Thursday, January 26, 2012

Top Beaches near Río San Juan

Dotted along the Northeast coast of the Dominican Republic are several spectacular expanses of sand and sea where the only sounds to be heard are the crashing of the waves and the laughter of families. Conveniently located between Río San Juan and Cabrera, these beaches are easily accessible using public transportation or by private vehicle from any of the area's resorts and hotels. For those craving the freshest lobster or fish, grilled to perfection and served with golden tostones (twice-fried plantains), look no further than the palm-thatched shacks serving up that morning's catch. Here are the must-see beaches outside Río San Juan:

Playa Caletón 
Playa Caletón 

A quick 2km east of Río San Juan, Playa Caletón's ochre sands are nestled in a protective cove. The calm and tidy surf is perfect for both children and a lazy ocean swim. This beach is something of a hidden gem, as few foreign tourists manage to visit. On Sunday, the beach transforms from quiet to festive, as families from nearby communities bring food, drinks and work off some tropical energy. Just to the east, notice several sculptures made of white plaster peering out from their black-rock perch, as well as another figure scaling the rock in the middle of the cove. There is plenty of shade potential and perfect trees for climbing. Caletón is also known for the quality of its snorkeling because of the teeming life in the shallow seabed. The turnoff for the beach is a little hard to see; look out for a small sign across from an open-air restaurant. Boat tours from Río San Juan also stop here.
The ride from Río San Juan is RD$15; to return to town, just stand on the highway and flag down the bus.

Playa Grande 

Men Selling Coconuts and Sugar Cane at Playa Caletón 
If there was ever a destination beach, Playa Grande is it. Consistently rated in the top five beaches of the country, this beach stands apart from its formidable competitors. The expanse of sand is wide, deep, and visually stunning, and though just a short drive from Río San Juan, has a distinctive feeling of isolation. Rocky cliffs on either side of the beach set it square against the sea: palm trees behind, the water up front and buffeted by a constant tropical breeze, these four kilometers of sand make Playa Grande a must-visit. Though it is, in fact, a large beach, it may have received its name because of the deceiving nature of the waves that meet  its shores. While some days the teal sea is placid, more often than not, the waters erupt into hidden, body-tossing riptides and unseen currents. For this reason, while we do recommend a dip, exercise caution and swim with a buddy.

Playa Grande

On the drier side of things, tin-roofed food shacks do a fine send-up of classic Dominican beach food (and cold beer) on plastic tables. Vendors occasionally come by offering massages and cheap jewelry but for the most part, Playa Grande is very quiet. The surrounding area is being developed, as evidenced in the golf course with a view that sits on the hills to the west of the beach. Now, however, Playa Grande shines in isolated splendor. From Río San Juan, catch any of the guaguas heading east (RD$25), and make sure to let the driver know you’re heading to the beach, as it requires a small detour. To return from the beach, you may have to walk a bit to the main road to catch a passing bus.

Playa Preciosa

Just off to the east of Playa Grande is Playa Preciosa. This bit of sand and rock is much smaller and less frequently visited. Preciosa’s waves have more consistent and higher breaks, making it a hit with surfers. It lacks the amenities of Playa Grande, but the short cliffs hewing to the sea and surf give the beach an untamed feel. Because of its more isolated nature, petty theft has become an unfortunate side effect, so visit with caution and never alone.

Río San Juan
Parque Nacional Cabo Frances Viejo

This tiny national park stands tall with its lighthouses that lord over a rocky promontory jutting into the Atlantic Ocean – offering expansive, panoramic views of green and blue. A stone path from the highway leads directly to the lighthouses, another curves right down to the beach of Playa El Bretón. The park, within a humid subtropical forest, was established in 1974 and is poorly maintained; there is a suggested, but not required, entrance fee. The lighthouses, one of which is more than a century old, no longer serve their original purpose, but their presence atop the heights of the cliff is monumental. Ruins of an older lighthouse speak to the vastness of the waters and treacherousness of the sea. The park is about four km west of Cabrera, before reaching the small town of Abreu. It is possible to camp in the park, but you must check with a park employee first and the station. The park guards, when around, are friendly and happy to give a tour or answer questions; ask especially about visiting the cave by the beach. Take a guagua here along the coastal highway from Cabrera or Río San Juan.

Playa El Bretón

Set at the base of Cabo Frances Viejo, El Bretón provides the quiet charm and isolated beauty of a golden-sand tropical beach, this time buffeted by white cliffs that meet the sea. There is a nearby shipwreck and fanciful fish colonies, making it a good spot for snorkeling. The cacophony of fish shacks and car speakers are absent here, the sound of the surf is the only noise around. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Vegetarian Options in Santo Domingo

With a diet based heavily on rice and beans, starchy vegetables, salads and fruit, the Dominican Republic can be surprisingly vegetarian-friendly.  However, with the increased usage of processed seasonings, such bouillon cubes (sopita) and chicken-flavored powder seasoning (sazón), to many dishes, vegetarians often have difficulty finding items that do not contain meat products.  Though in many rural areas, it is still common to see women hand-milling homemade seasoning or sazófrom garlic, onions, mild peppers, cilantro, celery, oregano and bitter orange, many households have resorted to these aforementioned store-bought seasonings with animal byproducts to save time.  For the purists out there, here are a few dining options in Santo Domingo that are both delicious and guaranteed to serve only 100% vegetarian dishes.


