Castillo Beach

Castillo beach in La Isabela, Dominican Republic

If you are having your Dominican Republic vacation planned out by a travel agent you will likely be hitting the larger beaches and resorts like Punta Cana, Boca Chica, La Romana, Las Terrenas or Puerto Plata. These are all larger beaches and towns and like most tourist locations are probably going to be packed with people. Sometimes though, it is nice to hit one of the “off the beaten path” locations. One of my favorites is Castillo Beach in La Isabela in the northern part of the Dominican Republic.

Like most of Dominican beaches Castillo Beach is pretty crowded on the weekends, to us, when is really shines in during the week. On most weekdays the beach is pretty close to empty and doesn’t start picking up until the late afternoon. That makes it a nice quite beach to relax on, but is still has the advantage of having services right on the beach (unlike most of the other quite beaches we go to). One thing to point out though is that I am not talking about “resort quality” services. You should be expecting a laid back atmosphere with beach huts for the services. However you can find most of the necessities there are “flush” bathrooms (fairly clean), changing rooms, a few small restaurant / bar combinations and lots of sand and water!

Snorkeling and Shell hunting

One of the reasons my family likes to head to different beaches is the variety of shells and fish. Each beach we go to has something different. One item that is unique at this beach are the unusual sand dollars. You can walk (with water shoes, there are urchins) out onto shelves and pick up sand dollars. As you can see from the pictures these sand dollars are a little different. They  are much thicker than most sand dollars I have seen and they have a cool star pattern that is raised up from the shell. You also find a lot of different colored urchin shells on this beach. Most of the fish I have seen are pretty small, although I haven’t went very far out. There are areas of deeper water, but you would have to get out past the shelf to see larger fish.

Shade on the Beach

Shade on the Beach

Swimming Conditions

Castillo beach is a good beach for children. So far I haven’t seen much in the way of waves (very poor surfing beach) and the water gets deeper very slowly in most areas. This beach also has plenty of trees fairly near the water so you can get out of the sun if you like.

 Castillo Beach Restaurants and Bars

Well, they are not exactly restaurants, although the Piez de Colon does have a covered sitting area with tables. Two of these restaurant / bars are more like beach huts. However they do have drinks, both alcoholic and sodas, various snacks, and sell fried fish and fried chicken plates served with tostonies or French fries. If you have a group of people they will usually work with the price a little. The fish or chicken plates are usually around 200 pesos with tostonies or fries and a large plate of French fries alone is about 150 pesos. Especially if you have a group it is a good idea to let them know as soon as you get to the beach what you want so that they can be sure they have enough fish etc on hand. You can tell them when you want to eat and they will try to have it ready around the time you specify. There are three beach bar / store / restaurants.  (more…)

Another frequent question I get from parents thinking of moving to the Dominican Republic with their families is school. Should I enroll my kids in a public school? Are there private schools? Would it be best to use an internet based home school?

Dominican School

For the most part the level of schooling found a Dominican Republic schools is lower than what you will find in most of the developed countries. The kids go to fewer hours per day, due to strikes and other problems there are more days off, and for budget and other reasons the quality of the schooling is lower than U.S. standards.

Most kids in the Dominican Republic go to about 4 hours of school per day. This is especially true for the lower grades where they go to school either in the morning or in the afternoon. The schools are typically underfunded and low on what would be considered unnecessary items in most US. schools.

A good example is their English classes. I’e had friends ask me to help them with their homework. Quite often the teachers written instructions are written in very poor English and even their instruction books contain very poorly written English. Kids that really want to learn the language usually hire tutors or enroll in “English Schools”(a School where only English is taught).

Another example is in mathematics. The level of mathematics required in order to graduate is much lower that is usually required in the U.S.. My son has several times been asked by college students here to help them with their math. The level of math that is given in colleges here is about the equivalent of the math in JR. High School in the States.

Other than the “English Schools” I don’t have much experience with private schools in the country. These would only be found in the more affluent areas of the country, but would likely be of a much higher quality.

