This weekend Sarah, Sean, JP and I decided to rent a car and travel west. Before we left we read in my guidebook that there were waterfalls, beaches, places to hike, and other generally cool stuff on that side of the island and that tourists don't often go there. There really aren't many big resorts on that side of the island, mostly small hotels and restaurants, so it doesn't draw in huge crowds like Punta Cana and the other developed cities.
We met up at 12:30 on Thursday afternoon at the rental car place, and rented a white sedan. We drove first through San Cristobal, which is where the famous dictator Trujillo was from, and then a number of small towns along the highway. We stopped in Azua for some Pollo Rey (think KFC Dominican style) and then continued on until we got to a city called Paraiso, which is about 4 hours outside Santo Domingo. We had some trouble finding the hotel, and when we did we weren't entirely sure we wanted to stay. It wasn't a lot to look at and the rooms weren't as cheap as they looked like they should be. We went to another hotel in the neighboring city of Los Patos, which was considerably nicer and only slightly more expensive, but that one was full. After eating dinner in Los Patos in a restaurant called Pula where delicious meats and placemats abounded we headed back to the first hotel, Hotel Paraiso, with our tails between our legs, played Bananagrams and spent the night.
The views on the way to Paraiso were completely ridiculous. Much of the drive was overlooking these enormous cliffs out onto the bluest water I have ever seen. The beaches were not sand but white rocks of varying sizes made smooth by the water. It was extremely beautiful. If you stood on the beach and turned around mountains were right behind you. It was the most beautiful place I have seen on the island so far.
The second day we were there we went to the beach in the morning, but quickly realized that although they were unique and beautiful, the stones were not very comfortable to sit on, and there was no shade to prevent us from getting sunburned. We went down the road a ways to where people have damned up the river into small pools that you can swim in and that lead down to the beach. These too were very beautiful, and there were lots of Dominican kids swimming in the pools. The waves in the ocean there were very big and powerful, and took me down a couple times when I tried to get into the water. We sat at a picnic table and had some food and eventually decided to see what else we could see in the area. We drove down to another hotel which ended up being very expensive, and then continued on to check some hotels in Barahona. We didn't succeed in that either although we did tour a coffee factory. When I say tour what I mean is walk into and when I say coffee factory I mean a relatively dark barn with coffee strewn all over the ground and a man outside seemingly bathing the factory's roosters in a metal tub.
We eventually ended up back at the expensive hotel for lunch, and after lunch we wandered around their grounds. There were huge cliffs here too overlooking the water and we walked down to the beach, and then came back up and sat in rocking chairs on the edge of the cliff and looked out at the water. It was a stunning view.
We ate dinner later that night at the same restaurant as the night before in Los Patos, and then went back to the hotel. Sean and Sarah looked up things to do for the next day and JP and I fell asleep at 9:15.
The next morning we decided to head back east and check out some of the beaches closer to Santo Domingo. We tried to go to a beach called Ocoa, but after a wrong turn that lead us into an Ocoa in the mountains we realized that there were two cities by that name, one in the mountains and one on the coast. We turned around and went towards the other one, stopped for lunch at a big hotel that turned out to also be way out of our price range (are you guys noticing a pattern of poverty here?) and eventually found a place that had some small sand dunes and a dark sand beach. JP and I swam around and looked at the small coral reefs off right off the shore and then we headed further east (and got lost about 7 times on the way) and stayed in a hotel in Playa Najayo, which is about an hour from the city. We had dinner when we got there and I watched some guy with a flashlight swim around underwater while we ate, which I thought was fascinating and Sean and Sarah (who are from Florida) did not think was out of the ordinary (they explained that he was probably fishing for crabs). This morning we lounged around on the beach for a little while and then drove back to Santo Domingo.
The trip was really relaxing and beautiful, and renting a car made it way more enjoyable.