the launch of my chocolate journey of exploration

Hello chocolate lovers!

This post is about the trip that launched my interest and curiosity about where and how cocoa becomes chocolate.

My first education in this process occurred in January, 2009, when I had the good fortune to spend a week in the Dominican Republic on the fabulous beach at Punta Cana. Lord, I love the Caribbean for its beautiful beaches and luxurious resorts.

the beautiful beach at the Bahia Principe Resort

The beautiful beach at the Bahia Principe Resort

the Dominican Republic has many luxurious resorts

As much as it’s tempting to just stay on the resort and veg out, make an effort to get off resort and tour the island!

During our stay, we enjoyed a fabulous full-day tour with the Bavaro Runners which took us to a sugar cane plantation where we drank the rum made from the sugar cane, a tobacco plantation where we puffed on cigars rolled right before our eyes, a coffee plantation where we drank the dark delicious elixir made from locally grown coffee beans, and a cacao plantation where we learned that our precious chocolate originates in odd looking melon-like pods filled with very large seeds encased in an icky white goop.

cacao pods

Cacao pods growing in the Dominican Republic.

inside a cacao pod

Inside a cacao pod, you will find some rather creepy looking seeds in a white goop. That white goop is the placenta in which the cacao seeds are housed in the cocoa pod and it is sweet and most pleasurable to eat. 

That is where it all began for me! I didn’t realize it at the time, but the seed for Chocolatour had been planted!

So just how does cacao grow? I get into that in detail in other posts on this site where I talk to the farmers who actually grow the cacao. But let it be known that I will be forever grateful to that glorious day in the Dominican Republic, when I realized that the origins of chocolate have a very fascinating story to tell. And it was all thanks to a local tour that took us off the beaten path and introduced us to some incredible specialities of the island.

Have you been to the Dominican Republic? What did you especially like about it? Did you take any life-changing excursions as I did? Or have you taken similar tours elsewhere that truly made your trip? I’d love to hear your thoughts about experiences that took you off the beaten path and helped create amazing travel memories that you will never forget.


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.

31 Responses

  1. Kamrun nahar says:

    Hello Doreen.
    Thank you so much for this insightful post. I definitely need this! I just got my blog to the point where I consider it ready for people to see. And I’m always interested in learning about unique tours.

  2. RT says:

    Always enjoy an All Inclusive vacation to the DR with the family. My favorite is the south end at Bayahibe on the Caribbean Sea! Thanks for sharing your pics and article!
    RT recently posted…Purchase Insurance Policies Prior To TravelMy Profile

  3. Lee says:

    Hi Doreen
    I have only managed the Caribbean once so far to Antigua loved it the water is so clear and warm in the Caribbean I live on the south coast of England and the sea there is like pea soup and cold. Just reading your article makes we want to go again.

    Great read thanks lee
    Lee recently posted…Bucket List Ideas for TeenagersMy Profile

    • Doreen says:

      Thanks so much for your comment, Lee. I haven’t yet been to Antigua, but have been to a good many islands of the Caribbean and love them all. Each island has its own personality and charm. Most have their own culture as well. And best of all, the warm clear waters. Such paradise. And as I’ve now been discovering … lots of chocolate, as they grow cacao on several of the islands. Keep St. Lucia on your list. It’s definitely now one of my favourites.
      Doreen recently posted…when travelling, the little things can mean a lotMy Profile

  4. Deirdre Morris says:

    Please add meto the email list

  5. James says:

    Hi Doreen!There are many cacaos here in my country also.Thanks for sharing this.I’m sure you had a good time there.

    • Doreen says:

      Thanks for your comment, James?

      Where are you originally from? I see your URL is in the UK but know that no cacao is grown in the UK.

  6. Albert says:

    Wow it’s like you’re hitting two birds with one stone with your travel. That’s a really good thing! I hope I can do that someday but I haven’t yet found what I want and need to research hehe.

