This Thanksgiving we decided to follow what has been our annual tradition for the last couple of years – visiting the Dominican Republic (DR). We stayed with family for a bit in Santiago and then headed to a beach resort in Cofresi, Puerto Plata, the northern coast of DR. We were gone for nine days, which we consider a short break, but in the eyes of many over-worked Americans, quite long. Let’s be honest, anything less than two weeks is a very short vacation for those of us that are closer to early retirement and know that soon we’ll be living a life where work is one big vacation.
About two years from now, we’ll be able to choose if we want to continue in the rat race any longer. Mrs. Enchumbao, at the ripe old age of 32, and I will have all the options on the table to decide how we want to begin our early retirement phase! These are the topics that invade our minds when we go on a nice break and have more time to stop and think. And most of the time when we hit destinations, such as the one below, we come back with new ideas and a renewed sense of why we’re working towards financial independence.
Every time we head to the DR, we make a sandwich of the vacation: stay with my parents for a few days, go to a beach spot, and then come back to my parents. As soon as we stepped outside the Cibao International Airport, in Santiago, we noticed the Christmas decorations! Dominicans really know how to party. The festivities are felt all over with merengue bands that play happy holiday music and the food that is displayed by the street vendors.
Heading to our beach destination
On our third day we headed to our beach destination in Puerto Plata. This time we switched plans from our usual Iberostar stay, where we got married two years ago and have been regulars even since, as we saw a deal in LivingSocial for Cofresi Palm Beach & Spa Resort: 4 nights for two people for less than $400, all inclusive! Well, the deal was really for The Tropical at Lifestyle Holidays Vacation Resort, which is the simpler part of the resort, but we managed to get a free upgrade, more on that in a few! We always wanted to try this place and found the right price to bear disappointments, if any. For our numbers people, we’ll provide the cost of the entire trip to give you an idea of how much it costs to vacation in the DR.
Surprise at check-in!
We reserved a basic room at The Tropical, but Mrs. Enchumbao requested an upgrade via email, since it was our marriage anniversary. They promised to accommodate our request, if rooms were available. As soon as we got there, we were pleasantly surprised to see that we got an upgrade to a junior suite!
Highlights of our stay, as far as food is concerned, were the yummy veggie burgers (which they call “organic burgers”, don’t ask me why) and the sushi bar. Both of these were served at the “VIP Beach”. Note: this resort is a bit confusing at first. If you are a timeshare member, you have VIP status, and many beach bed areas, restaurants and bars are only for VIP members. For us regular people, they give access to only two beaches, one of which is confusingly labeled VIP Beach. This area is available to all guests and it’s the only area with free wifi access and the nice beach beds. The area manager was very nice and attentive. The rest of the food in the resort was nothing to rave about though, as we compared it to Iberostar, and it fell way short, both buffet and a la carte venues. We tried two a la carte restaurants: El Pilon (Dominican cuisine) and Indochina (Asian Fusion). While the food was just OK, the staff at El Pilon was extra friendly and attentive, so we enjoyed our experience there for the company.
The beach beds in this sections were phenomenal! The setup allowed us to stay out much longer without getting sunburned, since we could close them as we pleased. It was the perfect spot for relaxation, reading and writing. Be warned though, since all the regular non-VIP guests go here, and the beds are taken on a first come first serve basis, you need to get there between 8-9 a.m. if you want a bed with curtains. Most people have someone from their unit come first thing in the morning, leave a few personal items to reserve the bed (make sure it’s nothing worth stealing), and then go get breakfast. By day two, we knew the deal, and did the same thing. We’d come back after breakfast around 9:30, read and relax until noon, then go to the sushi bar once it opened for a light snack, and back to our room to hide from the strong sun. We didn’t keep our bed reserved at that point, so that others could take advantage of it. When we returned after 3:30 p.m. for our afternoon beach time, there was always something open by then, so we didn’t need to worry.
Part of the reason they have this nice set up is because the beach itself is very small. The waves on this coast are pretty strong, and they come up all the way to the barrier wall by night time. Mrs. Enchumbao, the mermaid that she is, braved the water and went swimming every afternoon, while I was dryly secured in my beach bed paradise revising a few posts. I know, it’s vacation but writing for Enchumbao is not something I consider work.
Mrs. Enchumbao here to give you a quick review of our experience: We’d give it a B or B- on average.
We enjoyed relaxing on the beach beds and going for short walks along the beach, since cliffs on both sides limit where you can go. For the right price, we could consider going back there for a few nights. Otherwise, we’ll gladly return to our favorite resort in Puerto Plata – Iberostar, where everyone is treated the same VIP way, the food is delicious, and the service is above even the usually high bar Dominican hospitality provides.
