Vacations have always been about escaping, in one way or another. Shortly after you arrive, and right before you engage in what you might consider to be true vacation mode (it’s very subjective), there’s that subtle adjustment period that takes place. I feel like it’s just in our human nature to feel uneasy about traveling to a place you have never visited before.
Perhaps that sense of initial unease will be felt when traveling to the Dominican Republic and, more specifically, to the all-inclusive Club Med Michès Playa Esmeralda. It’s Club Med’s first Exclusive Collection resort—essentially the brand’s best-of-the-best line—in the Americas and the first resort on the DR’s virgin north shore (about a 75-minute drive from the nearest airport in Punta Cana), so crowded tourist areas are replaced by serene isolation.
But upon stepping out from under the open-air, thatched-roof resort lobby, you are introduced to the village center—the heart of Club Med Michès Playa Esmeralda —via a long-reaching pool, flanked by palm trees replanted from the area, that invites you to connect with the water. “Jump in first, before heading to the beach within eyeshot,” it seemingly says. It’s then I realized that, at this resort, I could be excited by something new and didn’t have to be afraid of it.
To the pool’s right resides the resort’s main bar, manned with the optimal number of bartenders and stocked with a library of domestic and foreign spirits (my go-to drink was a caipirinha); to the right of the bar is the entrance to the resort’s theater, which also has its own indoor bar. During the second day of my stay, Club Med welcomed Danilo Medina, president of the Dominican Republic, and other officials to the resort’s official opening ceremony.
Follow your nose up a nearby wide, winding staircase to three of the resort’s four restaurants: Cayuco Market, the main restaurant; Coal & Copper, a steakhouse; and Cacao & Co., the family restaurant, which hides a speak-easy for children—the Secret Chocolate Room—complete with candies and melted-chocolate fountains.
I quickly discovered why Cayuco was the main restaurant and why it’s called a “market”:
After surveying a seemingly endless buffet of foods—from exquisitely designed small dishes and thinly sliced, expertly seasoned meats to various pastas, piles of fresh seafood and a dessert center that never disappointed—it felt like I’d just explored a marketplace of cuisines from around the world.
I decided what I wanted for my first plate, planned out my next three or four visits to the buffet, and then proceeded to find a place to start my feast. You can sit either in tropically designed indoor seating or on the outdoor balcony in the warm, welcoming Dominican Republic climate. I noshed on crab legs and other small seafood plates as roaming waiters were quick to ensure our table never had empty wineglasses.
Dinner for my second night was held at Coal & Copper, where I finished off a perfectly portioned salad with octopus for a starter, a medium-rare ribeye with red-wine reduction sauce for the main course, and a Black Forest-style cheesecake with Amarena cherries for dessert. For breakfast on departure day, I made a quick pit stop for fruits and pastries at the alfresco Coco Plum, which has its own bar and provides a dreamy view of the beach.
Club Med Michès Playa Esmeralda’s amenities can’t be discussed without mentioning electric jetboarding, just around the bend of the secluded beach. You can either lie prone on the electrically powered board or stand up like it’s a high-speed surfboard. Show up early, though, or be ready to wait—this is definitely one of the resort’s most popular activities.
Of course, a day’s worth of relaxing can be exhausting, and the value of a comfortable room in a home away from home can’t be understated. Club Med Michès Playa Esmeralda is divided into four boutique villages: Explorer Cove (families), Caribbean Paradise (everyone), Emerald Jungle (adult-exclusive and designed for wellness seekers) and Archipelago (adult-exclusive and ideal for romantics).
I stayed in Explorer Cove. The children’s room—furnished with two twin beds, a flat-screen TV and a separate, in-room thermostat—has its own bathroom and shower and is separated from the master bedroom by a small common space with a third bathroom. In addition to a king-size bed facing a beachward, furnished porch, the master bedroom also has a flat-screen TV and a small couch. The master bathroom has a bathtub and rainforest shower too.
Some of my favorite moments happened off the resort’s property. For starters, our trip up La Montaña Redonda (“the Round Mountain”) was a welcome surprise for a flat-Florida guy like me. It’s about a half-hour drive from the resort, and about 10 (it felt like 30) of those minutes are spent slowly bumbling your way up the mountain’s unkempt roads. I’d suffer another 20 (60) minutes of bumpy roads, though, if it meant I could bask in those views again.
The mountaintop supplies literally endless vistas that look over rolling hills of green, and calm, blue Caribbean waters. Here, there is the famous Instagram swing too—well, there are actually multiple Instagram swings—where you can take in 360-degree views of the surrounding region. The mountain’s proximity was undoubtedly my favorite part of the resort (the food was a super-close second).
When we returned from the mountain, Club Med Michès Playa Esmeralda held its soon-to-be-popular sunset rituals, the most relaxing part of the trip for me.
Venturing down the beach until the resort’s village center and its boutique villages are out of sight, there’s this little corner of sand nestled away by a picturesque palm tree and ocean waves that gently fold upon the shore. Far off in the distance, cloud-touching mountains bordered us as if to say, “Relax, you’ve nothing to worry about here,” and a glowing sun slowly fell, signaling the beginning of the evening festivities to come.
A gentle acoustic band set the tone as coconuts were popped open and stuck with straws. Pillows rested on blankets that covered cold, silky sand beneath our feet, and tents made of smooth cloth that rustled in the wind made for the most memorable sunset scenes.
Once the sun set, there was one thing left to do before bed: party. Each of the two nights of my stay at Club Med Michès Playa Esmeralda, there was a lively party that reminded me of any downtown scene—but cleaner. The first one was conveniently located in front of the main bar and featured electronic music, a DJ and live singing performances; the second night’s festivities took place right on the beach and featured music of all genres.
With complete sincerity, it’s not always easy to go on vacation. You need to make certain your responsibilities and duties at home and at work are handled, bookings can be a hassle, and you’re often venturing into unfamiliar territory.
At Club Med Michès Playa Esmeralda, the kind of escape it provides—including cathartic moments of peace and reflection atop La Montaña Redonda as well as entering sleep comas after eating at Cayuco—pays you back tenfold for whatever struggle it took to get there.