Outdoor Adventure on a Grand Scale
Story by Fyllis Hockman
irst things first. No waterslide at any waterpark will ever be the same
again not after cascading down real waterfalls in the Dominican
Republic. The waterfall escapade billed as 27 Waterfalls, though
thats really a misnomer, as its more like 10 waterfalls
flowing into 27 pools of water - is only one of a multitude of
outdoor adventures offered by Iguana Mama, the ultimate outdoor tour
operator in the DR.
When most people think of the DR, they think beaches
and when they think beaches, they think All-Inclusives. And Punta Cana,
whose admittedly beautiful beaches are lined with a succession of All-Inclusives,
is the most visited (read: touristy) destination in the DR. We didnt
go there. Instead, we opted for Puerta Plata, on the north coast, which
also boasts lovely beaches but it offers a wealth of other activities
not available in Punta Cana. Here you can see the countryside, meet
the people, visit real towns and connect with nature. In Punta Cana,
you connect mainly with other resort guests. And the best way to experience
the north coast is through the wide variety of adventure options offered
by Iguana Mama.
Diving into one of the 27 pools. Credit:
Back at the waterfall, outfitted in a life jacket and
helmet, we began our trek with an easy 20-minute hike to the first pool
thru shallow, rocky streams of water; closed-toe water shoes a must.
Then we proceeded to swim, hike, climb and clamber our way to the top.
As we rounded one bend, my initial reaction was, You expect me
to climb up THAT? And then even worse: Come back down???
But the guides and it did take two flawlessly aided
and abetted my ascent so that I hardly felt the extent of the exertion.
Essentially, they pushed, slung and carried me skyward. The first several
pools are the most difficult to navigate, but the guides are there to
literally lend a hand or other body parts as needed.
Usually the descent is a simpler matter. Not so here.
The main options are surging down a series of natural water slides or
jumping over falls into pool after pool of clear, flowing river water.
Although the highest jump is a somewhat terrifying 20 feet, most are
about the size of a high dive board at your local pool. Line Freij,
visiting from Sweden, described the experience as a real adrenaline
kick! She confessed: I was a little shaky in the knees after
the first jump but after that, I felt like a pro, but my favorite part
was the slides. Lunch is provided as a reward for actually making
In one canyon, standing in the water below, rocks protruding
on all sides, I was surprised to look up and see a forest above. It
was an other-worldly confluence of several of natures best features
not usually assembled together all in one place. It is that same emphasis
on the off-the-beaten-track connection with nature that propels the
philosophy behind Iguana Mama.
Stopping for a cool dip during an Iguana Mama
bike ride. Credit: Iguana Mama.
Although 27 Waterfalls is the most popular, you can
choose from six different waterfall options that vary in terms of difficulty.
That kind of choice is what distinguishes IM from other tour companies
- there are six different mountain bike adventures as well, from
a relatively easy jaunt along the coast to a Maximum Endurance ride
over 45 miles of technical single track climb that even
the owner, Michael Scates, categorizes as hideousness and pain.
Hmmm - not a lot to recommend it in my book. We opted for the
nice gentle ride, which combined with an unexpected visit to a local
zoo and an even more leisurely sail in an old rundown rowboat down the
Islabon River, with the usual commentary about the local flora and fauna
along with the de rigueur bird sightings. No hideousness, no pain.
Another day, another outing, this time a hike through
the Choco National Park. But as with everything Mama, this was not just
a hike; it involved the exploration of a variety of caves that added
a whole new dimension to the usual walk in the woods.
Exploring a cave in Choco National Park. Credit:
As in all caves, the stalactites and stalagmites give
them their eerie sense of wonder, their grotesque shapes and yawning
divides forging a sinister, ethereal quality to the caverns. The faraway
sound of Coqui tree frogs chirping from below the surface reinforces
the ghostlike ambience. The water is so clear you do not even know its
there until a sliver of rock causes it to ripple. According to our guide,
Carlos, stalagmites grow only 1mm a year, and if you touch them, the
grease from your finger prevents water from being absorbed and therefore
stymies their growth. They didnt appear any the worse for wear.
Every cave is different. Climbing down over rocks and
roots, using vines for leverage, into the cave allows a personal connection
not accessible when looking down from above. Grabbing the jagged limestone
outcroppings for support as I tentatively slithered down boulder over
boulder, I became immersed in a stalagmite jungle; the gingerly scramble
back up was equally exhilarating.
A personal connection with one of the local
natives during an Iguana Mama bike ride. Credit:
Mama Knows Best, Iguana Mama promises. Come
to Mama, it beckons. And never does it disappoint. If there is
an outdoor adventure to be had in Puerta Plata and its environs, Iguana
Mama can provide it. Rounding out its long resume, in addition to its
many waterfall, biking and hiking options, there is also canyoning,
catamaran sails, windsurfing, diving and snorkeling, deep-sea fishing,
whale-watching, rafting and kayaking, zip lining, horseback riding and
more. And as the first such adventure tour operator in the area, IM
still focuses on preserving the non-commercial, less touristy aspect
of adventure travel with a strong emphasis on eco-tourism.
But just because youve chosen to see more of the
countryside doesnt mean you have to forego the all-inclusive lifestyle.
In fact, Lifestyles Holiday Vacation Club in Puerto Plata offers every
comfort in accommodation and recreation you could want.
Depending upon the price - and corresponding color
of your bracelet - the all-inclusive treats you to a week of opulence
ranging from persistent pampering to lavish indulgence. And either way,
all the drinks you can imbibe and food you can ingest is yours for the
asking round the clock. You probably picture chaise lounges when you
visualize your basic hotel beach scene. Not so. Here, you lay back instead
on your own queen-size platform bed, replete with pillows to cushion
your head. Some are double-decker with billowy white curtains providing
as little or as much privacy as desired - and yes, some of the
beds swing hammock style - whether or not the couples lying on
And, of course, there are night-stand type tables nearby
to accommodate all that aforementioned food and drink.
Ocean front Lifestyle-wise -- Not your typical chaise
lounge beach scene.
Credit: Victor Block.
If you want to sit by the pool or lounge by the ocean
with an endless supply of food and drink at your beck and call, theres
no better place to do it than Lifestyles. But if you want to sample
the country through a series of more challenging adventures, then Iguana
Mama is the place to go. On the other hand, you can, of course, do both
For more information about Iguana Mama, visit iguanamama.com;
for Lifestyles Vacation Resort, go to www.lifestyleholidaysvc.com.
Tour, Ecuador; Amazon
Jungle ; Belize;
Rica Adventure; Dominica;
del Carmen; Aruba;