Exploring the Caribbean – Punta Cana in Dominican Republic

PUNTA CANA, DR: It was time for our 2nd girls trip and this time it was going to be somewhere in the Caribbean. It was the fearless five of us out to explore a new place while having some girl time. Initially, we were going to go to Montego Bay. But sorry Jamaica, Dominican Republic had better deals on flights and logistics.

Punta Cana in Dominican Republic - one of the top destinations in the Caribbean

Punta Cana in Dominican Republic – one of the top destinations in the Caribbean

 

Punta Cana, it is the home of white sandy beaches, great food, fantastic warm weather, and genuinely friendly people…and all these make this place one of the top Caribbean destinations. For tourists, like me, who can’t speak much Spanish, not to worry…most of the people we dealt with, like in restaurants, cab drivers, and etc spoke at least some English.

Beautiful beaches of Punta Cana, DR

Beautiful beaches of Punta Cana, DR

Punta Cana International Airport is about 40-45 minutes drive from all the resorts and hotels area. About currency, I only exchanged $100 to Dominican Peso from the airport and I didn’t even have to do that (but it’s always good to have some local currencies in the pocket in my opinion). We could and did use USD almost anywhere and everywhere.

TIME of TRAVEL: We visited Punta Cana at the very end of November last year. It was probably the best time to go there. No spring-break or winter holiday tourists, weather was around 80s…no scorching heat or humidity to deal with. We did get tropical rain couple nights, usually around 9/10pm.

OUR HOTEL: Sunscape Dominican Beach Punta Cana is where we stayed during this trip. We had the deluxe tropical view, basically just looking over the other buildings and the grassy areas of the resort.

Overall, the resort itself was good. They had good service, big and clean rooms with balcony, friendly services, and all that. I wasn’t a big fan of their food, except for the breakfast where they had fresh papaya, watermelon, passion fruit juice. But other Japanese, Mediterranea, French places were very disappointing. Another thing we should have complained to the hotel concierge, is that Punta Cana gets tropical rain here and there, and when it rains, all the paths inside the resort get really slippery. My friend fell on that (and later we found out few others too) and hurt her ankle really bad. There has to be something the hotel management can do to provide more safety in weather like that.

EATING and SHOPPING: This was a lesson learned for me that not all-inclusive places serve good food. Most of the meals that we had in our resort, if not all, were below average. I mean, even their pizza and hotdog tasted like chewed up beach slippers. I was, at one point, craving to taste some local food at some local restaurants. We did get delicious Dominican BBQ chicken and fish in our trip to Saona Island. But after few meals at the resort, I couldn’t take it anymore. So finally, the last day, we decided to go out and have dinner at a place, called La Delicasa, recommended by our hotel. It was more like a semi-fast food place, serving authentic Dominican food. Loved it, period.

Our lunch in Saona Island in Dominican Republic - BBQ chicken

Our lunch in Saona Island in Dominican Republic – BBQ chicken

For souvenirs, Taino Art works (like paintings, wall decor, masks, statues) are very ethnic and traditional gifts to bring back from DR. They are usually locally handcrafted containing tribal signs and symbols that supposed to bring good luck. Other wooden arts are also very popular here. I, myself, bought tapestry, Taino art paintings, Dominican coffee, chocolate, and coconut shell candle holders. Jewelries made with beautiful blue larimar stones are also something popular here which is only found in DR. Unlike many other places I’ve visited, going for souvenir hunting is a bit challenge in Punta Cana. We came across some people who were selling jewelries and small trinkets in Saona Island for really cheap prices. Whatever you buy here you can always bargain, unless they are fixed priced. I also found couple souvenir shops near our resort on the Bavaro Beach selling all sorts of stuff from paintings to jewelries to cigars and generic stuff. But I saw something in Punta Cana for our souvenir hunting that I’ve never seen in any other places before, maybe a Caribbean thing. We wanted to go to a place where we could find local trinkets. And when I asked the hotel concierge, they said they can contact the nearby souvenir “villages” and they will take us there free of charge, we walk around and look around and not obligated to buy anything. And in 2 hours, they will drop us back to the resort. Yes, it does sounds like a trap, but it was the only option we had and in a way, it was a fun experience. A minivan took us and 3 other families to their souvenir complex. There are few different “huts”, each had its own products. One for only cigars and you get to see how the cigars are made and try them, one for larimar jewelries, one for tequila and other drinks, one for only chocolates and coffee beans…where you can try and taste everything before you buy, and finally another one was with just other types of handicrafts, like paintings, t-shirts, generic trinkets, and other gift items.

