We just got back from 4 days at the Balaji Palace and I feel like I need to write this review right away. First of all if you are thinking about going here and have not decided or are hesitant, my sincerest recommendation would be to go! Go Now!
This is not a hotel for everyone. For those who want to be entertained either by TVs, or slot machines, or musicians or theme nights, this is not a place for you. Nor is it for those expecting a traditional all-inclusive resort with lots of pools and shops and attractions and a choice of endless restaurants or buffets. This place is best suited for those who want to have a unique experience, get away from the every day noise, listen to and watch the ocean and decompress and disconnect from their busy lives. By design, there are no televisions or telephones in the rooms. The wifi is spotty, so don’t bring your laptop. Instead bring the books you have been meaning to read or borrow some from the hotel bookshelf, lay by the pool or engage with your fellow guests. If the latter is not for you, there is enough space on the property that even at full capacity you can snag a quiet space all to yourself. I will say that all the guests we did meet at the hotel were lovely and friendly and just as in awe of the place as we were. Those who understand that bigger is not always better will appreciate that this hotel is at once elegant and luxurious but also very laid back and unpretentious. The stay here is a wonderful and unique experience.
This boutique hotel unlike large hotels (no matter how nice, and I have stayed at some very nice luxury properties) has soul. Something that very few hotels are able to achieve. Largely this is due to their incredible staff overseen by Juan Carlos who is who himself is unbelievably accommodating. But, Javier, Filipe, Cynthia and Rosario are amazing. They are kind, fun, lovely, amazing folks who will make your stay memorable and make you feel like you are a temporary owner of a magnificent house on a cliff overlooking the ocean. They take such care to make sure that you are enjoying yourself. Because the hotel only has 13 rooms, the attention each guest gets is unparallel to anywhere else I have stayed. That is not to say that you are not left alone to do as you wish on the property, merely that if you should need something, there is someone there to help you right away and go above and beyond to provide whatever it is you are looking for.
The hotel sits behind a large gate down a long driveway of perfectly manicured grounds. It is surrounded by lush, gardens with an enormous variety of tropical flowers. Perfectly manicured and yet left to feel as if the hotel was built around the plants and not the other way around. The large airy rooms with balconies that open up to the grounds, some with views to the sea, are comfortable, not over the top and offer bathrobes slippers, plush towels etc. Each room has fresh tropical flowers upon arrival. There are large bathrooms, showers and closets. The air conditioning works well. The rooms and the hotel are immaculately clean. The rooms get cleaned twice a day and turndown service is offered nightly.
The small beach reached by the spiral staircase from the property is a lovely cove surround with cliffs on both sides. You could sit for hours and watch the water. Depending on the time of year the water can be calm or have big waves, but during our stay it was good enough for swimming though not completely calm. If your dream is to sit on a beach or poolside lined with hundreds of beach loungers this is not the place. This is the place for you if you want to swim in the ocean, lounge on the chair on your own on sit on the coral rocks for hours and enjoy the view. Despite other reviews, I don’t think it is true that the beach is not used. I think those who come here want to get away from it all and thus if they see someone on the beach will give them the courtesy of having it all to themselves and will then use it when empty. Numerous guests while we were there used the beach, but I never saw them when I was down there. If you are interested in going to a larger beach, Playa Grande is just a five-minute drive away and the staff will gladly take you if you don’t have your own car. Playa Grande is a long stretch of soft sand with palm trees lining it and is picture and never full.
It is hard to comment on the food as everyone has a different palette. Coming from NYC where the cuisines of the entire world are at your doorstep, the experience can be hit or miss, however the staff will go above and beyond to accommodate your tastes ahead of time. I am vegetarian and there was always an option for me on the menu at every meal. Breakfasts are simple affairs of eggs and fruit and toast. Still better than what one would have time for at home and exactly all one needs when one is having 3, 3-course meals a day. The serving sizes are just right, not over the top and if you wanted more than one item off the menu or were still hungry, I am certain that your request for more/different food would be accommodated in no time. The fruit is fresh and local, the coffee is strong and delicious and the surroundings wonderful. I have certainly had better meals than at this hotel, but there is something to be said for someone taking care of cooking for you and you just showing up and enjoying it. The food tends to be better in my opinion when the kitchen embraces the traditional Dominican/Caribbean cuisine instead of trying to cater to the American palette. A little more spices and a lot more local flavor would have been my choice, but this is so subjective, that everyone will feel differently. The seafood is really fresh and the traditional rice and beans very good and all the food is made to order. The hotel will ask prior to arrival of any food allergies, dislikes and dietary restrictions.
This place would also be amazing for a small wedding or another event.
The luxury snobs will likely find some faults with the place, maybe the pillows can be softer, the wine list better/bigger, the water pressure stronger, but in my opinion these things are so far outweighed by the benefits of the place, that if this would be your concern, maybe this is not the right place for you. And it is true that it is more expensive than other good hotels in the Dominican Republic, but I really believe that a four-night stay here will provide you with more rest and restoration than your cookie-cutter all-inclusive in Puerto Plata could in 7 days. So just go now.
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- Also Known As:
- The Palace At Playa Grande Hotel Rio San Juan