Guest post and photos by Clay Kelly
The search for a beach destination is not an easy one for a family of three, particularly when some of us prefer exploration over hours frolicking in the waves. It seemed unlikely we’d find somewhere to suit all our needs until we visited the Dominican Republic. For four years we made the DR our winter destination, trying both independent hotels and all-inclusive resorts. Both options were outstanding and during our trips, we discovered some of the best places to go in the Dominican Republic with kids.
Where to go in the Dominican Republic
For an unusual and delightful Caribbean holiday with a European flavor, we headed to the DR’s Samana peninsula on the northeast coast. The town of Las Terrenas is an ideal destination and, in my opinion, one of the best places to stay in the Dominican Republic. The heavily French and Italian ex-pat community makes for a charming mixture of cultures and cuisines. The town is busy, but walkable, and the streets offer a variety of foods and an enticing array of outings and activities when you just have to break from sandcastles. But if sand is what you want, the village lies along a picturesque beach and you are within minutes of any kind of surf to suit your preference.
What to do in Samana
There are plenty of worthy activities to try on the Samana peninsula, with or without children, most no more than a half-hour or hour drive from Las Terenas. All the pre-arranged tour outfits offer transport from Las Terrenas or you can drive yourself. There are lots of choices but we like Flora Tours on Calle Duarte.
Limon Waterfalls is a popular activity in Samana, involving a horseback ride tour only about 15 minutes from Las Terrenas. Book through Flora or one of the other tour operators to be sure you get a legitimate outfit (hotels like Alisei will help you book). We passed on this because the horse trail is a bit steep for those of us with vertigo but it’s popular for the daring and ends with a thrilling dip in the waterfall pools.
From Samana, on the south coast of the peninsula, try one of the the many boat tours: whale watching in the winter months is amazing as is the ride across Samana Bay to the Parque National Las Haites. You get a fast motor boat with lots of quenching waves, a tour of the bird colonies, a visit to caves with ancient pictograms and a putter through the mangroves. Most tours include a snack in the park and a lunch when you return. Closer to home, mangrove kayak tours are offered near Las Terrenas which was a calm outing for kids and others wanting to try their hand at kayaks without facing the waves. Most outings end on the beach with some swim time and snacks.
Back in Las Terrenas, visitors and ex-pats alike love to hit the town and shops on quad bikes, for rent everywhere. You’ll see dogs, food and children piled on in every possible way. Playa Bonita is secluded and stunning and is accessible from many public car parks west of Las Terrenas. It is a pretty windy spot so think about a nice walk rather than a quiet day sitting.
Where to Stay in Samana
Las Terrenas is popular for its white sand and clear waters and is a popular destination with families. The beach stretches out east and west from the main road, Calle Duarte, and is lined with holiday lets and hotels. You can opt for any number of residences depending on budget and preference. If walking isn’t essential to you, and you are more pool-oriented, head east where a series of condo complexes will provide handsome choices of lets through sites like Air BnB, VRBO or Home Away.
Las Terrenas is a great place for rental as you will enjoy having coffee, croissants and pineapple in your apartment to take a break from the restaurant scene. Try Balcones de Atlantico, a sprawling complex with lovely pools and a decent and wonderfully situated waterfront restaurant, Porto. Aligio Apartment Hotel is closer to town and an easy walk to the center. It boasts simple whitewashed decor and nice balconies, though we wished for more shade at the pool. The Pool Bar also has a lighter more modern menu than your average beach restaurant. There are endless villa options for larger families or friends traveling together. Playa Coson (about 10 minutes from Las Terrenas) has lovely villa choices but there are plenty of options off of Playa Ballenas in the town or up in the hills as well. Keep in mind, further from the water mosquitos can be an issue. Look for AC (and close up come evening) or netting. On the water it is not a large concern. If you’re looking for a family hotel in Las Terrenas, take a look at these reviews on TripAdvisor
West from the center the road narrows and the beach widens. Lined with lazy palms, the popular Playa Ballenas is great for wading and sunning. Protected by coral, it’s not a good choice for wave surfers (we’ll get to that) but good for lounging and wading with smaller kids. The ever popular Hotel Alisei is a great choice for families. Its shady pool has a swim up bar – and who can get enough of swim-up Pina coladas (with and without the rum)? There’s a bunny cage and pingpong table and always enough other kids for friendships to be formed. The on-site restaurant, Baraonda, is well regarded and has a robust breakfast buffet included in the room price. We didn’t stay there but ate the buffet many times while visiting friends. The hotel offers one- two- and thee-bedroom suites so it’s a great family choice.
