exploring Hato Mayor in the Dominican Republic

It’s truly amazing that it took me eight years–to the day!–to return to the Dominican Republic after my first visit in January, 2009. Especially when it is this Caribbean Island where I first visited a cacao farm, and where the seed for Chocolatour was planted.


In addition to its lovely beaches, the Dominican Republic is characterized by lush vegetation in at least 50 shades of green, and plenty of rugged terrain ideal for off-roading and exploration.

exploring hato mayor


The art at the entrance to the Parque Mercedes de la Rocha in Hato Mayor Del Rey symbolizes the town’s connection to royalty (note the crown on the right), the long-horned cattle of the area, and many horses. There are many magnificent statues and sculptures in Parque Mercedes de la Rocha (named after a major benefactress of the area–pictured below) along with beautiful mosaic benches where you can relax and enjoy them.


My January, 2017, visit was specifically to the small city of Hato Mayor del Rey and Hato Mayor province in the Dominican Republic. Thanks to the invitation from DR-based chocolatier SPAGnVOLA I was given the opportunity to learn about the challenges of growing cacao here, meet government representatives involved in agriculture and the local cacao industry, members of the women’s cocoa cooperative, and spend time with a local Dominican family who are growing heirloom cacao and making exquisite artisanal chocolate from it.


I absolutely loved the mosaic benches surrounding the central plaza of Hato Mayor. This bench is right across the street from Helados BON, a shop where you can get terrific ice-cream.


Be sure to visit the Helados BON ice-cream shop in Hato Mayor. There are lots of tropical flavours!

Hato Mayor del Rey was founded in 1520, has about 70,000 residents, and is located 27 kilometres from the larger city of San Pedro, and 110 kilometres from the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo. There is not a lot of tourism to Hato Mayor, so it is here that you can become exposed to and immersed in the true culture of the Dominican people–something I felt was lacking when visiting the tourist resorts of Punta Cana, just two hours away time-wise, but a world away in providing you with an authentic experience of local culture and cuisine.


A scene in downtown Hato Mayor del Rey, Dominican Republic.

I had a lot to take in within a period of less than a week! There wasn’t much time for sitting around and sunning, but I did get my hosts to take me to Juan Dolio, a local beach community just 52 kilometres (about a 40-minute drive) from Hato Mayor. It was so great to walk this uncrowded beach, smell the fresh sea air, and sit in the shade while enjoying some local parrot fish and cerveza (beer).


The beach at Juan Dolio is called Loasi Beach, and is located just 40 minutes south of Hato Mayor.

Have you been to Hato Mayor Del Rey, or explored other small communities away from the tourist resorts that give you a glimpse of the authentic Dominican Republic? I hope you’ve found this introductory post has whet your appetite! There’s lots more to come.

Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I researched and wrote Volume I of Chocolatour that won a Readers' favourite Award in 2014. Always enjoy experiencing new destinations and flavours.

67 Responses

  1. Andleeb says:

    I have never visited Hato Mayor. But after watching your photos, blue sky, vegetation, sea, I am loving Hato Mayor.
    I have never heard about growing cocoa in Kashmir but looking at the weather I am just thinking I must suggest to the Agriculture University of my area to test it, as the weather is looking same and vegetation. If successful it can gain something good for people.

  2. I have never visited Hato Mayor Del Rey but I have been to Dominican Republic- Peuto Plato. It was our first Carribean destination. I found the people were friendly but was not so impressed with the food.

  3. Ariane Fielding says:

    Thank you for your article. It helped me get a glimpse of what Hato Mayor del Rey is like. I am starting a journey to discover my roots as I was born there and adopted as an infant. I am looking for my biological family. I have been encouraged to continue to try. Thanks again

  4. I would love to explore this place, Doreen! The Dominican Republic has always been a dream destination for me.

  5. This looks like a pretty elegant place. I was particularly fascinated by the art at the entrance to the Parque Mercedes de la Rocha in Hato Mayor Del Rey. The statues look really grand and magnificent. The beach too looks to hold the promise of some great times.

