Fri | Dec 1, 2023

Dominican Republic: a destination magnet for Jamaicans

Published:Friday | November 17, 2023 | 12:05 AMDave Rodney/Gleaner Writer

When I arrived at my resort in the north shore of the Dominican Republic on an early Friday morning, a part of me was exhausted. I had to endure one of those late-night flights from New York to the Caribbean. But, another part of me was wide awake, bubbling with curiosity to see what this warm and welcoming Spanish-speaking destination that so many Jamaicans are wallowing in had to offer. Customs and immigration were a breeze, and as soon as I exited the arrivals area at the Santiago airport, a driver with a name sign was waiting to take me on the two hour pre-dawn ride to Puerto Plata for a six-day stay.

The ride was easy, traversing small towns, farmlands, and lots of coconut trees protruding into the darkness with only the occasional truck transporting goods, breaking the rhythm of the route. The time passed quickly, and before long, I found myself marvelling at the sweeping luxuries of my assigned presidential suite at the Lifestyle Holidays Vacation Club in Puerto Plata. I was impressed by the beautifully appointed spacious fourth-floor auberge curated with Caribbean art and furnishings, an oversize balcony, ceiling fans, two Jacuzzis, rainforest showers, and a state-of the-art kitchen.

Upon my arrival at the all-inclusive resort, I discovered that breakfast was still two hours away. Luckily, the refrigerator held three well-stocked platters—one featuring an assortment of cheeses, another with cold cuts, and a third brimming with fresh local fruits. Nearby, a basket of bread and pastries sat under a linen napkin on the countertop. The considerate 5 a.m. welcome left a lasting impression, setting a high standard for the days to come.

Lifestyle Holiday Vacation Club, a vast beach property with three resorts, offers a diverse range of accommodations, including hotel rooms, VIP suites, royal villas. Its twelve restaurants and food stations feature gourmet chefs and high-end cuisines from around the world, including Mexican, Thai and Spanish options.

The resort welcomes wedding parties, honeymooners, singles, children, and families, providing a dazzling array of entertainment options. It is the largest resort I’ve seen in the Caribbean, sprawling over hundreds of acres, even though I am told Casa de Campo, also in the Dominican Republic, has more acreage. Notably, Lifestyle Holiday Vacation Club offers a scheduled bus service with specific routes for easy access to facilities such as the spa, gym, beach and restaurants.

As a foodie, my focus was fixed on exploring some of the gastronomic treasures. There are two international buffets, but many of the themed a la carte restaurants are small and intimate, so seating capacity is limited. Securing a reservation is not always easy, and success in doing so will depend on one’s status level. Thanks to the generosity of friends from Negril, who invited me there, and the kind consideration of the resort’s food and beverage corporate director, Mauricio Maldonado, I was able to enjoy some of the best food offerings.

My favourite restaurant was Jazz, a French eatery offering classic metropolitan delights such as Short Ribs Bourguignon, prepared with Cabernet Sauvignon and served with vegetables, mushrooms, and pearl onions. Another standout was a Mexican eatery, where a chef’s special dish was irresistibly delicious. Though Jerk chicken wasn’t my initial choice, at the urging of friends, I tried it with rice and peas, and I was hooked.

An unforgettable highlight of the trip was visiting a local market on Saturday morning. The advice to arrive early proved invaluable, allowing me to witness the vibrant interaction between locals and their array of fruits, vegetables, and provisions. The experience mirrored the atmosphere of Coronation Market on a Saturday morning, bountiful, colourful, fast-moving, and a quick barter for ready cash is always an option. Many motorcyclists passed through the market, serving as a means of transportation for Saturday shoppers.

For US$10, the vendors will slaughter the bird before your eyes then clean and bag it for you. After leaving the market we stopped at a roadside stall to buy a gallon bottle of really cheap fresh coconut water. I briefly visited the town’s cathedral, where a large crowd had gathered, which was unusual for a Saturday. It turned out that an ordination of priests was about to take place, and the entire town had dressed in their finest attire to support the young curates.

In the nearby town of Sosua, renowned for its lively atmosphere, you’ll find charming pedestrian zones, diverse nightlife, and affordable local eateries. Much like Negril, Sosua attracts a dedicated group of young American tourists in search of tropical romance.

All-inclusive deals and cheaper flights

I was astonished to run into so many Jamaicans in the Puerto Plata area. The Dominican Republic offers some of the sweetest all-inclusive travel deals in the region, and with flights from Jamaica to the Dominican Republic, operating four times a week, the destination is an easy sell for everyone, including Jamaicans.

“Our specials start as low as US$50 per person per night at Lifestyle Holidays Vacation Club,” Valeria Bedin, marketing director for LHVC in Puerto Plata, told The Gleaner.

Dave Chin Tung, a prominent travel specialist based in Kingston and CEO of GO! Jamaica Travel, agrees that the Dominican Republic is now a magnet for Jamaican travellers. “Most times it is actually cheaper for Jamaicans to spend a few days in the DR at an all-inclusive resort than in Jamaica if you book three to four months in advance.” He continued, “Arajet flies between Kingston and Santo Domingo four times a week using a Boeing 737 Max aircraft ,which carries 180 passengers. The flights are mostly full, and the flights have doubled since the service first started in late 2022, making the Kingston to Santo Domingo route one of the fastest growing travel routes by percentage at present.”

Quite a few Jamaicans are already members and owners at Lifestyle Holidays while others are looking at alluring investment opportunities through purchasing land and building villas that are added to the general rental pool when the owners are not in residence.