Get Away From It All At The Luxurious Amanera On The Dominican Republic's North Coast

The all-villa resort gives guests an organic link to its sumptuous surroundings.

While I was awaiting the private transfer that would take me back to the airport after three glorious, restorative days, I asked general manager Larry Tuck what memory he hopes Amanera guests will take back home. Without missing a beat, he replied, "A connection to nature."

As I stood there in the open-air lobby of the resort, flanked on one side by the rainforest and Cordillera Septentrional Mountain Range and by a stretch of unspoiled beach on the Atlantic Ocean—surrounded by more than 400 acres of nature reserve—I was definitely feeling the vibe of being one with the local ecosystem.

But eliciting a remote yet luxurious experience like this one doesn't come without a price, reflected both in the cost of the sprawling, well-appointed villas (which can top out at $3,400 per night in the high season) or in the journey required to get to your front door. The resort, located on the Dominican Republic's north coast, is a solid hour-and-a-half drive from the Puerto Plata airport. It's no wonder that some guests opt instead for a 20-minute helicopter ride. No matter how you get here, though, the destination is more than worth the journey.

Casita view
Getting here is half the battle, but once guests arrive they know it's well worth the effort. | Amanera

Aman operates 34 luxury properties in 20 countries; each one is generally small, with around 50 villas or rooms. Befitting to the brand, service is exceptional and unobtrusive, the word "no" isn't part of employees' vocabulary, and the staff to guest ratio is often 6:1. 

"Aman" translates to "peace" in Sanskrit, and property names are usually a play on a combination with a local or native word. "Era" means water in the language of the Taíno, an indigenous people of the Caribbean, and the beach is definitely a calming presence at Amanera. Pristine, remote and wide, it has powdery sand and water that matches the color of a stone unique to the DR (more on that later.) 

Amanera offers an unparalleled experience of understated luxury that's very different from staying at an all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana.

Getting Here has its Perks

Direct flights to Puerto Plata are offered from cities including New York, Newark, and Miami; I flew United from Dulles to Newark and then Newark to Puerto Plata. Whatever your flight path, staff members will greet you on arrival at the airport for VIP fast-track assistance. I was whisked to the front of the line and escorted to a lounge to enjoy a cold drink and a snack while they took care of customs and immigration processing and retrieved my luggage. It's a nice touch. 

Ditto for the arrival at the resort, as uniformed smiling staff members line up to greet you and welcome you "home" to Amanera. 

Accommodations

Amanera and its 25 villas (called "casitas") are located on the western end of Playa Grande beach. All have ocean views, and some have private pools. Whichever category you select, it'll have way more room than you'll need; my standard casita was a spacious 829 square feet inside, with a 1,711 square feet terrace with outdoor dining and lounge areas that overlooked low-lying shrubbery and the sparkling ocean beyond. 

Golf cart transport service is just a phone call away if your villa is located farther from Casa Grande, which houses the lobby and restaurants—or if you want a quick ride to or from the pool or Beach Club.

As with many high-end properties these days, check-in occurs in your accommodation. My concierge also explained the casita's highlights and amenities, including a work area with desk, comfy chair and lots of outlets, and bedroom with a king-sized bed, smart lighting and a television that retracts back into the stand when you want an unobstructed peek at the water instead of binging Netflix. 

A personal bar is stocked with still and sparkling water, juice, soda, milk (and milk alternatives), a Nespresso machine, and a selection of pods and sweeteners, an electric kettle with a variety of teas, fresh fruit, dried fruit, and nuts. Each evening during turndown, staff delivers a daily juice shot for the next morning (my favorite was the Power Shot with beet, cucumber and ginger), and a jar filled with a hand-made tisane like Waning Moon Tea, a combination of lemongrass, soursop and cinnamon leaves, cloves and cinnamon sticks believed to promote lucid dreaming and relaxation. 

But my favorite leave-behind after one evening's turndown was the wooden box of chocolates perched on irresistible chocolate "dirt".

