My husband and I wanted both adventure and tropical surroundings abroad for our one year anniversary trip. One look at the Balaji Palace’s website and we were sold. The thirteen-room mansion was even better in person. It felt like our own private villa complete with attentive staff (a chef, butler, driver and housekeepers) in paradise.
We were happy to escape the smoky Puerto Plata airport. Once outside the doors, the warm air was a fantastic change from the freezing temperatures we left behind in Denver, Colorado. Juan Carlos, the General Manager of the Palace, was waiting for us with a genuinely friendly, “Hello!” and cold bottled water. For the entire hour-long trip from the airport to the villa, I had my eyes glued to the passing countryside. The lush grass and curving palm trees were unlike any I’d seen in the rainforests of Peru, the city of Brisbane in Australia or the swamps of Florida. When we passed through towns, the concrete buildings with hand-painted signs, overflowing fruit stands and whole families on mopeds were glimpses of the “real” Dominican Republic we both hoped we’d see.
Balaji Palace is in the small town of Rio San Juan on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Its location high above the water makes for breathtaking views of the sea and rainforest. At night it is quiet and the stars are spectacular. It's important to keep in mind that this gorgeous palace is in the Dominican Republic. On occasion, the water and electricity may falter briefly. Cell phone service tends to do alright, but internet is spotty at best. When you visit, I hope you’ll enjoy the lack of strong internet as a way to truly leave work behind and be present on your vacation. We did. Embrace both the good and very minor inconveniences – it’s all part of the experience.
The private beach is accessed off the expansive back patio area. A hand-carved wooden spiral staircase takes guests past the original Palace building, the cliff side apartments, and down to the beach. We spent nearly two whole days playing in the ocean. In January, the water was perfect and the bouldered beach had plenty of sandy stretches.
My husband and I had a Royal Ocean Front Suite with a massive private balcony and Jacuzzi. We’ve stayed at hundreds of hotels and this room takes the prize as having the largest bedroom and balcony we’ve seen yet. All floors are tiled and the décor is in a style full of the wonder and colors of India. Everywhere you look is another interesting detail such as a family of peacocks wandering about, larger-than-life Hindu statues (fascinating) and super comfortable places to relax.
Some couples may want to spend every day by the pool or exploring the beach, but we came here to see the countryside. Campo Tours comes to Balaji to speak to every guest. We looked through the pamphlets and decided on a horseback ride, a private tour of the area and a glass bottom boat excursion.
My idea of a glass-bottomed boat was a yacht-like two-floor boat with an underwater viewing area. Such is the extent of my naivety. The little boat with two strips of glass underneath our feet was lots of fun though and we got to snorkel and float through the Gri Gri lagoon. On this trip, I was reminded of the fantastical formations Disney dreamed up for the old submarine ride in Disneyworld. This was much better, of course, because it was real.
The horseback ride was two hours long through nearby villages. My favorite part was when the children would run from their homes to see the “gringos,” smiling and waving frantically at us. Our guide, Coco, showed us a big, withered, bright orange fruit he cut from a tree. “Do you know what it is?” he asked. He handed us all slimy, super-sweet seeds, then cut one open. A tiny bit of brown was inside. I would have never guessed this was where chocolate came from. When we returned muddy and exhausted to wash up and change, the housekeeping staff took our filthy shoes and made them look like new. To this day, I have no idea how they managed that.
On property, we explored. We wandered around several buildings, along winding paths through fabulous tropical landscapes with the occasional streetlamp (straight from Narnia) all in the company of a nice peacock.
The cuisine and dining experience was arguably the best part of our stay. Meals are all included in the room price, as are all drinks. The chef prepares the menu of his choosing every day with a few American and Dominican choices. Ingredients are grown locally and are in-season. The food is delicious!
Guests can choose from many romantic settings for each meal. For breakfast, we preferred the back patio with an ocean view. For our anniversary dinner, we chose to eat a candlelight dinner in the gazebo with a view of the dark water and moon’s reflection. A short walk down a flagstone path is a fire pit and seating. Although it rained on our anniversary night, the next night we celebrated with a roaring fire, arranged by the staff.
Go! When more people find out about this jewel it will triple in price. If it doesn’t, it should. Better yet, gather a few couples to go with you – everyone needs a romantic getaway from time to time. You’ll want to share Balaji Palace with everyone you know.
For more information on Balaji Palace at Playa Grande or to book a stay, please visit their website. Their YouTube channel can be found at www.YouTube.com/BalajiPalace. Their Facebook page is Facebook.com/BalajiPalace.
My husband and I have a YouTube channel that features video reviews of the hotels we visit. Please take a look at www.YouTube.com/TravelbyLori.