When I told US friends I was moving to The Dominican Republic, several said they’d vacationed there and loved it. Most, like many of my coworkers and school community, enjoyed seclusion at Punta Cana’s resorts where they received five-star treatment. I get it; I loved this stay at Barcelo Bavaro Grand Resort last fall. Perfection…or at least one version of it. But like my friend from home, Sara, who said she had wanted to see the “real DR,” I also understand why many local friends love the Samana area for adventure and authenticity. I especially like Las Terrenas because of its “mom and pop” properties–private apartments and beach bars I remember from my childhood summers in Florida.
I love the laid back vibe of the province of Samana and will be forever grateful for the good times spent there with friends —horseback riding, swimming in a waterfall, drinking pina coladas on a small island off the main island, and whale watching in Samana Bay. I’ve seen couples enjoying different stages of life together there, too–newlyweds, retirees, and recently a pair from Canada who decided to pack up, move south, start a beach business, and live the dream.
I’ve always been fascinated with expats reinventing their lives in faraway places, like folks I met in Marrakesh like Aussie Alexandra featured on this blog who are doing just that. Likewise, Samana has enticed many from North America and Europe to move to the Caribbean.
Something pulls people here–even if just for a weekend. Anyone who travels regularly from Santo Domingo knows the thrill of coming around this curve, parking on the roadside lookout point, and thinking I’ve arrived. Paradise pops in Renoir-rich blue and green until sunset softens the sky with Monet-muted purples and pinks. This place definitely leaves an impression.
Riding through the province of Samana is also colorful. Mountain homes teeter on cliffs and balance above deep ditches while motorcycles and cars careen around curves.
Last January I loved the villa where my friends were married and vowed to stay in such a place near the hub of town on my next trip. I had instead chosen an all- inclusive in El Portillo because I’d snagged a Daily Deal on Booking.com. I looked forward to pondering possibilities for the new year and not having to decide where to eat or what to cook sounded relaxing.
I left Nashville on a redeye flight after the holidays, had a layover in Miami, then a three-hour bus ride from the Santo Domingo airport. Seventeen hours later, I was excited to finally drop my bag in the room and head for the fridge. I’d planned to grab a beer, order room service, and take a hot bath in the Jacuzzi, but the fridge was empty, room service was not included, and the bath jets were dead. When I went to the terrace to regroup before making the trek back to the front desk, the sliding glass door’s lock fell to the floor. Two days and multiple hikes to the front desk later, I was moved to a room where everything but the safe worked. It was fixed a day later. But on the very bright side–where I like to focus–the weather was perfect, and I loved dancing/exercising at the pool with fun instructors, great music, and guests from Europe. Hearing French, German, Italian, and Spanish on the beach was sweet as was eating every meal on the water, Brazilian steak night, the Crème brûlée, and the French man who sang while couples danced in the dark (see video at bottom).
My next trip to Las Terrenas was in mid-March and amazing. Thanks to Sana we had a private villa, Casa Anna, with a pool she found on AirBnB; Italian owners, Allesandra and her husband , greeted us when we arrived. The perfect location, it is in a quiet neighbourhood just a five minute walk to the fisherman’s village, Pueblo de Los Pescadores, the town’s pulse where locals, expats, and tourists shoot pool, watch games, listen to live music, eat, drink and are merry. We started the weekend with dinner there; I had a whole fried fish and a mojito as lights blinked along the shore like fireflies and water lapped the shore near our feet.
The next morning we had coffee with the hummingbirds on the bungalow’s covered porch, then went looking for an American-sized breakfast on the beach. We found it at One Love Surf Shack. Owners, Barry and Chef Kari, served bacon, eggs, toast, and rosemary potatoes (delicious). Barry joked if we were looking for granola and yogurt we’d come to the wrong place. I enjoyed every bite but was too full to join the three generations of ladies doing Zumba on the beach beside us. Barry said to come back for Happy Hour, their signature burgers, and open mic night.
The Canadian couple scouted locations around the world to open their restaurant: Mexico, Ecuador, Galapagos Islands, France, Thailand, Panama, England, Indonesia, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Singapore, and Hawaii. Why did they choose the DR?
“Health care, title to own the property, exchange rates, tax treaties (getting their retirement money from Canada), basic amenities and infrastructure as opposed to ‘nice to have’ things which we placed on the bottom of the list. We tried to stay away from the ‘la-la’ happy things and focus on daily reality basic fundamentals when making our decision.”
It seems they made a great call… maybe even got it all… judging from the jovial crowd of back-slapping regulars reminiscent of buds who gathered every night at the bar Cheers. We watched the US play the DR in baseball. There was a whole lot of happy going on.
I’ll be leaving the island in June but will maybe return one day with a dance partner like these guys at El Portillo. Sana says she’d like to stay here with Steve and sell coconuts on the beach. No doubt business in Las Terennas will be booming.