We like to write detailed reviews that rate the operator as well as the sights/events so that we may possibly help others with their decisions. If all you want is a rating then we rate Iguana Mama and their Mama Knows Best package a very big 5 stars/Excellent.
My wife and I recently returned from our week in the care of Michael and Sarah, proprietors of Iguana Mama. We opted for their Mama Knows Best package and are glad we did. We have always been the type of couple who prefers to be active during our vacations and see as much of the country we are in outside of the normal tourist destinations. So, when we researched DR we quickly ruled out Punta Cana due to its all-inclusive, don't leave the reservation setup and ruled in Cabarete once we discovered Iguana Mama Adventure Tours here on TripAdvisor. The Mama Knows Best package included a nice selection of many of their individual activities. Some folks have made tour/taxi comments so to be clear…80%+ of their activities are their own with their own employees/guides running the show. A couple activities like horseback riding and the Monkey Jungle are run by other operators and Iguana Mama handles the logistics. They do a good job of being flexible and making it all work out.
While the weather did not cooperate for the first couple days Iguana Mama did a good job of re-arranging the itinerary to make the best of it. This review goes chronologically and starts slow so don’t worry, the exciting stuff comes as the weather got better. The horseback riding ended up being on a cloudy/rainy day but it was still okay. What else can you do outside when it rains in the DR? The rain made the biking, hiking, river, waterfalls all too “rough”. I am not sure if it was the conditions or the stable operator but our trip was just a leisurely walk along the beach and some off-beach back roads with a slight bit of a trot/canter. This trip is best for non-experienced riders/kids but then again the guides spoke no English and gave no instruction so that must be their target audience. If a brisk canter/gallop is what you want make sure you discuss that up front with Iguana Mama.
El Choco National Park is not “national” in the way we think of parks in the US. It’s more of a nature walk. What made the trip worthwhile was our introduction to and time spent in the “home” (hut) of a local resident. It was a genuinely humbling experience to see how locals live/subsist. When they show you their gardens be careful if they offer you those tiny little red peppers (size of a tic-tac). VERY hot little things! The other nice part of this hike was going in the caves and swimming in the one that is about 20 feet down into darkness! Make sure you actually swim in it! Don’t worry, the bats don’t care about you and the guides have flashlights.
We were able to sneak in the Monkey Jungle the same day as El Choco and we are glad we did. Having 28 Spider monkeys climb all over you was really fun. They are so expressive and cute. Also, very interesting that it and the zip-line (we did not do that) are actually there only to support the free medical/dental care clinic they operate.
Ciguapa Falls cascading was a blast! While the hike down the hill was quite challenging it was worth the effort. The guides were awesome and did a good job of meshing the different levels of physical challenges with the differences in abilities in our small group of 4. Two things, when they say wear tennis shoes, they mean it! Aqua socks (slip on type) are a no-no. Mesh type tennis or water shoes that Velcro/lace up are a necessity. Second, don’t even consider not renting donkeys to ride out. They’re cheap ($10 USD), support the locals, actually fun with the children of the owners guiding each donkey and trust me, you don’t want the first 15 minutes of that climb out on foot.
Whitewater rafting was fun. Like most activities, it’s what you make of it. Our guide, Tandy, saw that we 4 wanted to laugh and have fun so he made sure we had fun! This was no lazy/boring river float and it was not the class 5 white-knuckle trip I have had (New River Upper Gauley Fall Release, WV). This was a good combination of decent class 2/3/low-4 obstacles and sightseeing. Great for the average family or fun-loving couples. Some may find the 3 hr roundtrip van ride long for the 2 hour raft trip but these are the facts of life sometimes in small third-world countries. I say it’s worth it because of the guides Iguana Mama has.
Canyoning was another great exhilarating experience. That Magic Mushroom repel is cool. The big jumps (60 ft or so) were a thrill too. If you are looking for a sense of accomplishment and a good little rush of adrenaline this is your trip! Personally, if I make it back to Cabarete I will take the Iguana Mama Canyoning Supremacy trip so I can experience Big Ba$tard (look it up on their website).
Mountain biking was fun and boy was it humbling on those uphills! They did a great job of giving easier options at appropriate times even letting you rack the bike and ride in the support van. I would like to have fit in more mountain biking during my stay to see more of the back country although I am not sure I was in shape for it.
A few final comments. Michael and Sarah offer a very good value for the dollar spent and were awesome hosts to my wife and I. They were very helpful with their shopping tips (Larimar jewelry for my wife and Dominican cigars for me). Their use of The Velero Beach Resort is spot on. Once you get there and stay a day or two you’ll see that is the best spot to be. We would be remiss if we did not give huge props to the entire Iguana Mama guide/support staff especially the head guide, Alejandro. He was everything you want in a guide. He was knowledgeable, multi-talented, spoke good English and really seemed to care about us having a great vacation experience.
We reviewed all our dining experiences separately so check them out too.
If you visit Cabarete and don’t use Iguana Mama for some or all of your eco-adventure activities that would be your loss, really!
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.