Online Home Schooling

Most parents of foreigners seem to choose online homes schools for their children. While these schools do require more from the parents they will give the child a diploma from a U.S. accredited school (or from a school in your own country). The level of education is usually much higher than what is received at a school in the D.R.

For Citizens of the U.S. there are quite a few options. Normally you would look for a school that was in your home state. You can often find online schools that are paid for from State money so that you don’t have to pay an extra tuition. If not there are a number of good paid online schools.

We’ve used a couple of different online schools over the years. (more…)

Cofresi Palm Lobby

Cofresi Palm Lobby

Cofresi Palm Beach & Spa Resort is one of the newest resorts added to the Lifestyle Resorts all inclusive resorts. Lifestyle Cofresi in Puerto Plata has been newly remodeled and was just reopened last year. Over this last weekend (April 4-8, 2013) my family stayed at our usual all inclusive in Puerto Plata the Lifestyle Tropical Puerto Plata which sits directly next door to the Cofresi Palm. Due to the fact that our VIP band allowed us access to both resorts we spent most of our vacation on the Cofresi resort checking things out.

Best All Inclusive Deals

Without a doubt the best deals you are going to get on either the Cofresi Palm Resort or the Tropical Resort owned by Lifestyles is at cheapcaribbean.com. All deals that you purchase there automatically come as VIP, which is well worth the effort. If you subscribe to their newsletter you can frequently get deals like $25 per person per night and we have seen it go as low as $10 per person per night. Other deals come with airfare also.

Cofresi Resort Restaurants

Getting into the different restaurants offered by Lifestyle Resorts is a bit of a pain. If your stay is for 4 nights you will automatically get reservations in one of the restaurants, usually whichever one is the least booked. If you want to eat somewhere else you have to stand in line for about an hour or so to see if you can get something open. The services area only takes reservations at a particular time of the day (more…)

Lifestyles Resort Puerto Plato

Lifestyles Resort Puerto Plato

If your looking to visit the Dominican Republic during this next year now is a good time to book at some of the all-inclusive resorts in Puerto Plato. There are two resorts offering deals right now both of the resort are going for $24 per night per person. For an all inclusive this is an excellent price. All-inclusive means that all food, drinks (including alcohol), tips, and the room is included at one price. This is one of the easiest ways to visit the Dominican Republic and helps to make sure that you can stay with in a budget without sacrificing what you want in a vacation.

Cofresi Palm Beach & Spa Resort

I haven’t stayed at the Confresi yet. This is a newly opened resort that has 180 ocean side rooms. There are different rooms available some with kitchenettes, a hot tub in the room, and other extra features. All rooms include a King or double beds, air conditioning, mini bars (stocking is included with the all-inclusive price), hair dryers, TV’s and YES, HOT Water. Pretty funny that that has to be listed, but you will find many of the smaller hotels don’t have hot water although that is pretty rare fore the larger resorts.

The normal price for this resort is $99 per person per night. (more…)

Casa Club

Casa Club Main Entrance

Those of us living in the interior parts of the DR can’t always get to a beach when we want to cool off on a hot summer day in the Caribbean. That’s where some of the pools come in handy. This week our group decided to visit the Casa Club pool in La Vega, Dominican Republic.

The Casa Club is actually a pretty big place with a large Multipurpose room that can fit about 2000 people, at least 2 glass walled areas sectioned off for smaller weddings and meetings and events, a smaller private bar area located below the main club area and even 15 Villas that can be rented in addition to the pool area.

For this trip we were just looking for the pool. The pool area was clean and well maintained There were bathrooms nearby and of course an “in-pool” bar where you can sit on the concrete “bar Stools” in the water and relax while having a drink. The bar appeared to open up at about 4pm. 4pm was also the time that things started to get far more active. When you check out the videos below you will see a marked difference between the first video which was pre-4pm and what the pool looks like rather soon after 4pm. If you are looking for a calmer relaxing time, you might want to call ahead and ask how packed the pool usually is on the day and time you plan on going.