Dominican souvenirs

Dominican souvenirs

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We stayed in Punta Cana for total 4 nights. This trip was all about just relaxing, spending time at the resort and its beach, and taking it slow. We went there without much strict itinerary, except for the Saona Island trip which just took one of our four days. Other days, we basically enjoyed the pool, the resort parties, going to a nearby souvenir shop, eating out for one dinner, and last day we just decided to check out the Macao Beach. I did regret not booking a trip to Santo Domingo from Punta Cana for one day. It’s the capital of Dominican Republic and has tons of historic landmarks and cultural sites to visit and in about couple hours of drive each way, you are there. Santo Domingo will be my top priority if I come back to DR in the future again.

Below are few places we visited during our stay in Punta Cana:

  1. ALTOS de CHAVON and SAONA ISLAND DAY-TRIP: We booked this trip before arriving Punta Cana. For $84 per person, we got a 10-hour day excursion with lunch. We got to visit their history, local lives, and some of the most beautiful Caribbean coastlines. We were picked up from our hotel around 7am in a small minivan and were brought to a gas station to be shifted to a bigger bus with other tourists. One thing I want to mention here, we had a professional photographer with us all time during this trip, taking our photos everywhere, taking candid and posed shots. Some loved it and some not so much. But give this guy a chance, at the end he’ll show you all the photos which you can buy if you want to for about $5 per image. Our main tour guide was a funny, very enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and accommodating man…who could dance very well too.
A local wearing traditional Dominican dress in Punta Cana

A local wearing traditional Dominican dress in Punta Cana

                      a. ALTOS de CHAVON: Our first stop of that morning was Altos de Chavon, an artist’s village on top of a spectacular hill which was perched above the winding Chavon River. This place replicates the 16th-century Mediterranean town and is an architectural wonder. It did feel like a mini European village, with churches, cobbled stoned alleys, and small squares. Musician Carlos Santana had one of his concerts in the amphitheater in Altos de Chavon. The amphitheater was built around 1976-1982 and can hold around 5000 people. This town was also used in few Hollywood movies, such as Anaconda. The area of the main church and its square is probably one of the best places to take some shots of the surroundings. We couldn’t go inside the church. But from outside this stone-made church looked grand and very photogenic.

View of Chavon River from the hilltop town Altos de Chavon in Dominican Republi

View of Chavon River from the hilltop town Altos de Chavon in Dominican Republi

There are few small boutique shops, souvenir stores, art galleries,  cafes and snack places here. But the highlight is the view from this hilltop town.  Looking at the river down below with small hills surrounding the place is stunning, especially when we arrived in the morning, it was quiet and peaceful. Also, enjoy the garden with exotic flowers and fruits, like banana, mango, lemon. Explore the enchanting old buildings and enjoy the locals, especially women walking around in their colorful traditional dresses.  

Architectural beauty of Altos de Chavon in Punta Cana, DR

Architectural beauty of Altos de Chavon in Punta Cana, DR

We didn’t stop at the Casa de Campo once we reached the complex of Altos de Chavon, but we were told this is where rich Hollywood stars, like Vin Diesel, have their vacations homes.

The old church Altos de Chavon in Punta Cana, DR

The old church Altos de Chavon in Punta Cana, DR

Altos de Chavon is one of the most popular sites in Punta Cana and you can either combine it with your Saona Island trip or just take half a day trip from your hotel to come here. We spent about an hour in Altos de Chavon before getting on the bus again for our next spot.

             b. La PLAYA PALMIA: It was about 30 minutes bus ride to reach a small fishing village, called Bayahibe, by the Caribbean Sea. From here, we got onto a speed boat and cruised over the Caribbean Sea for about 15-20 minutes to come to a natural swimming pool, called La Playa Palmia or The Natural Beach. FYI, Hollywood film, Blue Lagoon-2 was shot here.

