Rio San Juan conquers with its landscapes and its hospitable and smiling people

Tourists, especially locals, are attracted by the incomparable beauty of Caletón beach.

Its unparalleled beauty, nature in its original virginity and native vegetation make Playa Caletón one of the most visited beaches in the northern region of the Dominican Republic.

Nestled in the municipality of Río San Juan, María Trinidad Sánchez province, with coasts covered with coconut trees and surrounded by mangroves and cliffs, Caletón stands out from other beaches for its warm climate, white sand and turquoise water.

Caletón is also surrounded by estuaries, bodies of fresh water that flow into the ocean. This makes its waters not so salty and in some areas they even feel very pleasant (like river water).

But, in addition, its isolation and shallow depth makes it a very safe beach to visit with the family, making it a paradisiacal space in the northern region.

For biologist/botanist Ricardo García, the particularity of the place, also known as “the little beach”, is precisely its natural beauty, as well as the quality of its waters and sand, which makes it different from the others.

“Here I feel like I’m in the real Dominican Republic, because I feel the warmth of the people, the atmosphere, the vegetation…”

The also specialist in taxonomy and ecology of plants also highlights the particularity that the beach has a connection with the Gri Gri Lagoon, a source of fresh water that has a salinity below that of the sea.

The route from Laguna Gri Gri Gri to Playa Caletón includes the Cueva de Las Golondrinas.

Why do people prefer Río San Juan?

Doña Yolanda Mireya Alonzo was born and raised in Rio San Juan. She is a community leader dedicated to working for her people.

Doña Yolanda Mireya Alonzo was a teacher but decided to retire and dedicate herself to working for her town, Rio San Juan.

When speaking with her it is evident the love and pride she feels for her land, for her people. Those people she defines as good, kind and supportive.

She assures that these are the reasons why those who come to Rio San Juan “do not want to leave”, because they fall in love, not only with the beauty of the place, but also with the good treatment they offer to their visitors.

That, in the words of Doña Yolanda, makes Rio San Juan special and unique.

“When people come here they are enchanted by the good people of Rio San Juan. I love my town. A town with its own affability. We are friendly, attentive and we take care of foreigners,” he says.

One of the peculiarities of Rio San Juan is that you can go from a lagoon to the Atlantic Ocean in a matter of minutes.

Tourists make the trip through the Gri Gri Lagoon to Caletón Beach.

The tour begins in the Gri Gri Lagoon, passing through the mangroves, continuing along the channel for about a kilometer until reaching the sea.

Then, the boat heads towards the Golondrinas Cave, where tourists can appreciate its rocky form of stalactites and stalagmites. According to the residents of Río San Juan, during the summer season the cave becomes the nest of a large number of swallows that use this space for shelter.

From there, visitors are deposited by boat in Caletón, and in almost every trip they do not return to the Gri Gri Lagoon, but stay on the beach where they can relax, have a refreshing drink, eat a delicious fish or simply lie down to enjoy nature under a tree.

For Rossi Peña, who has been living in the United States for 35 years, visiting Caletón is to feel that she is in the real Dominican Republic because there she can feel the warmth of its people and enjoy the warm climate of her country.

Mrs. Rossi Peña.

“Here I feel like I am in the real Dominican Republic, because I feel the warmth of the people, the atmosphere, the vegetation… everything. Sometimes you go to the beaches but they are not like that, natural. Or you just come to the country and you go to a hotel and you don’t enjoy this natural environment,” he says.

It is the first time Guzmán visits Caletón, but she assures that it will not be the last, because she is also attracted to its vegetation, to be able to sit under the bushes and enjoy the landscape. That, he says, makes it special.

“My favorite before being here were the beaches of Samaná, now this one. It is a quiet, beautiful beach, you feel like you are at home. It is good for swimming. I don’t know how to swim and I lasted there (inside the beach) for a long time. I would definitely recommend it abroad,” he says.

Mr. Ariel Cardenas.

He has been there about five times, since Caletón has become one of his favorite beaches, precisely because of the little waves it has and how “flirtatious” it is.

“I have come four or five times and I repeat because the beach is very good. Very quiet. There is no crowd of people. It is a friendly beach, which allows you to visit and enjoy it. It is good, the waves are good,” he says.

According to Cardenas, the beach is small, something that differentiates it from others in the national geography.

Mrs. María Elena Vásquez agrees that the atmosphere in the area is cozy and conducive to enjoy peacefully with the family.

Mrs. María Elena Vásquez came to Playa Caletón from Hermanas Mirabal province.

It is also the first time she has visited the place, but she assures that she will return, since it is already one of her favorite beaches.

Trade on the beach

In economic terms, and as was to be expected, the pandemic affected the small merchants in the coastal area of Río San Juan, especially those of Playa Caletón.

However, as the tourist activity in the country has been reactivated, they have been able to recover and today they claim to be at their best, since they are at maximum capacity, even on weekdays.

