Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Overnight Trips from Santo Domingo

Windsurfing in Las Salinas Beach, trekking in Rio Blanco, and psychedelic mosaic art in Bonao are all within a few hours’ drive of Santo Domingo. Escape the noise and the heat of the city, and take off to one of our favorite overnight trips from Santo Domingo.

Overnight Trip 1
Glistening Salt Flats, Mangos, and Windsurfing: Las Salinas, Baní

Mural of Baní
Named after a prominent Taíno cacique, Baní means “abundant water” in Taíno, even though the city sits at the edge of the driest part of the country. The city was formally established in 1764, but when Haitian General Dessalines invated in 1805, his troops burned the town to the ground. Banilejos (residents of Baní) now proudly proclaim their home as the town of liberators and poets, including Enrique Montaño and Pedro Landestoy Garrido. Among the most famous Banilejos is Generalísimo Máximo Gómez y Báez (1836-1905), who served in the Dominican army when it was under Spanish control during the re-annexation of the 1860s. Gómez later left for Cuba and helped that country win independence from Spain.

Typical Architecture in Baní

Baní is perhaps best known for its tremendous diversity and production of mangos. The season’s pinnacle is celebrated during the Feria del Mango, which takes place every June and includes dozens of types of mangoes – as well as a huge party. Salt is another major product from the area, extracted from the mines by the beach in Las Salinas.

Do: Playa Las Salinas - Salt Mines

On the way to Las Salinas Beach are a series of sand dunes, known as Las Dunas, whose unusual beauty is worth a photo. While this beach isn’t the best the South has to offer, it is a relaxing place to cool off from the hot Southern climate. From the beach, blinding white piles of salt, harvested from the surrounding salt flats, shimmer under the South’s unobstructed sun. The mine’s manager will gladly let visitors take back a handful of this crucial condiment and local moneymaker.

 To get to Las Salinas, head southwest toward the coast on Carretera Máximo Gómez. Pick up this highway by turning left at the Isla Gas Station located on the highway leading out of Baní heading west (Parador Baní is on the right). Drive to the end of the road and turn right and pass through the towns of Villa Sombrero and Matanzas. Keep going until the coast and follow signs for Las Salinas. You can also pick up a guagua (RD $ 80; 20min; hourly 7am-6pm) at the stop located a few blocks south of El Mercado Público.

Hotel Las Salinas
Sleep: Hotel Las Salinas

Right on the water, this hotel’s 35 rooms are adorned with bright white linens that contrast the dark wooden furniture, and though they come with A/ C, the ocean provides a refreshing breeze. The hotel draws both a wealthy Dominican crowd and windsurfing fanatics, who have been visiting the hotel since it held a windsurfing competition in 1988. Offering a private beach, pool, glamorous chaise-lounges, and a dock with a gazebo, Las Salinas Hotel creates an exclusive atmosphere without breaking a traveler’s budget.
RD $ 2000-3000; Puerto Hermosa; on the right on the main road through Las Salinas; 809-866-8141, 809-310-8141; hotel_salinas@ hotmail.com, www.hotelsalinas.net

Overnight Trip 2 
Bonao and the Río Blanco Ecotourism Complex  

Central Park in Bonao
Bonao is the first city on the highway north out of Santo Domingo, about an hour’s drive away. It is bounded on one side by seemingly endless rice paddies, and on the other by the rapidly rising rock of the Cordillera Central. Bonao began, like many other towns, as an outgrowth around a fort; this one built in 1495 by the Columbus expedition.
Modern Bonao is a two-industry town: rice production and mining. In the foothills outside of town are one of the largest mines in the country, with enormous impact on Bonao employing a plurality of residents, but also has environmental consequences. Bonao is also proudly home to artist and master painter Cándido Bidó, and there is a fascinating museum here in his honor.
Visit www.bonaocityrd.blogspot.com, a local website dedicated to local news, sports, and music, for updates on local happenings in the city.

Mosaic Bathroom: "The Throne"
Do: Casa Museo Tiburcio

The Casa Museo Tiburcio, known by locals as La Casa de Piedra, is worth a stop in the town of Bonao before heading to the Río Blanco Ecotourism Complex (see below). Home of the Bonao artist Cristian Tiburcio, along with his wife and three children, the house is made entirely of ceramic and stone mosaics, from the walls to the beds - and even the blender. Bright tiles form figures like fish and animals, but the house features the artist’s signature piece: eyes. Tiburcio uses eyes as a form of self-portraiture, producing an often-overwhelming sensation in its visitors.

