If it wasn’t for Chad, my husband, I’d probably never go to half of the places I’ve been to. It’s his sense of adventure and exploration that has been the catalyst to our always crazy, usually unplanned international vacations. And our trip to some of the remote beaches in the Dominican Republic was no different.
A Lonely Planet forum is usually our first stop when researching where we want to vacation. A handful of people on the Dominican Republic forum recommended Las Galeras and a few beaches surrounding it. “It’s quiet,” they said. “Amazing beaches,” they said. “A little further out,” they said. “It’s beautiful,” they said. So we went—and it was beyond.
Las Galeras, a tiny beach town in the Samana province, is supposed to be a 3-hour drive from Santo Domingo. We got there in 4.5. Dominican roads and the drivers that conquer them are a confusing mix for any Westerner to navigate. The streets are lawless. Traffic lights, if any, are just a suggestion. White knuckled and beaten down, we finally came to the end of the road. What lay before us was not real, at least that’s how it felt. White sand. Clear beach for miles. Ocean waves lightly lapping the sand that lay beneath it. That’s Las Galeras.
An open-air, rustic restaurant sits just to the side of the beach road, promoting its entire menu on one board: fish of the day, octopus, shrimp, ceviche and calamari. No prices. All in Spanish. A group of Dominicans with worn, serious faces and tiny plastic cups of beer are playing dominoes. Merengue blares from the speakers.
We sit and eat and drink like kings. When you order a beer, it only comes in 22 ounces. When you order a pina colada, it only comes in a fresh pineapple and loaded with rum. When you order the shrimp, it only comes shell on, eyes bugging and prawn sized. In this small, unassuming beach shack with no air conditioning, no real kitchen and no real floor came some of the freshest seafood you’d find at any high-end restaurant on the coast. Everything is so simple, yet remarkable in flavor that I feel bad, like I’m getting one over on them. All of this amazingness. I’m not worthy.
La Playita is somewhat hidden. It’s a small beach that you kind of stumble upon. It’s stunning. There’s nobody there. The water is crystal clear. The sand is junk-free. The beach is all yours.
Rows and rows of empty loungers, and that makes me happy. It’s euphoric—the quiet, the stillness, just gentleness, just waves, and you, and him, and ocean, and sky, and God. At La Playita. In Las Galeras that sits at the end of the road. In the Dominican Republic. The only place like this in the entire world.
Just outside of Las Galeras is Playa Rincon. Rincon beach is a tourist attraction with Dominicans, Europeans and South Americans coming and going in big groups. Some come by sea. We came by land.
Driving in, it’s impossible to find on your own unless you know what signs to look for—not street signs, landmarks: the yellow building, the big pile of dirt, the bank, the shop with the big tire out front. A really rocky dirt road spits you out in the middle of the stretch of Rincon beach.
“Don’t hang out in the middle of the beach because it’s very bad,” our hotel owner advised. “Drive directly to either end of the beach. It’s safe there,” she said. “Try the restaurant on the right side of the beach. It’s amazing and very well priced. But you have to speak Spanish. Do you speak Spanish?” Me: “Yes!” Hotel owner: “Good, because you will pay more if you don’t.”
It’s true! Outside of resorts in Latin American countries, you will be highly disadvantaged if you don’t know the language, don’t know the culture and don’t care to try.
Playa Rincon is beautiful. It’s remote, but its inclusion in guided beach tours solidifies its must-visit status. Sit, swim, eat, drink, soak it in, experience. It takes a lot of time and effort, trial and error to get there, but once you do, it’s more than worth it.
In the same Samana province, sitting on the northeast coast is Las Terrenas. Samana, a slave trade port for the British in the early seventeenth century, today inhabits a combination of Taino, Spanish, West Indian and African slaves. The name Las Terrenas originates from the French la terrienne (the landlord).
It’s known as being the party town. Over the years, the village’s old fishermen’s cabins have been slowly transformed into bars, restaurants and shops. It’s developed. There are hotels with air conditioning and TVs, grocery stores, ATM machines, pharmacies, dance clubs, banks and a nice beach to make it a fantastic destination for many travelers—not us.
We planned to stay two nights, but after one we were ready to go back to Las Galeras. We had a nice time, ate very well and relaxed a little, but the vibe wasn’t us. It was busy. It was loud. It was over-powering. We packed up our stuff and took the hour-plus drive back to Las Galeras, and arriving felt so sweet. The laid-back style of the town, the unbeatable beach and the people are just some of the things we missed about it.
We finished our trip in Las Galeras, sitting on the beach with a couple of cuba libres, the sunset and faint tunes of Merengue in the distance. We’d be leaving for now, but not forever.