A Journey Home Begins – Balcones del Atlantico, Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic

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I have been wanting to go back to the Dominican Republic for some time. I have been wanting to travel to the island and connect with the people there, have them share their stories, highlight areas of the island that everyone must see when they visit, and then come back and tell you all about it.

As a first generation American from a Dominican family, who has had the opportunity to know life here and life there, whose Dominican father works in the hospitality industry – exposing me to all the inner works of the same from a very young age – and who is very familiar with the culture and customs of the Dominican people, I am also one of the harshest critics when it comes to all things Dominican.

I consider my perspective a bit unique because of my bi-cultural upbringing. I didn’t move to the DR till I was 9 years old and was very observant of everything from the moment I landed because I was so eager to fit in. I am not sure if I ever fit in completely and I often felt like an outsider looking in, but I did learn a lot and never took anything for granted. One of the things that I learned the most is how incredibly proud the Dominican people are of their country. It matters little what political, socio-economic, or even racial background a Dominican has, pride for their country and heritage is there.

The most pride I have in my Dominican heritage is the beauty of the sights and the food. Sadly however, when people go to visit the island they run the risk of getting very little exposure to either, especially when their visit consists of a stay in a secluded resort with tall walls and the ever present message of “don’t go off grounds”, “don’t wander away from the resort”.

When I was a little girl I frequented Punta Cana. At the time, there was nothing much there. My father would drive us to a local beach where he would pay a fisherman a few pesos and we would eat fresh fish under a hut alongside the beach. It was never anything fancy, but those moments remain the happiest of my visits there and the most authentic.

Now, Punta Cana is busting with resorts. Resorts as far as the eye can see, hidden behind tall walls and barbwire fences. I haven’t gone to many, so I can’t really say much. Many people tell me they have visited Dominican Republic by saying they went to Punta Cana, and most often times they loved it. And though I won’t deny that their experiences might have been lovely, I do reserve the right to say they have not, in fact, visited the Dominican Republic.

Because you can’t visit the country enclosed behind walls and fences. To experience the island one must, despite what some say, get out and see it.

In the next few posts over the course of few days, I will be sharing with you all my experiences during my recent visit to the Dominican Republic. I went as a guest of Balcones del Atlantico, a RockResort in Las Terrenas in Samana, an area I had not been to for 26 years. My journey was work-related, but also incredibly personal. I hope to share not just the reasons why visiting the Dominican Republic beyond better known areas is a good idea, but also a bit of my life there growing up.

In this post I will talk simply about our arrival.

We landed into Aeropuerto Las Americas in Santo Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic. The airport seemed bigger to me. Less crowded because it is still not high season (Travel Tip 1: High Season is considered typically from December to March and Dominicans from all over – mainly NYC – travel in large numbers with endless luggage as they bring gifts home for family. Take all of this into consideration if you plan on traveling then. Long lines, crowds, and a tad of the joyful, yet loud spirits are to be expected).

Our journey from the start was an adventure. My husband and I rented a car from Hertz. When we went to pick up the car a representative assisting us told us Samana would be a 5 hour drive from Las Americas airport. This of course confused us since we had heard of a new highway which not only made the drive safer, but also shorter and faster. But, he swore up and down that was the time we should expect to be driving, so we rented a GPS for extra measure and shortly after we hit the road it died on us and the charger in our little putt-putt of a car didn’t work. (Travel Tip 2: Get a map, don’t rely on GPS systems or on car rental representatives in 3rd world countries. Travel Tip 3: “Economy” in car rental lingo actually means “barely going to make it”.)

We never made it to the new road (recently opened and called the Tourist Boulevard of the Atlantic). Instead, we found our way on the older road which lead us through country trails, up and down narrow mountain ways, curving and looping the entire time. We had no idea where we were going, we had no map and no navigation system. Lucky for us there were plenty of signs indicating the route to Samana and Las Terrenas. . We laughed at the insanity of it all. We managed to catch a glimpse of some incredible views though had to keep moving due to the line of massive trucks behind us.

I will be honest, I was nervous in visiting Balcones. I was scared that it would be a resort which locked visitors away from the community – a community which I remember fondly growing up.

