We had seen the striped lighthouse on the beach from the boat on the way to Isla Saona- a stout navy blue and white cylinder with what looked like a terracotta roof. At the time, we were preoccupied with the gloriousness of the flying fish jetting out of the water and soaring alongside us, but I was still quite curious about seeing it up close. I hadn’t expected to see something as quaint as a stripy little lighthouse on a tropical beach in the Dominican Republic, so it was altogether rather intriguing, know what I’m saying? So, one port day in La Romana, we crammed sixteen of us into a minibus with room for nine including the driver and declared that it was time we headed to the lighthouse beach of La Romana- Playa Dominicus. BRILLIANT TIMES AHEAD.
The journey to the Bayahibe area where Playa Dominicus is located took around half an hour in our rattly old minibus, driven by the same taxi driver we’d had basically every time we’d ever left the port of La Romana. It’s a pretty cool thing to do if you’re docking regularly somewhere, particularly if that somewhere is somewhere in the Caribbean. Make friends with a local taxi driver so he or she is guaranteed regular customers, and you’re guaranteed decently priced transportation from someone who knows what they’re doing. It’s a win win situation, pals!!
Related: Isla Saona, Dominican Republic
Playa Dominicus is really pretty, and having visited a few different islands in the Caribbean, I’d definitely say that the Dominican Republic has some of the best beaches there are to be found. You’re basically guaranteed white sand, turquoise after and palm trees swaying in the breeze wherever you go. However, there are also a whole load of resorts here, and upon arrival we realised that Playa Dominicus is no exception…resorts aplenty were on the beach overlooking the sea, sun loungers facing the sunshine and the odd cabana ready for people to sit in or get married underneath. But despite the number of hotels, this wasn’t just a beach for European tourists to lay on; there were plenty of local families and groups of friends who were chillaxing on the beach that day too, cooking food, listening to music and jumping into the sea. Fishing is a hugely popular activity in this area, and every now and again a man would stroll back from the sea, picking his way through the striped towels and sunbathers with a freshly hooked batch of fish in his hand. It was fairly busy, but the atmosphere was a chilled one. We set up camp and settled into our spot on the sand, ready for a beautiful day in the Caribbean.
The really lovely thing about Playa Dominicus is that it’s a great beach for families. The water is really really shallow; it’s actually possible to wade extremely far out into the sea, and the current isn’t strong, so it makes sense that this place is popular. Obviously the awesomely warm temperatures help the whole situation, and I could’ve stayed in the sea for hours. For someone who’s not great with water, I’d say that’s nothing short a miracle my friends. Not that I made it quite this far offshore, but there’s a coral reef very close to the beach, so if you take a snorkel you’re almost guaranteed to see some really awesome creatures in the waters around here. What a beaut!
Obviously after a while of gallivanting in the sea and sunbathing, it was time to locate the lighthouse that had drawn us there. We set off down the white sandy beach at a casual pace, stopping at several of the little huts that were crammed to the rafters with souvenirs; magnets, kaftans, inflatable creatures, and of course that classic Dominican Republic souvenir: the wooden flamingo. You just can’t go wrong with a wooden flamingo, guys, and as a true fan of these bad boys I must declare it now: this is a must-have souvenir for all visitors to the Dominican Republic!!
Further up we walked on the soft sand, towards the beacon of the little lighthouse at the end. When we got there, I’m not gonna lie. We were rather disappointed. It turns out, guys, that the lighthouse is actually not really a lighthouse at all. It’s a bar. You can’t even go up it. Ugh. Part of the Iberostar Hacienda Dominicus, this little lighthouse is but a facade for an all-inclusive bar situation, alas! Still, it may not be a real working lighthouse, but it does makes for an interesting-looking location, so I wasn’t too upset.
We carried on walking away from where the resorts were concentrated, to the quieter end of the beach, chatting to the owners of the few souvenir stalls that were spread further out along the beach, whilst simultaneously keeping a watchful eye for the black sea urchins that had washed up on the rocks and sand. One wrong step and the spines of these pesky little critters can do you rather a lot of damage, pals.
Eventually we turned around and headed back for some more chill out time, making the most of every second that we had to just chill out to the max. I’ve got better over the years at not needing to do a thousand things a day when I visit somewhere new, and aside from the obvious physical beauty of beaches in the Bayahibe area, just taking the opportunity to relax by the sea is also full on important! I finished my book, two of my pals finished a bottle of wine which was surely turning mulled in the sunshine, and a man who was strolling the beach to see if anyone wanted a go parasailing stopped by to give me and one of my dancer pals a necklace each. Casual. To be fair, Anna had told him she’d be well up for paying for a parasail so I suppose he just threw the necklaces in as a nice freebie. What a good lad.
By the end of the day, we gathered ourselves up at a local bar on the beach, where we ordered several beers and were overwhelmed with joy when the owner discovered we knew the Antony Santos song that was playing, and proceeded to blast it out of the speakers at full volume and on repeat. Our taxi driver had introduced us to the Bachata singer, and El Chico Del Apartamento 512 had become the anthem of our entire contract.
God bless Antony Santos, god bless bachata music, god bless the Dominican Republic!
A while after I got back from the Caribbean, one of my pals told me with a sorrowful look in his eyes that it must have been ‘really sad to go somewhere like the Dominican Republic, where all the locals live in poverty just serving the people staying in the resorts.’ I found this statement kind of an awkward one, felt borderline shamed for going there in the first place, and wasn’t really sure how to respond; but I’m going to give it a go at putting into words now. I’m merely scratching the surface here, and let’s face it- it’s a situation I know barely anything about, other than the limited amount I’ve seen firsthand.
The Dominican Republic is classed as a Developing Country, and whilst the rate of poverty has fallen, and the average income has increased significantly over the last twenty-five years, around twenty percent of the country still lives below the poverty line; there is a gaping divide between rich and poor. Even so, I was mildly concerned by the fact that my very well-meaning pal felt nothing but pity for an entire nation of people, many of whom are probably very happy with their lives! The government is said to be rather on the corrupt side, and there are clear issues with the lack of education and sanitation in parts of the country, particularly the rural areas which tend to get ignored in favour of the cities and tourist hotspots. The country as a whole is incredibly reliant on the tourism industry; I’m no expert but as an outsider I don’t think the answer to the Dominican Republic’s poverty problem is to never visit the country again, but it’s also not to turn a blind eye to it, and on the most basic of levels to recognise that as a tourist, where you choose to spend your money really counts. Eat at locally-owned restaurants, visit locally-owned bars, and if you’re there on holiday, don’t rely on your resort or cruise ship to arrange everything for you. Taxis and boats can be hired from the locals to take you on your own tours, and it’s way more enjoyable to see a place with a local than on an overpriced package trip.
The Dominican Republic is a beautiful country, but it’s the people there that made the experience so enjoyable for me.