Large 5-star hotel in Punta Cana. (Dominican Republic, January 2009)
Large 5-star hotel in Punta Cana. (Dominican Republic, January 2009)

The joys and pains of "todo incluido

  Dominican Republic - January 2009

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation of an article originally written in French. I apologise for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have resulted. If you read French, click on the French flag below to access the original, correct text: 

Before this press trip to the Dominican Republic, I had never tried the "todo incluido" or "all inclusive" formulas. I had never stayed in a big hotel standardized to western standards on a tropical beach... Now I know, and this kind of thing, even with stars, is not for me.

Star Hotels

Large 5-star hotel in Punta Cana. (Dominican Republic, January 2009)
Large 5-star hotel in Punta Cana. (Dominican Republic, January 2009)

When I say "it's not for me", I mean for my "real" trips. The ones I normally make during my vacations, on my savings, with my good old bag and in total independence...

Mind you, I'm not complaining about being invited to starred hotels in the Caribbean! That would be downright indecent...

No, it's just that it's the first time that I discover, very concretely, the tourism industry in all its "splendor". That I am enjoying a stay that does not look like the ones I usually plan.

It's a shock, necessarily ... ????

1. The bracelet

First, there's the wristband trick. It is adjusted around your wrist at check-in.

This precious sesame gives you complete freedom inside the golden cage and allows you to enjoy unlimited meals and drinks. A dream? Not necessarily.

Between the "continental" buffets and the Italian restaurants, it is difficult to eat "local" in these hotels. It was only at the very end of my stay that I managed to taste the lobster I was dreaming of...

Yes, I put on four bracelets in one week! We changed hotel every two days... My preference goes to the Barbie style in fluorescent pink plastic, very flattering on the tan at the end of the stay, and to the ethnic look with string and wooden medallion.


But to tell the truth, I could have done without this kind of ornament. I don't like to be tagged, and even less during a time dedicated to relaxation, carefree, forgetfulness, far from the usual shackles...

2. The colonial helmet

When a chisel finally freed me from the said bracelet, at check-out time, in the lobby of one of those big hotels, I couldn't help but scream: "I'm free!!! Liberada!!!" This made the wearers of the inevitable colonial helmet laugh.

By the way, is that damn colonial helmet really necessary? I guess so, it must be something that appeals to the customers, some kind of exotic fantasy. In all the resorts we visited, the guys in charge of the luggage were wearing one...

The bearers of a big hotel pose for me, all smiles, in their colonial uniform. (Dominican Republic, January 2009)
The porters of a big hotel pose for me, all smiles, in their colonial uniform (Dominican Republic, January 2009)

Well. The bracelet, the helmet, still pass... But there is not only that.

3. Huge resorts... way too big!

In fact, what I don't like at all in all these huge resorts is that it takes a long time to go from your room to the reception, from the reception to the bar, from the bar to the beach, from the beach to the restaurant.

They even give you a map, at check-in, to help you find your way around, it's so big.

Large 4-star hotel in Bayahibe. (Dominican Republic, January 2009)
Large 4-star hotel in Bayahibe. (Dominican Republic, January 2009)
Large 5-star hotel in Punta Cana. (Dominican Republic, January 2009)
Large 5-star hotel in Punta Cana. (Dominican Republic, January 2009)

With each new hotel, I got lost. Of course, there are hundreds and hundreds of rooms in different buildings, several restaurants and bars, conference and show rooms, up to three or four swimming pools, even two receptions, boutiques, not to mention the possible spa, casino, lounge, discotheque, etc.

In short, it is better not to forget something in his room. It takes at least ten minutes to find your way back, plus another ten minutes to retrace your steps. And a good five minutes more, if you have missed the reception or the restaurant, compared to the scheduled appointment.

One of the journalists in our group had a pedometer. I would have to ask her if she took the time to calculate how many kilometers she walked in one day, without even moving from the hotel.

Well, OK, it's too big. Still pass...

4. Artificial decoration

The other thing is that it lacks authenticity, necessarily. Everything is artificial, built to meet the western taste.

There is a very American Disneyland feel, with the themed restaurants (Italian, Asian, romantic with red hearts everywhere), the "dream" decor, the activities and entertainment organized on the beach. Not to mention, of course, the indispensable television in the room, equipped with all the comforts.

There is even more "romantic and exotic" for lovers: the wedding on the beach

Everything is ready for the newlyweds who have chosen to say yes on a Caribbean beach. (Dominican Republic, January 2009)
Everything is ready for the newlyweds who have chosen to say yes on a Caribbean beach. (Dominican Republic, January 2009)

All these resorts are legion in the Dominican Republic. They look like small secured residences, enclosed in edge of beach. The atmosphere is quite fake.

