Nestled in a calm oasis of lush green vegetation, El Portillo sits along a roaming stretch of tranquil white sand beach on the Samana peninsula of the Dominican Republic. The vivid blue water hugs the shore as gentle waves break. Coconut palms freckle the backdrop, swaying nonchalantly in the balmy tropical winds. There is an air of calm at El Portillo. A relaxed European ambience far removed from the loud, brash party call of Punta Cana. The resort has recently undergone a US$3 million refit, adding new beachside cabanas and improved hotel facilities.
Being all-inclusive means it is possible to forget the wallet and make the most of the non-moterised water sports including kayaking. It is easy to follow the coast and find yourself lost on a near deserted, if not completely deserted, beach. The surf is light and the current is reasonable, although some drop offs cause a change of force and could be dangerous for kids. Therefore it is compulsory to keep a life jacket on at all times.
The resort is very popular with families. During the day the beach is dotted with mums, dads and children enjoying the warm Caribbean sun. Owing to the sheer vastness of the playa it means all can enjoy their own zone without the distractions of another family, although many take advantage of the fact that kids can safely mingle and make new friends - leaving the parents to relax.
There is a real feel of ecology and nature at El Portillo. The garden setting allows for a abundance of birds to fill the air with gentle song. An on site bird aviary gives visitors the opportunity to learn more about native species and the way they live in the Dominican Republic. Tranquillity is never too far away at the resort.
Food and entertainment flow freely on the complex with the opportunity of dining at two ‘a la carte’ restaurants. The two restaurants are the Almendro and the Asia. At Asia you will find traditionally dressed Japanese waitresses serving a fare of sushi (you know what they say - when in Rome?? - yes but I am in the Dominican Republic, I hear you cry!!) and other Asian dishes. Almendro serves traditional Dominican dishes.
The rest of the resorts food is served buffet style and it is here where the resort is a little let down. The food is not great, sitting in metal trays basking under unnatural light. The best option is to head to the back of the dining hall where chefs will cook up freshly prepared dishes.The meat is reasonably good.
The local dishes such as Sancocho, a stew based dish with various meat and dumplings are the best option.
Food is served throughout the day, breakfast, lunch, afternoon snacks and dinner. The evening comes alive with various typical Dominican entertainment - a feast of colours, tradition and meringue music.
If you want to escape, the all-inclusive resort is located just 4 km. from the village of Las Terrenas. The lively village is an easy taxi ride away and a good place to wander around taking in the local way of life. There are some local bars and very typical Dominican dance halls - just watch those crazy meringue bodys move!
The accommodation comes in three levels - superior, standard and luxury beach cabins. The cabins are best suited to families as they have a kitchen, dining and living area as well as interconnecting double rooms. The most beautiful part of the cabin accommodation is the fact that as soon as you step out you are directly on the beach.
El Portillo is a large yet homely resort, the setting gives the feel of being locked off from the world, with only the lap of the ocean and the call of the wild to distract you from your relaxation. A popular pass time is to snorkel along the nearby reef, a much better option is to pay the extra and take a dive at the newly fitted dive centre.
The guide is Philippe, a Swiss, who has been travelling the world for some three years. He knows his stuff and has dived in some of the most fantastic sites known to man. Take a dive on the wreck and enjoy the possibility of entering the near perfect cabin, the marine life isn’t overly abundant but the preservation of the ship combined with the visibility (30m) make for an extraordinary dive.
Something for all:
The resort is good looking, well laid out and caters for all. The kids are looked after, parents have plenty of choice and the local town is only a short ride away. The beach is fantastic and allows for exploring, whilst the water sports are spot on.
The European feel should not be taken for granted and greatly enhances the properties charm. The buffet food needs to be worked on - whilst the al a carte is of a much higher standard. Come here to relax, get back to nature yet have all of the ‘new worlds’ mod cons at your finger tips.
Typical all-inclusive rates 16/04/05 - 15/12/05:
Family in a superior room: US$245
Family in a Cabin: US$280
For more information on El Portillo visit: www.portillo-resort.com
By Ben Kilbey