In January 2020, my partner Nick and I decided to embark on a journey to introduce our children, Hailee and Chase, to their Dominican roots. Our destination was none other than the beautiful Caribbean island of the Dominican Republic. We scoured the internet for the most popular cities, restaurants, and museums, finally deciding on Santiago (our hometown), the capital, Samana, and Punta Cana. After days of poring over Google, Instagram, and travel blogs, we pieced together an itinerary that promised to be unforgettable.
Our adventure began with an overnight non-stop flight from JFK to STI, lasting three hours and forty-five minutes. We landed in the vibrant city of Santiago de los Caballeros and headed straight to Nick's parents' apartment located in the heart of the city.
Day 2: Our adventure in the Dominican Republic continued as we immersed ourselves in the rich culture and history of Santiago. One of the highlights of our trip was visiting El Monumento, a stunning monument that pays tribute to the heroes who fought in the Dominican War of 1844. After a day of exploring, we headed to a charming local restaurant called Noah, where we enjoyed a delicious family meal while taking in the breathtaking view of El Monumento at the heart of the bustling Calle del Sol.
The following day, we reconnected with old friends and cherished family members who we hadn't seen in years. It was a heartwarming experience that left us feeling grateful for the opportunity to be surrounded by loved ones. We also took some time to settle in, soaking up the warm weather, lush palm trees, and invigoratingly fresh air that welcomed us to this Caribbean paradise.
Day 3: he following day, we kicked off our morning with a delightful breakfast at Square One. The restaurant, a fusion of Dominican and American cuisine, boasted a New York City-inspired decor. With dishes ranging from fluffy pancakes with crispy bacon to traditional Mangu with Salami, everyone was satisfied.
After breakfast, we set out on a 1.5-hour drive from Santiago to Puerto Plata, the first city on our itinerary. Along the way, we stopped to savor fresh coconut water, tangerines, and mangoes, and were enthralled by the scenic views. In Puerto Plata, our first stop was at the Museo de la Fortaleza San Felipe, an iconic fortress in the heart of the city, which charged an affordable 100 pesos ($1.87USD) per person.
Next, we headed to Cabarete, a touristic destination with a plethora of beachside restaurants, shops, and surfing hotspots. We spent the day soaking up the sun, trying fresh fried fish, and taking in the scenic beauty of the area. As the day drew to a close, we made our way back to Santiago.
Later that night, Nick and I escaped for a romantic dinner at KGB Bistro in Santiago, where I indulged in the most delicious Shrimp and Sausage Risotto I have ever tasted, while Nick enjoyed a freshly made ceviche with shrimp and calamari. KGB Bistro was a memorable experience and a must-visit when in Santiago. And with that, day 3 came to a close.
Day 4: Our journey through the Dominican Republic continued with a visit to the capital city of Santo Domingo, a city steeped in rich history and culture. We made several stops along the way, including the cities of La Vega and Bonao, where we indulged in delicious sandwiches, desserts, and refreshing limonada at the popular Plaza Jacaranda. After a scenic 2.5-hour drive, we arrived at the heart of Santo Domingo.
Our first stop was the president's house, followed by a visit to the "Altar de la Patria," the final resting place of the three founding fathers of the Dominican Republic: Duarte, Sanchez, and Mella. For lunch, we had the pleasure of dining at Casa Gastronomica, helmed by master chef Leandro Diaz. As a group of 12, we shared an array of mouth-watering dishes.
Next, we took a leisurely stroll through La Zona Colonial, the oldest city in the New World. We stopped at Lulu's for delectable desserts and cocktails, enjoying the charming ambiance of the colonial city. Fortunately, we were able to stay with family in the capital, which saved us money on a hotel stay.
That evening, we were treated to an unforgettable culinary experience at Allegra in Santo Domingo, courtesy of Nick's cousins. The menu featured a diverse range of Asian dishes, from succulent duck dumplings and mouth-watering short ribs to flavorful Korean fried rice that took our taste buds on a thrilling ride.
Day 5: This morning, we headed to the renowned and picturesque town of Punta Cana. Our family had booked a stay at the stunning Bahia Principe Fantasia, an all-inclusive resort that offered us a perfect place to unwind and enjoy some quality time together. The drive from Santo Domingo to Punta Cana took us around two hours, and we decided to make a pit stop at the fabulous Lebanese-Dominican restaurant, Shish Kebab, on the way. There, we savored some of the most delicious Kibbeh or Quipes, which were priced at just 90 pesos each ($1.68USD), and I must say that I've had a fair share of them.
Upon reaching our destination, it was time to relax and indulge in some sunbathing and gastronomical delights. Fantasia Hotel is an ideal family-friendly resort with six sister hotels in the vicinity, five restaurants, several pools, a water park for kids, a drop-off kids' club, and numerous other amenities to choose from. And, at only $230 a night for a family of four during off-peak season, it was a true bargain.
