As a child I was spoilt rotten, and had the extreme pleasure of travelling to one or several different countries every year. My parents got divorced when I was young and we moved to France with my mum, leaving my dad behind in Germany. As a means of bonding with his children and because he is a travel fanatic himself, my dad whisked us away on an adventure abroad every summer holiday. These childhood vacations played a big part in forming the person I am today. Whilst the trips to Scotland with my mum and stepdad developed a keen sense for architecture and an interest in culture and history, the holidays with my dad opened my mind to the different cultures and scale of the globe. Not only did these trips make me the person I am, they are also some of the most cherished moments of my life so far. Here follows the story of when we went horseback riding through the Dominican Republic - my fond memories of travel's past...
In 2007, just before I moved to Scotland to go to University, my dad booked a trip to the Dominican Republic. He almost always books his trips with Expedia.co.uk and so far it has served him well. We stayed in the all-inclusive resort Grand Paradise Samana in the Samana Bay at Las Galeras, a 25 minute drive away from the town of Samana and a 45 minute ride to Arroyo Barril Airport. The location of the Hotel is pretty remote and the resort is nestled amidst an exotic and unspoiled natural environment.
I still vividly remember the taxi ride from the Airport to the resort. It was quite something! I would hesitate twice before taking to the wheel in this country. Anyone planning to hire a car in the Dominican Republic should be aware that utmost caution and extremely defensive driving will be required. Undisciplined driving is common and there is barely any traffic control. Cars, buses and motorcyclists will often brake the speed limit and do not care much about driving on the correct side of the road. On several occasions our taxi driver squeezed through a small gap between two vehicles driving in the opposite direction. You will also encounter all sorts of vehicles on the road, including motorbikes loaded with a full family and their chicken.
The first days were spent exploring the local surroundings. Las Galeras is a small fishing community located 28 km away from Samana. This village is remote, far removed from everything and the world. The town's ecclectic yet laid-back charm attracts mainly independent minded travellers who wish to avoid the hubbub of all-inclusive resorts.
Samana is the biggest town and the gritty workhorse of the peninsula. It is mainly famed for its whale-watching opportunities. Since 1985 the town springs to life between mid-january and mid-march with the influx of tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of these majestic mammals. After visiting the market and drinking a coconut or two, my dad and I returned to the Hotel on the back of a motorcycle taxi. This is probably the cheapest form of public transportation in the Dominican Republic.
One of our daytrips brought us to El Limon. It takes about 3 hours on horseback to the 52m high waterfall and a little longer by foot. The torrent of whitewater formes a natural pool at its base and we couldn't resist a dip in the clear water. Our tour guides, two young lads, took the opportunity to show off and jumped from the cliff into the deep water below.
LOS HAITISES NATIONAL PARK
A must-see of the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic is the Los Haitises National Park, a protected virgin forest with little road access. Over time water erosion has created a multitude of little islands and cavernous rock formations covered in dense mangrove forest and rich in fauna and flora. The best way to access this justifiably protected land is by speed boat.
By far the best way to travel across the Dominican Republic is on horseback. It allows you to access remote beaches and alcoves in the mountains that might be to difficult to access by foot or car. Guided tours on horseback are very common in the Dominican Republic and it isn't difficult to book at least one or two. The couple that led us through the mountains were extremely friendly and knowledgeable and I still have very fond memories of them. Unfortunately I cannot recall their surname. Neither can I find an exact match on the internet. Perhaps not so surprising as this was 9 years ago and the lady was not at the peak of her youth even a decade ago. I did, however, find a very similar facility very close to, or even on their premises. If my guess were true, their operation is now called Rudy's Ranch and run by locals, with the same ethical principles of looking after / rescuing horses and restoring them to good health.
One of the remote beaches we visited on our numerous horseback adventures was Playa Madama, a small beach on the Samana Peninsula, 5 km from Arroyo del Cabo. Here I had the immense pleasure of eating mangos and almonds picked straight from the tree and drinking the freshest of coconut water. Our guide climbed all the way up into a palm tree to get some coconuts for us. To this day I don't know how he did it.
Another great way to travel around the Dominican Republic is with a quad bike. Again opportunities to do so are numerous and you won't find it difficult to find a tour of your liking. Just remember you should be at least 16 years old before you can drive one of these vehicles.
I am not the type of girl who will happily lie in the sun the whole day to nurture my tan. In fact I tend to retreat into the shade after a maximum of 30 minutes. On the other hand lying in the water on a secluded beach, somewhat sheltered by a palm tree, is perfectly acceptable.
Playa Rincon is one of the most beautiful beaches of the Dominican Republic, if not the world. In fact I believe it has won several awards. And yet it remains extremely secluded, far away from hotels and resorts. The white sand beach stretches for 4 km and is dotted with palm trees. The road to the beach is a bit rough and we hired a boat at Las Galeras that dropped us off in the morning and picked us back up later that afternoon.
Our last day was spent on Las Terrenas, a cosmopolitan town on the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic. This town has a lively mix of styles and a flamboyant social scene. Las Terrenas is known for its scenic views and white sandy beaches. There are quite a few shopping centers in the town and you will come across many fashionable women browsing the latest offers.
I hope you enjoyed this little trip into my past travels. Please do let me know if you would like to read more posts of a similar style.
Katharina is the creator of A Life Beautifully Travelled - a lifestyle blog dedicated to her adventures in London and abroad, with content ranging from travel guides, to fashion inspiration, beauty reviews and scrumptious recipes.