Winter is Coming
Jan 18, 2019 09:24PM
● By Dawn Garcia
There’s an island where crystal clear blue oceans flow, flavor ruminates through every street, spontaneous bachata dancing happens the minute a beat sounds, fine cigars are rolled, rum from raw fermented sugar cane flows like water, and the sun shines in winter.
The Dominican Republic, located in the eastern Caribbean, is a traveler’s paradise especially in December. Known as the DR, it’s one of my favorite countries to travel to when the chilly winter weather creeps in. The air is warm and temperate, and winter weather as we know it is nonexistent. From the North to the South, the DR is plentiful in culture, gastronomy, and adventure.
Santo Domingo and Puerto Plata (the South and the North) are vastly beautiful, but the central coast truly satisfies my desire for total tranquility. Sosúa, located on the central coast and 25 kilometers away from the majestic Puerto Plata, is a Caribbean paraíso with the colors to match. The houses, architecture, beach shacks, and boats are all painted shades of blues, pinks, corals, yellows, and greens. Everything is alive! Sosúa boasts vibrant influences from Spain, Cuba, and Africa.
In Puerto Plaza, the town square, you are surrounded with activity and life. From a fake donkey dressed in colorful necklaces being ridden by a man in a straw-brimmed hat and a proper suit jacket, to men on stilts dressed in festive mythical garb, the sensory overload will perk you right up. The beat of salsa and bachata call your hips to move in a way you can’t deny, and the locals will invite you to dance. You can get fresh coconut water at a cart where young men wield machetes to crack open young coconuts with expert finesse or stop into the local ice cream shop for flavors made with fruit plucked from the nearby jungle.
The cuisine in Sosúa spans a range of flavors that adhere to the sustainable farming practices the DR is known for. Using organically farmed plantains, chili peppers, eggplants, mangoes, cucumbers, and avocados and freshcaught seafood, grass-fed beef, and delectable dairy from goat farms, local restaurants cook up some great cuisine. Among them is El Toro Negro (ELTORONEGRO.CO), located on a stretch of Playa Sosúa. Serving Mexican food with island undertones, this beachfront eatery isn’t fancy or overly hyped. It’s simple. My favorites are the Ceviche Estilo Veracruz and the Nachos al Carbon. Sosúa cuisine is best experienced by just exploring. Stop in at nearly any local restaurant, beach shack, or side-of-the-road bites, and you won’t be disappointed.
In Sosúa, cigars and rum are the culmination of joy. Curious how to handroll a fine cigar, I stepped into a cigar shop called Monseñor, where a man named Hector walked me through the small but legendary space with tobacco leaves laid and stacked in perfect formation, old school metal-press machines with men at the helm assisting in rolling, and a humidor. Cuban and Dominican cigars and cigarillos were stacked neatly, arranged according to flavor profiles and strength. I choose a medium-strength Dominican blend, and Hector shows me how to clip it properly, then it’s time to light it up. It has notes of sweet vanilla and the welcome sting of fresh tobacco. It’s sexy and seductive as the smell fills the air around me.
At any given bar in the DR, you’ll find locally sourced rum and you should have some any chance you can. With three sugar cane distilleries (Barceló, Brugal, and J. Armando Bermúdez & Co.C por A), the rum is sensational and pure. Unlike most other rums, Dominican rums exemplify smoothness, thanks to an original and natural process of distillation and aging in American white oak barrels.
Heading just outside of Puerto Plaza toward my temporary home at the Ocean Villas Deluxe (OCEANVILLAGEDELUXE.COM), I make a stop at the local grocery store to pick up some food and rum. This resort and spa consists of personalized luxury villas with stretches of ocean and mountains that envelop every sense of the word escape. I loaded my luggage onto a golf cart and drove to my crisp white three-bedroom villa with rich accents, a private pool with sweeping views of the ocean, and a private cabana. The master bedroom has an outdoor shower and indoor bathtub. With a fully stocked, state-of-the-art kitchen, including brand new appliances, a generous living area, and dining area, these villas are unlike anything else I’ve experienced. As I walk out onto my patio past the pool, I see the sun bidding farewell, lighting up the lush green grasslands and rocks with tinges of gold and amber. The sound of the crashing waves fill the air. I was eager to try Restaurant Maria, one of four restaurants and bars on site. Beginning with a rum cocktail, I ordered the fried squid, churrasco salad, and churrasco angus in chimichurri sauce. The food here is piquant and hearty in portion size. Breakfast the next day was equally lovely, and I highly recommend giving the plantanos with grilled onion a try.
One of Sosúa’s splendors is its unique diving spots. Among them, the more frequented is Airport Wall, which is full of submarine walls and tunnels, the sunken vessel wreck of Zingara, the Coral Garden and Coral Wall coral reefs, caverns, and mazes up and down a 50-foot wall 66 feet below sea level and the Three Rocks Site. One of the most beautiful snorkeling sites is in Puerto Plata at Snorkel Cayo Arena. Located on Paradise Island, known properly as Cavo Paraíso, it has a sandbar miles offshore that’s home to a coral islet. Surrounded by crystal clear turquoise waters and the warmth of the Dominican ocean, you’ll be served rum and snacks that make snorkeling all the more entertaining. Other nearby stops worth exploring are the El Choco and Monkey Jungle National Parks.
Sosúa’s history is as colorful as the region itself. It was a place of refuge for the Jewish community during Nazi persecution. More than 700 colonists fled here from 1939 to 1945, boosting a thriving dairy and meat industry and leaving a deep cultural mark on the area. You can learn more about that at the Jewish Community Museum in Mirador Park. In addition, art plays a significant role in making sense of this Antillean island’s cultural influence.
The DR is heavenly, from the smells of freshly poured rum and cut mango to the beautiful smiles on the faces of the locals. It’s an affordable way to get away, and when the rain, snow, and icy cold weather move in, there’s nothing quite like escaping to a little slice of heaven.