    • Doreen says:

      Thanks for dropping by the blog, Albert.

      Yes, I think the key is to find a focus for your travel writing. i.e. to find your niche and become an expert in the field. For me … it’s all about finding the most enticing chocolate experiences!

  7. Great tips – I will add them to our list!

  8. I chuckle when I write LGB as I am aware of the other meaning. Doesn’t bother me though, my brother is gay and I am very gay-friendly so it just makes me smile. 🙂

    We are staying in Orlando but plan to also explore Tampa, Clearwater Beach and Cocoa Beach as well. Can’t wait! If you have any suggestions on neat things to check out I would love that. Always fun to share insider tidbits of info!

    • Doreen says:

      Yes, I, too, have many gay friends. Just wanted to be sure you were aware of the double entendre.

      There is a marvellous Sealife Rescue & Rehabilitation facility at Clearwater Beach. (The Clearwater Marine Aquarium.) Well worth a visit. We also enjoyed our visits to the Greek Village of Tarpon Springs, where you can take a sponge diving boat cruise and watch the divers bring up sponges from the ocean floor. Very cool!

      I haven’t been to Cocoa Beach. Have a wonderful time!

  9. Great post! I went to the Dominican Republic in December 2009 for my honeymoon and fell in love with it. Stayed at the Bahia Principe complex in Punta Cana as well, in the Esmeralda section which opened in December 2009. Loved the people, the food, the beaches, the sun. That trip actually started us on a journey of taking a warm beach holiday every winter. Last year it was Jamaica, this year it will be Florida, and hopefully Cuba next year. We did not take any sightseeing trips while in Punta Cana but after reading your post I definitely want to do some more exploring on our next trip to the Dominican Republic. The cacao pods look very interesting and quite a surprise. When we were in Jamaica last year we did do some off resort trips and our favourite was hiking a waterfall. Made me feel alive and want to explore more while on vacation. – LGB

    • Doreen says:

      Thanks for your comment, LGB. (I know that’s the abbreviation for your sign-on, but it’s also the abbreviation for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, so you may want to consider changing that …)

      Yes, aren’t beach holidays wonderful? We started taking them in 1987 (I think Puerto Vallarta was our 1st one) and haven’t looked back. I always feel cheated when I don’t get to go away in the winter. Fortunately … that doesn’t happen very often.

      FLA is fab! I love every place in FLA that we’ve been. Where are you heading? You’ll find posts on this blog about Orlando and about Fort Myers Beach (which I loved!) Amazing chocolatier there.

      Loved Cuba as well, but somehow I haven’t gotten around to writing/blogging about it. If I can help with any info, let me know!

      Taking excursions away from the resorts really gives you insight as to how the local people live, the natural attractions, beauty and history, and are truly the highlight of any trip I have ever taken.

  10. I’m hoping to actually one day visit St Lucia and see the Rabot Estate where British chocolate maker Hotel Chocolat make their yummies
    Mostly About Chocolate Blog recently posted…zChocolat Touche Valentines Chocolates ReviewMy Profile

    • Doreen says:

      You and me both, Judith! Maybe we should go together, or maybe we should get Angus to plan a special choco-focused event for us chocolate-lobing authors and bloggers! I’d be there in a flash!

  11. Doreen says:

    Thanks for dropping by the blog, Jeanette.

    Yes, despite the fact that our weather has warmed up significantly since last week when I wrote this post, I’d still LOVE to be in the DR or any safe, warm place with a clean beach and friendly people.

    Hope to see you here again next week when we have a new destination to drool over. Cheers!

  12. Mouthwatering — not the white “goop” as you call it. But the chocolate images on your site. What a great idea for extending the pleasure of your vacation to warmer climates. I wouldn’t mind being in the Dominican Republic myself right now.
    Jeannette Paladino recently posted…Optimizing Your Title Tag for Search EnginesMy Profile

  13. Doreen,

    Wow! I cannot believe the white goo inside the pod eventually gets transformed into chocolate beauty!
    I got a basket full of chocolate from “The Chocolate Factory” in Toronto and one of my favourites so far has been the chocolate dipped marshmallows…. yummy!

