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5 Reasons to fall in love with the Dominican Republic

After planning our Dominican Republic escape, the trip gave us most of we expected and more. Here are five highlights... 1. Encountering the honeymoon phase of culture shock First foot off the plane and BAM, culture shock struck! The open air airport, combined with the warm breeze and palm trees, instantly transported us to happiness. After bypassing the baggage claim with just our carry-on bags (thanks to Space Bags) our driver, Mr. Mahea, kindly welcomed us. His car was on its last leg, but it was refreshing in contrast to the US, where we are such a disposable society. Mr. Mahea knowledgeably pointed out landmarks throughout the ride. Drivers around us aggressively flooded the streets - I didn't know it was possible for people to drive crazier than NYC. This literally kept us on the edge of our seats, and it was only the beginning of our weeklong adventure at the BlueBay Villas Doradas!

2. Inject happiness and vitamin D Just looking at the forecast of highs in the 80s and lows in the 70s, busted any leftover winter blues. The majority of our days were perfect - not too hot, not too cold, mixed with a healthy dose of ocean breeze. The nights were chillier, especially when a storm passed through, but nothing a cardigan couldn't fix. It was in my Swedish genes to get burned on this vacation, but to my satisfaction, the SPF 50 sunscreen actually screened the sun - burn-free for me!

3. Pick your pleasure, from monkey jungles to waterfall jumping The island offered endless activities to choose from. Loose pre-trip planning and advice from the resort rep lead us to book a handful of thrilling experiences. First, we traveled to a monkey jungle that also had ziplining.

We fed the squirrel monkeys and they jumped onto us - they were so gentle and cute! Then, a guide took us ziplining, which was scary at first (talk about fear of heights) but then it was all monkeying around. The best part is that all the proceeds fund a free medical and dental clinic for the poor.

A few days later, we hiked up waterfalls, then slid down and jumped off of them. This definitely took courage, but we made it through with only a few minor scrapes. Out of the women, I was the only one who jumped off a waterfall - this coming from someone who's scared to go on big Ferris wheels! It's so liberating to try new things and fight your fears!

4. Selections from she who sells sea shells The locals took EVERY opportunity to sell - they even walked in dangerous traffic to sell everything from pineapples to tech gear to giant lollipops. Solicitors presented jewelry, shirts, hair braiding and massages to anyone on the resort's beach. Shout out to the boisterous "Cheapie Willy," who fitted me with a freebie anklet. Every excursion sold DVDs, and capturing those memories was worth our US greenbacks.

During the waterfall trip, it was fascinating to watch the videographer film even in the more risky areas. On the ziplining trip, we made unexpected pit stops at various sales stands, including petrified wood sculptures, coffee and hot chocolate, plus a gift shop filled with local goods.

These extra stops were an unexpected bonus, as they provided culturally enhancing experiences. We saw locals making the goods they sold and we also got to participate. Women ritualistically grinded the coffee beans as we walked around the mortar and pestle while everyone clapped and sang. The samples tasted amazing too! Even at the trip's end, the airport's duty-free shopping attracted tourists. Overall, we made some great purchases but didn't go too wild (that was saved for the monkey jungle).

5. Romance the one you love This resort, with its beauty and naturally romantic setting, hosted a few honeymooners and even a wedding. The majority of the guests were couples and the activities appropriately targeted us. One night, they chose three couples to get up on stage for some friendly competition. They set up timed tasks, like making the men do push-ups with their significant others laying on their backs - it's healthy for twosomes to laugh together! We also went on a bike tour and contemplated the other inclusive activities, but were happy hanging by the pool. On our last day, we woke up at 5:30 to watch the sunrise from a beach bed; this was one our favorite vacation memories.

What are some of your favorite trips and vacation memories?

The 4-1-1 on: Mike Hermus

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