Dominican Republic: Liberty Island

All-inclusive resorts are a favourite option for families visiting the Dominican Republic. But Jack Barker's family decided to go it alone

I didn't mind and four-year-old Lucy didn't notice, but my wife Nicky was not impressed that the flat I'd internet-booked for our first five days in the Dominican Republic wasn't so much in a red-light district as an open-air go-go town. We hit Boca Chica, 45 minutes' drive from the capital, Santiago, at the tail end of theweekend and every street seemed busy with hookers. We found our apartment at the Residence Candil, a securely gated complex set around a central courtyard and pool, unfolded Lucy's travel cot and ordered pasta from the café downstairs.

Boca Chica looked much brighter in the warm light of day. It only took five minutes to walk to the beach, a perfect crescent of golden sand ringed by dirt-floor restaurants. The water was ideal for our semi-swimming daughter because it never reached more than three feet deep.

But after a few days Lucy needed to graduate from what was, in effect, a large saline paddling pool. So we set off for a day's drive across the island to Puerto Plata. In the highlands we went for a walk, buying coconuts from a street vendor and following an unmade path through mountainous countrysideso fertile that even the fence-posts sprouted leaves, where donkeys set the pace of life. Then we continued our journey to the resort of Puerto Plata, where I'd booked five nights' b&b at Sofy's Guest House.

Puerto Plata is not as busy as it once was, because the all-inclusive resorts along the coast to the east have soaked up the trade. This was noticeable at Sofy's, something of a Puerto Plata institution but one where we were the only guests. That didn't stop Sofy, the Canadian expat owner, from vacating her bedroom to accommodate a family booking. Though I felt a little awkward staying in someone's house, Lucy loved Sofy's tropical fish and traditional breakfasts.

Each day we'd drive west to Costambar Beach to rent sunbeds from an attendant who also watched our car, and buy fruit freshly peeled. While a council team of two men and one donkey cleared any stray strands of seaweed, Lucy perfected her doggy paddle in the gentle waves.

Our b&b was inland, though, and there are times when you just want to be able to walk from your bed into the sea. Sofy's advice was to drive along the coast to Las Terrenas on the Samana peninsula. This modest little town of privately rented villas and small resorts was already full to bursting. After being turned away from several of the prettiest we found a larger development, Hotel Colibri, which seemed to be between owners - the restaurant was closed and reception usually vacant. By the time you read this a new airport will have opened up Samana to German and Canadian flights.

But it was Las Terranas that captured our hearts. Days were spent on the beach, playing in the surf. In the evenings we gently trawled the selection of small restaurants. On our last day there we drove across the peninsula to go whale-watching. Lucy was hugely pleased to see her first whale, its tail rising majestically by the side of our boat.

For some, the Dominican Republic is all about all-inclusives, and, as our flight home was from Porto Cana, I'd booked our final three nights in one nearby for convenience. But Lucy proved no lover of resort facilities. She didn't want to use their children's club, didn't much like having to sit still through meals. We had all been spoilt by a sense of freedom. On the night before we left, Lucy asked: "Daddy, what's our next adventure?" She wasn't impressed to be told that it was flying home.

THE COMPACT GUIDE

HOW TO GET THERE

Charterflights (0845-045 0153; charterflights.co.uk) flies from London to Puerto Plata from £109 return.

WHERE TO STAY

The Residence Candil (001 809 523 4252) in Boca Chica offers apartments from $65 (£36) per night. In Puerto Plata, Sofy's Guest House (001 809 586 6411) offers rooms sleeping three for $50 (£28) per night.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Dominican Republic Tourism (020-7242 7778; go dominicanrepublic.com)

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