Immersing your group in local culture may be as easy as adding in creative culinary experiences that integrate a destination’s specialties.
Whether cooking classes in Aruba or bites found in a replica of a 16th-century Mediterranean village in the Dominican Republic, the following Caribbean destinations really know how to put on a show when it comes to immersive cultural culinary.
Aruba is defined by its many cultures, a blend of English, Dutch, Spanish and native Papiamento. All are represented in its cuisine, which is often served up family-style. A favorite team building activity is a group cooking class, where attendees can learn to make a local dish, such as funchi, a cornmeal mash that is similar to polenta. They can also take a culinary tour from Kukoo Kanuka, the go-to operator for pub crawls and barhopping tours. The new “Wine on Down the Road” tour starts with a sunset champagne toast on the beach, then a visit to four restaurants led by a sommelier who pairs wines and local dishes.
A popular group property is the 368-room Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort & Casino, the largest and most historic hotel on the island. Built in 1959 and designed by Morris Lapidus, the hotel’s retro furniture and vintage photos remind attendees of its past. There’s also 15,000 sf of stylish meeting space, including an 8,100-sf ballroom. The place to be in the evenings is the beach, where groups can enjoy a private Carnival show, with BBQ lobster, crab legs, chorizo, lamb chops and coconut curry, topped off with bottomless cranberry mojitos.
For an entirely different vibe, historic walking tours of Old San Juan take attendees along the cobblestone streets of one of the oldest cities in the Western Hemisphere. They’ll stop at the Cathedral, where the voyagers from Europe disembarked, and wander around El Morro, the oldest fort in the US National Park Service. The tour highlights Puerto Rico’s architecture, food, arts and crafts and music, topped off with a local icee, or piragua.
Visiting groups can attend one of the many culinary fairs taking place in Puerto Rico each year. The signature event—and the biggest—is “Saborea Puerto Rico: A Culinary Extravaganza,” which brings together international culinary stars, as well as the best flavors and chefs the island has to offer.
Groups visiting this warm and welcoming country yearn to immerse themselves in the Dominican culture. La Romana, a 75-mile day trip from the capital city of Santo Domingo, is home home to Altos de Chavon, a replica of a 16th-century Mediterranean village set atop rolling green hills along the Chavon River. The village’s restaurants and shops feature locally crafted jewelry and artisan wares, and of course, local cigars. Accommodating groups of up to 140 and seasonal only, La Piazetta features gourmet Italian dishes and rustic charm overlooking Altos de Chavon. Or take part in a Grupo Bonye performance in Santo Domingo. Each Sunday evening in the summer, the popular local band plays a free concert under the stars in front of the ruins of San Francisco Monastery in Santo Domingo’s colonial zone, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A great way to fully experience Dominican gastronomy is with an authentic cooking class. Located in Santo Domingo, Hodelpa Nicolas de Ovando and its chef Martin Omar Gonzalez offers culinary classes at the renowned Dos Mundos restaurant. The Colonial Quarter is the ideal place to familiarize the group with Dominican dishes, ranging from soups and stews to a plateful of arroz and crispy fried tostones from a local mom-and-pop establishment, topped off with a sweet coconut dessert.
“Dominican Republic’s unique features extend far beyond the beaches,” says Magaly Toribio, spokesperson for the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism. “We are known for our rich culture and history and the 16th century architecture and incredible gastronomy of Santo Domingo.”