Mosaic Bedroom:"Bosque de los Sueños"

One particularly impressive area is in the bedroom called Bosque de los Sueños (Forest of Dreams), where the bedroom’s toilet is literally a throne covered inside and out with colorful tiles. The artist studied under the Dominican master Bidó, whose influence is apparent in Tiburcio’s use of color, especially Bidó’s classic hues of blue and orange. The first floor is the only space with white walls, used to display the artist’s paintings, sculpture, and mosaic pieces. His home-as-project began in 1998, and continues to be a work in progress with plans that call for an outdoor theater and community park.
 12 C/ Los Pinos, Urbanización Falconbridge; contact Cristian at 809-525-2972 or 809-304-6510; cristiantiburcio@ yahoo.com; www.casamuseotiburcio.com

Sleep: Río Blanco Ecotourism Complex,  Hoyo del Pino

Seventeen kilometers uphill from Bonao into the deep, piney forests of the Cordillera Central is the small valley village of Hoyo del Pino. In 2004, community members founded a non-profit dedicated to the conservation of the area around a tributary of the Yuna River, one of the largest watersheds in the Dominican Republic. The Río Blanco Ecotourism Complex provides a peek into the wilderness and coffee farms around the village. Locals and seasoned experts guide hiking treks, birding tours of endemic and migratory species, and visits to mountain-cold swimming holes. Other attractions include one of the highest waterfalls in the country; coffee production, demonstrations, and tastings; and a stop at a bamboo artisan’s workshop. A natural history museum is in the works. The complex has its own kitchen and lodging, and proceeds go to ecosystem preservation efforts and improving economic opportunities for families living around the project area.
Guide service, which is required for some activities, is RD $50. 809-310-5767; contacto.coeturb@gmail.com; https://sites.google.com/site/visitacoeturb/; https://www.facebook.com/COETURB

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Day Trips from Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo is known for its dynamic nightlife, striking colonial architecture, and hip-swaying rhythms, but after seeing the sights, visitors and locals alike sometimes need a break from the big city. Luckily, there are a number of quaint towns within a few hours of Santo Domingo that provide new perspectives on the DR’s rich culture and natural beauty. Here are two of our favorite day trips from Santo Domingo.

Day Trip 1

Mountains and a Typical Dominican Town: San Cristóbal

View of San Cristobal Province 
The province of San Cristóbal, home to over 220,000 inhabitants, is less than an hour's drive from the capital. For such a small area, it's comprised of a variety of microclimates, from the cool and humid coffee-carpeted mountains in the north, to the sunny, stone-dotted beaches of Palenque and Najayo in the south. Man-made creations such as the well-stocked Valdesia Dam attract fishing fanatics, but all visitors can marvel at the resplendent mountain views along the small village byways. A number of cave systems including the Cuevas de Pomier (or Borbón), covered in pictographs, offer glimpses of the indigenous civilizations’ way of life.

While adventurous travelers will see the great potential throughout the province, the city of San Cristóbal presents a different kind of authentic Dominican culture. Famous for being the birthplace of Trujillo, the city is a tangled mess of motorcycles and guaguas, destroying pleasant strolls in their wake. There are, however, a few interesting sights: Trujillo’s mansions like El Cerro, and the abandoned Casa de Caoba. These paired with a decadent meal at Aubergine (see below) make for the perfect day trip from Santo Domingo.

Eat: Restaurante Aubergine

Restaurante Aubergine
Jutting out from a mountainside overlooking the peaks and valleys of San Cristóbal, this avant-garde restaurant fuses Asian, German, and other flavors to create a multi-layered journey for the senses. Try any of the German chef’s ever-changing inventions with exotic meats or one of the namesake dishes, such as fried eggplant roulettes topped with chili con carne -- a terrific blend of Mexican and Thai. The desserts are equally imaginative: white chocolate avocado ice cream topped with eye-catching fresh strawberry sauce and poppy seeds.

RD$390-960; La Colonia Km 6 ½ past Cambita en route to Los Cacaos; 809-374-1382, 809-729-9364; harald@codetel.net.do; www.aubergine.com.do. For public transport either take a carro público (RD $ 40; 15min) to Cambita from the Mercado in San Cristóbal, and then a motoconcho (RD $ 100; 15min) to the restaurant or take a guagua (RD $ 50; 30min) going to Los Cacaos, which also leaves from the Mercado. Tell the cobrador to leave you at Aubergine (where the German is – “donde el aleman”) in La Colonia.

Day Trip 2

Beach Time and Fresh Seafood: Juan Dolio

Fisherman in Juan Dolio Beach
Located 52 kilometers (32 miles) east of Santo Domingo, the white sand beach and placid aquamarine water at Playa Juan Dolio are close enough to the capital to make for an excellent day trip. Most of the beach, though bordered by walled vacation homes, is pleasingly quiet, allowing sunbathers to enjoy it unobstructed.

Eat: Pepek Namornick

With tables directly on the beach, this Russian-owned seafood restaurant offers international fare in an elegant but casual setting featuring wicker chairs, a respectable wine selection, and a naturally-treated wooden bar. Start with one of various salads such as the iron-rich Ensalada Popeye (the restaurant’s namesake), followed by filet mignon with Roquefort or grilled shrimp.
RD$300-700; C/ Principal Plaza Perla Mar I; 809-526-1890

Eat 2: Restaurante El Sueño

Juan Dolio Beach at Sunset
On the weekends, this Italian-owned, open-air restaurant with an ocean view is bustling with Italian expats and capitaleños pining for steaming plates of pastas, thin crust pizzas, and succulent seafood dishes. Try the arugula and prosciutto pizza or the ravioli stuffed with lobster, and finish the meal with cool, smooth gelato.
RD$380-700; C/ Principal