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. 

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