LIFE IN LAS TERRENAS.
Largely unknown among North Americans, Las Terrenas was discovered in the 1970s by Europeans looking for an affordable Caribbean getaway.
Today, Las Terrenas is a vibrant international community with residents from all over the globe, including French, German, Polish, Swiss, Italian, Dutch, and British expats. The eclectic population means you can find exotic food imports from Europe in the supermarkets, freshly made Swiss cheese and German sausage, excellent international restaurants, and an active and mixed group of folks to welcome you to their well-established community.
The Caribbean and the sands that fringe it are around every corner in Las Terrenas. You can easily use the beach as a thoroughfare to get from one part of town to another; it’s the most pleasant pedestrian route. At any time throughout the day, you can turn this way or that, and there it is again, the sea, now blue, then green.
But Las Terrenas is no typical Caribbean beach town. Scratch the surface and you find one of the most interesting expat communities anywhere in the world. This is a majority French expat population, bolstered by Italians, Brits, Danes, and Germans.
The strong European presence has many implications to do with the way people greet each other in passing, the way they decorate their homes, the way they keep their gardens, the way they pass their free time (pétanque is popular), and, as well, in the local cuisine.
Restaurants in Caribbean beach towns are usually long on jerk chicken and coconut rice, but in las Terrenas expect French and Italian restaurants offering beef carpaccio, homemade pasta, and fresh bread that wouldn’t be out of place in Paris or Tuscany, often supported by wine menus that include many options for fine, even sparkling wine. In Las Terrenas, you can dine on fried empanadas from a street cart if you’d like (I’d encourage you to try it)… or you can indulge in three- and four-course meals, French or Italian, complemented by good-selection wine lists.
It’s not only the restaurant fare that, until you adjust your expectations, doesn’t quite fit with the geography, but also the service. Wait staff is attentive, competent, reliable… It’s a pleasant surprise.
Other things are surprising, too, including the quality of construction. This is thanks to new hurricane standards being aggressively enforced. It’s also thanks to the types of developers who have been attracted to this particular Caribbean beach. Not typical gringo developers in the Third World, learning as they go and cutting corners when they can, but experienced developers who boast strong track records. They’re also European rather than North American. This is evident in the interior finishings. Tiles, countertops, bathroom fixtures, kitchen cabinets, and furnishings in general are contemporary Euro-chic.
Those early expats in this corner of the Caribbean struggled in the face of an utter lack of infrastructure. You won’t face the same challenges. The most significant infrastructure development in the region came in 2009 with the Samana-Santo Domingo highway. It used to take four to six hours to drive from the capital to Las Terrenas, depending on the condition of the meandering dirt road. Now the drive is a pleasant two hours on a smooth four-lane highway.
This new highway not only made travel easier, but it helped with the overall cost of living in Las Terrenas. Thanks to the improved access, it was easier and cheaper to bring goods into town.
The easy trip to capital city Santo Domingo means you’re never too far from a real city and its shopping, museums, theaters, and stadiums. Santo Domingo is also home to an impressive collection of colonial structures, having been founded by Chris Columbus’ younger brother Bartholomew and then renovated by Diego Columbus (Chris’ eldest son). This city’s Zona Colonial is a treat for residents and visitors and a major source of tourism income for the country.
Residents of Las Terrenas used to have to travel to Santo Domingo for international air travel. No longer, thanks to the opening of El Catey airport in Las Terrenas, from which regular flights are offered to Canada and the U.S. East Coast (along with plenty of domestic flights).
But while Las Terrenas offers many amenities that other Latin American destinations don’t, don’t make the mistake of thinking that living here will be at all like living back home. It won’t. If you’re up for an adventure, want to get your hands a little dirty, but still like some imported wine and cheese at the end of the day, then this little slice of the Continent in the Caribbean is the perfect spot for you.