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“Gorgeous resort, wonderful coral reef, beautiful part of the DR”

I will give a quick overview of the resort, and then I will focus on some areas of importance – getting into Las Terrenas, renting a car and the coral reef.
Resort: The resort was everything we hoped for, and more. The grounds are beautiful, well-tended and lush with lots of bird and lizard life. The food was great, both in the buffet restaurant (which was far classier and with better service than other resorts we have been to), and in the a la carte we attended (the Gourmet). The room was perfect (we just went with basic) with a nice wicker sitting area, a huge king-size bed, a jaccuzzi bathtub/shower, and a charming private balcony with seating for two. I can’t imagine why a couple would need to upgrade to the suite since we had everything a person could want. We went for no privileges (as the "privileges" are negligible) which means that your resort bracelet says “Sin Privileges” which sounds great until you find out “Sin” means “without” in Spanish! Our fridge was kept stocked with pop, beer and water for two and our room came with the facilities to make tea or coffee. Air conditioning and fan were both excellent. The resort shows exceeded our expectations. Do not miss the “Circus show” as the quality of the acrobatics and the trapeze and rope-work was unbelievable – my heart was in my mouth for the entire show as there are no safety nets or mats to break a fall if a mistake was made. 
To address criticisms of the resort that I have read on Tripadvisor – we never, ever had difficulty finding a lounge chair at the pool or the beach. We only used the chair to put our towels and sandals on when we went swimming but it looked to us that many of the chairs were sitting empty. We usually swam in the afternoon and our trip was April-May, so perhaps it varies with the time of day or year. 
I agree with the safe and wi-fi criticisms others have voiced. It seems ridiculous with the price and quality of the resort to charge you for a safe. It is discourteous to nickel and dime guests this way. 
Buying wi-fi for the week is veryexpensive, so most people use the free one hour of wi-fi in the lobby. Staff at the reception desk are very helpful if you have trouble accessing the wi-fi. The lobby is a beautiful spot and it is certainly no hardship to browse the internet while sipping a strawberry daiquiri or a cappucchino, but it does mean that you need to lug your computer to the main lobby every day to use internet. Note the following!!!! You get one hour PER DEVICE, so if you have a smartphone and a computer, you can double your time. You are able to stop the time if you wish to divide your 60 minutes into a few sessions, but you need to log-out to stop the time. Also note that the lobby lights are turned out at 11:00 p.m. – leaving you sitting in the dark if you timed it wrong! Lastly, at night-time when you are sitting in the lobby there are a lot of small biting flies (like Canadian “no-see-ums”) so spray your ankles before you go.
The Coral Reef: We chose Gran Bahia Principe El Portillo strictly for its coral reef and we were not disappointed – it is wonderful!!! The entire expanse of beach at El Portillo is filled with outcrops of coral reef. The coral begins at waist height so you can just wade out and begin snorkelling. We spent hours every single day just floating and discovering an incredible array of sea life – fish of every colour and variety, sea anemones of every sort, sea cucumbers, sea stars, brittle stars, goldspotted eels, bearded fireworms, sea perls, and even a little octopus, to name just a few. Unfortunately, despite the multitude of animal life, the coral is quite bleached and is not in great shape. I’m not sure if this is from global warming (as the ocean warms, the coral dies), acid rain (which kills coral), or if it is due to the idiots who think the coral reefs are “flat rocks” and walk, sit or stand on it. Coral (though it sometimes looks like rock) is made of fragile living entities, and should not be touched, let alone stood on! Also, note that sunscreen is bad for coral, so please, if you go in, use a loose shirt to cover yourself instead of slathering on the sunscreen. If you have your own snorkel equipment, bring it, as the resort limits use of snorkel equipment to an hour a day. We were really glad we brought our own as we could spend hours snorkelling some days. Please don’t bring bread out for the fish as some people have suggested – it is not a part of their natural diet and does them harm. The fish are friendly and curious enough that you you can hold out your empty hand and wiggle your fingers and dozens of brightly coloured fish will approach. 