Going to La PLAYA PALMIA

Going to La PLAYA PALMIA

The water is shallow in La Playa Palmia and you’ll see many other excursion boats bring their tourists here to take a quick swim in this serene blue water lined with gentle palm trees. It was beautiful. I, personally, didn’t go to the water…simply because I am afraid of water and I didn’t bring any extra pair of clothes. But my two other friends, who got themselves wet and were served with both soft and hard drinks, while some of us enjoyed being on the boat and appreciating the surreal beauty of that beach. The 30-40 minutes we spent there, it was a total bliss.

               c. SAONA ISLAND: Another half an hour ride on that speed boat, we came to one of the most beautiful islands I’ve seen in my life…Isla Saona or Saona Island. This is beyond just a picturesque island bordered with thousands of palm trees. This was a true Caribbean paradise. The endless shallow turquoise waters of this natural reserve in Eastern National Park can’t be and shouldn’t be missed when you are in Punta Cana.

Saona Island in Dominican Republic

Saona Island in Dominican Republic

Right after we got off the boat, which by the way anchors a bit far from the beach…so you are bound to get wet, we walked over to our “picnic shelter” for lunch. This was our first out of the resort meal and it was mind-blowing. If I only knew that actual Dominican cuisine is that good, I’d have avoided going for all-inclusive. We had the option of rice, grilled fish, BBQ chicken, and salad.

There aren’t many things to do on this island, but that was the whole purpose actually…not to do much. We just enjoyed the powdery white sandy beach, warm weather with gentle breeze, palm trees, locals, bought some jewelries from the shops, and relaxed by the beach.

Saona Island in Dominican Republic

Saona Island in Dominican Republic

We stayed about 2 ½ hours here. In the meantime, try fresh coconut water, fresh pineapple juice in the pineapple shell, a massage by the beach and under the sun. I walked around the lesser crowded side of the island with my camera for a while to get some shots and glad I did that.

A local making fresh pineapple juice for us in Saona Island, DR

A local making fresh pineapple juice for us in Saona Island, DR

Another fun highlight of this whole trip is cruising on the catamaran/party boat. Towards the end of the day, we got on the speedboat again from Saona Island and were shifted to this Catamaran. This is an open boat with sails and no chairs to sit, but they have metal benches all around the boat. We were all tired and some were sitting, some were dancing with the dancers and with Caribbean party music, and others were enjoying the vast sea. I enjoyed the sun, the breeze, and the music in the background while laying down on the boat making my backpack my pillow. This was one heavenly feelings and my every penny was worth of it.

Our trip ended by getting into that big bus after the catamaran docked near the fishing village and in about hour and half or so, we were back to our resort.

  1.  MACAO BEACH: We visited Macao Beach on the very last day of our stay in Punta Cana and thank goodness that we did. We arranged a taxi for couple hours from our resort to go to this beach (please visit his info in my recommended tour guide…knowledgeable, gentle, and very friendly). This Guatemalan taxi driver living in Punta Cana currently, told us that Macao Beach is his favorite spot to watch sunset over the Caribbean Sea.
Macao Beach in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Macao Beach in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

          It was truly a remarkable sunset that we watched that evening. This part of the sea was a bit rough, good place for the surfers. Buggy riders also come here to ride along the white sandy beach.

          It is a public beach, so no entrance fee to pay. There were some locals with us too. It was stunning when the sky was sprayed with all shades of orange and yellow colors and reflected that on the turquoise water of the sea.

Macao Beach in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Macao Beach in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

         Absolutely fell in love with the Caribbean after this trip, have to plan to come back and explore other islands here.

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Reasons To Visit The State of New York

new-york-668616_1280.jpgPhoto by mpewny from Pixabay

You might think more songs have been sung about New York than there are people in this fascinating place. But there is one thing that anyone who has visited this state can agree, it is a helluva town. And that is the first thing that we should address, New York is a state and not just NYC as you might think. So we are going to take a look at why a tourist should visit New York, the whole state.