We arrived to Las Terrenas, and shortly after that to Balcones del Atlantico. No massive walls. No barbwire fences. Visitors and guests must pass through a security check point to enter the premises, but we didn’t feel trapped at all once inside.

Dizzy, tired, and a little bit hungry from our journey (which was about 3 hours, an hour and a half on the new highway), we entered the reception area and were greeted with cool towels for our faces and hands. Check-in was friendly, flawless, and quick.

Ricardo, Balcones’ Front Desk Manager, guided us to our apartment. That is what Balcones del Atlantico offers guests – not simple hotel rooms, but actual apartments and villas for rent.

Ours was a 3-bedroom, 2 story penthouse apartment with a hot tub, two full bathrooms, a maid’s quarters, a full kitchen, two killer balconies and all the awe-inspiring appeal one could ever want when visiting a tropical paradise. Rent for such luxury during off season? An average of about $400 a day during low season (almost twice as much during high season).

The resort also hosts two pools, one with a bar in it, a kids playground, and soon a spa as well. The beach is a short walk away, across the street and right in front of Porto, the resort’s restaurant and also a local favorite (you can read my review on Porto here).

I sat in the balcony of our apartment. The place we would be in – somewhat – for 5 days. I looked out to the tall palm trees, felt the warm breeze in the air. The slate floors cooled my feet. I closed my eyes. This was beautiful. We could hear the birds, and even the waves from a distance. I immediately felt relaxed and happy.

We walked to the beach. The land, which was harsh to navigate through when trying to make it to the sandy beaches years and years ago, was now clear and paved. The waters, blue and warm, remain the same.

We saw divers exiting the waves with tanks and masks. Found out later on that they working on a project in part commissioned by Balcones del Atlantico to help restore the coral reef which has been so negatively affected by the over-fishing in the area. I was impressed.

I looked around the beach. No fences. No guards waiting to ask non-guests to leave. But no crowds or vendors either. It was serene. Peaceful.

On this, our first night, I would meet Pedro Sanchez, General Manager of Balcones del Atlantico, a self-proclaimed Dominican by way of Spain. I would also meet Franklin Vizcaino, Restaurant and Bar Manager of Porto. In a short time they would make us feel even more welcomed and catered to then before. Our dinner, from Chef Bruno Toso, blew our minds. His Peruvian Ceviche would be the culinary highlight of the evening and a highly recommended dish for anyone who visits.

What I immediately loved about Balcones del Atlantico was how it manages to bring luxury and comfort to Las Terrenas without taking away the sense that you are still in an old community, special to the people who live here and have visited here for decades. It is this way because Balcones allows the environment to shape it, not the other way around. Las Terrenas is, and has always been, about the beautiful beaches and the relaxed ambiance. What Balcones has done is take that experience and bring it to another level, taking into consideration the environment and the community it has entered.

So authentic is their approach that it appeals to Dominicans. So much so that most of the private owners of the apartments are in fact Dominican themselves. This speaks volumes because it symbolizes a part of the pride Balcones del Atlantico represents for the people that not only work there, but also those who live nearby and spend their weekends and holidays here.

I especially appreciate the fact that the resort doesn’t separate the community from its guests, but rather encourages guests to explore it and get to know it, organizing excursions, tours, whatever guests may need to experience not only Las Terrenas, but Dominican culture as a whole.

When visiting Balcones your level of exposure to the culture and area can be as much as you want it to be. If your wish is to be alone and sitting on the beach with a drink in hand (and are you in for a treat with the selections they offer), you easily can. If, however, you wish to go out on adventures and explore the various biospheres, caves, restaurants, and shops, then this too can be done. The point is that you have the choice (Travel Tip 4: Go out on the excursions. Walk around Las Terrenas. Take advantage of the services at the front desk. They will coordinate your excursions and provide information and suggestions to best fist your travel needs).

Mr. Sanchez and Mr. Vizcaino are very approachable, friendly and present, but also helpful and willing to assist are the staff throughout the resort.

Once the weekend came, so did the city-dwellers with their families making the ambiance a bit more festive. Though there were more people at that point then when we had first arrived, it never felt crowded or overwhelming. The level of service we received never faltered, the wonderful Dominican experience never diminished, and I never once forgot that I was back home.

For more information on Balcones del Atlantico, please visit their website here. Also note, they have special vacation packages going on right now with a Couples Package as well as a Family Package.

