I read this great post Window to Paradise – Las Ventanas al Paraíso in Los Cabos, Mexico On Indulge Travel blog, and it inspired me to write about my own tropical vacation in . We stayed at Gran Bahia Principe from Jan 6 to Jan 14. The resort was a game changer of sorts for us, but not in a way Las Ventanas al Paraíso had been for the author of the Window to Paradise post.
The first day of our arrival was a write off. We arrived around 9 am; the hotel’s check-in was at 3 pm, and our room wasn’t ready. We were asked to wait from 9 am to 2:30 pm. It wouldn’t have been a big deal, if we were not so bagged after a sleepless night and seven hours on a plane. But what can you do about it? Rules are rules! So we tried to be a good sport about it, grabbed a bite to eat at the buffet and went to the main attraction — the beach. After a 10-minute walk in the heat we finally caught a glimpse of the ocean.
To my dismay, the beach was jam-packed. Truth be told, that wasn’t what I expected. Last year we went to Akumal, Mexio, and their beautiful beach, which was a step away from the hotel, wasn’t busy at all. I sat on the beach chair that my husband managed to find after a few minutes of intense search, and was about to cry. This was like the shittiest place on earth. I hated it. I didn’t want to be here. I wanted to go home. So, we did what seemed the only right thing to do under the circumstances: we headed back for the hotel lobby and asked if we could be let in our room sooner. Surprisingly, our wish was granted within the next half an hour, and as soon as we got the room key, we rushed to our room and slept through the rest of the afternoon, despite the pandemonium coming from the swimming pool through the balcony. Having traveled across the Caribbean, I couldn’t help but notice that Dominican resorts are second to none when it comes to pool entertainment.
The following day, after we had plenty of rest, things began to look up, and, gradually, the resort grew on me: The food was great, our room was wonderful, the grounds were well-maintained and beautifully landscaped. Most importantly, we figured out how to get a good spot on the beach. You see, until this time, we always stayed at smaller resorts, the biggest one being about 2500 capacity. Gran Bahia, my husband told me, could accommodate up to 6500 people, and it looked like it was running at full capacity. So, to get a decent spot under the sun in this crowded place, you needed to get up early, preferably before 7 am, head for the beach and stake your claim by putting your towels on beach chairs, and you could even get a palapa, if you were lucky. A couple of times we were remiss in claim staking and had to settle for less desirable spots. But by now I was back to my normal self, and such a minor inconvenience couldn’t put a burr under my saddle.
All the while during our stay we enjoyed a beautiful hot weather, +28 – +30C; it rained only a couple of times in early morning, and the rain was short-lived. We spent most of the daytime in the water or walking on the beach. This side of the island gets rougher and choppier water; on some days waves were pretty big, and after getting caught in a couple of big waves that pulled me in, then pushed me to the bottom and made me hold on for dear life, I got more circumspect and limited my play area to the shallows.
Nice as it was at the resort, by mid-week we got somewhat restless and hungry for new impressions. So, we rented a car and drove through the country. Now it would be a good time to mention that between my husband and me our Spanish vocabulary boasts a whopping two dozens words. So, with this “considerable” language baggage, we ventured into the country, where very few people speak English. Even staff at the resort spoke very little English, so we couldn’t expect much by way of communication anywhere else. Hence, the night before, we searched the Internet for information like maps, directions and advice on driving.
Driving in DR is very different from driving in Canada, in that there are no obvious rules. Or maybe there are rules, but they are being ignored by the majority of drivers. That we learned a few years back when we stayed at a resort in Juan Dolio, close to the capital, Santo Domingo, and had an opportunity to learn about the local driving habits firsthand. What stands out most is their dexterous use of the car horn. As we learned after our day trip, there is even a semblance of language in the incessant honking that you can hear all day long on the streets of larger cities in DR, like La Romana and Santo Domingo.
We also found that road signs were almost non-existent along some stretches of the road, and those in evidence were a bit confusing. It took us a few wrong turns before we got on the right track from Punta Cana to Higuey. Given signs were scarce, we picked up a hitch-hiker, a local man, who was heading for Vernon, if we understood him correctly, for work. Our conversation with the man, whose name I can’t recall due to the linguistic overload, was a mixture of interjections, a few words that we knew, and sign language. Nevertheless, we got what we hoped for – directions. In turn, he got a lift to his work (which was a roadside bar) with two crazy white people who were brave enough to give him a ride. (If you read Trip Advisor, you can’t possibly miss comments that crime is on the rise in DR, and it’s unsafe outside resorts.) When our passenger got out of the car by his “work,” he raised both hands and repeated several times “¡Adiós!” I wondered if his raised hands meant “Look, I didn’t take anything from your back seat.” Or maybe, it simply meant he was thankful for the ride.
We continued our drive through the busy streets of Higuey with a beautiful basilica, then through even busier La Romana, and finally got to the end point of our trip — Cueva de las Maravillas (the Cave of Miracles) , between La Romana and San Pedro De Marcos. Expecting crowds of tourists, I was pleasantly surprised at how clean, serene and quiet this place was. We paid $20 for admission ($10 each) and waited for about half hour to be shown around the cave.
Before going into the cave, our guide, Brunie, explained the rules, emphasizing that absolutely no picture-taking was allowed inside. The cave tour was truly spectacular, and all the while I regretted we couldn’t take any photos. I found some photos of the cave online after we got back to the hotel — someone obviously managed to bypass the rules. After the tour, we were taken to the “iguana garden” and watched these big lizards go about their daily business. If you happen to be in the vicinity, you should visit the Cueva de las Maravillas – enhanced by an intricate network of motion-activated lighting, the stalactites and stalagmites inside the cave are a sight out of this world.
We got back to the resort as we intended – before dark. My husband is an adventurous and experienced driver, but even he wouldn’t push his luck driving on pothole-ridden roads in the dark. During our day trip I watched the streets of the cities and little villages. The stark contrast in the quality of living between the city and countryside is quite shocking. In certain parts, squalor was simply unimaginable. We saw a lot of stray dogs on the streets; one had a front paw so deformed, it looked like a club. I love dogs, and the sight of these poor emaciated animals breaks my heart. But by the same token, I can’t help but wonder how many children in DR go to bed hungry or can’t go school because they live in abject poverty or simply because their parents don’t care.
Admittedly, I haven’t seen much, but what I’ve seen was enough. I was happy to return to the resort that for a moment looked like paradise indeed. All in all, our stay at Bahia was worth the money spent: we had a lot of fun, no one got sick or burned. We didn’t see a lot of fish in the ocean, but that was okay too. If we had stayed longer, I would certainly take a snorkeling tour to Saona or Catalina, or both. Would I go back to Gran Bahia Principe in Punta Cana? Not likely. It’s way too big for my taste, but I wouldn’t mind trying smaller resorts in the area, because nothing can beat the hot sun, turquoise ocean, and amazing white sand beaches.
- Window to Paradise – Las Ventanas al Paraíso in Los Cabos, Mexico (skedazzles.com)
- Looking for a Beautiful Beach? Try Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (colesvilletravel.wordpress.com)