Discover Chocolate in the Dominican Republic is for chocolate professionals and serious chocophiles with a passion for chocolate who want to experience cacao first hand: to see cacao pods growing on the tree, taste fresh cacao pulp, see and smell fermentation and drying ... in short, to gain a comprehensive understanding of the magical and complex process of growing, harvesting, and processing wet cacao into the dried cocoa beans used to make chocolate.
Discover Chocolate in ...trips are comprised of a mix of local culture and cacao/chocolate activities because knowing about the local culture - history, food, society - is important to understanding cacao and chocolate. The Dominican Republic (or, more precisely, the island of Hispaniola) holds a special place in the history of cocoa and chocolate. Santo Domingo, the capital, is the oldest European city in the New World and the island is one of the first places outside Central America where cacao was transplanted by the Spanish.
Discover Chocolate in The Dominican Republic starts in Santo Domingo with an exploration of the Old City (the Zona Colonial) and follows a counter-clockwise path around the island to Hato Mayor, the largest city in the Oriente (the east) and the center of cacao production in the area. In the region we'll be visiting two cacao plantations, one a small co-op and the other an older farm selling cacao to respected chocolate makers internationally.
We will spend a night at one of the quirkiest hotels anywhere, located on the edge of a vast nature preserve, and enjoy some fine tipica comida y criolla beforecrossing the Bay of Samana to spend some time enjoying the world-famous Dominican beaches and other scenic beauty.
From the Samana Peninsula we head west towards San Francisco de Macoris. In the west and along the way we will visit four cacao plantations, including a model cacao farm maintained by one of the largest cacao processors on the island as well as a farm being newly rehabilitated.
Each day of the trip will be a mix of cultural and cacao/cocoa/chocolate activities which, taken together, will increase your understanding of cacao, cocoa, and chocolate, and the local culture. A feature of every Discover Chocolate In ... program are the optional informal evening gatherings in the hotel where the group is staying that are forums wide-ranging discussions covering all things cacao, cocoa, and chocolate. Two evenings will include tasting events - chocolate one night, and Dominican rums another. On the recent Discover Chocolate in Paris trip (October 2010), these discussions often started around 7pm and lasted until past midnight on at least one occasion. Any topic about chocolate is open for discussion, from very technical discussions about post-harvest processing to talking through retail business concepts.
Saturday, May 21st
Today you fly to the Dominican Republic, landing at Las Americas airport, located to the east of the capital city of Santo Domingo. After clearing customs and immigration, a greeter will get you to a taxi to the Zona Colonial, the heart of the old city, where you will check in to the Hotel Beaterio (or similar).
Depending on when you arrive, you will have an opportunity to freshen up, relax in your room, or start to explore the Zona Colonial. A welcome dinner at a restaurant in the nearby Parqueo Colon is scheduled for the evening. In addition to being able to meet everyone on the trip), Clay will go over the itinerary for the week, answer any last-minute questions anyone might have, and generally get the week off to a great start.
Sunday, May 22nd
Today will be spent easing into the time zone. After breakfast in the hotel, we will take a guided walking tour of highlights of the Zona Colonial. The tour will include a visit to the Mercado Modelo, the major market in the city. After the morning walking we'll lunch at Meson de la Cava before returning to the Zona Colonial to continue our tour of the city. Optionally, you canreturn to the hotel where you can partake of a very excellent local custom (siesta). Dinner is on your own. Clay and the hotel staff will work with you to arrange your evening which can include a visit to a local casino.
Monday, May 23rd
Be sure to wear swimming gear under your clothes! After an early breakfast and checking out of the hotel, we're on our way to the town of Hato Mayor. There we will visit a small cocoa cooperative that sells beans to CONACADO. In addition to walking through their cacao farms and seeing how they do their post-harvest processing, everyone will have the chance to taste the other products the group makes from cacao - including chocolate para la taza (drinking chocolate), cacao pulp marmalade, and cacao vinegar.
From there we travel just outside the town of El Valle for a catered al fresco picnic lunch at Rio Yanigua reserve. Rio Yanigua is known locally for the special grey clay (no relation) on the river bottom, revered for its curative and restorative powers. The water really is nice and a dip/dunk (souvenir towels provided) is an option while lunch is being set up.
After lunch we're off to Hacienda Elvesia (the Swiss Farm). This is the farm that supplies beans to Felchlin for their 74% Cru Hacienda bars (among other chocolate makers). Here you will have the opportunity to see a much larger scale operation than the co-op we visited earlier in the day. The differences in post-harvest processing techniques will be explained.
After we leave Elvesia it's off to our hotel, El Paraiso Cao Hondo.To say that Cao Hondo is a little quirky is an understatement. The architecture reminds me of a cross between Swiss Family Robinson - if the head of the Robinson clan was actually the Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi ... with streams running everywhere. It's a truly special place. After checking in and relaxing we'll sit down to dinner - the fish soup I had the last time I was there was stellar. After dinner there will be an optional informal gathering to discuss the day ... and a chocolate tasting.
Tuesday, May 24th
After breakfast and checking out of the hotel, the morning will be spent in a group activity in the Los Haitises National Reserve to learn a little about the natural history of the island and the native Taino Indians.
From there, it's across the Bay of Samana to the Cayo Levantado, a small island near the mouth of the bay. There we will have lunch, relax, explore, and swim. After lunch we travel to Las Terrenas on the North Coast of the island, famed for its beaches. Our destination is the all-inclusive resort El Portillo, where rest of the day is free to enjoy on your own. After dinner, the group will gather for the optional discussion.
An aerial view of Cayo Levantado.
Wednesday, May 25th
The Dominican Republic is known worldwide for the beauty of its beaches and other natural attractions. Just past the mid-way point of our trip, this day has been set aside to relax and explore the natural beauty of the Samana Peninsula. The day will start with an (optional) trip to Limon Waterfall (on horseback or on foot if you prefer; snacks and water provided), where you will have the opportunity to swim in the pool under the waterfall.
El Limon Waterfall
From Limon Waterfall we return to El Portillo where the rest of the day is free to relax, explore, or enjoy the resort's attractions. We will dine together as a group and the after-dinner group discussion will include a Dominican rum tasting.
Thursday, May 26th
After checking out of the resort, we head along the coast to the town of Nagua where we will turn inland on our way to San Francisco de Macoris. Our first stop will be the new in-development Cacao Prieto farm where we will see their nursery and learn about their plans to grow the first large-scale plantation in the world that will be planting stands of 100% white bean porcelana strains. Two other cacao plantations are on the itinerary for the day as we travel to the town of San Francisco de Macoris wherewe will check into our hotel, Las Caobas. After dinner will be the group meeting.
Friday, May 27th
On today's calendar is a visit to a model cacao farm operated by Rizek Cacao, one of the largest cocoa processors in the Dominican Republic. The planting of the farm itself is a contrast to some of the others we've seen. After the visit and lunch, it's time to return to Santo Domingo.
After checking in to our hotel and freshening up, it's off to Restaurant El Conuco, famed for its Dominican cuisine ... and dance and music demonstrations. A fitting send off for our week together!
Saturday, May 28th
Check out of hotel, return home.
Additional nights are available in Santo Domingo at a good rate at the end of the trip for those who would like to extend their stay.
clay - http://www.thechocolatelife.com/clay/