Independent Families: 'We want a package holiday to the Dominican Republic'


Q. We're intrigued by the prospect of a trip to the Dominican Republic but we don't want to spend the whole of our time in a resort. Where would be the best place to book a package to for a family with 11-year-old twin boys, and what are the opportunities outside the resorts?
Jan White, via e-mail

A. The Dominican Republic is the most popular tourist destination in the Caribbean. It occupies the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola, with the remainder taken up by Haiti. Visitors to the "Dom Rep" will experience the most geographically diverse island in the Caribbean. From tropical rainforests, mangrove swamps to spectacular mountain ranges (the spine of the island covers the Antilles' highest peak, Pico Duarte), it has much more to offer than clear waters and white sands.

The Dominican Republic is hot and often humid, with an average temperature of 25C. Typically the best time to visit is between December and February, when the nights are significantly cooler and more pleasant. The hurricane season runs from June to November, with storms most likely between August and September.

Puerto Plata, on the north coast of the island, is where the majority of tourists head to on package tours. I suggest travelling a little further east to Cabarete, a town with a wide range of activities to keep your sons entertained and one of the world's top kiteboarding destinations. It has also remained largely unspoilt by tourist developments.

The main gateway is the airport 18km east of Puerto Plata. A wide range of charter flights go there from the UK, and almost everyone arrives on a package holiday. For example, you could travel with Thomson (0870 165 0079; www.thomsonbeach.co.uk), which offers a one week all-inclusive stay at the Viva Wyndham Tangerine near Puerto Plata from £794 per person in August, including return flights from Gatwick and transfers. Alternatively, First Choice (0871 200 7799; www.firstchoice.co.uk) offers a week at the Iberostar Costa Dorada, also in nearby Puerto Plata, from £843 per person all-inclusive in August, including return flights from Manchester. Cabarete is easily accessed from both resorts.

You could organise the trip independently, finding connecting flights on Air France, American Airlines or Continental, and organising accommodation yourself. Cabarete has a good mix of accommodation. Villa Taina (001 809 571 0722; www.villataina.com ) on the main strip in town offers air-conditioned rooms. A "comfort" room has two queen-sized beds from US$77 (£43) per night including breakfast, with children under 12 staying free of charge.

The centrally located Hotel Alegria (001 809 571 0455; www.hotel-alegria.com) has clean rooms for travellers on a budget. An ocean-view room costs US$55 (£31) per night without breakfast, but includes the use of the rooftop Jacuzzi and gym.

Hotel Kaoba (001 809 571 0300; www.kaoba.com), on the eastern side of town, offers apartments with one queen-sized bed and two single beds, a modern kitchenette and a view of the tropical garden. Prices start at US$55 (£31) room only, with under-12s again staying free.

Hotel Residencia Dominicana (001 809 571 0588; www.residenciadominicana.com) located in Pro Cab Road, also in the east of town, has two-bedroomed apartments from US$65 (£36) per night. The apartments contain a living room and fully equipped kitchen, which could help keep costs down.

There are also more upmarket options, such as the Casa Colonial Beach & Spa (001 866 376 7831; www.casacolonialhotel.com) in nearby Puerto Plata, an all-suite boutique hotel with stylish rooms, a spa and a rooftop infinity pool. Bookings through www.expedia.co.uk , including return flights on Continental from Gatwick to Puerto Plata via New York, start at £1,277 per person in August. If you book direct with the hotel, August rates start at $390 (£217) per night for a room sleeping four, excluding breakfast.

Cabarete offers a wide range of family-friendly activities. Playa Encuentro, four kilometres to the west of the town, has some of the best waves for surfing in the Dominican Republic. Several places rent boards and offer instruction. Take Off (001 809 963 7873; www.321takeoff.com) located at Playa Encuentro, offers one-day surf packages for US$25 (£14), three days for US$60 (£33) or a week for US$100 (£56). Prices include lessons, board and rash vest rental.

In the east of the town, adventure tour operator Iguana Mama (001 809 571 0908; www.iguanamama.com ) offers a selection of trips, from mountain biking, hiking and cascading to whale watching. A popular choice for families is the Islabon Coast Cruise. Here you can combine an easy 10-kilometre bike tour with a boat trip down the Yasica River, for a price of US$45 (£25) per adult, US£20 (£11) per child under 12. Alternatively, hop in a taxi and head inland to El Chocó National Park, a lush reserve that encompasses lagoons, jungle and ancient caves, some thought to be more than five million years old. Its best to visit with an experienced guide who will be able to indentify the wide range of birds and wildlife. Iguana Mama is just one of many companies offering tours.

Five kilometres west of Puerto Plata is Cofresi. Here you will find Ocean World (001 809 291 1111; www.ocean-world.info), a fairly recent development, with several artificial lagoons housing a variety of aquatic animals, from dolphins to nurse sharks. Also in the grounds are tanks where visitors can snorkel over an artificial reef full of colourful tropical fish, and a viewing tank full of piranhas. A visit here isn't cheap: general admission is US$55 (£31), although lunch is included. Ocean World provides pick-up and drop-off from Cabarete.

Alternatively, Columbus Aquaparque (001 809 571 2642; www.aguasosua.com), a water park 20 minutes' drive from Cabarete, near the small, laid-back town of Sosua, is usually a hit with children. It is the largest park of its kind in the Caribbean and has dozens of slides and pools. It opens daily from 10am until 6pm and admission is DOP250 (£3.90) for adults and DOP150 (£2.40) for children.

The Dominican Amber Museum (001 809 682 3309; www.ambermuseum.com) in Puerto Plata on Calle Durate 61, is a more tranquil option. It houses a unique collection of valuable Dominican amber, which is said to be the most transparent in the world. Guided tours are offered in English. The museum is open Monday-Saturday 9am-6pm, US$1.75 (£1).

For more information on outdoor sports and other activities in Cabarete, see www.activecabarete.com.

Send your family travel queries to The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS or e-mail crusoe@independent.co.uk

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