My first stop is Spain’s capital, Madrid. Following a 3 hour layover at the airport, I found myself on the plane of Spanish company Air Europa, which flies from Spain to almost all Latin American and Caribbean countries. After a flight lasting around seven and a half hours, I disembarked at Santo Domingo airport. It is impossible to avoid jetlag, as we have a full 7 hour time difference with the Dominican Republic. I was greeted by friendly people, and following a symbolic 10 dollar visa payment, we headed for Punta Cana, our first stop in the country. Despite being unable to see my surroundings in the dark, I reached my hotel at midnight following a 2,5 hour minibus journey chatting to our guide, Eric. The hotel Rui Republica would be my first port of call during my Dominican Republic trip. The newly opened hotel Rui Republica is reminiscent of Lara Hotel Antalya with its staff and style. In fact Punta Cana itself, with its rows of 5-star hotels, is reminiscent of Turkey’s tourism paradise Antalya.
Time travel on the beach
Following a hearty breakfast the following day, I enjoyed the unique beach and sea of the Dominican Republic with free time at the hotel given by Alexandra. Being at this coast, where Christopher Columbus first set foot hundreds of years ago, gave the feeling of being in a time machine. I overcame my jetlag playing in the extremely large waves of the Atlantic Ocean while enjoying the sun. I even joined in a foam party held at one of the pools of the hotel in the evening! After dinner, we set off to watch one of the world famous shows. Coco Bongo is actually a Vegas show originating in Cancun, Mexico. I’m talking of a show where nostalgic clips are enacted with extreme professionalism with acrobatic moves on a large stage. With the costumes, decor and animation teams, the show are more reminiscent of the Cirque de Soleil than a hotel show. When you add dancers flying through the air and singers to the ever changing show, you are taken in by the magic. At this event, where clips of many famous artists from Freddie Mercury to Michael Jackson are portrayed, ticket prices range from 70 dollars up to 200 dollars. The Coco Bongo show, where the entertainment is unlimited until 3-4 in the morning, is a source of pride for Punta Cana. 2 thousand people can watch the show at the same time.
Safari and Blue Lagoon tours
I fell asleep with the spectacular dreams left on my mind that night by Coco Bongo. The following morning I was to set off on a safari tour. Our vehicle for the safari, which was to set off with 4×4 vehicles with open sides following a breakfast at 6 am had already arrived. During the tour with mostly Russian guests, the took a breather at the Blue Lagoon, our first stop following the route presentation. The Blue Lagoon is actually a pond located in the middle of the forest. However, with the effect of natural sources and minerals, it is possible to see even the smallest pebble stone at the bottom of the 7 meter depth as if it were an aquarium. I learned that the color of the amazing turquoise water comes from these minerals. The most important warning about the freshwater lagoon in which you can swim is to apply mosquito repellant before getting out of the car. The minute you leave the vehicle, hundreds of hungry mosquitoes descend upon you to fill their empty stomachs. After applying the repellant all over you, you can enjoy the blue lagoon. The Dominican Republic Palm tree growing in the region is also used in the construction of local houses. Houses made of these palms supposedly offer protection against the Caribbean heat and insects.
Sugar cane plantations
My next stop following the Blue Lagoon was the sugar cane plantations. The Sugar Cane is one of the most important export items of the Dominican Republic. Following our lesson on how to cut sugar cane using a special machete in these fields, where sugar cane has been produced for years, and of course tasting the sugar cane, we found ourselves in a special Dominican Republic village. In this village, an example of how a living village can develop with tourism, the local Dominican Republic life and products
grown in the region are shown to visiting tourists. Cocoa and coffee are particularly important products of the area. You can watch in detail how cocoa is grown on trees, how it is dried, and the processes it undergoes until it reaches our homes. After the village trip, we feasted on the regional dish of the Dominican Republic, rice and kidney beans. Of course there was also chicken and meatballs. Following a little cocoa and coffee shopping, we set off for the highest mountain in the area, Redondo.
A paradise for parachutists
Despite the mountain being approximately 280 meters high, thanks to the steepness and wind flows, it has become an important destination for parachute lovers. Being one of the rate routes where you can land where you take off due to thermal currents brings parachutes from around the world to this point. If you wish to soar with the eagles, even if you are unable to use parachutes, you can enjoy the experience tandem with one of the instructors. After enjoying the fresh air and view of the mountain, we headed off to the last stop on the safari tour, Macao Beach.
Rain in the Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic is an island nation, and as such surrounded by great beaches. Macao beach is one of these. Having gone in the water and enjoyed the sand as part of the end of the safari ritual, in the evening darkness a surprise awaited me. A friend that would never leave our side: rain. With the rain beginning just at the end of the safari tour, I received the answer to the question, how does it rain in the Caribbean. You can answer this question yourself by imagining water cannon blasting you from above with 30 degree water all day. I spend my second night enjoying the sound and view of the rain... I was now ready for day three... We had brand new plans on this new day, but we had not expected the rain. Changing our plans due to the unrelenting rain, we set off for the cigar factory, an important export item for the Dominican Republic. Tobacco and all kinds of by-products are harmful to health and “poison”… On the other hand, cigars are a culture in the Dominican Republic. Not just their culture, the cigars, sold for high prices all around the world are also a major source of income for them. Of the large rolled cigarettes rolled in large leaves smoked by the locals of the region drawing the attention of Columbus during the discovery of America and sent to Europe, 75% of production is now sent to America, with the rest to the other rich countries of the world. At the factory,where there is no factory manufacturing and all cigars are individually rolled by hand, I learned that the Dominicans produce the cigar but do not consume it. The cigars, which are on average of 15 dollars even in the factory, are worth 100 dollars in other countries and are the product of rich men. Having learned of this culture, I returned to Punta Cana to change hotels.
Much more than a hotel: Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana
Following three enjoyable days at Rui Republica Hotel, I was transferring to a global giant. Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana. Hard Rock is the largest hotel in the Dominican Republic with 1.775 rooms, over 13 swimming pools, a unique beach and sea. As a chain it is known all around the world. The hotel focuses on music as a concept. At the same time, it is exactly like a shopping mall. Imagine a shopping mall where everything related to food-drink other than clothes are complete free of charge everywhere. The importance of music in the hotel decor. The costumes, guitars and personal belongings of some of the greatest musicians in the world are exhibited throughout the hotel. In the rooms and throughout the hotel, there are lyrics from famous songs and quotes from famous musicians. At any point of the hotel you can come across a concert at any time. Among the a la carte restaurants, the Mexican Tepenyaki, Italian restaurant and others offer unique flavors. The hotel is host to 800 weddings a year, and at the same time is a honeymoon hotel, with pools and living areas open only to adults. For golfing enthusiasts, there are golf areas and special sports areas. I am talking of a structure that makes you fall in love with the name, grandeur and luxury. You feel as if you are not in a hotel, but in a town. I also learned that it is an environmentally friendly hotel.