Saga Dominican Discovery Tour

STE’s Holiday Editor, Tony Taylor, reports on his experiences on a three centre Saga holiday in the Dominican Republic.

Dominican Republic: Beach near Punta Cana
Beach near Punta Cana

My wife and I had not previously visited the Dominican Republic and so were interested in seeing as much of the country as possible. The Saga Dominican Discovery tour appealed to us as it included hotel stays in three different destinations around the country.

Since it was a Saga tour, we had a shared taxi from home to the airport. This involved being picked up nine hours before the flight departure from Gatwick. When combined with the nine hour flight, it became a rather tiring 18 hour journey!

The first three nights were spent at the Dreams Resort & Spa at Punta Cana, an all-inclusive resort. After the long day travelling we slept well (as it seemed did all 16 of our party) before setting off at 8.30 am for an Eco Tour.

Visiting a primary school
Visiting a primary school

This interesting full day tour showed us the surrounding countryside, cigar making, the market and cathedral at Higuey, a primary school and small scale cocoa and coconut processing. It ended with a meal at a beach restaurant, with time to rest, walk or swim. The tour guide was informative as well as being humorous and entertaining.

We chose to spend the next day relaxing around the pool, pleasant spacious gardens and beach at the Dreams Resort.

The following day we were driven to the capital Santo Domingo for a two night stay at the very modern Holiday Inn. The five hour journey included a stop at the caves of Cueva de la Maravillas with their wall drawings as well as the usual stalagmites and stalactites. It was a 10 minute level walk to the caves, and at the entrance there was a lift for those who did not wish to use the 140 fairly easy steps.

Monumento a los Héroes

A full day tour of Santo Domingo started with a drive around the city and past the Presidential Palace before disembarking from the bus to explore the fascinating Old City. This three hour walking tour (with several steps/stairs along the way) included the Cathedral, the house of Diego Columbus and a market.

After lunch we visited the National Botanical Gardens where a ‘train’ transported us through the different displays, including a very impressive Japanese Garden. In the evening we had an excellent meal at an international restaurant, followed by a show with spectacular dances and costumes and hectic dance routines. The audience was invited to dance between the professional performances.

The following day we left for the four hour journey to Puerta Plata. The journey was broken by a visit to the Monumento a los Héroes tower in Santiago. It contains information (in Spanish) on the history of the Dominican Republic. The 150 steps are well worth climbing for the excellent panoramic views.

Cable car to mountain at Puerto Plata
Cable car to Isabel de Torres

Saga resorts are normally to our liking, but the Gran Ventana Beach resort at Puerta Plata was disappointing. The noise level around the pool at the centre of the complex was unacceptable, and continued to 11.00 pm! Many people wanted to change rooms to a quieter area.

On the positive side, the food at both all-inclusive resorts was excellent with plenty of choice in large serve-yourself restaurants. In addition, both resorts had themed restaurants with service, which had to be booked in advance.

After a day at leisure, we took a half day city tour of Puerta Plata. This commenced with a ride in the cable car (after queuing for an hour) to the Isabel del Torres mountain. The views were superb and there was a miniature of the famous Christ the Redeemer statue of Rio de Janiero. We then visited the historic city, including the scenic city Plaza, the Cathedral and Fort San Felipe. After touring an amber museum, the city tour concluded with a relaxing visit to a rum distillery – with samples of course!

Fort San Felipe in Puerta Plata
Fort San Felipe in Puerta Plata

A further day long excursion involved a two hour drive to near Monte Cristi (close to the Haitian border) on the north coast. We were then taken on a 20 minute speedboat ride to the very small, sandy island of Cayo Arena (Paradise Island), which was quite crowded with tourists.

It had several beach huts providing shade, drinks and snorkelling equipment – there was plenty of coral to see and a wide variety of fish. The return boat trip was via mangroves.

We returned to Punta Cana for the last four nights. This was a nine hour drive via the capital Santo Domingo and included an hour long lunch stop in a shopping mall.

Altos de Chavon
Amphitheatre in Altos de Chavón

The final excursion was to a replica 16th century Mediterranean style village, Altos de Chavón. The village included a large Grecian-style amphitheatre, cobbled streets, a museum and shops, plus exhibitions of pottery and weaving. There were also lovely views down to the Chavón River.

During our two week holiday there were several optional tours, for example to an island/nature reserve and to a sinkhole. We opted instead to walk and relax in the grounds and along the beaches at both resorts.

Overall we were very pleased with the Saga Dominican Discovery and feel that we had seen and learnt much of the Dominican Republic. A two week stay in one of the resorts, an alternative holiday we had considered, would definitely not have suited us as there were very limited places to walk and visit near either resort.