Around, in the field of vision of the bracelet wearers, the environment is also well looked after. White sandy beach with uniformed guards, well disinfected blue pools, sumptuous gardens with exuberant vegetation, sometimes with a pink flamingo pool.

Flamingo pond, in a big hotel. (Dominican Republic, January 2009)
Flamingo pond, in a big hotel. (Dominican Republic, January 2009)
Pruning branches and coconut. (Dominican Republic, January 2009)
Pruning branches and coconut. (Dominican Republic, January 2009)
Every morning, the beach is cleaned of plant debris and other waste deposited by the tide. (Dominican Republic, January 2009)
Every morning, the beach is cleaned of plant debris and other waste deposited by the tide. (Dominican Republic, January 2009)

Every morning, employees climb trees to prune branches and coconuts that could injure someone in their fall. Others line up bags on the sand, picking up plant debris and other trash deposited by the tide, in order to deliver a clean, pristine beach to customers.

Okay, the coconut palms and the beach are domesticated. Pass again ...

5. Tourist enclaves cut off from local life

But the most annoying thing, in my eyes, is that in this type of establishment, you stay between yourself. You don't have any contact with the locals, apart from the staff. In short, you only meet other Westerners in search of sun and blue sea.

Of course, I am part of it. And I savored without sulking the happiness of lying there, on one of these superb beaches, facing the waves of the Caribbean or the Atlantic... I would have a bad grace to pretend that I did not appreciate it. On the contrary!!!

Beach of a big hotel, on the Samana peninsula, near Las Terrenas. (Dominican Republic, January 2009)
Beach of a big hotel, on the peninsula of Samana, near Las Terrenas. (Dominican Republic, January 2009)

But, how can I put it... When it comes to sun and tropical exoticism, I'm a bit of a spoiled child. All this, thanks to my favorite formula: dry flight + backpack or roller bag, far from the "all inclusive".

I've been to many deserted beaches in Asia and I don't spend a year without seeing coconut trees. During my vacations, I often manage to find modest but quiet bungalows with a sea view and almost nobody around. Have a look at Islander Paradise on the island of Siquijor in the Philippines, or in Island Retreat on the Togian Islands in Sulawesi.

So, of course, I have a very relative taste for the charm of a beach full of deckchairs and red people glistening with sun cream, where you can't even hear the surf anymore because of the noisy sound of an aqua-gym class or the roar of a speedboat with a parasail...

Beach of a big hotel in Punta Cana ... Not the kind of beach "dream" according to my criteria. (Dominican Republic, January 2009)
Beach of a big hotel in Punta Cana... Not the kind of "dream" beach according to my criteria. (Dominican Republic, January 2009)

6. I want wifi!!

To continue on the mode Smurf and spoiled child, my worst nightmare in all these sumptuous hotels, it was the internet. Despite the supposed luxury of the facade, only one of the four offered self-service wifi in the lobby. For the others, I struggled between connection code to buy at an exorbitant price, computers configured with an impossible home browser, mandatory ethernet connection when I had forgotten my cable ...


And as all these hotels are often out of the way, and we are supposed to find everything we need without having to go out, it's hard to escape to the next town to find an internet center...

Yes. I've been through some tough times, haven't I?


Okay, come on. I'll stop being a bad person. I admit, I had a great week. Now that I'm back in the Breton winter grey, I realize that...

So, all-inclusive or not?

In short, the joys and sorrows of "todo incluido" will be experienced differently depending on your temperament, depending on what you expect from your vacation...

The formula will suit well those who just need a break in the sun, without having to worry about anything, and who do not aspire to anything else. Comfort and relaxation!

As for those who appreciate independence, like me, and who wish to go and meet more of the country and its inhabitants, they will have to organize themselves, by privileging small pensions and family hotels.

Finally, to continue in the same vein, I invite you to (re)read my interview with the sociologist Rodolphe Christin: Has tourism killed the spirit of travel?


  Dominican Republic - January 2009

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  1. I'm ashamed. Between the Mercure in Rouen and a 5-star hotel in Punta Cana, there's really no comparison.
    Even if connecting to the web remains a challenge ...

  2. Thank you for this story very fun !!!! There, I am at Mercure de Rouen ... And, I have to pay for my internet connection ... grrrrrrr !!!!!!

  3. In any case, there are advantages and disadvantages to every travel formula. There are no rules for making a good trip. But for a trip with children, backpacking isn't easy to manage. I'm more of a flight-only and backpack option, but children up to a certain age prefer to be with other children who speak the same language as they do.

