Dominican Republic

C+C Accommodations: Alsol Del Mar Resort, Cap Cana, DR

As promised, Coconut + Concrete Accommodations will spotlight some of the most beautiful yet affordable properties throughout the Caribbean. These features are not reviews (unless specified); they are suggested Coconut + Concrete stays. I like to pride myself on the fact that I've yet to meet a hotel or resort who's expectations surprised me. I know what I'm walking into because I do extensive research (not just Trip Advisor!)Just know that if I wouldn't stay there, you won't find it here.

First up: Alsol Del Mar, Cap Cana, Dominican Republic

Sunset in Cap Cana

Sunset in Cap Cana

Where: Cap Cana is an exclusive real estate and tourist destination on the eastern shore of the Dominican Republic. Has been recognized as one of the "best" destinations in the Caribbean. Al Sol Del Mar Resort is beachfront, with all room categories claiming to offer nice views.

Why C+C likes it: It's beachfront (hello!!!), ALL-INCLUSIVE, it's tucked away from the busy-ness that the city of Punta Cana offers, it's close to the airport (about 15 minutes - great for a quick weekend getaway). It is touted as an "ideal choice for an intimate retreat". Alsol Del Mar is a small resort (122 rooms), offers free wifi and the decor is stunning (which is just as important as being on the beach in my opinion). Stay here and enjoy exchange privileges at the two sister properties (Alsol Luxury Village Cap Cana and Alsol Tiara Cap Cana). Prices VERY reasonable too!

The lovely private white sand beach 

The lovely private white sand beach 

Island-hop? YES! Hop a catamaran over to the beautiful Saona Island

*Potential Trip: Flight & Hotel - 6/7 - 6/10/18, JFK - PUJ, Ocean Loft (see below) - Double Occupancy, $827 per person (Interested? Click HERE)

Ocean loft

Ocean loft

Trippin' with Shanna Stevenson!

There's something about the kindness of strangers that can be highly motivational. When I decided to get serious about Coconut + Concrete, Shanna Stevenson (@tripwithshan) was one of the first people to interact with me. It is organically inspiring when people who don't know you, have never met you in person can see your vision before you've even put it out there. I use the term "organic" in the social media sense; you know its real. I take those little interactions as a spiritual sign from above to press on; no matter how frightening the thought may be.  

Shan also has an interesting story that I thought might inspire others to just get up, get out and do the damn thing!

Just to clarify, you're from Atlanta right? How did you end up in the Dominican Republic and how long have you been there? 

Actually, I was born in Chicago, but yes, I was raised from the age of 2, in a northern suburb of Atlanta, called Marietta. My DR story starts back in 2014. That's when I took a mother/daughter trip with my mom, Donna. She picked the place after finding a deal online. Honestly, at the time I knew nothing about the DR and never had any interest in it. It's so wild to think about it now. Anyway, after researching the deal my mom had found, I realized I could find a better one, so we cancelled that one and booked the trip I found. Long story short, we had an amazing time, got off the resort, and enjoyed some adventurous excursions, my favorite being the horseback riding. It was on this excursion that I truly fell in love with the country. I had a chance to observe the authenticity of one of the local neighborhoods. The way the people all appeared so content. The way I witnessed the kids enjoying themselves and making the most out of nothing or the simplest of toys. It was astonishing to witness. My heart was forever changed. It was at that moment that I fell in love with this little place and begin thinking this could be the simple life I needed. Exactly one year later to that same week, I had landed in the DR to begin my new adventure there. It's been almost 2 years now and it's been quite the learning curve, but in all seriousness, I grow more in love with the place daily.  

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Do you travel back home often?

I try to get back home about every 3 or 4 months. Although, lately I've been traveling to other places, making the rounds to visit friends and family in other states. Next year, I plan on doing a lot more international travel, so home visits won't be as regular. 

Many may not know but in addition to your trip planning services you also operate an Airbnb! Did you have to purchase property in the DR? If so, what was that process like?

You're right! Airbnb hosting was actually the very beginnings to TRIP WITH SHAN. My guests would constantly want my recommendations and would even request that I accompany them out. Literally through listening to them, my personal tour services (another segment of TRIP WITH SHAN) developed from these interactions and their feedback. And yes, I do maintain some property in the DR. I have been able to leverage some great relationships with some pretty cool people I have met here that trust me to manage their properties. Both the personal tours and the hosting have been great additions to the TRIP WITH SHAN offering.

How long have you been a certified travel professional? How did you get into the business and is this your only profession?

I received my official certification as an international travel agent and began offering my services just over a year ago, but have been trip planning for what seems like, all my life. It's one of my favorite things to do. Thank goodness, because my clients keep me busy! I came across the opportunity when a respected friend talked to me about becoming an agent based on my lifestyle at the time. It was a no-brainer for me and ever since I've been thrilled to be a part of this $8 Trillion dollar travel industry. It's really a fascinating sector. Travel has always been a big part of my life. Being able to introduce others to it, has been the most amazing thing to experience and is what really propels the direction I take TRIP WITH SHAN. Right now, its all about creating authentic experiences where people feel comfortable venturing off their resorts or away from their hotels to really get a better feel for a place. Safety and personal attention are what we offer. That's what people want. 

