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Fyllis: Dominican Republic
Dominican Republic: 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 that’s really a misnomer, as it’s 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.

tourists in helmets and life jackets jumping over a waterfall into a pool - part of the waterfall escapade of Iguana Mama at Puerto Plata

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 didn’t 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.

another tourist diving into one of the 27 pools
Diving into one of the 27 pools. Credit: Iguana Mama

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 it down.

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 nature’s 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.

bikers taking a relaxing dip at a pool at an Iguana Mama mountain bike adventure
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.

hikers exploring a cave in Choco National Park, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
Exploring a cave in Choco National Park. Credit: Victor Block

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 it’s 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 didn’t 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.

biker with an iguana perched on her cap at an Iguana Mama bike adventure
A personal connection with one of the local natives during an Iguana Mama bike ride. Credit: Iguana Mama.

“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 you’ve chosen to see more of the countryside doesn’t 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 them do… And, of course, there are night-stand type tables nearby to accommodate all that aforementioned food and drink.

the beachfront at Lifestyles Holiday Vacation Club, Puerto Plata
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, there’s 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; for Lifestyles Vacation Resort, go to

Related Articles:
Amazon Tour, Ecuador; Amazon Jungle ; Belize; Costa Rica Adventure; Dominica; Playa del Carmen; Aruba; Cozumel, Mexico

(Posted 12-13-2011)

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Let Fyllis know what you think about her traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Gullah Culture

I think a lot of the plantation enslaved Africans began with a variety of African languages and little contact with English speakers. Even today some of the speech patterns of modern descents of the enslaved hold onto this language or some of the patterns even after being away from the area for generations. That's what we heard in N Carolina.

-- Barbara, Mill Creek, WA

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Thank you for your extensive and accurate story of a remarkable, resilient culture!

-- Marlene O'Bryant-Seabrook, Ph.D. – Charleston, SC

And Marlene – thank you so very much for your comment. Nothing makes a writer feel better than hearing something like that!!!


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Nice story thanks, however there are also Gullah speak in southern Belize and Honduras coast to Trujillo, been all over both thanks.

-- Michael Johnson – Myrtle Beach, SC

Hi Michael,

Thank you so much for your comment. However, I think what you're referring to in the Belize/Honduras region is more accurately characterized as the Garifuna culture and language, which somewhat parallels the Gullah. If you'd like more information about that, please read my November 2011 story in about the Garifuna.


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Toooooooo cooooooool Now I want to go to Florida!!!!

-- Kathy Marianelli – Columbia, Maryland

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Feedback for Ha Long Bay in Vietnam

I'm a Vietnamese and I can't help but went through all of your pictures. They are beautiful, both the couples and the natural sceneries. Vietnam is such a beautiful place, I love it. I have been to Ha Long Bay once, in fact, I have been too all places that you took pictures of. I love your pictures and certainly will comeback for more. Thank you for these wonderful images of Vietnam and its people.

-- Quyen

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Feedback for Family Magic in Orlando

Great article!!! Makes me want to go back and experience it ALL all over again.

-- Ariane – Chicago

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Feedback for Mohonk

I love your signature and the writing (in "Mohonk: Sumptuous Old-World Flavor Tastefully Wrapped in Casual Elegance")... but the place is a bit expensive... more like the Romney types! Is Vic a "photographer" or does he just take pretty good pictures?

-- John Strauss – Campton Hills, IL

Hi John,

Thanks so much for your kind comments. Much appreciated! Yes, I do know Mohonk is expensive -- as is true for so many of the fine resorts -- but it is a historical structure that has been in operation for so many years and offers so many activity options for the whole family without nickel and diming the guest, that for those who can afford it, it actually is somewhat of a bargain.

And no, Vic is not a "real" photographer as much as he is a travel writer in his own right, but sometimes, as he says, he does get lucky.

Again, thanks for your feedback.


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Feedback for the Road to Hana

We enjoyed seeing the Road to Hana from a helicopter! After you get to Hana you've still got to make the return journey. Thanks but no thanks!

-- Betsy Tuel – Rosendale, NY

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Feedback for Dominican Republic

Thank you, Fyllis, for this engaging tour. For years I thought the Dominican Republic was all-tourists, all-the-time. You just made me want to go there! (those waterfall adventures look like great fun)

-- Richard F. – Saugerties

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Feedback for Traveling the Canadian Rockies

We (our family) also took The Rocky Mountaineer (gold leaf) in early June 2011. Great memories! Great food! Great service! I am sorry to hear about this labor dispute, as clearly, the attendants were a HUGE part of the experience. They felt like friends by the end of the trip. Good luck to all employees!

-- Susie – Hana

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Hi Fyllis,

I am one of the locked out onboard attendants. I enjoyed reading your lovely writing based on the trip you took with the level of service that was delivered until June 22, 2011. It is misleading to share this review at this time. Many current guests are dismayed when they experience the low level of service which does not live up to what this blog post boasts. The company is not even responding to the complaints of their guests who have paid top dollar, and are now consistently ignored when they write to ask for a refund. If you do not believe me, go to Trip Advisor and read the recent reviews. There are a few good ones, and they are almost all from pre-lock out dates. Many of those are from complimentary trips and the company seems to be pressuring them to post positive reviews. If you are unaware of what is happening, please consider visiting a site which has many news stories and letters of support from guests and local politicians.

--- City: onboard – Vancouver

Can I ask when this article was written? One of the managers onboard would have been travelling on it for more than 6 years by now...last I heard Shauna was in Edmonton.

--- tnoakes – Edmonton, Alberta

Dear Whomever --

I am so very sorry to hear about the lockout and the bad feelings that have been engendered between management and employees. It was not a situation I knew anything about and realize the timing of my article indeed was unfortunate.

What I wrote about was based totally on my personal experience and only reflects my trip at that time. Please accept my apologies for the difficulties current and former employees are now experiencing and the apparent disparate levels of service experienced by me and more recent guests. It was not something I had any knowledge of.

Fyllis, TravelingBoy

Ed Boitano's travel blog/review
Three Musical Pilgrimages: Mozart, Grieg and Hendrix

Troldhaugen Villa in Bergen, Norway
Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791) could read and compose music, plus play the violin and piano, when he was five years old. Born into a musical family in Salzburg, Austria (then the Holy Roman Empire), he had a unique ability for imitating music, which first became evident when he recited a musical piece by simply observing his father conducting a lesson to his older sister. This led to a childhood on the road, where the young prodigy performed before many of the royal courts of Europe.

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Irish sunset

The Palladian Traveler brings to a close his 20-part series on the Emerald Isle from an upscale restaurant in downtown Dublin where he files his final dispatch and then quietly slips away.

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