of palm tree wood and fronds, and offered us a snack of warm yucca. This epitomized every experience with the Dominicans we met, who invariably were friendly and courteous.
People I meet when traveling have much to do with how much I enjoy a destination. Add beautiful beaches, magnificent scenery and tiny towns, plus a long list of activities both familiar and less so, and the Dominican Republic has much to offer those seeking active days, hours lolling on the sand, or a combination of both.
If you go
All-inclusive resorts are the choice of many travelers to the Dominican Republic. The Lifestyle Holidays Vacation Resort in Puerto Plata where we stayed offers every comfort.
The usual “all inclusive” endless supply of food and beverages is available, along with swimming pools, spas, and tennis, basketball and volleyball courts, plus other amenities. Daily activities range from golf and tennis lessons to classes in Spanish, aerobics and preparing a Dominican cocktail. For more information, log onto lhvcresorts.com. For information about visiting the Dominican Republic, visit godominicanrepublic.com or call (888) 374-6361.