Day 6: On the second day of our stay at Bahia Principe Fantasia, we started our morning by indulging in a delectable breakfast buffet served at the main lobby and beach area, which offered a wide variety of grilled meats and delicious sides. While the kids club kept Hailee entertained with fun activities like watermelon decorating and cookie baking, we adults sipped on refreshing drinks by the beach. For dinner, we headed to the Circus restaurant, which had an impressive menu featuring an assortment of grilled meats. To cap off the evening, we were treated to an enthralling glow-in-the-dark show at the lobby area. With Bahia Principe being an all-inclusive resort, we couldn't help but partake in the endless flow of drinks on offer. The entire experience left an indelible mark on us, and not just the little ones.
Day 7: As we said goodbye to Bahia Principe, we made sure to fuel up with a delicious breakfast buffet before heading off to our next destination, the charming town of Boca Chica. As we arrived, we couldn't resist the allure of Boca Marina, a stunning restaurant perched on the edge of the ocean, promising the "most delicious oceanfront dining & drinking experience" - and boy, did it deliver! The panoramic views of the Caribbean Sea were breathtaking and the cuisine was unparalleled.
Boca Marina was an absolute dream and I could have easily spent the entire day there, but the adventurer in me wanted to continue exploring and reach Samana before the sun set. Renowned for its humpback whale sightings during mating season, Samana boasts several attractions, including Cayo Levantado, a stunning island known for its pristine beaches and the Whale Museum. Although Samana was breathtaking, we decided to move on to our next destination after a few hours and made our way to Las Terrenas.
Las Terrenas, a picturesque town, nestled along the coast, greeted us with its palm-fringed beaches, vibrant local culture, and a gastronomic scene that promises to satiate our taste buds. The Albachiara Hotel, our home for the night, offered us stunning balcony views of the beach, a scrumptious complimentary breakfast, and free wifi, all at an unbeatable price of $199USD per apartment per night. After checking in, we were eager to explore the local food scene and stumbled upon La Catrina, an authentic Mexican restaurant known for its Queso Fundido and Tacos al Pastor. The food was simply divine, and we relished every bite.
Day 8: After indulging in the delights of Las Terrenas, it was time to head back to Santiago for the last leg of our adventure. Along the way, we drove through charming cities like Nagua, San Francisco de Macoris, and La Vega, taking in the breathtaking scenery and cultural attractions. In less than three hours, we found ourselves back in our beloved Santiago city.
Once we settled into my in-laws' apartment, we immediately started planning our next culinary adventure. Our quest led us to El Tablon Latino, where we were treated to a delectable array of dishes. I couldn't resist trying the oxtail croquettes - a bold choice, I know - and I was not disappointed. Meanwhile, Nick opted for a delicious skirt steak, and I savored every bite of my surf and turf. If you're a foodie, this is one spot you won't want to miss!
Day 9: Our final day in the Dominican Republic was reserved for enjoying the local vibe. We started off with breakfast at Cafeteria Tiffany's, a must-visit spot at Calle del Sol & 30 de Marzo, known for serving the most delectable tostadas in town. At only 40 pesos ($0.75) each, these tostadas made for a perfect and authentic Dominican breakfast. For those of you who don't know what a tostada is, it's time to check it out!
As we explored the town, we stumbled upon Los Pedajes, a vibrant farmer's market that offered every type of fruit, vegetable, herb, and poultry imaginable. It was the perfect place to stock up on fresh and organic ingredients to cook a homemade meal for our loved ones. As we perused the stalls, I couldn't help but think of the perfect way to end our stay in the Dominican Republic - by making a Sancocho on a wood stove at my parents' house.
As our Dominican Republic adventure was coming to an end, we had one more activity planned that would leave a lasting impression. With the guidance of Nick's Grandma Carmen, we set out to make the most delicious Sancocho on my parent's wooden stove out in the backyard, known as Fogon. The savory aroma of the simmering stew filled the air as we took in the experience of cooking on an open flame. The rest of the day was spent catching up with family, cherishing the last few hours of our vacation. However, the thought of leaving seemed to affect Hailee's mood as she showed her reluctance to leave in the picture below.
The Dominican Republic, a nation that shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, is a truly breathtaking destination renowned for its stunning beaches, luxurious resorts, and exceptional cuisine influenced by Spanish, African, and Taino cultures. Our 9-day trip to this enchanting country was an unforgettable experience, and all the more remarkable given that it cost us a mere $3000 USD, covering everything from flights to hotel stays, food, and all the wonderful activities we enjoyed during our stay. We are truly grateful for the memories we've made, and we look forward to the day when we can return to this tropical paradise once again.