Posted by: Caroline | July 7, 2012

Las Terrenas

The first night we were in Haiti, I was genuinely terrified. Fast forward to our last night in Haiti, and I was trying my best to persuade Alex that we should stay longer. The country is super charming, and even though traveling there is strenuous (at best), you really feel like you’ve earned it once you eventually reach your goal (a secluded beach, a famous fortress, or a cheap meal that doesn’t make you ill). We had already extended our stay once, though, so we decided to take the Caribe Tours bus back to the DR, stopping first in Santiago and then hoping to catch onward transport to the beachy and mountainous Peninsula de Semana.

Our taxi driver dropped us at this guagua station, and we squeezed our backpacks and legs into the densely packed seats (for each inch of your height, public transport becomes exponentially more difficult). We weren’t able to get a bus exactly where we wanted to go (a small fishing village on the very eastern tip of the peninsula), so we chose a bus that got us to nearby Las Terrenas. We had read about it in the Lonely Planet, and it didn’t sound thrilling, so we expected to stay the night and leave early the next morning.

Until we saw the beach, of course. The perfect place to stretch out a towel and finish our novels (Alex is on The Fault in Our Stars per my recommendation, and I am finishing The Red House, Mark Haddon’s new book, per his).

It’s the quintessential beach experience. Fine sand stretching for many kilometers in either direction, fringed with palm trees, ample coral, transparent and refreshing water. Even when we swam out to depths of twice our body height, we could see to the bottom.

One of the reasons we were initially discouraged from coming here is the heavy European expat presence. However, the Euro influx has actually led to an elegant mashup of Dominican and European culture. The town doesn’t feel overrun by tourists, and there are no airbrushed T-shirts. Europeans and Dominicans are seen chatting together at cafes or riding through town on their motorbikes.  It feels like a very tranquila seaside city that just happens to serve as many baguettes as it does pollo con arroz.

Even more fun is the fact that Americans are a rarity here (possibly explaining the lack of airbrushed T-shirts).

Locals would ask us these questions in order every time:

¿Habla italiano? 

¿Habla frances?

¿Habla aleman?

And only then…

Ahh! Inglaterra! 

Moral of the story: If you’re not Dominican, Italian, French, or German here, you must be from England.

Don’t get me wrong: I love a good plato del dia from a comedor serving up chicken, rice, beans, and plantains. But after having that 17 times so far this trip, I was ecstatic to find this French bakery that churned out quality pastries and delicious cappuccinos.

There’s also an Italian pizzeria on nearly every corner. We’ve been craving some vitamins–although we’ve been eating some mind-blowingly delicious fresh mangoes and pineapples, vegetables are few and far between on this trip–so this pizza with thinly sliced eggplant and zucchini was well-loved and devoured.

We tried a similarly perfect pizza at another place, solidifying in our minds that pizzas here are, by default, amazing.

A few other hints of international presence.

Haven’t seen that language in a while!

Even some Atlanta-brand water to remind us of home.

Unfortunately, tragedy recently struck Las Terrenas when the restaurant district–a collection of thatch-roofed fishing huts known as Pueblo de Los Pescadores serving up the best food in the city–burned down in a May fire. The tourism board is supporting a quick rebuild, but they’ve still got lots of work ahead.

One thing Alex and I like to do is think about which of our friends and family would enjoy certain places on our journeys. Traveling on uncomfortably crowded mini-buses is not for everyone, after all (and sometimes I even wonder if it’s for me!). But this is definitely a place with broad appeal. You get your clean, calm beach; inexpensive but delicious restaurants; a healthy dose of Dominican culture if you want to practice your Spanish or sample local flavors; an equally healthy dose of European culture if you want a little taste of Italy without crossing the Atlantic; and even if you tire of those aquamarine waters, you can quickly escape to the nearby mountains or to the more purely Dominican outskirts of Las Terrenas (as we drove into town, we noticed a lot of convivial Sunday afternoon parties outside of gas stations. Awesome. Why don’t we have those in the U.S.?).

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Responses

  1. Wonderful post! Would northern woods non-spanish speaking folks do o.k. there? I’d love to visit. And leave my airbrushed tees at home. Love. Marti

    • Marti, you would love it!

  2. no airbrush-tee shops? how about a subway? I’ll be sure to get there as soon as I can to open a subway franchise that specializes in airbrush-tees for tourists…. Guys, it sounds and looks awesome! Can’t wait to see yoU!

    • A couple more days!!!

  3. […] renting fixed-gear bikes and riding to the vaunted Playa Ancon, 15km away. Could it compare with Las Terrenas, we […]


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