In total, there are 14 small restaurants on the beach, which offer food, drinks, desserts and other amenities to visitors. In addition, there are artisans and other street vendors.

Most of the tourists are locals, although the beach is also visited by Spanish, Italian, American and other nationalities.

According to Luis Miguel Durán, president of the Caletón Beach Vendors Association, tourists say they like the beauty of the place and the service they receive, which they complement with other water activities such as boat and banana excursions.

Gri Gri Lagoon

The connection of the lagoon with the sea makes the salinity is lower.

Its name is due to a type of tree that grows in the area, known as Gri Gri or bucida.

The connection of the lagoon with the sea means that the salinity of this water source is lower than that of the ocean.

There you can find marine species such as fish, crustaceans and birds associated with the lagoon.

Environmentally it is a very particular and very important space because the coastal lagoons on the island have a great value, according to biologist Ricardo García.

The expert emphasizes that Gri Gri is within the protected areas of the Dominican Republic, under the category of natural monument, established through decree number 571-09.

“This implies that there must be respect for this protected natural space. The vegetation around the lagoon is very important because there are mangroves, species typical of this flooded area, and corresponds ecologically to what is the very humid forest that dominates in this region,” says García.

The Gri Gri Lagoon also represents one of the largest bird sanctuaries in the country.

The botanist also believes that the sustainability of this space must be guaranteed, so it is necessary to continue insisting that there is strict control in the management of solid waste and boats, both fishing boats and those used to transport tourists from the lagoon to Caletón beach.

To this end, he recommends the application of existing regulations, such as Law 64-0 on Environment and Natural Resources, in terms of controls on solid waste, respect for the distances of infrastructure to the beaches, control over the vegetation and environments that are in that environment, in order to ensure the sustainability of Caletón.

Precisely because of the ecotourism value of Gri Gri, one of the largest bird sanctuaries in the country, the Ministry of Tourism recently announced its renovation.

Part of the work that would begin there would be the relocation of fishing boats and boats that transport tourists, to prevent the engines of these machines continue to affect the species that inhabit the lagoon.

The tourist guides of the Gri Gri Lagoon commented to Acento that they agree with the project presented by Mitur, which would imply removing them from the lagoon and that they would only go there to look for tourists and leave immediately, without the boats remaining parked in the place.

But, according to the Union of Tourist Boatmen of Río San Juan, in order to do this the authorities must guarantee them where they would be relocated to.

Although they recognize that, certainly, and due to the accumulation of boats in the lagoon, the lagoon has lost its beauty and is affected environmentally speaking, the Union considers that the government should establish a plan that does not affect the fishermen and tourist guides who have been there for more than 63 years.

They said that more than 20 families depend on fishing and tourism, so the investment they have made in the boats must be taken care of.

The Carnavarengue of Rio San Juan, unique in the country.

The unparalleled beauty of this town, full of culture and traditions, is a magnet for tourists.

In February of each year, the town fills with joy and colors to celebrate the Carnavarengue, the first and only carnival dedicated to marine species in the country.

Mrs. Carmen Estrella (Blanca), who works as a teacher, but her passion is to work with the cultural themes of her town.

The costumes, made by the magical hands of the villagers themselves, are inspired by marine biodiversity.

Carmen Estrella, who is affectionately known as Blanca, arrived in Rio San Juan when she was only seven years old.

Now 56, Blanca works as a teacher, but her passion is working with the cultural themes of her town, especially the carnival.

She, along with a small group of people, make up the committee that organizes the cultural festival, and above all, they are in charge of making the costumes that honor the marine species.

Blanca tells that the Carnavarengue began in 1997 with the ideas of Mr. Persio Checo, who is a plastic artist, and Mrs. Fidelina José, now deceased.

Since then, the small group that started with the organization grew and integrated, and today Rio San Juan has a carnival that is nationally and internationally recognized.

For the celebration, a stage is placed in the middle of the Gri Gri Lagoon that serves as a stage for the parade of the troupes.

Culturally, according to Blanca, the Carnavarengue “represents our identity. After our Lagoon (Gri Gri), tourists come for the Carnavarengue”.

While the town also benefits economically from the festival, which is held in the second week of February, because a large number of visitors come to the destination and their presence activates the stores in the area.

However, despite the importance of the cultural festival, the residents complain about the little support they receive from the authorities for the event.

The municipality does not even have an office of the Ministry of Culture, so Blanca asks the authorities to install one in order to continue working with the Carnavarengue and other issues that could be integrated to raise the culture in the area.

Another aspect that affects María Trinidad Sánchez, in spite of the qualities that the province possesses, and especially Río San Juan, is the fact that it is a secondary destination, since the tourists it receives come from other destinations (such as Puerto Plata and Santiago), since they do not have airports or seaports to receive them.

In addition, there are very few tourist establishments, which are not enough for the number of visitors they receive.

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