Stay tuned for more on our many Dominican adventures!

Disclosure:  Complimentary airfare, as well as hotel stay, some meals, and services were courtesy of Balcones del Atlantico RockResort. No other compensation was received for this review. All views and opinions expressed here are strictly my own.


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Carol Cain

Carol is her happiest when on an adventure, either close to home or farther away. She's the mom to three fun boys and wife to a handsome Irish/Scot. She lives in New Jersey with her happy crew, but will always be a girl from Brooklyn. You can read her full profile here.

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25 Responses to A Journey Home Begins – Balcones del Atlantico, Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic

  1. Niurka says:

    I am curious to know ,why you felt like an outsider when you lived there?

    • Carol Cain says:

      Ooh. There's probably a long winded answer to that question Niurka, but in short, initially it was the language barrier (I didn't speak Spanish when I moved there so had to learn), then it was a cultural one – a lot of my friends and people I met kept calling me "gringa". It took a long time to fully acclimate to the culture and the people, to pick up the norms and the slang, to learn to make the food, to learn to dance the music, you know, to be "from" there. Now, I can go there and be called "Dominicana", but it wasn't always the case, and it didn't happen right away. That's not to say I was ever treated badly though. I think any time someone moves to a new country, a new culture from somewhere else, there is going to be some time when you are an outsider. I wouldn't say that is the case for me anymore. : )

  2. That's so great you're able to visit a place that is a big part of your identity. Thanks for sharing your personal stories, too.

  3. Que orgullo! Yo tambien soy de padres dominicanos. I love visiting. I grew up visiting the island every summer with family and occasionally at the resorts. I'm so happy you had the opportunity to have some time off in your parents' homeland. Que Dios te bendiga 🙂

  4. Unknown Mami says:

    The resort looks gorgeous! I felt relaxed just looking at the pictures. I love your sense of adventure and adaptability.

  5. Carol, I've never been to the DR, but I love, love, love your photos and descriptions and now I want to go. We travel similarly and have a lot of the same kinds of preferences, so I always feel like when I read your travel writing, I'd know EXACTLY what to expect. It's so cool to go back to a place after 26 years with all the memories in back of mind and see how it has changed (whether in some cases for the good, or in others, not-so-good). I'm really looking forward to reading the remaining installments to hear about the rest of your trip!

    • Carol Cain says:

      Thank you so much Maura! This trips was so emotional on many levels. I hope you get a chance to visit soon. It's so much more than big resorts and golf : ) Excited to share more with you!

  6. Carol, looks like you had a very fulfilling trip. I love adventures like that. Memories will last a lifetime and you feel a sense of where you came from. Beautiful pictures. I've never been but now I'm intrigued. On my bucket list.

  7. Carol, the photos and story — wonderful.

    I went to the D.R. once on business, so didn't get to enjoy all the pleasures there.

    I really am looking forward to reading your other posts because I would love to go back and relax and enjoy the beauty. The Dominican looks so much like Cuba — and the people just as warm and beautiful.

    I understand the emotion…xo

  8. The pictures of the Resort & beaches of DR are beautiful! I'm now adding this place to my list of places to go on vacation some day. Thank you for sharing these wonderful memories.

  9. Rachel says:

    Absolutely gorgeous Carol, your story and the photos. You left me wanting to see more!

  10. WOW – the photos are great and the resort looks family friendly and serene. I've never been to DR but it's on my wishlist! Can't wait to read more.

    • Carol Cain says:

      Thank you! The resort is very family friendly. There's so much space for the kids to play and run in. The pools are kid-friendly. The whole environment is just great for them. I hope you can make it there soon!

  11. You are so right! I was lucky to experience the DR the way you recommend when I visited years ago for Spring break with a friend who is Dominican. His family embraced us and through him, I got to see, really see this beautiful country with equally beautiful people.

  12. I totally know what you mean. I visited DR with my family as a kid, and we stayed in Casa de Campo. I don't feel I got a real feeling of the country at all. It was awesome, but you could be anywhere else in the world.

  13. […] this is the perfect stop when looking to get away from the big city noise and the big resort vibe. Almost all lodging in the area, with a few exceptions, encourage travelers to venture out, taste local eateries, take […]

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