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“A Travel Writer's Experience at Balaji Palace”

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The Palace at Playa Grande
Ranked #3 of 3 Hotels in Rio San Juan
Reviewed 13 April 2012

My husband and I wanted both adventure and tropical surroundings abroad for our one year anniversary trip. One look at the Balaji Palace’s website and we were sold. The thirteen room mansion was even better in person. It felt like our own private villa complete with attentive staff (a chef, butler, driver and housekeepers) in paradise.

ARRIVAL

We were happy to escape the smoky Puerto Plata airport. Once outside the doors, the warm air was a fantastic change from the freezing temperatures we left behind in Denver, Colorado. Juan Carlos, the General Manager of the Palace, was waiting for us with a genuinely friendly, “Hello!” and cold bottled water. For the entire hour-long trip from the airport to the villa, I had my eyes glued to the passing countryside. The lush grass and curving palm trees were unlike any I’d seen in the rainforests of Peru, the city of Brisbane in Australia or the swamps of Florida. When we passed through towns, the concrete buildings with hand-painted signs, overflowing fruit stands and whole families on mopeds were glimpses of the “real” Dominican Republic we both hoped we’d see.

LOCATION

Balaji Palace is the in the small town of Rio San Juan on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Its location high above the water makes for breathtaking views of the water and rainforest. At night it is quiet and the stars are spectacular. It is important to keep in mind that this gorgeous palace is in the Dominican Republic. On occasion, the water and electricity may falter briefly. Cell phone service tends to do alright, but internet is spotty at best. When you visit, I hope you’ll enjoy the lack of strong internet as a way to truly leave work behind and be present on your vacation. We did. Embrace both the good and very minor inconveniences – it’s all part of the experience.

The private beach is accessed off the expansive back patio area. A hand-carved wooden spiral staircase takes guests past the original Palace building, the Cliffside apartments, and down to the beach. We spent nearly two whole days playing in the ocean. In January, the water was perfect and the bouldered beach had plenty of sandy stretches.

ROOMS

My husband and I had a Royal Ocean Front Suite with a massive private balcony and Jacuzzi. We’ve stayed at hundreds of hotels and this room takes the prize as having the largest bedroom and balcony we’ve seen yet. All floors are tiled and décor is in a style full of the wonder and colors of India. Everywhere you look is another interesting detail such as a family of peacocks wandering about, larger-than-life Hindu statues (fascinating) and super comfortable places to relax.

GET ADVENTUROUS

Some couples may want to spend every day by the pool or exploring the beach, but we came here to see the countryside. Campo Tours comes to Balaji to speak to every guest. We looked through the pamphlets and decided on a horseback ride, a private tour of the area and a glass bottom boat excursion.

My idea of a glass-bottomed boat was a yacht-like two-floor boat with an underwater viewing area. Such is the extent of my naivety. The little boat with two strips of glass underneath our feet was lots of fun though and we got to snorkel and float through the Gri Gri lagoon. On this trip, I was reminded of the fantastical formations Disney dreamed up for the old submarine ride in Disneyworld. This was much better, of course, because it was real.

The horseback ride was two hours long through nearby villages. My favorite part was when the children would run from their homes to see the “gringos,” smiling and waving frantically at us. Our guide, Coco, showed us a big, withered, bright orange fruit he cut from a tree. “Do you know what it is?” he asked. He handed us all slimy, super-sweet seeds, then cut one open. A tiny bit of brown was inside. I would have never guessed this was where chocolate came from. When we returned muddy and exhausted to wash up and change, the housekeeping staff took our filthy shoes and made them look like new. To this day, I have no idea how they managed that.

On property, we explored. We wandered around several buildings, along winding paths through fabulous tropical landscapes with the occasional streetlamp (straight from Narnia) with the company of a nice peacock.

DINING

The cuisine and dining experience was arguably the best part of our stay. Meals are all included in the room price, as are all drinks. The chef prepares the menu of his choosing every day with a few American and Dominican choices. Ingredients are grown locally and are in-season. The food is delicious!

Guests can choose from many romantic settings for each meal. For breakfast, we preferred the back patio with an ocean view. For our anniversary dinner, we chose to eat a candlelight dinner in the gazebo with a view of the dark water and moon’s reflection. A short walk down a flagstone path is a fire pit and seating. Although it rained on our anniversary night, the next night we celebrated with a roaring fire, arranged by the staff.

MY RECOMMENDATION

Go! When more people find out about this jewel it was triple in price. If it doesn’t, it should. Better yet, gather a few couples to go with you – everyone needs a romantic getaway from time to time. You’ll want to share Balaji Palace with everyone you know.