Crudo is an organic vegetarian restaurant and natural products store. The restaurant prepares salads, juices, and vegetarian dishes, including a reasonably priced plato del día. The store carries natural remedies, vitamins, incense, and aromatherapy oils that waft outside into the street. Dr. Felix F. Casas, doctor of holistic medicine, owns and operates the establishment.
RD$150-250; 152 C/Arzobispo Portes near C/ 19 de Marzo, Colonial Zone; 689-0796; Mon.-Sun. 12pm-7pm

Delicias Integrales at El Instituto de Medicina Inovativa y Bioquímica Funcional

Though the selection is limited at this doctor-owned restaurant, the daily options are always quality. Try the plato del día, which generally comes with brown rice, beans, salad and a side such as vegetarian lasagna or veggie meatballs for RD$140. Beverages are not served save for hot anise tea, but there is a small health food store next door that sells juice and water. If a hint of cinnamon wafts through the air, ask for the delectable cinnamon bread (pan de canela), generally sold out within minutes of leaving the oven. 
RD$140-200; 31 C/ Caonabo between Calles Felix M. del Monte and Leopoldo Navarro, Gazcue, 947-8312; Mon-Fri, lunch only

Ananda Vegetarian Restaurant/Centro Cultural Yoga Devanand

This tucked-away yoga studio and vegetarian eatery offers a large variety for reasonable prices.  Meals are charged per item, so take a minute to check out the options in the buffet line before being shuffled along by the working professional crowd that frequents the spot. Vegan options are available, as well as yoga and vegetarian cooking classes.
RD$100-200; 7 C/ Casimiro de Moya, Gazcue; 628-7153; Open for all meals Mon-Sat until 10pm and Sun until 3pm 


An unlikely spot to find an excellent variety of vegetarian-only options, this Seventh-Day Adventist Church has a cafeteria open to all. There is no sign, so keep a look out for people entering through the glass doors in the middle of the complex. There’s also a health food store on the far right of the church that is open weekdays and on Sundays 9am to 1pm.
RD$80-150; C/Juan Sanchez Ramirez near the corner of Av. Máximo Gomez, in the Adventist
Church complex around the corner from the Supermercado Nacional and across from the Embassy of Haiti; Mon-Fri 8am- 3pm, Sun. 11am-3pm, Closed Sat.

Jardín Verde

This organic Chinese-vegetarian restaurant offers a pleasant patio to sip on inventive Eastern teas infused with tropical fruits and flowers while waiting for one of Chef Suzuki’s meat-free creation such as chontz, a savory rice-based pastry stuffed with Chinese mushrooms and garnished with peanuts. Handmade noodles served with tofu, bok choy, and carrots in a flavorful brown sauce serve as an excellent way follow any of the scrumptious starters, which include fried mushrooms or vegetable eggrolls.
RD$150-300; 18A Salvador Sturla, Naco; 565-2084; Mon.-Sun. 11am-10 pm

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


New Travel Guide Unveils Hidden Hotspots and Provides Cultural Insights of the Dominican Republic

Dominican Republic (Other Places Travel Guide), co-written by Washingtonians Katherine Tuider and Evan Caplan, is available for sale on January 10, 2012.

Taking the visitor beyond well-trodden sunny beaches, this unorthodox guidebook gives visitors the ability to discover the real Dominican Republic. Having spent a combined five years in the country as Peace Corps Volunteers, the authors bring a wealth of knowledge to the book, imbuing the pages with vibrant language that truly brings the country to life. Their relaxed authenticity and unique perspective will inspire wanderlust in any reader.

The first European outpost in the Western Hemisphere, the contemporary Dominican Republic is a proud country with diverse African, European and native roots. Feel pan-Hemispheric fusion like nowhere else while dancing to the beats of merengue and bachata; tasting the pleasing cuisine like hearty stews or fried sweet plantains; and spending time in the vibrant marketplaces full of bright tropical produce and tinctures to ward off the evil eye. The DR also challenges visitors with extraordinary geographic diversity: the picturesque deserts of the South, the pine-covered central mountains, and the idyllic sandy beaches on every coast.

Whether detailing centuries-old colonial ruins, the highest peak in the Caribbean, or hidden surfer’s coves, this guidebook ventures to every corner with insight and wit. Become part of the adventure and discover the rich culture and stunning natural beauty of the Dominican Republic.

Other Places Publishing is an independent book publisher based out of North Carolina.  The company’s signature line is a series of travel guides written by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers with an intimate knowledge of local customs and hidden hot spots. With an Other Places Publishing travel guide in hand, visitors can experience a country like few outsiders have before.

Title: Dominican Republic (Other Places Travel Guide)
Authors: Katherine Tuider and Evan Caplan
Official Publication Date: January 10, 2012
Twitter: @OtherPlacesDR

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Dominican Republic (Other Places Travel Guide) Available Jan 10, 2012

Commonly seen, but hardly known: this is the dichotomy of visiting the Dominican Republic. Travelers flock by the millions to enjoy its sunny beaches graced with palm trees and endless glasses of cuba libre. Yet few venture beyond the pristine confines of internationally-run resorts.  Discover the unknown Dominican Republic as our writers introduce you to the Old World's first outpost in the New World.

Today, Dominicans are a modern mélange of African, European and Taino roots, mixing and matching the traditional and the contemporary to create a heady blend.  Experience pan-Hemispheric fusion as you listen to the up-tempo beats of merengue and bachata, and sample pleasing Dominican fare like rice and beans and fried sweet plantains.

The Dominican Republic challenges the visitor with extraordinary geographic diversity: the picturesque deserts of the Southwest, pine-covered central mountains, lush tropical forests and idyllic beaches on every coast.  Whether you come to explore centuries-old colonial ruins, climb the highest peak in the Caribbean, or find a surfer’s paradise, there is surely something to suit every interest.  Be part of the adventure as we show you the rich culture and stunning natural beauty of the real Dominican Republic.