  4. The best thing about traveling is alternating between
    A week in guest houses, then a night in a ***** with thick carpeting, king-size bed, bathtub, Jacuzzi, pool (with bar 😀 ), chic restaurant, beautiful women in evening wear and the staff who open the doors and shower you with the irresistible "Good morning Sir!!!"....
    If you have the means, you can also do the opposite 8)

  5. @ Sylvie: I totally agree with you when you say, "There are no rules for making a good trip." I wouldn't presume to believe that my way of traveling is better than others. Everyone chooses what suits them best, depending on their family situation, their budget, their temperament, the time they have available, their desires at the time, and so on.
    Travelling with children imposes other constraints. But it's also often a great way to get to know the locals. I'll always remember the fabulous trip I took to Sulawesi and the part of the road we travelled with "my" little Dutch family. With their three blond children, we immediately aroused sympathy and curiosity wherever we went.

    @ Alimata: I confess: after several weeks of backpacking in the rustic, lonely-traveler mode, I sometimes, at the end or in the middle of my journey, treat myself to a night or two in a super hotel, or a meal in a chic restaurant. I enjoy the fresh sheets of the king-size bed, the attentive staff and the refined decor all the more, after having lived a little more "rough" the previous weeks. Especially as in Thailand, for example, this kind of chic place is still very affordable for a European purse.
    But I can't afford to go the other way just yet...

  6. Darn, I've missed the beginning of the discussion.
    Well, I've tried all-inclusive in Rep. Dom. and Mexico and I liked it (I confess, I love 5 stars), but at the same time, not too many possibilities to do otherwise or eat when you leave the hotel???

    Now in Malaysia or Thailand, no interest, because it is very easy to find to eat at the exit of the hotels (special dedication Fat Mum in Langkawi), at a ridiculous price and you can easily move.
    I got a taste for 5-star hotels in Asia, and at 60 euros a night in K.L. with top service, for example, that's not even the price of a 2-star in France.

    By the way, thanks for your blog, which makes me crave satay brochettes every time (I have addresses in Paris for those interested).

    Waiting for good WE and a small salute of the vineyards of Nantes.

  7. Hello Gulick, it's a good thing you're "taking it easy"!

    Your experience is very much in line with mine. That's one of the reasons why I love traveling in Asia so much. In Thailand, in particular, you can eat anywhere, at any time, for next to nothing, and it's often very good, and it's very easy to get around. This fits in well with my way of life when traveling...

    As for chic hotels, it's true that you can get a taste for them in Asia, as their rates are very affordable compared with hotels in the same category in France.

    On the other hand, in the Dominican Republic, starred hotels are often too far from "real life". Not easy to get out of. Personally, I can't say I didn't appreciate the 5-star welcome - on the contrary. But I still prefer a little more simplicity if it means being freer to come and go.


  8. I've never been to one of these big hotels. I spent a week in the Dominican Republic, but it was in a hotel with about twenty rooms, which had just finished renovating and was charging a lot to let people know it was good...

  9. Hello Guitho, thank you for your testimony.

    It was a first for me, these big hotels... On my very first trip there, nine years ago, for a vacation, I had traveled in a "packbacker" way, staying in small establishments and guesthouses. On my next trip, I'd choose modest accommodation again, I think. Even in Asia, the more "chic" places where I occasionally spent a night didn't resemble these huge structures.

  10. bravo pour ton blog, très bien fait, je suis fan de la partie "faire sa valise, ou que mettre ds son sac", je ne sais plus trop.
    Personally, I do the 2, all inclusive, circuits and back pack.
    It's true that back-pack trips are more satisfying for me than all-inclusive trips, because they're more authentic. But for example, on my recent trip to Jordan, I talked a lot with the coach driver over 3 days, and that's practically what I appreciated most. Meetings are everywhere.
    Good continuation.

  11. Hello Valerie, and thank you for the compliments!!!! 😀

    I'm glad you liked the "In my backpack" section. I'll be adding to it and enriching it with photos next week, as I'll be packing my bag again... for Thailand!!!! 8)

    I was joking here about this type of "all-inclusive" holiday, when I realized that it didn't suit my temperament very well. But I agree with you: interesting encounters are everywhere.

    What's more, I've sometimes seen packbackers turn out to be much more sheepish, conformist, disrespectful and closed-minded than tourists who have opted for organized travel, with a view to discovering the country, the people, the culture...

    I wish you every success with your travels, whatever they may be. The most important thing is to remain curious, open and tolerant.


  12. Hello Corinne!

    We're leaving next Monday to dive in the Philippines. Thanks to your site, I'm going to experiment with small structures. Yes, I've got many years behind me and a taste for luxury, so it's a great adventure... I don't care, but there's a bit of it. While I appreciated the comfortable charm of these hotels, I still felt I was missing out on the essentials.
    The problem is that we always have a trip on the go, and you always have to update your nice addresses. I'm relying on you! You shouldn't have given us bad habits.
    In any case, thank you again for your reports.

    See you soon

  13. Hello Françoise,

    I wish you an excellent stay in the Philippines. As you say, I need to keep updating my addresses... I'm behind on this page. In any case, I hope you'll find what you're looking for in the places I've already listed.

    Have a good time!!!