Some casitas have pools. All of them have amazing views. | Amanera

My bathroom had skylights and a sliding panel for ocean views or privacy, twin vanities, separate shower room with shelves, a seating area, both rain and handheld showers, and separate AC. The resort thankfully forgoes single-use plastic toiletries for full-sized ones in ceramic bottles with pumps, and other niceties including sunscreen and bug spray are tucked into a bathroom drawer. 

I was surprised to see a bubble bath already drawn for me when I checked-in, complete with Champagne and a relaxation-inducing herb-filled poultice. I later found out that after staff heard about my flight cancellation debacle that resulted in my spending the night in the Newark Airport, they thought this would be a welcome way to destress. They were absolutely right. 

Next to the bedroom was the walk-in closet of my dreams, with shelves, drawers and hanging space for two or more guests, a huge mirror, footstool, "magic hamper" for laundry service, and a tote bag and straw hat to use during my stay and take home as a memento. The casita makes excellent use of natural lighting, with floor-to-ceiling windows throughout, and automatic light-filtering and room-darkening shades to let in or keep out the morning sun. Warm wooden finishes and recessed, dimmable lighting lend a welcoming, cozy feel. 

Things to Do, Places to See

Amanera's "connection to nature" philosophy extends to the activities. One morning, we embarked on a 40-minute guided hike through protected jungle reserves to the top of a mountain. The trek was strenuous but doable, though the wet leaves covering the trail would have been more easily navigated with hiking shoes rather than sneakers. At the top, we were rewarded with unbelievable views of the resort and the ocean–and a much-deserved breakfast, enjoyed in the open-air pavilion. 

Another morning we set out on a kayak tour that started on a secluded beach in San Juan, where we went for a dip in the calm waters of the protected cove and sipped a cold bottle of Presidente beer. We popped back into our kayaks to paddle along the coast and into the Laguna Gri Gri, home to mangrove trees, colorful fish, sea turtles, and local fishing boats out to snag the day's catch. 

The resort also offers the option to do mountain climbing, a private horseback ride through forests with teak plantations and coastal villages, and moonlight beach yoga. The 18-hole golf course is spread over 370 acres of coastline, with 10 holes played directly on ocean cliffs.

Playa Grande Golf Course
Playa Grande Golf Course is as breathtaking as it is challenging. | Amanera

If you prefer cooking to climbing or rum to rappelling, you have options. During a class held in the open-air kitchen at the Beach Club, we donned aprons and chopped and mixed our own perfect Peruvian, Mexican, or Dominican ceviche using a selection of fresh ingredients including octopus, mahi mahi, shrimp, vegetables, herbs, crunchy dried corn, citrus, and sauces. (Pro tip: Adding soy sauce and Clamato juice was the secret to umami-rich ceviche, the chef told us, and passion fruit puree adds a sharper, more intense tartness to the final dish than lemon or lime.) 

After, we sampled our creations at a table overlooking the beach with fresh tortilla chips and chilled glasses of Albarino. Life seemed to peak that afternoon.

ceviche class
A ceviche class will provide the souvenir of delicious knowledge. | Kelly Magyarics

During a rum class held at the Lounge Bar, we delved into Dominican rum culture with pours including Brugal 1888, Ron Barcelo Imperial, Opthimus, Ron Cubaney Centenrio, and Ron Quorhum QRM, all paired with homemade chocolates. Our bartender also gave us samples of the resort's recipe for mamajuana—a concoction of herbs, roots and bark soaked in red wine, and rum—the national drink of the Dominican Republic. 

And a cigar-rolling demonstration was led by Maestro del Cigarro Juan Alberto, who has more than a decade of experience at Arturo Fuente. He showed the group the fine art of blending, rolling, pressing and distinguishing different kinds of cigars, then doled out specially made Amanera cigars that smoked perfectly alongside a smoky, boozy mezcal Negroni.