Attractions

If there is one thing you can say for sure with New York, it is that there are enough attractions to keep you busy for weeks. We are going to break them down into different categories to demonstrate just how broad a trip you can have in this part of the US.

 

  • Theatre

 

The first thing that a lot of people will want to do when they arrive in New York is book Broadway show tickets. The reason for that is pretty straightforward, aside from the West End in London there isn’t anywhere in the world with such a great range of commercial theatre on offer. Every show you can imagine will be available on this historical stretch of New York from the classics such as Chicago and Oklahoma to the modern hits like Mean Girls and Book of Mormon.

 

  • Architecture

 

If there is one thing that attracts the world to New York City it is the architecture. Home of the skyscraper is one way to describe this stunning part of the world. Some of the feats of engineering haven’t been replicated anywhere in the else from King Kong’s favorite hot spot the Empire State Building to Rockefeller Centre; home of NBC and Saturday Night Live. Be careful not to hurt your neck looking up at these incredible buildings and make sure you pay a visit to the beautiful memorial to the tragic events of 9/11. You will be amazed at how in such as busy city there can be this peaceful place for reflection and respect – a true testament to the spirit of New York.

niagara-falls-397831_1280.jpg

Photo by 12019 from Pixabay

Natural Beauty

As promised we aren’t going to stay in Manhattan, no we are going to explore the other parts of the state and the place to go if you are looking to get out of the city of New York is, Buffalo. Now, it might not sound like much but this is the home of Niagara Falls; the natural phenomenon that straddles the border of the US and Canada is not to be missed and is accessible by car from New York City. Niagara is the perfect example of why you should look beyond the city when it comes to New York. While there are some incredible things to see in the state’s capital, there is natural beauty like nothing else in the world just a short drive away. While visiting Niagara Falls, be sure to take a trip on the Maid of the Mist so that you can get up close and personal to hear to the thunderous roar of the waterfall.

 

Best Outdoor Adventure Festivals in America

Are you searching for the best outdoor adventure festivals in the USA? Well, look no further because here, we’ve gathered the most popular musical camping festivals, designed to nurture the spirit of community as well as adventure in every traveler.

It’s no secret that we all enjoy the feeling of connection and community. After all, there’s not much which brings humanity together as compared to a shared experience. An outdoor adventure trip or festival tour in America will give you the appeal and spirit of togetherness in a highly concentrated form.

To make sure that you have the most enjoyable time, we have put together some of the best outdoor adventure festivals USA. From camping festivals 2019, to cool musical shows, we have a variety of ideas to brighten the hearts of every enthusiastic traveler.

  • Tasty Food in Chicago, Illinois

(Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/ilkTnuMunP8)

Chicago is popularly known for its delicious foods, for instance, visiting the Michelin-star hotels. So, if you wish to sample these tantalizing foods, take an outdoor adventure tour to one of the largest food festivals not only in the U.S.A but across the globe. Some of the exciting things which also happen here include:

  • Live music
  • Lots of family fun-filled activities
  • Public art galleries

Other crowd favorites are bakeries, Famer’s Fridge kiosks, and even Connie’s Pizza. Lastly, the place offers comfortable accommodations for all those travelers who want to stay close to the fun-filled foodie festivals!

  • Enjoy the Best Music Shows in Austin, Texas

You may not know, but west coast festivals are not the only exciting events we have in the country. The city of Austin also has some remarkable music festivals, and artists love to flock to this place. The Austin City Limits (ACL) show is one of those extraordinary events for its impressive lineup plus it’s effortlessly cool. What’s more, here, you will get a diverse collection of music, even those in Indie.

There are also exciting food and arts markets which further make this event one of the largest and most popular outdoor adventure festival. The 2016 one, in particular, is mainly remembered for its ‘superstar’ collection of artists with personalities like

  • Kendrick Lamar
  • Radiohead
  • Mumford & Sons
  • Alabama Gulf Shore’s Hangout-the best of Musical Festivals

There are quite a few remarkable reasons why you should attend this outdoor adventure festival. Where else would you get chance of listening to great music from amazing and award winning artists as you enjoy the serenity of a sandy beach? Yes, this captivating festival is filled with fun and memorable moments with every single turn you take.

