Downtown Punta Cana and Playa Macao

Beachside Feast at Playa Macao

The Dominican Republic is nestled between Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico.  One of the hallmarks of the Dominican Republic is its beautiful beaches.  Like other islands in the Caribbean, the beaches are relatively calm and warm---and certainly breathtakingly beautiful.  As stunning as the beaches in Punta Cana at our resort were, some of us were itching to escape the "all inclusive-ness" and really experience the nearby area.  So, off we went!

Punta Cana (photo courtesy of R. Scott)
Isle of Hispaniola: the Dominican Republic and Haiti

Organizing an "official" excursion was not an option.  Official excursions require planning, commitment, and arriving on time---all things that my group certainly could not do.  But, one of my friends had an excellent idea that you can do at any vacation spot: Find a taxi driver and see how far 20 bucks gets you.  Twenty bucks got four of us to downtown Punta Cana.  This was our first interaction with actual Dominicans that were not employed by the resort.  The downtown area in the middle of the day wasn't the most exciting, but we did do a little shopping.

Shopping in Downtown Punta Cana
Grabbing a Drink in Colorful Downtown Punta Cana

Our curiosity wasn't quite satiated, so we negotiated with our cab driver to take us to another destination.  Luckily, there was a public beach, Playa Macao, less than 30 minutes away.  Unlike the beaches in the "official tourist" areas, these beaches were frequented by locals.

On the way to Playa Macao, we saw a man and his wife on the side of the road selling freshly gathered coco y platano (coconuts and plaintains).  It was absolutely scorching outside, so we all agreed that we needed to hydrate with some fresh coconut water.  Plus, it was an opportunity to support the local economy.  The gentleman pulled out his machete and went to work hacking away at the coconuts. We each paid our $1, and we received our rather large, very fresh coconuts.

coco y platano
Receiving my fresh coconut

We continued on to our destination: Playa Macao.  The journey there was our first glimpse into the very real poverty that pervades so many residents of the Dominican Republic.  Few dwellings would meet our definition of "houses," but were more so constructed of what looked like scrap materials.  Many of these dwellings were grouped in what would likely be described as a shantytown.  But, on to the beach we continued.

The beach at Playa Macao was quintessentially picturesque.  Unlike our beach in Punta Cana, it had a cliff, making for an amazing backdrop.  Plus, there was hardly anyone in the area where we were.  Our cab driver's minivan safely made it, driving on the sand of the beach, to a simply-constructed "restaurant."  It was perfect timing, as we were starving.  We were instructed to put our orders in before jumping in the water.  When asked what we wanted, they pulled out coolers containing varying types and sizes of fish and lobster---all from someone's catch that morning.

The little beach cafe was about 20 yards from the shoreline.  As soon as we chose our fish, two strong men carried an actual table to the beach, along with four chairs, and nestled it under a tree so that we would have shade.  We all then jumped in the water and splashed around until our food was ready.

Playa Macao (Macao Beach)
Selecting Fish For Our Beachside Lunch
fish at playa macao
Showing off a lobster

While splashing around the beach, we encountered a rather charming and precocious 9-year old.  His English was excellent, and he was selling hand-woven hats and bowls.  Although we didn't purchase any items from him, we did tip him for his services, as he was a skilled photographer.  He even directed us.

Our lunch was finally ready after about an hour.  It was served family style.  There was a platter of a deliciously-dressed green salad with cucumbers, onions, and tomatoes.  There was another platter of plantains.  And of course, our carefully-selected fish---which were fried whole.  Although the fish was fried, it wasn't breaded. And it was so incredibly fresh and delectable.  We asked for rice and peas, and they quickly obliged.  The service was impeccable.  We skipped on drinks since we still had our coconuts.  There, alongside the beach at beautiful Playa Macao, we feasted on whole fish, rice and peas, plantains, salad, and fresh coconuts.  The fish was prepared rather simply.  Dominicans generally avoid spicy food, and this fish was no exception.  It was seasoned with only garlic, salt and pepper.  Lots of garlic.  The plantains were the savory variety, and they were cut into discs and rather hard like fries.  This was by far the best meal I had during my vacation---it was inspiring. (You will be seeing a post on these delectable dishes soon!)

We feasted for $8 each.  Our bellies were full and our curiosity was satiated, so we handsomely tipped the preparers of our food and our cab driver/tour guide and returned to the hotel.

Our table, nestled under a tree
Serving ourselves at our beachside feast
Enjoying our beachside lunch
fresh fish at playa macao

More Playa Macao Photos:

We had a great 9-year old photographer!
I can't get enough of the fresh coconut water
Splashing Around at Playa Macao