It is sometimes good to leave your comfort zone. In our family, it’s our son David who is the great adventurer. He is always up for trying the tallest zip line or jumping off the highest cliff. Myself, I am more the soft adventure type like hiking and biking however in the Dominican Republic, I decided to push my limits.
We arrived in Punta Cana with a few extreme activities planned. We started with the aptly named Bavaro Adventure Park. It promised ziplining, flight simulator, bungee dome and more. David was like a kid opening up presents at Christmas. He wanted to try all the activities.
The most extreme activity, zip lining over the forest, was the first thing we tried. Or rather, that David and my wife Sandy tried. My fear of heights proved stronger than my zeal for limit testing.
On tap next was zorbing, or rolling downhill in a giant plastic ball. This sounded precisely the thing for David. I must admit, I did wonder if I made the proper parenting decision watching my son roll down a large hill at fairly high speeds, but he loved it! The guides made sure he was safe.
Also on tap were the flight simulator and bungee dome where once again, I was a no-show. David grew doubtful of my extreme sports credentials. The flight simulator was a large crane with a hang gliding apparatus that allowed a person to get an incredible aerial view of the park. In the bungee dome, David did flips and somersaults like he was a Cirque du Soleil performer.
Anxious to regain my extreme sports Dad cred, I enthusiastically embraced our final adventure, horseback riding. Okay, not the most high octane sport but its new to me, so it qualifies. I was graced with a very calm horse who knew the trail by heart and led us through a fantastic family activity.
After a full day of high octane extreme sports, we needed a break. Lolling in the sun, splashing in the pool and taking in the sights at Dreams Palm Beach resort was just our speed. To keep it extreme, we bought a coconut from a vendor along the beach which he sliced open with a machete.
Thoroughly refreshed and ready to get extreme again, we ventured to Manati Park. The park features many species found in the Dominican Republic and includes swimming with dolphins experience. We had a chance to touch, swim and even get a kiss from the dolphins. One particular dolphin seemed to enjoy splashing me out of our twelve person group, singling me out as his favourite! We were also treated to a spectacular dolphin show where the dolphins demonstrated their intelligence and beauty.
Animals such as flamingos and monkeys are another highlight of the park, and we thoroughly enjoyed the reproduction centre for the endangered Rhinoceros Iguana where we got to hold multiple iguanas. They were very peaceful, but I still think I earned a few points for holding an iguana.
Our final activity at Manati was seeing a re-creation of a Taino village and then a Taino ceremony and dance. The Taino were the largest indigenous group in the Dominican pre-European contact. The display and performance respectfully presented the history of the Taino people.
Our final adventure was La Hacienda where we could practice ziplining and buggy riding among other activities.
We began with something called safari where we hopped into a safari truck for the drive to a re-created Dominican village. David got to milk a cow, and we saw how chocolate and coffee were produced. I tasted the best coffee of my life. Our guide also pointed out many plants and flowers found in the area.
After the safari, it was time to go zip lining via chairlift. My fear of heights gripped me again, completely eroding my extreme sports cred, so my wife and son took the lift up to the zip lines without me. However, adventure is open to even those who wait. As I stood with a park guide, they shared with me their snack of sugar cane straight from the plant. I couldn’t resist when they offered me a taste and showed how to cut the plant with a machete. The only sugar I am used to is the kind I put in my coffee so the chunks of sweet, fibrous sugarcane were a new experience and not something I could do at home in Ottawa in the middle of January!
David and Sandy safely returned with David saying it was the best zip line he had taken in his life. For our final ride, we went on a buggy ride through the forest where our guide expertly navigated the hills and puddles to give us the maximum adrenaline rush while keeping safety in mind.
We wrapped up the day by having a delicious buffet meal of Dominican food at La Hacienda. It was the perfect way to end our time in the Dominican where we had tested our limits (okay, mostly David) and learned a lot about the rich culture.
Stephen Johnson is a travel writer based in Ottawa, Ontario. He loves to chronicle family travels with his son, David and wife, Sandy. Favourite destinations include Mexico City, Washington DC and the Dominican Republic. He does not like zip lining.
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