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  • Time to Discover the Dominican Republic
    El Portillo Beach Resort Will Expose its treasures
    By Walt Stearns
    The Dominican Republic is a collection of idyllic and unspoiled territories on the second largest island of the Caribbean. On its north coast, the Samana Peninsula is considered one of the most exquisite regions. With only one small fishing community, Las Terrenas, the shoreline contains miles upon miles of quiet, isolated, white sand beaches, shaded by thick groves of coconut palms and fringed with shallows full of coral reefs. Close to the eastern tip of the peninsula, 150 foot cliffs meet the sea. From January through March, Humpback Whales can be seen even from the beach, spouting and breaching in the warm waters.

    El Portillo Beach Resort, featuring both snorkeling and diving, is on this peaceful peninsula. There is a spine of mountains at its back; a picturesque beach at its front. With towering palms and varieties of lush vegetation, it is a sprawling, all-inclusive resort, with 171 guest accommodations in harmony with the grounds' lavish landscaping. There are 148 standard lodgings in 11 two and three story, apartment-style units all set among the trees. These feature spacious rooms with bath and shower, balcony or porch, ceiling fans, room safe and telephones, with a choice of two queen or one single king sized bed. The remaining 23 rooms are in ten air-conditioned, duplex style, beachside cabanas; 12 one bedroom units with living room, kitchenette and porch, and 11 featuring a junior suite with queen sized bed, sofa bed and private bath and shower.

    Typical of all-inclusive resorts, El Portillo provides a never-ending procession of food and beverages, outdoor recreation and nightly entertainment;without additional or hidden charges. Dining takes place in the center of the main complex, with two restaurants; the buffetstyle Carite and the Almendro, offering a more formal atmosphere. The resort also provides late night snack service (after 11:00 pm). In addition to food, guests are entitled to unlimited beverages, alcoholic;and non-alcoholic;at any of the resorts five bars, including the Taberna del Cangrejo discotheque, open until 1:00 am.

    Five evenings a week during dinner, nightly entertainment is provided by the house orchestra and performances of folkloric ballet and Andean flute music. Part of the all inclusive plan is free use of the resort bicycles, two clay tennis courts (lighted and with equipment provided), personal watercraft (canoes, windsurfers, Sunfish, catamarans, etc.), as well as snorkeling equipment, which includes a few special excursions. A separate swimming pool is even provided for kids.

    Outside the grounds, activities can include horseback riding, either on the beach or through the hill country to view El Limon Waterfall or a visit to the small fishing town of Las Terrenas, four miles down the road. The only items or services not covered are motorcycle rentals, laundry service, waterskiing, deepsea fishing and babysitting.

    On the grounds is El Portillo's diving service, Samana Scuba Diving Center. Its staff of five is fluent in several languages (including English) and offers PADI courses from resort and open water to master scuba diver. It also has 12 complete sets of dive equipment and rental underwater lights. Dive trips are on the center's two boats;a large, open, 26 foot center console with twin, 115 hp outboards and a smaller 18 foot model powered by a single, 75 hp outboard. Both vessels feature canvas Bimini tops, a rarity among most dive operations around the island.

    The diving along this stretch of the peninsula is also varied. From west to east, there are 23 named sites with a bottom topography that ranges from shallow reef sites featuring multitudes of deep undercuts, caves, tunnels and swim-throughs, to steep cascading reef fronts reaching to depths of 140 feet along the base of the peninsula's cape near Cabo Cabron. Around the small rock islands of Las Ballenas (The Whales), there is a vast collection of cave and tunnel formations between 30 and 50 feet;I gave up counting after I reached a dozen.

    For small groups of four to six divers, Samana Scuba Diving Center also provides a special all day excursion to Cabo Cabron. Some sites take as much as an hour and a half to reach from the resort and include a towering underwater pinnacle that looks like a massive needle, complete with a hole for thread.

    Because it is all-inclusive, you might expect El Portillo to be expensive . Not so! A one week package with five days of diving (two dives per day) and transportation to and from the Dominican Republic's international gateway ports of Puerto Plata, Punta Cana or Santo Domingo via Air Santo Domingo, runs $799 per person; less for nondivers.

    For booking or more information, El Portillo Beach Resort offices can be reached at Las Terrenas, Samana, Dominican Republic; (800) 240-6408, (809) 240-6100; fax (809) 240-6104 or e-mail portillo@codetel.net.do.

    GETTING THERE

    The Dominican Republic's three major airports are Puerto Plata on the north coast, Santo Domingo on the south coast and Punta Cana International on the islands far eastern tip. Among the three, travel to and from the Dominican Republic is an easy hop from Miami (less than two hours) or from New York (3.5 hours). American, TWA, Air France, Lan Chile and Dominair, to name a few, provide direct, nonstop flights.

    A Dominican Republic tourist card ($10 U.S.) fee is paid upon departure. The only other requirements for U.S. citizens are a valid passport or an original birth certificate, accompanied by a valid photo ID.