You know that song by Robert Palmer, ‘Some Like It Hot’? He’s singing about me. I like it hot, really hot. Why? Well, it’s simple: I am always, always cold. I wear long johns from November until April and even in summer, I have socks on in bed. Yes, I shiver uncontrollably in the meat section of the grocery store and have been known to sit so close to fireplaces that my clothes have actually been singed.
So, for this heat worshipper, one of the best things about travel is being transported to places where it’s hot, really hot. Among my favourite destinations in the Carribean is the Domincan Republic. Not much beats the feeling of stepping off the plane and being hit with a wave of warm air. Those first few steps always feel like I’m walking in bath water. My tense shoulders drop and my skin seems to loosen. I lift my face to the sun’s glorious rays and smile. On my most recent trip, in November, temperatures hovered around 32 or 33 degrees Celsius all week. It was hot, really hot and I was happy, really happy.
While the steady sultriness is obviously the biggest draw for me, there are so many other reasons I love the north coast of the Dominican Republic. You might love it there too.
The beaches in this part of the DR are stunning. There’s gorgeous golden sand and the surrounding lush greenery makes it feel truly tropical.
A couple of my favourites are in Sosua. There’s Sosua Beach where you can connect with local people and tourists alike. This beach is lined with restaurants and souvenir shops so there’s lots to see and do if you need a break from lounging in the scorching sun. Playa Alicia, Alicia Beach, is in Sosua too. Mostly tourists hang out here on blue lounge chairs, under sun-faded blue umbrellas. It’s a small beach but very clean and quiet. Playa Grande is a another popular place to take sun and relax but if you're looking for a sandy spot that's very natural and unspoiled, I’d suggest Playa Precioso, just east of Playa Grande. There is no commercial activity here at all and many days, it might be just you and fallen coconuts lining the beach.
If you love to swim, then you understand the incredible sense of freedom that comes with a dip in the ocean. The water on the north coast of the DR is warm and crystal clear. Its shallow bays allow you to swim forever and still see the bottom. At Sosua Beach, a favourite morning workout of mine is to swim out to a large shallow reef teaming with colourful fish. After a few laps around the reef and back into land, you’ll have worked up a healthy appetite for lunch.
World Class Water Sports
If swimming is a little too tame, you can take on the ocean in other challenging ways. Four mile long Cabarete beach is alive with the action of water sport lovers. There’s wake boarding, stand-up paddle boarding, wind surfing and more. But the craze that Cabarete is known for is kite surfing - balancing on a short surf board while harnessed to a crescent shaped kite over head. The kite catches the wind and you ride the waves! The trade winds and thermals provide strong and consistent gusts. The wind blows easterly and that means perfect side-onshore sailing conditions.
Traditional surfing is also big on the north coast but if that’s your bag, try a quieter beach like Playa Escondida (hidden beach) in between Cabarete and Sosua. You’ll have a lot more room to play away from the kite boarders.
If you’re more interested in what’s under the waves, scuba diving is also top notch. Sosua and Cabarete have a few tour operators as well as certification schools. Enjoy some of the most colourful and spectacular sea life, soft corals and wrecks in a welcoming water temperature. Even I didn’t get cold!
Beach scenery with lush green foliage is already plenty for me to enjoy. Add to that a view of a majestic mountain and the impressiveness of the real estate skyrockets. On Playa Sosua, Playa Alicia and Cabarete beach, you look across the ocean to Mount Isabel de Torres. The mountain is in a national park and is one of 4 protected scientific reserves in the country. You can hike through sub-tropical rainforest, filled with indigenous birds and plants, to the 2,700 ft summit. There’s a gorgeous view from the top and a huge statue of Jesus overlooking Puerto Plata. You can hoof it back down the mountain or take a cable car to the bottom.
If you’re looking for a unique momento from your time in the Dominican Republic, a striking blue rock called Larimar should be on your list.
Larimar is an extremely rare gemstone and is found only in the Dominican Republic. The crystallization of this light blue pectolite happened in volcanoes. The Larimar was pushed into tubes or chimneys of the volcanoes by hot gases. The result is a pretty turquoise stone. Originally discovered in 1916, it was rediscovered in 1974 by a Peace Corps volunteer and Miguel Mendez. Mendez took the name of his daughter, Larissa and the Spanish word for sea (mar) and formed Larimar. You can find pieces of jewellery for just about every budget all over the Dominican Republic. If you are curious about the geology, you can even tour the mine located in the Barahona area, in the south west of the country.
If you love tropical flowers, there’s quite a vivid variety on the north coast. My favourite has a delicate pink petal with a bright yellow centre. The flower sits on top of a thick, grey stem covered in thorns. Euphorbia Milii is native to Madagascar and is known as ‘Crown-of-Thorns’ or ‘Christ’s Crown’. I saw it everywhere in Sosua. Take photos and admire but do not touch. This plant is poisonous and is a skin and eye irritant.
The first time I stayed on the north coast, I was surprised by the variety of restaurants and the high quality of the food. There is a big European influence on the culinary scene in both Sosua and Cabarete. If you crave French, Italian or German food you’ll find it. There are plenty of Asian offerings too. But first, be sure and sample the tasty local cuisine. I recommend Mofongo, a dish made from plantains or a traditional Dominican goat stew. If you’re a health nut, you must try 'Fresh Fresh'. Their smoothies will rehydrate and energize you if the sweltering heat starts to wear you out.
A few of my favourite restaurants were Otra Cosa and Papi’s in Cabarete and Restaurant 21 and Casa Valeria in Sosua. Buen provecho!
Despite its incredible natural beauty, the north coast is in a bit of a slump in terms of tourism It started with the economic downturn in 2008 and hasn’t yet recovered. There are many half built condo developments that languish along the coast. Those that are complete, and available for rent, are a bargain. Visitors can choose from beautiful accommodations at very reasonable rates. A fine meal with wine, at a high end restaurant, won’t set you back more than 45 or 50 dollars. This is a welcoming country and the locals involved in the tourist industry are thrilled to see you arrive.
Warm Air With No Airs
Each trip I take to the Dominican Republic I appreciate more and more the modesty of the local people. This country is poor and the signs of economic struggles are everywhere. There is no pretentiousness and I’ve witnessed a genuine willingness among the locals to share their culture and their time with foreigners. The key is to get away from the all-inclusive resorts and find a community where you can disconnect from your smart phone and reconnect with people and nature. I have never felt unsafe in the Dominican Republic but safety is a responsibility that tourists must take on themselves. I haven’t gotten into any trouble largely because I’ve stayed out of trouble. Don’t make yourself vulnerable and you won’t be a target for theft or any other kind of crime.
I have spent most of my time in a small quiet corner of Sosua, called Playa Chiquita. There are small hotels, condos and houses for rent. It feels familiar, like rural Newfoundland but with palm trees. Roosters crow in the early morning and horses and donkeys graze in wide open fields. Farmers slowly move their cows along dusty dirt roads and hopeful fishermen, on the hunt for dorado, cast their lines at 'Little Beach’. Birds sing from sun up to sun down in Playa Chiquita. Their songs take me far away from the hectic pace of life I left behind. I sip cold coconut water and stare out at the waves as they crash against the high coral cliffs. There’s air conditioning just a few steps away but I’d never think of going inside. I’m blissful in the blistering heat. Some might prefer cool air but some like it hot!
For more photos of the north coast of the Dominican Republic, including some aerials, please look in the gallery.
Until next time,