The pool was well designed for families. There are three separate areas (all basically part of the same pool). The top section (more…)

El Limon Falls Excursion

El Limon Falls Excursion

Whether you are visiting the DR on a vacation or you are on an extended Staycation it’s nice to head out on excursions! You can find almost anything in the DR to entertain the family. Some of the most popular are Whale Watching Excursions, Jeep Safari Excursions, City Tours, big game fishing, catamarans, Horseback riding into the mountains or on a beach, even Zip lining.

We recently took a horseback riding excursion to the La Limon Waterfalls. We had our own transportation to get us to the starting point for the excursion, but if you are staying in Las Terrenas most of the tours include travel from Las Terrenas to the trail head.

Your Horse and Tour Guide

Once at the trail head you are given a helmet if you like and then helped on to your horse. The saddles are well padded, which is nice for those of us that aren’t too used to riding. Also, in most cases you will be given your own personal guide that will steady and guide your horse as needed or will just act as your personal tour guide if you like. If you go during mango season they will generally hunt down some mangos for you.

These are all done on a volunteer basis and are not paid by the tour operator. They make all their money off the tips they are given. Some people tip as high as 1000 pesos but the majority tips between 200 and 500 pesos. Your guide will be with you for the whole trip and pretty much takes out his whole day in the hope to make a little money so it is nice to be generous here.

The horses are gentle and easy to ride. If the guide feels you are not secure with the horse he will keep it slow and steady, if you seem a little more secure he’s likely to put the horse into a trot or run a couple times to give you a little more of a ride.

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Botanical Garden Clock

The Botanical Gardens located in Santo Domingo are likely one of the “Must Sees” if you are in the area during your visit. The price to get into the park varies depending if you are a local or a foreigner. Dominicans get in for $50 pesos (about $1.45 USD) anyone else pays ($5.00 USD). If you come in a large group you can haggle for a lower price. My family was with a large group of Dominicans and we all got in for $25 pesos.

The park is huge, so to get much out of it you should plan on spending most of the day and walking a lot. How much you walk will be determined by how many other people are there. In our case the park was mostly empty so only one of the three trains was running. They took us around the park, only stopping at one of the individual gardens, the Japanese Garden. The Japanese garden was pretty big and they only gave us 10 minutes to look around before the train took off again.

When there are not many people you take the chance of there not being another train for a long while so if you don’t get on the same one you may be stuck there for an hour or so, or have to walk back. It turns out that walking back would have only been about a quarter mile or so which would have been worthwhile. We really needed more time in this section.
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It gets hot in the DR and well, you’re not always near a beach to cool off. One of the great ways to get around that minor problem is the Kaskada Water Park (Kaskada Aqua Park) in  Santiago.

Pools: There are two main swimming pools, one in front of the grandstand and the other attached to one of the bars. Both are good for lounging around and taking a swim. One of them had a low and a high platform to dive from.

Water Slides: There were 6 water slides. Three that required tubes and three that did not. (more…)

Boca Chica Beach

Dominican Republic is know by Canadians, American, European and more as a great destination that being the second largest country in the Caribbean is the main destination in this zone. There are several reasons why beaches is the foremost attraction of tourists that come –millions of them each year- to its beaches and take even some weeks in all-inclusive hotels and resorts. I would like to share with some of the reasons why you should visit the Dominican Republic in your next holidays. Discover the richness of this country and why its beaches are the best option for you during your next vacations in the Caribbean.

-Exotic place: I personally think that Caribbean is one of the most exotic places of the world and everybody like visit exotic places such as beaches, hotels and resorts of the Dominican Republic. This is the perfect place for your honeymoon or even if you are attempting to have a second or third romantic holiday it is also a great place for you. There are places –all inclusive hotels and resorts- in the Dominican Republic that are specially prepared for single people. (more…)

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