Going into Las Terrenas (I highly recommend you do so!): Before you go, exchange dollars for some Dominican pesos from the reception desk – many places in town do not take US dollars. Alternatively, there are ATMs in town which accept debit cards or VISA to get Dominican pesos. There are three options for getting into Las Terrenas which is a lovely, laid-back beach-town with lots of restaurants and stores about 7 kilometers west of the resort. Air Canada reps recommend that you take a taxi. If you wish to do so, just walk to the main gates and there will be a whole line of taxis waiting in hopes of you deciding to do so! The cost is a standard $20 US which gives you a ride there and back, and the taxi driver will wait for a couple of hours for you. If you (like us) don’t want to pay such prices, and prefer a little adventure, you have two other options. The first is to ride on the back of a motoconcho – a taxi motorcycle/scooter that will zip you into town. Motoconchos are waiting with taxis outside the gates - much, much cheaper than a taxi, more exciting, but maybe too risky for some tastes. We chose the third option – to ride a gua-gua. Gua-guas are the local equivalent of a bus. They are pick-up trucks that have a wooden frame put into the back of the truck-bed or sometimes they are dilapidated vans. Gua-guas drive up and down the road at 10 – 20 minute intervals. We rode them a number of times into Las Terrenas and never had a problem – saving big bucks, as each person pays only 50 pesos – the equivalent of $1.20. If you choose this option, walk out the gates and turn right past the row of taxis. If the taxi drivers continue to try to sell you a taxi just tell them firmly that you are waiting for a gua-gua (they will be incredulous, but on one occasion a taxi driver then dropped his price to $5!). Find a nice clear stretch of sidewalk and watch for trucks approaching from the left (Las Terrenas is about 7 kilometers to your right). When a gua-gua (pick-up truck or van) approaches, you will see him slow down to see if you want him. Hold your hand out and wave and he will stop for you. On the back of the van or truck there will be a sticker that says “Mochotran” to show it is a gua-gua. If it is a pick-up truck, just climb into the back with anyone else who happens to be there (on one memorable journey we were crammed in with 8 other people, an engine and two suitcases, leading to much merriment as each new person was crammed in!). You can tell the driver before you get in that you want “Las Terrenas, por favor”, or if you see a spot you like and you want off, you yell and the driver stops. As you get off, you hand him your 50 pesos. If you ask to be let off in the town of Las Terrenas, he will let you out at the main T junction in the middle of town. When you are ready to go back to the resort, return to this spot and you will find a gua-gua waiting. The gua-gua will sit and wait until it is full of people, or until the next gua-gua arrives. Again, either tell him “El Portillo” before you get in, or yell and bang on the roof of the truck when you see the walls of the El Portillo entrance up ahead. I have heard that the price of taxis and gua-guas goes up later in the evening, but we didn’t experience this as we always returned to the resort by early evening. 
Car Rental around the Samana Peninsula: Again, our Air Canada rep strongly recommended against this. I have no idea why, as it was the most stress-free car rental we have ever experienced when travelling abroad. We booked the car rental through the main reception desk in the lobby. A placard for “Boulevar Rent a Car” on the counter shows a long list of vehicles available. We went for the $60 Category B car and asked for it for 9:00 in the morning. At 9:00 a woman from the car rental agency was waiting for me in the lobby with our car. Turns out the $60 USD cash included the insurance! VISA would have cost more, and as insurance was included there was no need for me to use VISA. For $4 more I opted for the “no deductible” option so that any scratches, dents or major accidents were completely covered. Opting for the “no deductible” meant that we did not even need to check the car over for damage as it did not matter what dents we returned it with! The car was in great condition and very comfortable, with excellent air conditioning. We drove all over the Samana Peninsula and had a lovely time. For the most part, roads were paved, beautiful and the scenery was spectacular. We popped into Samana for a nice lunch, and were able to stop and take pictures at any look-outs. We filled up again with gas before we returned to the resort and the following morning the car rental agency picked up the car. Do note that gas is VERY expensive compared to Canadian or US prices, but the Dominican Republic is a small place and you won’t be driving long distances. Gas stations are full-service and you should make sure the attendant resets the pump to 0.00 before pumping. We loved our day of exploring - driving around the Peninsula gave us a chance to see little towns and farms and to get a feel for the country in a way you don’t when you stay on the resort.

Room Tip: We stayed in Building 16 which was gorgeous and was close to the lobby, but every part of the resort...
By
intrepidpam
Ottawa, Canada
 
08-05-2014

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