    Keep up the super work,

    • Doreen says:

      Thanks so much for joining us here, Cathy!

      Yes, it’s amazing how the seeds inside that white goo get transformed into delicious dark chocolate! Kind of like the ugly grey cygnets (baby swans) growing into the beautiful white swans. What a transformation!

      Don’t know the Choco Factory in TO. SOMA is my TO fav so far. But Stubbe’s is next on my list to check out when I visit there next month. Cheers and Ciao for now!

  14. Wow, combining cocoa and chocolate research with travel, what an inspired idea and great way to mix business with pleasure. Interesting to get the background story on how good chocolate – of all sorts and descriptions – is made. Enjoy your R&D in South America, a place I don’t usually associate with chocolate production. Always learning new things…

    • Doreen says:

      Thanks for dropping in here, Barb.

      Yes, South America is actually quite known for its amazing cacao beans. Ecuador and Venezuela have long been associated with premium chocolate, and it’s only recently that Peru is growing a significant amount of premium cacao as well.

      Eastern Peru has been traced as being one of the first places known to have grown cacao, so it certainly has an important place in my heart. Looking forward to the trip!

  15. Debbie Aitkenhead says:

    Seeing those pictures today, makes me want to go there now! It is so cold here today I just can’t warm up. We were in the Dominican Republic twice now, once to Punta Cana and once to Cabarette. You can’t beat their beaches, they are the nicest we have been to. The water is warm and crystal blue, and the sand is like a fine white flour, so clean. We went on a few excursions also, the Bavaro Runners, parasailing from behind the boat, and going on a catamaran, also swimming with the nerf sharks. The people there are very friendly and when you go into town, it’s amazing how many people will speak English in the small shops or market. Love to shop there too. They have beautiful oil paintings which we bring back. Next year we are going back to Punta Cana, and will have to check out the chocolates (when my hubbie isn’t around). We all love Chocolate, you picked a good topic to research and write about.

    • Doreen says:

      Thanks so much for your comment, Debbie.

      Your enthusiasm for the Dominican Republic is contagious. It is indeed a lovely place and provides a lot of opportunities for tasty and tantalizing diversions. We did try the chocolate when we were there and it is a coarser type of chocolate. Not my favourite, as I prefer a silkier texture in my chocolate, but definitely quite pure.

      I hope you’ll subscribe to the blog. Just type your e-mail address in the box on the right hand side of the homepage and you will get new entries sent to your in-box every 2 weeks. Thanks again for stopping by.

  16. Pat Bodman says:

    Since last Friday it has gotten colder and we have had snow in Vancouver. After reviewing your article on the DR I wanted to run and book a return trip!!! We really enjoyed our vacation their 5 years ago – loved the beach!!! And the rum and the coffee!!!! Glad that your visit inspired you to start writing Chocolatour and look forward to following your adventures on your trip to South America.

    • Doreen says:

      Thanks for your comments, Pat and Sam.

      Yes, I know what you mean, Pat, about wanting to return to the DR. As I was looking thru the pics I’d taken there to choose which ones I wanted to use in this post … there were so many gorgeous ones … I didn’t know which ones to choose! Perhaps I may even do another post about the DR.

      Cheers, and stay warm!

  17. Sam says:

    Those cocoa seeds almost look liked chopped and slightly mushed banana. Amazing how they can be turned into the limitless range of delicious chocolate products we know.
    Sam recently posted…Earn Money – Science & Medical ResearchMy Profile

  1. December 27, 2012

    […] inspired the idea for his movie on the epic ship. I had a similar experience with my visit to the Dominican Republic three years ago. My visit to that cacao plantation and seeing and tasting the contents of a cacao […]

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