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 made from a post originally written in French. My apologies for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have been generated during the process. If you are reading French, click on the French flag below to access the original and 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 porters 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 peninsula of Samana, 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 "dream" beach by my standards. (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. J’ai honte. Entre le Mercure de Rouen et un 5 étoiles à Punta Cana, y’a quand même pas photo.
    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. De toute façon il y a des avantages et des inconvénients à chaque formule de voyage. Il n’y a pas de règle pour faire un bon voyage. Mais pour un voyage avec des enfants, le sac à dos ce n’est pas évident à gérer. Je suis plus option vol sec et sac à dos mais les enfants jusqu’à un certain âge, eux, préfèrent être avec d’autres enfants qui parlent la même langue qu’eux.

  4. Ce qui est sympa en voyages, c’est d’alterner
    Une semaine dans des guest houses, puis une nuit dans un ***** avec moquette épaisse, lit king size, baignoire, jacuzzi, piscine (avec bar 😀 ), restaurant chicos, belles femmes en tenue de soirée et le personnel qui vous ouvre les portes et vous affuble de l’irrésistible “Good morning Sir !!”…
    Si on a les moyens, on peut aussi faire l’inverse 8)

  5. @ Sylvie: Entièrement d’accord avec toi quand tu dis: “Il n’y a pas de règle pour faire un bon voyage.” Je n’ai pas la prétention de croire que ma façon de voyager vaut mieux que d’autres. Chacun choisit ce qui lui convient le mieux, selon sa situation familiale, son budget, son tempérament, le temps dont il dispose, ses envies du moment, etc.
    Voyager avec des enfants impose d’autres contraintes. Mais c’est aussi souvent un formidable sésame pour aller à la rencontre des habitants. Je me souviendrai toujours de ce voyage fabuleux que j’ai fait à Sulawesi et du bout de route accompli avec “ma” petite famille de Hollandais. Avec leurs trois enfants blonds, nous suscitions tout de suite sympathie et curiosité partout où nous allions.

    @ Alimata: J’avoue: après plusieurs semaines de périple sac au dos sur le mode rustique et “lonely voyageuse”, il m’arrive, en fin de parcours ou au milieu, de m’offrir parfois, à l’occasion, une ou deux nuits dans un super hôtel, ou une bouffe dans un resto chic. Je savoure d’autant mieux les draps frais du king-size bed, le personnel aux petits soins, les décors raffinés, après avoir vécu un peu plus “à la rude” les semaines précédentes. D’autant qu’en Thaïlande, par exemple, ce genre d’endroit chic reste très abordable malgré tout pour une bourse européenne.
    Mais je n’ai pas encore les moyens d’opter pour la solution inverse…

  6. Zut, moi qui aime bien ramener ma fraise, j’ai raté le début de la discusion.
    Voilà, j’ai testé le all-inclusive en Rép. Dom. et au Mexique et j’ai apprécié (j’avoue, j’adore les 5 étoiles), en même temps, pas trop de possibilité de faire autrement ou manger quand tu sors de l’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.
    J’ai pris le goût des 5 étoiles en Asie, à 60 euros la nuits à K.L. avec top service par exemple, c’est même pas le prix d’un 2 étoiles en France.

    Au fait, merci pour ton blog qui me donne à chaque fois des envies de brochettes satay (j’ai des adresses à Paris pour ceux que ça interresse).

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

  7. Bonjour Gulick, tu fais bien de “ramener ta fraise”!

    Ton expérience va un peu dans le même sens que la mienne. C’est une des raisons qui fait que j’aime tant voyager en Asie. En Thaïlande, notamment, tu peux manger partout, à toute heure, pour trois fois rien, en plus c’est souvent super bon, et il est en effet très facile de se déplacer. Ça colle bien avec ma manière de vivre en voyage…

    Quant aux hôtels chics, c’est vrai qu’on peut y prendre goût en Asie, vu que leurs tarifs sont très accessibles, comparés aux hôtels de même catégorie en France.

    En revanche, en Rép Dom, souvent les hôtels étoilés sont trop excentrés par rapport à “la vraie vie” locale. Pas simple d’en sortir. Pour ma part, je ne peux pas dire que je n’ai pas apprécié de bénéficier d’un accueil 5 étoiles, au contraire. Mais, je continue de préférer un peu plus de simplicité si cela permet d’être plus libre de ses allées et venues.


  8. Jamais mis les pieds dans ces grands hôtels. J’ai passé une semaine en république dominicaine, mais c’était dans un hôtel avec une vingtaine de chambres, qui venait de finir des travaux et qui faisait des prix pour faire savoir qu’il était bien…

  9. Hello Guitho, thank you for your testimony.

    C’était une première pour moi, ces grands hôtels… Lors de mon tout premier voyage là-bas, il y a neuf ans, pour des vacances, j’avais voyagé de façon “packbacker”, logeant dans de petits établissements et guesthouses. Lors d’un prochain voyage, je choisirais à nouveau des hébergements modestes, je pense. Même en Asie, les endroits plus “chics” où il m’est arrivé à l’occasion de passer une nuit, ne ressemblaient pas à ces énormes 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.
    C’est vrai que les voyages back pack apportent une plus grande satisfaction en ce qui me concerne que les voyages all inclusive car plus authentiques. Mais par exemple lors de mon voyage en Jordanie récemment, j’ai beaucoup parlé pendant 3 jours avec le chauffeur du car et c’est pratiquement ce que j’ai le plus apprécié. Les rencontres sont partout.
    Good continuation.

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

    Ravie que la rubrique “Dans mon sac à dos” t’ait plu. Je vais la compléter et l’enrichir de photos la semaine prochaine, car je vais à nouveau préparer mon sac… pour la Thaïlande!!! 8)

    J’évoquais, ici, sur le mode de l’humour, ce type de séjour “all-inclusive” en constatant que cela convenait assez mal à mon tempérament. Mais je suis bien d’accord avec toi: les rencontres intéressantes sont partout.

    D’ailleurs, j’ai vu parfois des “packbackers” se révéler bien plus moutonniers, conformistes, irrespectueux et fermés d’esprit, que des touristes ayant opté pour le voyage organisé, avec le souci de découvrir le pays, les gens, la culture…

    Bonne continuation à toi aussi pour tes différents voyages, quelle que soit la formule choisie. L’essentiel est de rester curieux, ouvert, tolérant.


  12. Hello Corinne!

    Nous partons lundi prochain plonger aux Philippines. Grâce à ton site, je vais expérimenter les petites structures. Eh oui ! j’ai de longues années derrière moi, de goûts de luxe, c’est donc une grande aventure…je me moque, mais il y a un peu de ça. Tout en appréciant le charme confortable de ces hotels, j’avais quand même l’impression de passer à côté de l’essentiel.
    Là, où ça ne va plus, c’est que nous avons toujours un voyage sur le feu, et que tu dois toujours mettre à jour tes adresse sympas. C’est que je me repose sur toi, moi ! fallait pas nous donner des mauvaises habitudes.
    In any case, thank you again for your reports.

    See you soon

  13. Hello Françoise,

    Je te souhaite un excellent séjour aux Philippines. Comme tu dis, il faut que je continue de mettre à jour mes adresses… J’ai du retard sur cette page. J’espère en tout cas que vous trouverez votre bonheur dans celles que j’ai pu déjà indiquer.

    Have a good time!!!