You’ll get to enjoy different rides, excellent foods, arts, tasty drinks, and beach volleyball. If this is not enough, take a trip down to the Gulf shores, an area filled with tons of mind-blowing activities. Once you’ve had your fun, the Beachside Resort Hotel is the best place for you to take a rest.

  • Michigan’s Rothbury Outdoor Adventure Electric Forest Festival

This hippie fest Michigan event is known for its sense of community sustainable initiatives. The organizers use it as an effective way of giving back to the society. However, it’s not only just another charitable event.

No! Instead, once you are here, feel free to relax at the Gold Rush Water Park, make some friends as you enjoy the attraction of the natural park to take over you. You can even decide to stay up and enjoy its late night parties!

  • American Folk Camping Festival in Maine

Bangor offers a perfect American camping festival as it appreciates the different cultures in America. Arts, historical narrations and music are among the activities you’ll enjoy in this event. You will also learn a great deal about the rich food groups, handmade arts and crafts as well as traditions.

Once you decide to take a couple of minutes from the festival, explore Bangor Museum’s local culture collection or visit the Opera house and see some memorable theatre performances. The Fairfield Inn will offer the best accommodation spot and feel free to take advantage of the hotel’s swimming pool!

  • Conclusion

Above are our recommended camping festivals 2019 to excite and inspire the spirit of adventure in every traveler. Now, we know that every outdoor adventure trip should be packed with highly engaging and exciting events. With these locations, you have the best chance of getting the most out of your trip.

So, from this list, which of these best outdoor festivals USA do you feel you should attend in 2019?

About the author: Catherine Wiley is an experienced hiker and traveler. She had an overnight hiking in Yosemite National Park, California. When she is not traveling, she is working on her main project https://gearexpertguides.com/

 

Joshua Tree National Park

My kids and I were in Palm Springs, California over the Thanksgiving weekend. And one of the highlights of this trip was visiting the magnificent Joshua Tree National Park. We stayed in the city of Indio in Coachella Valley and It was about little more than half an hour drive to the Southern Entrance/Cottonwood Entrance of JTNP from our hotel.

Beautiful landscape of Joshua Tree National Park, California

Beautiful landscape of Joshua Tree National Park, California

Ticket per vehicle is $30 which can be used for the next 7 days. You can spend from half a day to few days or weeks in this park. We bought few water bottles, some protein bars, luncheables, chips, and candies before entering the park. We arrived the Southern Visitor Center around 10:30am and stayed until about 3:30. If you have time and energy, staying longer is highly recommended to enjoy dramatic sunsets or to camp or if you love star gazing…to experience a stunning desert sky from the park. JTNP is a paradise for the hikers, rock-climbers, photographers, nature-lovers, kids, adults, and many more.

If you follow the JTNP map, it’ll take you to all the spots and parts of the park that you want to visit. We made it to most of the places that we planned to visit. These are some of the really cool and beautiful places of JTNP that we loved and the kids enjoyed:

Ocatillo Patch: Ocatillo is not a true cactus but a beautiful plant indigenous to Sonoran and couple other desert in the USA. JTNP has an area, called Ocatillo Patch, (follow the sign). It’s a nice place to take some pictures, walk around, and explore the nature.

Ocatillo Patch in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Ocatillo Patch in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Cholla Cactus Garden: This was one of our favorites. A whole big area on the both sides of the road is covered with cholla cactus, a beautiful looking but very thorny cactus. Be careful with kids here. We ended up spending more than half an hour strolling thru the cacti, taking pictures, and having fun looking at these plants in the desert. We even saw couple small lizards here.

Cholla Cactus Garden in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Cholla Cactus Garden in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Jumbo Rock Campground: This was our number one in the park. Jumbo Rock campground and the surroundings are the places with really huge boulders. My kids couldn’t get enough of rock climbing and the stunning view of everything…the trees, big rocks, mountains, blue sky, everything was part of a big piece of this beauty. It’s a big playground for any age. We stopped at different sections of Jumbo rocks and still couldn’t see all of it.