Maestro del Cigarro Juan Alberto
Maestro del Cigarro Juan Alberto's cigars pair nicely with a mezcal negroni. | Kelly Magyarics

For low-key pursuits, the infinity pool is an inviting spot for a dip and to sip an afternoon cocktail, especially if your casita doesn't have a private pool. And staff will set up beach chairs wherever you like—finding a spot is not an issue you won't be competing with guests of any other resort.

A Necessary Trip to the Spa

I even got to be one with nature when I showed up at the cliffside spa, a short ride from the resort. After sipping a welcome tea made with soursop leaves and taking part in an ancient Taíno palo santo smudging ceremony to cleanse negative energy, I was given gardening gloves and shears and led outside to the garden. 

My therapist explained the benefits of the various herbs and plants, like fragrant rosemary which reduces inflammation, and soothing aloe if you dozed too long in the sun. I snipped off some leaves and headed back to the Botany Bar, where I used a mortar and pestle to grind them down along with salt and water into a paste that would be used during my treatment.

spa treatments
Guests can take matters into their own hands when preparing spa treatment ingredients. | Kelly Magyarics

The spa has three couples' treatment rooms with changing areas, washrooms, and showers, along with two beach spa pavilions and a relaxation area. Signature treatments are lunar-inspired and a nod to the native stone. Unique to the Dominican Republic, larimar is a rock composed of pectolite, an acid silicate hydrate; its blue-green hue is caused by copper instead of the more common calcium. Larimar is believed to encourage physical and emotional healing and is closely linked to phases of the moon. (The resort boutique stocks some gorgeous larimar jewelry that makes the perfect souvenir.) 

There are four moon treatments, and you can choose whichever one you like at any time of the month. Each lasts 120 minutes, not including the pre-treatment rituals. Waxing Moon promotes growth and creativity; Full Moon is a four-hands treatment that's all about enlightenment; and Waning Moon is for purification and introspection. I selected the New Moon Treatment, "to build focus and clarity, establish the roots of your wishes and intentions, and forgive and let go to renew your inner power."

Those are pretty lofty goals, even for a two-hour immersive experience. While I'm not sure I attained all of that, I did feel incredible afterwards. My therapist started with a foot bath and foot massage to ground my connection to the earth and open my root chakra. She placed poultices made with ruda herbs on various parts of my body while I got a head and scalp massage. Afterwards, she used hot stones and other techniques for a full body massage to increase the flow of energy and ended by using a larimar to encourage energy to my other chakras. 

A Hearty Meal

Casa Grande is the main restaurant at Amanera and joined by the Beach Club, which offers toes-in-the-sand dining, and the Lounge Bar, where guests can partake in daily complimentary afternoon tea or a pre- or post-dinner libation. But since this is an Aman property, the sky's the limit if you are looking for extra-special dining. Book a private beach dinner, and your table will be set up on the sand. I arrived at dusk to find a candlelit table leading to my seat, and Tiki torches scattered in the sand. 

A Rum Old Fashioned was followed by an arugula and watermelon salad and a grilled platter of bone-in ribeye, shrimp, lobster, and vegetables that was flambeed to finish. After, a station was set up under the moonlight with the fixings for s'mores and a selection of aged rums. 

During Spanish Night at the Beach Club, we started with compressed cubes of Sangria, followed by a selection of tapas, from thin slices of Jamon Iberico Bellota, croquetas and patatas bravas, to gazpacho and surf and turf paella. A Spanish guitarist and vocalist played authentic tunes as we watched the sun set.

There is no need to even leave your beach chairs for lunch. Order a round of cucumber gin elixirs and share homemade potato and plantain chips with dip, pizza margherita, fried calamari, fish tacos, and shrimp in tomato sauce. And take a cue from all those guests walking around with platters of sliced mango—it was the best I had ever tasted. 

It may also be a metaphor for a sojourn at the Amanera: natural indulgences are often the sweetest.