Traveling can be pretty straightforward: 1) pick the destination, 2) figure out how to get there, and 3) find appropriate accommodations. Sometimes things can be even easier when the accommodations are the destination, leaving only the transport logistics to worry about.
One hotel, tucked away in a rarely visited corner of the Dominican Republic, falls under the destination-in-itself category. In fact, I would describe a stay here as a whole experience.
Better yet, it is easily accessible, although it is literally at the end of the road. And mere mortals can afford it.
There is no swim up-bar here. There is no loud music, dancing or entertainers. There are no buffets or flat-screen televisions.
There is no star rating system here; it’s just incredible. While masses of tourists flock toward the all-inclusive resorts of Punta Cana, Bayahibe and Dominicus Americanus (no joke, that is the actual name), it’s possible to find an authentic escape in the Dominican. The second largest island in the Greater Antilles has much more to offer than beach resorts.
The majority of tourists have never heard of Los Haitises National Park, and few care what lies beyond packaged hotel tours and cordoned beaches. But anybody with a desire for unique experiences must visit Paraiso Cano Hondo.
There is no swim up-bar here. There is no loud music, dancing or entertainers. There are no buffets, and drinks are not included. There are no packaged tours, spa, sauna or flat-screen televisions.
But there is a quiet restaurant serving delicious and filling local food. There is peace and quiet among lush hills. There are excursions to nearby caves, containing Taino pictographs, and boat trips to remote beaches.
For the adventurous, there are walking tours into the national park, where rugged trails wind past otherworldly karst mountains covered with rainforest. Although there is no typical swimming pool, there are a series of natural pools and waterfalls formed by a river pouring from the hills. The stream flows right through, past and around the hotel grounds, leaving nothing but the sound of rushing water.
It is not even necessary to head on an excursion; just immerse in the cool waters and then walk up the hill to enjoy grandiose views all the way to Samana Bay. After two or three days of relaxing, a boat tour to the bay provides some of the best whale watching in the world during the winter season.
Paraiso Cano Hondo blends comfortable accommodations with the environment. Natural rock decorates every wall and corner of the buildings, hiding much of the hotel against a backdrop of vertical limestone cliffs. Detailed woodwork in the rooms, small balconies, walkways and bridges accentuate the tranquil and native experience.
During the day, the hotel reminds visitors of scenes from Lord of the Rings, think Rivendell. At night, dozens of small lights make it look like Hobbiton, except doorways and stairs are human-sized, of course.
Visitors are an eclectic bunch, with Dominicans and Europeans lounging in the restaurant or returning happily from trips. Nearly everybody we spoke to, including us, wanted to extend their stay.
But let’s get back to our second point. Although Paraiso Cano Hondo lies at the end of two roads, it is still fairly easy to get there. First, the potholed pavement terminates in the nearby town of Sabana de la Mar. Then the rough dirt road winding past pastures and hills comes to a cul-de-sac in the hotel grounds.
Anywhere beyond, it’s either on foot, by boat or on horseback — all great options to explore the hilly country, bays and rivers of Los Haitises National Park.
The town of Sabana de la Mar is best accessed by rental car or small bus from the south via the large town and transport hub Hato Mayor. The roads in the region are winding and sometimes potholed so budget enough time, but the overall distances are short, and it is worth the effort. Another option is by sea, hopping on the daily ferry across the bay from Samana, a town well connected to the capital, Santo Domingo.
From the sleepy seaside town of Sabana de la Mar, it’s only five miles along a dirt road to the hotel. Motorcycles or taxis can easily take travelers there. Stay a few days, make sure you dip into every pool, go for a hike, explore the caves and, most of all, enjoy the peace and tranquility away from it all.