Skip the club: we decided to check out our Ice night club on our last night, and were disappointed. While the club itself was small, that’s not why we left within a minute of coming in. It was the awful sound system. Dominicans like to blast their music in general, but in such a small space and with really poor speakers, it was unbearable. I could feel the lounge chair I was sitting on vibrating the whole minute we were there.
Room tip: when checking in, be sure to find out if your room has an adjoining door that connects to another room. We had that on our first night, and got rudely woken up in the middle of the night by some couple playing hip hop in their room. There is absolutely no soundproofing in that door, so you can hear everything, even when they talked at normal volume. We switched to another room without a connecting door the next night, but we thought that the resort was poorly designed. Turned out that most of the rooms in the junior suite buildings have a connection, which is bizarre.
Beware of sales people: we knew that at some point we’d get hit with a sales pitch, and were prepared for someone to approach us. What were weren’t prepared for was for someone to call our room at 8 a.m., the morning after we were woken up by our noisy neighbors and didn’t sleep well, by a sales guy. When we didn’t pick up, he came and knocked on our suite door, which had a Do Not Disturb sign on it, until Mr. Enchumbao opened it. At first we were confused, as he offered to take us to breakfast in a golf cart, and we thought this was a gesture by the front desk after we called to complain of the noise at night. Golf cart to breakfast? Really! What do we have our feet for? Then, later, we saw him again and realized he’s the sales guy assigned our building. We were so outraged, we told him off, and went to guest services to complain about him. They apologized and confirmed that while he could approach us in public areas, he had no right to call or knock on our door, unless we had a prior appointment. I almost bit my head off when we saw him again later that day. He got the message though, and stayed clear of us the rest of the time. Most other sales guys were hovering in the lobby or by the buffet to catch people when they were coming out. We found that the easiest way to drop them was to say that we did the tour already and keep moving forward.
Resort layout: this is a huge property, with what would normally constitute five or six resorts. It’s in a hilly area, so to go to the beach to are descending and to go to the lobby, trekking uphill. We like to walk at night, so with my good sense of direction and a resort map, we discovered most of it by foot. VIP members get golf carts to move around the property, so you have to be careful walking at night, as the roads are narrow and curvy and not every driver is sober. Non-VIP guests would often take the resort shuttle, which bussed people around from place to place. The only time it came in handy for us was on a night it rained, as it’s too dangerous to walk up the steep ramps when it’s slippery.
Best days to stay: if traveling to DR for Thanksgiving, the best days to stay are Mon-Fri. You have fewer people at least until Wed night, when more tourists start arriving, and you leave before the weekend, when locals come to stay at resorts.
Back in Santiago
Mr. Enchumbao here, taking us back to Santiago. After five days of relaxation, on Black Friday, we headed back to Santiago. We decided to stay in that night because, to our surprise, Black Friday is celebrated in the DR and there was going to be high traffic in the city, as locals headed out for the discounts. And don’t expect to find commercials calling for Viernes Negro, my people call it “Bla Frydei” in English!
The next day, we visited one of our favorite food spots, El Tablon Latino, in La Calle Del Sol, an area with restaurants and bars surrounding the historical El Monumento site in Santiago. For $48.38, including taxes and tips, we ordered a whole bunch of appetizers to share among three people: fish tacos, chicken quesadillas, Barcelona salad and yucca rolls, as well as two Sangria glasses, two virgin mojitos and a tea. It was enough food to fill us up without a need for entrees. The backdrop of El Monumento is phenomenal at night.
The rest of the time was spent with family and enjoying fresh produce such as papayas, passion fruits, avocados, mangoes, bananas, plantains and yucca from our family farms.
|Flights||$887||2 roundtrip tickets from JFK Airport in New York to Cibao International Airport in Santiago.|
|Visa||$10||DR tourist visa for Mrs. Enchumbao.|
|Food at the airport||$11|
|Groceries||$56||We don’t count groceries as a travel cost since we have to eat no matter where we are. It’s nice to show the total to see a comparison with costs in the U.S. Of course, it helped that we stayed with family and didn’t need to buy all the groceries. Overall, you can expect to save on local produce there, but pay a premium on imported items, like apples, creamer, etc.|
|Dining out and food delivery||$55||There’s nothing better than getting pollo al carbon (char-broiled chicken) delivered to your house!|
|Alcohol & Bars||$8||Purchased a sangria when dining out and a couple of Presidente beers from a corner store in Santiago.|
|Resort||$374||All-inclusive for 4 nights, 2 people|
|Resort tips||$37||We make it a point to tip servers per instance, which they really appreciate, yet it’s a small total overall to us.|
|Transportation||$153||Pick up and drop off at the airport, roundtrip ride to resort, and rides around town.|
|Wifi and phone||$27||We have a local SIM card that we switch to when in DR.|
|Total||$1,618||That was our cost for 9 days of family time and relaxation.|