Favorite vacay spot?

Can I say, my "backyard"? Literally, the beach is 5 minutes from my door! Hahaha, but honestly, any Caribbean locale with amazing food and positive vibes. I love the island life. 

And we can totally agree with that! Many, many thanks to Shan for taking the time out for Coconut + Concrete. If you're looking to experience 3 nights, 2 excursions and 1 amazing time in the Dominican Republic this coming February, click here for more info, Shan's got you covered!

**Sidenote: Shanna isn't exactly fluent in Spanish, she likes to say she's fluent in Spanglish (Spanish + English), most of her clients refer to her as being "bilingual" and she gets a kick out of it every time!


So now what's stopping YOU from reaching your dreams?

Quality in Travel

I've been traveling all my life. I was seven when I went on my first cruise to Bermuda. My aunt liked to take me along; we were either cruising the tropics or flying down south somewhere. I'm thankful for those experiences because they made me appreciate and want the finer things in life. I recently mentioned this in an IG post: I could care less about designer clothing, bags or shoes. Since becoming a mom in 2015 I can't even remember the last time I dressed up! And that's okay with me. I just need access to the Caribbean several times a year and all is well in my world.

This leads me to my next point: I want quality when I travel now. In the past, I constantly wanted "cheap"; trying to find the cheapest flight and settling on decent 3 star hotels were satisfactory to me (there are still many great 3 stars out there though). Cheap flights can be good but they aren't always great and can be quite draining. For example, I was able to find a "cheap" flight to Providenciales but I had THREE layovers. It was horrible. I told myself "never again". 

I can easily say that at the age of 36 I now don't mind paying for quality when traveling; especially if I'm given an option to pay over time. I've come to appreciate travel agents for this very reason. I'm also in the process of setting up my OWN agency to provide this exact service. 

Because everyone deserves to experience a little luxury from time to time. 

Stick with me!



My Time: Puerta Plata, Part 3

We stayed there on our perch for a while, just peeping the scene. We were naturally in awe; as we had never seen anything so bold yet seemingly normal. It was almost as if nothing taboo was taking place here. 

We finally head back to our resort with our "drivers", Marcos and friend. On the way back we stop at a cuchifritos truck on the side of the road. We all get out to see if we want to get any food. Pure authentic Dominican food. We didn't get anything to eat so we just chatted to ourselves while the guys devoured their fried delicacies, sitting in beach chairs on the side of the road at 3am.

We finally return to the resort. We pull up to the back entrance, near the gate we left from. I noticed the same security guard they were chatting up before is still there, still armed with rifle. As Marcos shuts off the engine to the car, the air feels different. Something has changed.

They want money. 

$32 each to be exact. 

So wait a minute. Hold up. Just a second. You mean to tell me the guys weren't just "showing us a good time"? Ha! How naive of me to think such a thing. I realized we had been taken out on the town by some "sanky-pankies", otherwise known as gigolos. I didn't realize this though until AFTER we had returned and I had done some research.

So here we are with 2 stone faced Dominican men and a security guard with an M16. Now, I don't think he was initially there to scare us per se, but it did add effect. We paid up and then ran through the flower canopy/tunnel back towards our rooms. I'm not really sure why we ran, I think one of the girls heard a rustle in the leaves or something.

After that evening we decided we didn't need Marcos for anything; we'd use the resort's tourist and cab services.  

The next day was pretty normal; we went sightseeing and went to a show and dinner at a resort/casino. However, later on that evening our eyes were hungry for more and we decided to take a cab back into the city of Cabarete.

As we made our way to the bar, a guy (black guy from the Bronx) made small talk with us and really gave us an earful. He said that everyone could tell we weren't prostitutes but he wanted to know why we were there and why we chose Puerta Plata. "There's only one thing going on here" is what he told us. 

We settled in at our same perch at the bar facing the street. We saw: 

- A lady walking down the street completely naked, after getting out of a car  

- Various women meeting and leaving with random men

- Young girls (about ages 15-17) approaching men

It was disheartening to see this happening right before my eyes. There were some girls that looked like they enjoyed doing what they were doing and then there were the others. Those who seemed dead behind the eyes. I remember one pretty young brown skin girl in particular who was with a friend. They were waiting around for some guys to decide what they were going to do. She really looked like she didn't want to go. My friend caught her eye and told her she was beautiful. She smiled and said "thank you", in the most sincerest, heartfelt manner. 

I prayed for her and the other girls that evening. 

On the plane ride home we saw so many men returning to the states. Some of them were familiar faces from the strip in Cabarete. One man was putting his wedding ring back on in the seat next to me. 

This was a hard trip for me. I feel when we, as human beings go on vacation we expect to see life through those fictional "rose colored glasses". We don't expect to come in contact with the ills of the world and what I saw in Puerta Plata was very real. Real life and real means of survival. This is what I like to think of as shade in the sun; just because something is beautiful doesn't mean it isn't flawed. 

I hold DR close to my heart. I'd like to go back and visit La Romana or Samana to remind me of the all the beauty and innocence still alive and thriving there on the lovely island of Hispaniola.