Jumbo Rock Campground in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Jumbo Rock Campground in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Camping in JTNP is a very popular activity and we saw bunch of tents and RVs parked in Jumbo Rock Campground. I can imagine the beautiful night sky from here. Tourists can spend days among these boulders for rock climbing, photography, or just hiking.

Skull Rock: Skull rock is another jumbo rock which has the shape of a human skull. We didn’t spend much time here other than just taking some photos. But there are other big rocks that can be climbed and trails that can be hiked.

Skull Rock in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Skull Rock in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Keys View: Keys View is another must. Even if you don’t visit other spots in JTNP, Keys View deserves some attention. This is a view point from where you can see the mountains and Salton sea. Although we didn’t stay too long since it was getting a bit cold, sunset from this spot is very famous…just bring some extra clothes.

Keys View in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Keys View in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Once we were done, we left the park thru “Joshua Tree” visitor center, which is about 20 miles from Keys View. JTNP doesn’t have any running water, restaurants, café or snack bars or vending machines inside the park. It’s better to bring lots of water bottles, sandwiches or bars, extra clothes, or even maybe first aid kits (just in case you are that unfortunate or clumsy tourist who may have a bad luck with the cacti there).

Got One Day in Irvine, CA?

My girls and I were in Palm Springs, California for the Thanksgiving weekend. It was a sudden trip and urge to visit California. We were in Palm Springs for 4 nights and 31/2 days. We had a rental car, so planned to drive 2 hours to Irvine to visit some friends and spend some time in Irvine.

Laguna Beach in Irvine, CA

Laguna Beach in Irvine, CA

As far as the landscape and heat, Irvine is very different from Palm Springs. We stayed in Coachella Valley in Palm Springs which is a part of the Sonoran Desert. There aren’t any beaches here, only mountains and oases. Irvine, on the other hand, is more crowded, has lots of beaches to hang out, and milder weather.

 

We spent about 7 or 8 hours in Irvine with my high school friend, her sister, and her husband. Since my friend and her husband are local there, they took us to some not-so-touristy places where we did avoid some crowed and had a very relaxed time.

 

Lunch & Dinner – When you are in California, eating burger at In N Out is a must…or at least for me and my kids. Our lunch was animal style burgers and fries from In N Out. For dinner, my friends took us to California Pizza Kitchen. It’s a local Italian place with really good food. Their flatbread with chicken, shrimp and zucchini pasta, mac ‘n cheese fried balls, and cauliflower crusted pizza (no carb at all) are not only healthy, but also very tasty. Even my girls loved the carb free, cauliflower crust pizza.

 

Crystal Cove State Park: This was our first stop. It’s a small free public beach near Irvine. We took some pictures from the cliff side at first, then walked down to the beach. There were bathrooms and showers for the kids to change and take a shower after the beach time. Opposite of the park, there is a big shopping center with some restaurants and etc.

Crystal Cove State Park in Irvine, CA

Crystal Cove State Park in Irvine, CA

Crescent Bay Park/Laguna Beach: Crescent Bay Park was absolutely a charm. It’s a really small park on the cliff of Laguna Beach. Some really beautiful houses stand in this neighborhood. We spent about 10 minutes in the Crescent Bay Park, took some pictures, then walked 10 minutes down the stairs to go to the Laguna Beach.

Laguna Beach itself was a bit crowded. And since we already went in the water in Crystal Cove, we just hung out for only a few minutes and came up to go to the Top of the World before the sunset.

Crescent Bay Park in Irvine, CA

Crescent Bay Park in Irvine, CA

 

Top of the World: This is where the local or tourists come to enjoy beautiful sunset over the city. On one side, you can see the mountains and other the ocean. It does get a bit chilly in the late afternoon. We stayed there until the sun went down and it was a beautiful sunset indeed.

Sunset from Top of the World in Irvine, CA

Sunset from Top of the World in Irvine, CA

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