  6. Heather says:

    Have not been to DR yet. This looks like a lovely location to start..

  7. The Dominican Republic is one of those Caribbean destinations that often gets overlooked by many travelers. Your post and photos will have many of us adding this country to future holiday getaways.

  8. I look forward to learning more about the local women’s cocao cooperative. Thanks!

  9. Bola says:

    Love the mosaic benches and the sculpure. The Dominican Republic sounds like a lovely place.

    • Very lovely, Bola, and very easy for those in North America to get to. I imagine you also have direct flights from London, but it may be a bit longer flight. Worth it, though. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Nathalie says:

    I’m always leery about returning to a destination many years later for fear that it will have changed a lot and not for the better but I have a feeling that the Dominican Republic doesn’t change all that much. Hato Mayor looks like a nice slice of life in the DR.

    • Hi Nathalie. Most of the Caribbean islands (the Dominican Republic included) continue to get new resorts every year, so to find an undeveloped (with respect to tourism) destination like Hato Mayor is quite a find. Eventually, I’m sure that it, too, will develop resources for the tourism industry. But right now, it’s still an entirely authentic destination.
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…exploring Hato Mayor in the Dominican RepublicMy Profile

  11. Sue Reddel says:

    Doreen, I really enjoy your chocolate travels. The Dominican Republic looks like a beautiful place to visit. We love food but I also love the shots of the sculptures too. Such an interesting place.

  12. I remember first hearing about chocolate in the Dominican Republic on a food tour stop with a chocolatier. Chocolate and uncrowded beaches…what a great reason to visit!

    • Hi Jenny. Yes, the DR is fast becoming known as a grower of great cacao, which turns into superb chocolate. It’s now one of my favourite origins for chocolate. If you eat craft chocolate, check to see if your favourite chocolate maker works with beans from the Dominican Republic. You’re in for a real treat! ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. Dominican Republic looks beautiful, at least when you get away from the resorts! I want to get back to the Caribbean some time so this could be a possibility.

    • Hi Karen. I don’t think you can go wrong with the Caribbean. Every island has its own charm and personality. But like you say, you’ve got to get away from the all-inclusive resorts in order to discover it. Thx for joining the conversation.

  14. Every time you visit another country, my bucket list gets longer! I’d love to visit the Dominican Republic some day!

    • Thanks, Rachel! ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m glad I’m doing my job in enticing you to visit countries that are known for their chocolate and cacao. I hope to meet you on the chocolate trail someday soon. ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. Sushmita says:

    Hato mayor looks like an amazing place to visit. I loved the magnificent statues as well as mosaic benches too ๐Ÿ˜€

  16. I like some of the statues and art you showed in your photos. They were really interesting, but what I would also love is being away from all the tourists. Sounds like a place where you can really see/feel the true Dominican culture. The beach especially looked tranquil and as you say, not overrun with tourists.

    • Hi Jan and thanks for stopping by. Yes, there are times when we enjoy the bright lights of Paris and other large cities, right? They provide us with dynamics and culture. But for the most part, my soul enjoys the peace, space, and serenity of destinations off the beaten path.

  17. Chocolate heaven! I enjoyed experiencing the women’s chocolate cooperative when I visited Puerto Plata and Amber Cove with Fathom cruises.

    • HI Charles. I have 3 other friends who took the Fathom cruise to the DR and visited the women’s cocoa cooperative. It’s fantastic to see how widely this program is spreading.

  18. noel says:

    This is gorgeous Doreen, I love all the wonderful art and sculpture in the main square especially that mosaic seating area, I would really love to make one of those seating areas, so magnificent!

  19. Carol Colborn says:

    I so admire your niche and focus on your work. Good to see the place where it all started. I know we have cacao farms in the Philippines, especially where my mom was born in the province of Batangas!