What to eat in Samana
The town center boasts a popular French bakery which serves decent croissants (unless you sleep too late) and tasty to-go options for picnic lunches. Multiple supermarkets and local markets for fruits and vegetables abound. The food is variable but better than many island destinations. Stick to grilled fish and chicken on the beach front when you can; the “French” restaurants will often load heavy sauces on innocent fresh fish or pasta! There’s some decent pizza for a fish break including at La Campannina on Calle 27 de Febrero. Pack a battery operated lamp or torch as the village power goes out often (an adventure enjoyed by our daughter) and some of the smaller places don’t have their own generators. Tourists flock to Las Pescadores, a string of former fish shacks on the beach near Camano dent Francisco. We prefer the more local shacks on the beach to the east of town.
For a great meal and beach day, follow signs off 133 near Coson for Luis. His beachfront shack is an establishment well worth visiting. Grab a table and place an order for grilled fish or chicken with salad and patatas fritas…don’t forget the Presidente beer or Pina Colada, they’re carved out of pineapples and yummy! You can pick your own fish from the cooler and lobsters and langoustines are on offer most times as well. It doesn’t hurt to have a little Spanish ready for orders but you can make it work without. The restaurant is on a great beach for playing in the waves but also a place to hire ponies, boogie boards, wind surfers or to go shell hunting. Most days there are no more than twenty families on the beach as far as the eye can see, crowded for Coson!
How to get to Samana
Sadly, most flights into the regional airport (El Catey) have ceased but the transit from Santa Domingo is a seamless two-hour drive on empty, well tended roads. You’ll want to have a car for exploring and, apart from one tricky turn after the airport and remembering to have Dominican Pesos for the many tolls, it was smooth sailing for us. We find DR driving to be pretty easy but limit your night time driving as there isn’t much respect for road rules from wandering the chickens and donkeys.
The best times to visit the Dominican Republic
The weather is pretty consistent in the Dominican Republic so you can’t go too wrong. July and August, and December to February are the island’s peak seasons so expect slightly higher prices and more crowds. Avoid September and October as its hurricane season. We love March but watch out, Easter week is taken pretty seriously as a non-stop party opportunity. Las Terrenas puts on a multi-day beach party and there is no avoiding the booming music. In addition, shops and some restaurants close for Easter so avoid it if you can. We still loved our stay the year we hit Easter but wouldn’t try it again.
Dominican Republic All-Inclusive Resort
So what about the other way to visit the Dominican Republic? This one is quick an easy; get yourself a package to one of the island’s best all-inclusive family resorts, Club Med Punta Cana.
About a five-minute drive from the Punta Cana airport, the Club Med Punta Cana is a family holiday made easy. The food is better than you’ll get anywhere with something for everyone; local dishes, salads, pizza, grills and, of course, the ice-cream bar! The kids’ club is great for all ages and an exceptional solution for only children with lazy parents. Club Med Punta Cana has a rare partnership with Cirque de Soleil so the kids learn news circus skills every day from trampoline, to trapeze and every week the kids put on a performance. You will be amazed at the production quality for a week (not winning any Emmys but everyone has fun!). Adults and families can take lessons each afternoon as well. You’ll also find the adults-only pool and the many activities are terrific fun without being pushy or in your face. Even these lazy parents left the adults-only pool are to try archery, sailing, tennis, kayaking and yes, even the circus!
The DR has lots of all-inclusive child-friendly resorts, some with big water parks and others with kids’ clubs. Club Med Punta Cana is our favourite but if you’re interested in some others, take a look at this top ten list from TripAdvisor,
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