Travel to the Dominican Republic, Cigar Country
Visiting the Dominican Republic
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Compared to its neighbor, Bavaro is huge. Although it never quite feels that way, thanks to a great deal of real estate. The five hotels in the group complex (Hotel Casino, Hotel Golf, Hotel Garden, Hotel Beach and Hotel Palace) are so spread out that it rarely seems that there are too many people here, even when the property is completely booked, which it often is.
At any of the hotels, rooms are pretty much equal, though farther off the beach they seem to wear better, and the crowd is a bit less rowdy. The rooms at the Palace strike a nice balance between loud (Beach and Casino) and somnolent (Garden). Interiors feature lots of wood and fabrics are natural, batik-dyed. Typical amenities include minifridges, hair dryers and balconies. Lofts and suites are nicer at all properties, with better art, room safes and decoratively tiled floors.
On the beach there is an activities center for lessons in every imaginable aquatic sport, most of which take place in the relatively shallow, reef-protected area which extends about two-thirds of a mile north of the hotel property.
There are also lessons in golf, tennis, shooting and riding, as well as polo.
The casino is a bit of a disappointment. More like a conference room than a space for gambling, the slots, roulette, black jack, and baccarat tables seem to be the least active spots at the resort. But then, with a beach like this, it's not hard to see what keeps people outside (or on the dance floor), even at night.
When cigar makers begin to get phone calls from American tourists who want to come and see their factories, they pinch themselves and grin. Business is good. So good, in fact, that they don't have much time or space (Dominican cigar factories, with few exceptions, are very crowded with every bit of space utilized for tobacco bales, rollers or box makers) to show people around. However, with more and more phone calls, and more tourists pouring into the country daily, the Cigar Producers of the Dominican Republic (Association de Productores de Cigarro) are attempting to meet tourists halfway. The last Wednesday of every month is reserved for tours (most factories are located in tax-free zones, both in Santiago andin La Romana, so prior contact is required for tourist entrance). If you plan on visiting, call before you travel. Contact: Nuris Duran (809) 575-4112. Fax: (809) 575-4860.
If you plan on visiting Casa de Campo, it makes sense to stop by the Consolidated factory, because it's a short golf-cart ride away.
If your travel takes you to Puerto Plata, Santiago is a 90-minute ride inland. It is possible to visit a factory and get back to the beach in one long day. But Santiago is the second capital of the country, and the booming economy and accessible history make this a perfect spot for an overnight trip.
However, be forewarned. There are few hotels in Santiago, and only one is worth patronizing. The hotel Gran Almirante (Avenida Estrella Sadhala, 580-1992), about 10 minutes from the free zone (zona franca), has spacious, tidy rooms, modern facilities, good restaurants, a lobby bar and 121 rooms. There are also a few restaurants where bilingual service and excellent food are standard: Camp David Ranch, 583-5230; Le Café, 587-4247; Osteria, 582-4165; Mezzaluna, 587-6303. All restaurants are in area code (809).