  20. I will be in Juan Dolio soon. As a chocolate lover I need to check this out! Thanks for the great info!

  21. Emily says:

    While I do like seeing the typical touristy things – some things you have to see! – I really love immersing myself and seeing the true culture. That’s the way to truly experience another country.

  22. Erica says:

    I’ve never been to the Dominican Republic. Though I did have a friend, back in the day, whose family was from there. That’s as close as I’ve ever gotten. I love your beach picture. It looks very pretty and seems a great place to visit.

  23. I’ve never been to to the Dominican Republic although I have friends whose daughters have scheduled “destination” weddings there — very popular place for newly-weds on the East Coast because it’s so close (and warm). I bet it’s hard to believe that you started your chocolate journey there so long ago and look how far you’ve come!! Ms. Chocolate!J

  24. Rosalind says:

    What a beautiful looking place, and that beach! Glorious. DR is definitely on my list of places to visit.

  25. Jeri says:

    Hato Mayor looks lovely. I would really like to see those mosaic benches. I’m not sure if I’ll ever do much island hopping, but the Dominican Republic would certainly be on my list!

  26. How fun Doreen! I know absolutely nothing about the Dominican Republic so this was an eye-opener. It looks so green and lush, what a wonderful visit you must have had. Thanks for sharing another adventure with us.

    • Hi Marty, and thx for your comment. The Dominican Republic is much like Hawaii, in the sense that you are on a lush tropical island, and everything takes place at a slower time pace. I hope you will have the opportunity to visit some day. ๐Ÿ™‚

  27. Tuhin says:

    Lovely pics, Doreen! The spots look so fresh and green.
    And the beach..woooow!

  28. I’ve not (yet) visited the Dominican Republic, but reading about Hato Mayor is a good reason to add it to the list. Although I certainly wind up in tourist places from time to time, they are not my first choice. I like to settle into a community and really try to develop a sense of the place and people. Like you, even if there is a short time period, you can do that by mixing with the locals. Bravo for the anniversary trip.

    • Thanks, Rose. I feel so fortunate that as a travel writer, I get to visit so many wonderful places. But for the most part, it is the trips I organize myself or via a private sponsor that turn out to be the best. Press trips always seem to have an agenda that doesn’t quite meet the mark, as there are ‘other’ interests at play.

  29. Catarina says:

    Good pictures that make me want to go to Hato Mayor for a couple of days to get into summer even before we have spring here. Spring is in the air but it’s still not warm enough so a few days in the Dominican Repulic would be awesome.

  30. Linda says:

    The DR has never been on my radar because I always associate it with tourists and beaches. Hato Mayor looks delicious in every way, though. Lovely images. How cool that you could return to this place that propelled you on your Chocolatour journey!

    • Hi Linda. I know. I truly feel blessed at how my chocolate journey has come full circle, and brought me back to the place where it all began. And definitely don’t count the DR out as a noteworthy destination. I agree that you probably wouldn’t enjoy staying in an all-inclusive resort that filters out the authenticity of the experience. but there are lots of little motels in the smaller communities (and much more in Santo Domingo) that would enable a traveler to do her own thing while exploring the island. Cheers!

  31. Beverly says:

    I am so impressed with the lush vegetation and magnificent beaches! Hato Mayor certainly looks like an intriguing tourist destination.

  32. I have heard of Hato Mayor but little else. It does look like quite the place. I love the mosaics. It hasn’t been in my radar but maybe it should be.

  33. Lovely — I hadn’t heard of this spot and it looks absolutely gorgeous. Congrats on your “choclatourinspirationversary”!

  34. Hato mayor looks like a great place to experience authentic Dominican Republic. I love the vegetation and the sky is every one of your photos is a beautiful blue!

    • Thanks, Donna. Yes, I was admiring that blue, too. We were very lucky with the weather. A bit of rain, but generally just for a few minutes each day to freshen the air and keep those plants nice and green!

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