Their YouTube channel can be found at www.YouTube.com/BalajiPalace. Their Facebook page is www.Facebook.com/BalajiPalace.

My husband and I have a YouTube channel that features video reviews of the hotels we visit. Please take a look at www.YouTube.com/TravelbyLori.

Room Tip: Get a room with a private Jacuzzi. There's nothing like soaking outside with a view of the ocea...
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Stayed: January 2012, travelled as a couple
8  Thank Lori M
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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60 - 64 of 90 reviews

Reviewed 22 March 2012

This is a lovely property. It's very romantic, with ocean view rooms that have grand balconies and four poster beds draped in mosquito netting. You can hear the waves roll in at night. The staff is super helpful, with Cynthia being the best. She is always cheerful and a great problem solver. The place is a bit like a spanish Downton Abbey, with Cynthia as the butler, Wilson, the footmen, etc. Wilson drives you to the beach and always finds you to bring you back on time. Javier and Phillipe are gracious waiters. The staff will bring your breakfast up to the room and lay it out on the balcony. The only 2 drawbacks are that the beach at the property is not very appealing (the setting is spectacular cliffs overlooking brilliant blue water) but the actual beach is lacking and no one hangs out there. The other drawback is that the food is only okay. If they improved the quality of the food to gourmet standards, this place would be truly amazing. The food is not bad but after five days you get tired of it. They will drive you to one of two very pretty beaches, we recommend Playa Grande, its wide and long and uncrowded.

Room Tip: We went for ocean view in the main house. Sensational. the cliff rooms looked cool from the outsid...
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  • Stayed: March 2012, travelled as a couple
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2  Thank TravelAl10024
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 22 March 2012

We just got back from a week at the Palace and had one of the best vacations ever. While the hotel, grounds and views are all stunning, it really was the staff that made this stay so wonderful. They all go out of their way to accommodate every request and they always have smiles on their faces. Other reviews mentioned that the pictures don’t do this hotel justice and I would have to agree. Being immersed in the beauty at every angle was so utterly relaxing and peaceful.
We stayed here with our 8 month old and our 2.5 year old. The hotel is very romantic and great for couples but it was also perfect for families and they had everything to accommodate the children: cribs, pack-and-play, highchairs, children’s games and movies and even baby floats and kids’ snorkeling gear available. They also have a ping pong table and a pool table. The upper pool was very shallow with an entry incline which was perfect for little ones and the 5 resident peacocks were also a big hit.
We stayed in the Royal suite on the 3rd floor of the main building and the hotel’s beach was 3 flights down the cliff via a circular staircase which passed by the Cliffside suites. So needless to say we got our daily exercise going up and down. They did have an elevator in the main building but that was only turned on in the evenings.
The dining tables were set up on the outside patio and each couple / family had their own designated table. All meals were served here but you always have the option of requesting a meal elsewhere like in your room or poolside or as a picnic on the beach. Breakfast was served from 7-9am, lunch from 12pm-2pm and dinner from 7-9pm. The food was all very good, fresh and healthy. In the late afternoon they serve you some gourmet nibbles and drinks whether you are down at the beach or poolside. There are always drinks and snacks out in the open-plan kitchen where you can help yourself whenever. In the evening it is a bit like a cocktail party where everyone gathers to chat before dinner. It was all so lovely and elegant. You really do feel like a guest in the private home of an eccentric and generous host.
Housekeeping comes by to clean the room and collect your laundry during the day, and then they come by again in the evening for turn down service and to deliver your clean clothes. When we arrived the room was filled with fresh flowers and the Jacuzzi was filled and waiting.
We had a car rental and visited a number of beaches along the coast. Playa Caleton was a pleasant, protected bay just a few minutes west of the hotel, with calm waves and locals who serves you drinks or meals right on the beach (they will actually bring out a table with chairs and plop them in the sand wherever you wish to dine). Playa Diamante, 20 minutes to the east, had great reviews as being calm and good for children but the sand was so fine it was like mud and it just smelled bad there. Playa La Entrada, 5 minutes further west, was gorgeous. A river empties into the sea here and there is a vast spread of sand with calm waters.
The review just before this one really covers it all and I would agree 100% with everything they said – the sound of the ocean, the beach, the grounds, the tranquility, the food, etc. I think we were there at the same time (hence their reference to the children?). Thank you, thank you to everyone at the Palace for making our trip as perfect as it could be! We cannot wait to return.

