All-Inclusive vacations are great, aren’t they? I mean you hop on a plane, arrive in a new place, get whisked to your resort and have all your accommodations, food, drink and many activities already paid for. The only thing you have to worry about is remembering to reapply sun block every two hours!
But the downside is that once your week of carefree luxury is over, can you really say that you visited that destination? Can you identify cultural elements like food or folklore? Can you tell others of the great things that destination has to offer?
I argue that if you stay at your resort all week- you have not truly experienced your destination.
While on vacation in the Dominican Republic to celebrate the end of High School, I had had it with the beach by day 3. Don’t get me wrong- I love me some ocean time. But day after day of just sitting in the sun made me antsy and I wanted to explore.
Luckily, my mother and I had signed up for an excursion that would take us away from our resort for the day, and into the heart of the Dominican.
In the morning, we gathered at the bus stop and were picked up by our driver. We stopped at a few other resorts and picked up more tour members before heading out into the real Dominican Republic.
We drove through grassy jungle as we listened to our guide tell us bits and pieces about Dominican history. After some time on the bumpy dirt road, we ended up in a clearing. A small building, with bright yellow paint bore the words Escuela Basica and I knew (thanks to my elementary level Spanish) that we had come to our first stop of the tour.
We unloaded and walked into the building, which was just one small classroom. There was a green chalkboard in the front of the room, and there were about 15 kids seated at wooden tables.
It was neat to be able to say hello to some local children, but I wonder how beneficial it is to have tourists interrupting their school lectures. After the kids recited their ABCs in English for us, we were back on the bus and onto our next stop.
The jungle became thicker as we ventured deeper inside. I may or may not have been attacked by a giant banana leaf at one point…
I did my best to snap photos as we drove along. Though, this proved to be a difficult task due to the bumpy and freshly-rained-upon dirt roads.
Finally, we reached the home of a local coffee roaster. As we entered the front of the property, there was a large concrete slab, with thousands of coffee beans laying in the sun. This, we learned, was the first step in roasting the coffee beans.
We met the roaster, who graciously gave us a tour through his home. It was really cool to walk through and see the similarities and differences between his home and my own. I particularly enjoyed that the kids were watching Spanish Scooby-Doo as we passed through.
In the back of the property, a small wooden pavilion was set up for demonstrations. Here, we learned about the process of roasting coffee beans. The roaster showed us how they toss the beans in the air to filter them from other debris. Then, he showed us how he roasts them over the fire, constantly stirring.
Afterwards, our guide did a short presentation on some of the edible treasures of the Dominican Republic. He started by showing us a cocoa pod. He broke it open to reveal the small white fruits inside. He passed the pod around and we were able to sample the fruit as he explained how the fruits were turned into chocolate.
A plate was set out for us with locally sourced pineapple, sugar cane, and coconut. Since I’d never had real sugar cane before, I was delighted to get to try a sample. As I bit down, the sweet juices poured into my mouth. I know it doesn’t look like it in the photo below, but I definitely became a fan of sugar cane that day.
Before leaving, we were able to purchase some local Dominican goods like coffee, vanilla extract, and rum. Once we were all back on the bus, we headed to a small ranch in the mountains. Here, we were treated to a lunch of local Dominican foods. There was a whole buffet set out for us and were permitted to walk around the grounds on our own until it was time to leave.
To wrap up our tour, we were taken to a local beach. It was practically deserted, compared to the beach on which our resort sat. People were given boogie boards to rides the waves of the ocean. It had begun raining, so we elected to just stay on the shore and play in the sand.
Upon returning to our resort, I found myself refreshed. It was fulfilling to be able to see some of the real Dominican Republic, beyond the white sandy beaches and all-you-can-eat buffets.
So on your next all inclusive beach vacation, I challenge you to take some time and see the destination you’re in, beyond your resort property.
Have you done any good off-property excursions while on vacation? Tell me about them in the comments below!