Escaping The Resort In The Dominican Republic

I decided to start 2015 off by escaping the cold temperatures of the Greater Toronto Area for the warm sun and salt water of the Dominican Republic. My choice for accommodations was the Vik Arena Blanca Resort – this stunning resort housed a great pool, oceanfront property, beautifully renovated rooms, and great coffee. My last trip was a wonderful European escape, so this time I really just wanted to submerge myself in “island time” and spend a week without a worry or schedule. I am a master of agenda planning and load any free time I have with meetings, coffee dates, networking and volunteering. So this trip was very important for me to let go of planning ahead and going with the flow.

Usually when I vacation I like to book at least one off-resort excursion that lets me see typical local lifestyles. To me it is important to respect the culture and learn something about the culture of each country I visit. So even though I promised I would plan anything as a group we did decided very last minute to book an excursion. (We literally booked at midnight the night before our excursion!)
bavarobeachWe booked with Adventure Boogies, which is a reputable company in Punta Cana and was recommended by our hotel – it included pick up and drop off from our hotel. The tour included a stop at Macao Beach – this semi private beach had stunning views and local vendors on the beach. What I found interesting about this stop was that we were able to converse with local vendors, I really made a point to speak to an 11 year old named Michael who sold straw hats. It intrigued me that he wasn’t in school – he explained that he did go to school but it started at 1pm and finished at 4pm. He briefly explained that they break it up into younger years in the morning and older years in the afternoon. That way the older children can work and make some money in the morning selling to locals. This idea really made me sad that at 11 years old he had to work to help bring money into the household – however you could see that he really enjoyed meeting people and learning about the tourists who visited.
macaobeachTo get to each part of the tour we drove the dune buggies through towns and even non-paved roads. Driving through the towns allowed us to catch the slightest glimpse of real like in the Dominican, and although they seemed poor to us they were some of the happiest people I have ever met. The second stop was at a Tobacco & Cocoa plantation where we got to sample Mama Juana (Dominican’s famous homemade alcoholic concoction), Hot Cocoa (absolutely delicious!! Instant hot cocoa has NOTHING on this stuff), Flavoured cigars (mango was my favourite) and Coconut oils. Our final stop included one of Dominican’s famous caves where you could jump into 25ft of water.
caveThe only downside to the tour was that time was limited at each stop, however it was definitely an amazing experience. Since we were driving the dune buggies the tour allowed us to drive through actual towns and see where locals live, what schools look like and even meet local children. One of the most rewarding parts of this excursion was how happy each child was as we drove by them – they would stand as close as they could with their arms extended for a high five. The most exhilarating part of this entire day was being able to drive off the beaten path and experience the beautiful scenery Dominican had to offer – it was more than zooming by a beach or a field. It was really about seeing and supporting the culture, experiencing the excitement and adrenaline rush of speeding through a huge pile of mud and most importantly supporting the locals.
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localchildrenTravel Tip: Try to book excursions through your hotel as these excursions have been thoroughly screened and it is the hotels responsibility to deal with payment and safety. However, if you choose to book with an independent company do your research prior to your trip and make sure you read the waivers and do not pay until the day of the excursion.

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