Room Tip: Everyone seemed to have the same question about tipping - when and how. We all agreed it was best to...
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  • Stayed: March 2012, travelled with family
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Thank skbrum
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 17 March 2012

We just spent 3 nights at the Palace at Playa Grande. The photos were beautiful, but when we stepped out of the taxi and were greeted by the staff with a drink and caught a glimpse of the gorgeous views, it was even better in person. This place is so beautiful with amazing views, detailed architecture in the palace and a very friendly and warm staff. We were lucky enough to stay in the ocean front suite which is separate from the main building.

room - we loved our suite, it had the most unbelievable views of the ocean and we went to sleep and woke up to the sound of the waves crashing. The housekeeping staff was great and provided service 2 times per day and even did any laundry. They did turn down service with some chocolates and always provided us with bottled water. The shower was great and the bed was fine. the real amazing part was the sound and views of the ocean. you felt like you were out on top of the ocean.

grounds - the grounds were quite spectacular. we spent all day just moving around from the small round pool on the water down below, to the beach to the pool area and never felt bored, there was always something to do or explore. it felt like we were the only ones there on the property. it is just so quiet and peaceful and even though there were children staying there at the same time we never heard them at all. i think this is because the way the grounds are designed its very tranquil. the flowers and landscaping is really nice and mature with lots of shade everywhere.

the beach - the beach is quite small but very beautiful and private. we were always the only ones down there swimming. when we were there the current was very strong so we couldnt swim far out. the sand is very nice and clean and the water is also very clean.

food - the food was good. it almost felt like you were having dinner at a friends house. we ate every meal outside and you can eat by the pool or on the veranda wherever you please. they would provide you with a daily menu so you could choose from a few options. some were great some were pretty good.

the staff- the staff was all so kind and friendly. one of the great things about this hotel is that even though its very luxurious, beautiful etc. there is a very comfortable feeling that makes it feel unpretentious. I think the staff helps create this feeling and ambiance. they are professional but not stuffy like some other higher end resorts. they were really accommodating and just wanted us to have a comfortable pleasant stay.

Misc. - there were some peacocks that walk around that were great to watch. I had a massage which was very nice out on a deck. the spa is very extensive which is surprising for a smaller boutique hotel like this one. the prices were about the same as home. They also have a car that will bring you around to nearby destinations if you want to go to the playa grande beach 10 mins away. we went there one afternoon and got drinks made in coconuts.

Overall this is probably our fave hotel so far, the grounds, the views, the sound of the ocean, the warm and friendly hotel staff, the beautiful weather! This may be the only time I have ever said that I would consider returning to a hotel again because it was that spectacular! We hope you visit this hotel and enjoy it as much as we did!

Room Tip: the suites in the separate building out on the ocean, although more expensive, they are very beautif...
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  • Stayed: March 2012, travelled as a couple
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3  Thank bos_traveler44
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 27 February 2012

I just returned from the Palace (traveled from 02/14 to 02/21). We had rented the entire property as a private villa. The property is by far the most magnificent property I have stayed at. The Palace is even more majestic and beautiful than the website reflects! The grounds are impeccably clean and well kept. The rooms and suites vary in size but they are all very distinct and charming and each of my guest felt at home in their rooms and only reported sleeping comfortably. The private beach is small and seasonal but it was so much fun to catch the waves and once tired, a lazy afternoon at the pool was in order! All of us enjoyed everything this phenomenal property had to offer. The service was beyond friendly. From our arrival to our departure, the staff was fantastic! Always going above and beyond by anticipating my and my guests every needs and always asking for feedback. My birthday celebration at The Palace was a once in a lifetime, phenomenal experience. I had envisioned palatial treatment to welcome this new birthday milestone and I was served exactly what I had ordered! Indulging in 2 massages while listening to the crashing waves were an added bonus.... I cannot express enough how divine the entire experience was! I definitely look forward to returning in the future.

One suggestion: I would recommend updating the gym for those who are trying to stay fit during their vacation.

On a side note - I had the privilege of visiting the owner's quarters. Absolutely beautiful! I hope that he will agree to include it as part of the rental property in the future...simply gorgeous and serene!

Room Tip: Suites 3A and 3B are gorgeous with hot tubs...2A and 2B are beautiful as well...minus the hot tubs...
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  • Stayed: February 2012, travelled with family
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7  Thank D B
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Additional Information about The Palace at Playa Grande

Address: Calle Rio San Juan | Playa Grande, Rio San Juan, Dominican Republic
Region: Caribbean > Dominican Republic > Maria Trinidad Sanchez Province > Rio San Juan
Amenities:
Free High Speed Internet ( WiFi ) Free Parking Room Service Suites Swimming Pool
Hotel Style:
Ranked #3 of 3 Hotels in Rio San Juan
Price Range: ₹ 15,226 - ₹ 21,733 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)
Hotel Class:4 star — The Palace at Playa Grande 4*
Number of rooms: 13
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Also Known As:
The Palace At Playa Grande Hotel Rio San Juan

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