Altos de Chavón – Disappointment in the Dominican Republic

with 4 Comments

 

Beach, sand and sun (and a few cocktails) are all you need for a relaxing all-inclusive vacation in the Caribbean. The white-powdered beaches and turquoise waters of Punta Cana attract thousands of tourists every year including myself.

Prior to going to the Dominican Republic, I had been to Mexico and Cuba also staying in all-inclusive resorts and, in comparison, I can’t say the D.R. was my favorite Caribbean destination. Truth be told, I found it lacked quite a bit of charm and culture.

I know what you’re thinking: all-inclusive resorts aren’t usually known to offer any of these things but….

 

 

Although I enjoy wasting spending time lazying all day on a beach longue chaise with people-watching being the only activity I choose to engage in, I also need to get away from the predictability of resort life at least once during my vacation. I thought there weren’t any interesting historical sites on this half of Hispaniola (island comprised of the D.R. and Haiti) so I was delighted when I came upon an excursion to Altos de Chavón. With little information but eager to discover and explore, I whipped out my credit card and booked myself a place the next day.

 

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The Roman-style amphitheater where many popular artists performed

 

Altos de Chavón is a re-creation of a 16th century Mediterranean-style European village, complete with cobblestone terraces and terracotta roofs, located in the lovely countryside of La Romana. It was designed in unison by Dominican architect Jose Antonio Caro and Italian designer Roberto Coppa. Everything on the site was meticulously handcrafted by local artisans. The village hosts an amphitheater, an archaeological museum, St. Stanislas Church (for weddings) and a cultural center all mingled in with a few boutiques, restaurants and bars.

 

The Altos de Chavón School of Design is associated with Parsons New School for Design in New York City. Artists and artisans from 35 different countries have studied at this high-caliber school. Altos de Chavón Village has become a hub attracting artists from all around the world allowing them to create and display their art (available for purchase). 

 

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Admittedly, there was nothing even remotely authentic about Altos de Chavón; it clearly didn’t have a cultural (save for the architect) or historical attachment to the Caribbean nation of the Dominican Republic but it was an outing away from the oil-lathered-bare-belly-beer-drinking patrons at the hotel. And for what it was worth – Frank Sinatra, Julio Iglesias, Elton John and The Pet Shop Boys (throwback to the 80’s anyone?) among others had previously performed in the roman-style amphitheater. I’m not sure if that makes Altos de Chavón better or worse – I guess it depends on your musical tastes.

 

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For lack of authenticity, the setting with sweeping views of the Chavón River flowing through the valley below was very nice and the re-creation of a Mediterranean-style European village was very well done and, to some extent, believable. I can also appreciate the fact that it’s a great place for locals (who can afford it) to hang out. But I didn’t go to the Dominican Republic to step back in time to somewhere in Europe; I wanted to learn about the local culture and its people. This is where Altos de Chavón failed miserably inciting my disappointment so apparent in these pictures.

 

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After my disappointment with this lackluster excursion subsided, I came to the conclusion that I might as well just take advantage of the endless stretch of the palm-lined beach and the warm Caribbean Sea – after all, some places exist solely to cater to some much-deserved self-indulgent farniente.

Who was I to argue?

 

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A happier me with my feet in the sea!

 

 

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Has anyone else been to Altos de Chavón? Does anybody remember The Pet Shop Boys?

 

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  • Frank Thomae

    Have to admit I was chuckling at your photos looking through this, you obviously don’t look so enthused.
    I’ve been in your shoes before, wanting to relax on an all-inclusive and being bored within a few days and wanting the get the hell out.
    One great trip I had in the DR – I was in Cabarete on the north coast and got real bored. Wanted adventure. So I took the bus to Santo Domingo where I stayed a week. Had a great time and they have some fabulous ruins and museums in the zona colonial. And I could count the tourists on one hand. Was actually a great experience. Came back a few months later and again visited Santo Domingo but then took the bus up to Las Terrenas in the Samana peninsula. The whole peninsula in my opinion the most beautiful spot in the whole DR. Rented a motorcycle and did the whole thing, was fabulous.
    Just a few ideas for the future 🙂 Been the the DR now 6 times, always enjoy it.

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      I guess I have a hard time concealing my feelings through my facial expressions….lol! That’s great that you were able to enjoy the D.R. in such a different way. I’ve heard really good things about Samana lately and I would consider it if I were to return to the Dominican Republic. Thanks for the tips!

  • Caitlin

    It sounds like you didn’t do much research on the DR as a destination. I’m not entirely sure what you were expecting at an all inclusive, or what you were expecting from your trip.

    Did you make an effort to wander around on your own, speaking Spanish, interacting with locals in a non-tourist environment? Did you dine off the resort? What kind of authenticity are you searching for?

    The European architectural recreation does indeed connect to DR colonial culture, as Hispaniola was one of the 1st European colonies in the Americas when Columbus came in 1492. Just a thought that it might not be as irrelevant as you say.

    Sorry that you didn’t enjoy your time, that is always a bummer when travelling. I would suggest doing more research before heading to an impoverished country with minimal tourism infrastructure next time.

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Hi Caitlin!

      Thank your for your feedback. As I mentioned in my post, I was well-aware that staying at an all-inclusive resort wouldn’t offer a cultural experience or give me the chance to interact with locals on a more authentic level. I was going there for a one-week vacation mostly spent relaxing on the beach. Punta Cana is an area which was developed specifically for tourism so there’s no lack of infrastructure and stepping outside the resort only led to more resorts which is why I chose to visit Altos de Chavon as an excursion during my short stay.

      The D.R. has a Spanish heritage but very little of it (including architecture) has been preserved (save for the language, of course). Altos de Chavon did not reflect any Spanish heritage but, rather, Italian which does not represent the D.R. at all.

      Although the Dominican Republic is “impoverished” (though not on the same level as its neighboring country of Haiti), most resorts offer ultra-modern/luxury amenities. I don’t travel to countries to gawk at their poverty (I don’t consider this tourism) but to learn about the people and culture which is what Altos de Chavon failed to do.