Recently, I had the pleasure of being a guest on the maiden voyage of Carnival cruise line’s newest addition, Fathom to the Dominican Republic. Their mission is to introduce the world of cruising to volunteering and impact work. Ship-goers can choose to make an impact in the DR by helping to lay concrete floors in homes, or aide a local women run company that recycles paper in the community.
In a country that is known for their port towns, especially, Punta Cana, these experiences got me thinking about what other off the beaten opportunities the Dominican Republic offers visitors.
Get your hands dirty
The Dominican Republic is a developing nation with plenty of opportunities for volunteering on the ground. NGOs are set up around the country aimed at teaching English, improving health standards, and enhancing the quality of living. Do your research to find programs and organizations that offer services or experiences to visitors that benefit the local communities without taking advantage of them.
Most hotels, cruise ships and travel agents can help you to find and locate volunteer opportunities. Do your research, and make sure to bring appropriate clothing and footwear both for the activities you’ll be participating in and to respect the local culture.
Visit a Cocoa Farm
Cocoa beans are a major crop product for the Dominican Republic. There are a lot of steps that go into making those chocolate bars or m & ms that you love so much. The real image of a cocoa bean may just surprise you in real life. Harvesting these beans and the process that goes into refining them is strenuous, long and grueling. Take a whack at it yourself or just watch the process and gain a whole new sense of respect for chocolate.
Head to the South West part of the island
This region of the island is incredibly diverse and gives a glimpse into the various landscapes of the island. From desert to sprawling jungles, the national park and areas surrounding the city of Barahona offer ample exploration possibilities. Swim in the rivers here and dine on delicious local, freshly caught seafood.
Venture to a local market
Outside of the ports, and Western built areas, the locals have a wonderful culture and there is no better way to experience that culture than by heading to a local market.
Here you can sample some of the local grub. Try mangú, a Dominican staple made from mashed green plantains topped with sautéed red onions. Or sip on a passion fruit juice while munching on La Bandera, a stew made of beans and meat on top of white rice.
These are great places to find hand-crafted items as well, if the mass produced often not even local souvenirs aren’t really your style.
Trek to a waterfall
Waterfalls are everywhere in the DR. It’s easy to hop on a shuttle from your all inclusive resort and go to a popular hot spot for tourists. But I encourage you to seek out the lesser explored varietals and get in tune with the nature and jungles that make the Dominican such a luxurious destination. Some even feature quiet and serene pools for you to enjoy without the crowds of the island’s beaches.
Hike a mountain
Yes, a mountain. Not many know but the highest mountain chain in the Caribbean is located in the Dominican Republic. The hike is not easy, however. Find a tour company to do this multi day hike with who is experienced in the path and where the accommodations can be found. Try to find a guide that will provide the food for you as well to get an even even more local experience.