A road trip through the far side of the Dominican Republic leads (literally) to paradise.Channeling your inner Jack Kerouac and hitting the open road is about as Americana as it gets. Change borders, though, and things get a little more dicey. There are funny road signs in foreign languages, peculiar traffic laws, strange animals in the path of oncoming traffic and awful radio stations. Fumble around long enough with the latter (and you will most assuredly twiddle for ages to find an agreeable station), and you could easily wind up in trouble with any number of the former.
This is pretty much how my Dominican Republic road trip has begun. From the moment I dead-ended at the Caribbean Sea in Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial and hung a right at the seawall — something almost no visitors to the DR ever do — my radio has been seeking station after station of rambling nonsense intertwined with long gaps of silence. I can feel the misery setting in and am starting to wonder why I embarked on this little journey.
But suddenly, the travel gods cut me a break. About 140 miles southwest of Santo Domingo, along the coast of the Pedernales Peninsula (a largely unexplored portion of the Dominican Republic that hugs the Haitian border), a transcendent travel moment rears its beautiful head: A radio station pops into place, and the deliriously syncopated guitar sounds of this country’s homegrown and crazily addictive romantic music, bachata, belts from the speakers just as I crest a cliff-hugging incline along Highway 44, south of Barahona and near the entrance to a small town called — get ready for this — Paraíso.
All at once, like a mirage, it appears, set against one of the most dazzling, jagged coasts of Tiffany box–colored turquoise sea that I have ever seen, and accompanied by a bachata soundtrack. It’s a knockout recipe for paradise — hence its moniker (this had to have been one of the easiest towns to name in the history of town-naming).
So, welcome to Punta Cana, right? Wrong. Caribbean geography enthusiasts will note that to reach the Punta Cana area, you take a left turn at the seawall in Santo Domingo. The truth is, this couldn’t be farther away without leaving the grounds of the Dominican Republic altogether. And that’s just the way I like it.
If You Go
Casa Bonita Tropical LodgeDoubles from $195
EcoTour BarahonaParaíso(809) 856-2260
Rancho TipicoLas Cuevas(849) 863-2995
Of the more than four million visitors who chose the Dominican Republic as the spot to plant their toes in the sand in 2010 (the highest visitor total in the nation’s history), nearly 60 percent of them flew straight into Punta Cana, the go-to fun-and-sun spot in the Dominican Republic, if not in all the Caribbean. Nearly everyone else flew into Santo Domingo and ended up in Punta Cana, anyway. Endless sugar-white sands, impeccable palms, dreamy waters, pristinely manicured golf courses and all-inclusive resorts for any budget make the gorgeous region a tourism juggernaut. In fact, the all-inclusive vacation has become so synonymous with Punta Cana that very few independent travelers even bother going to the Dominican Republic. Except for me. And my Chevy Spark.