Meet the locals
Travel Entrepreneur Jenny Checo
Jenny Checo with Atlas Travelers in Haiti
Photo: Ryan Bowen
Discover Jenny Checo's captivating journey as a travel entrepreneur in our exclusive interview. Delve into her unique insights on bridging the cultures of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and uncover her top travel recommendations and experiences
Jenny Checo, a Santiaguera by birth, is the dynamic founder of Atlas Travelers. Her path from limited beginnings to becoming a trailblazing travel entrepreneur is inspiring. Committed to more than just tourism, she focuses on community development and inspiring families, including her own daughter, to explore the world.
A transformative trip to Haiti in 2012 was the turning point, leading her to establish Atlas Travelers. Focused on bridging cultural gaps, particularly between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, Jenny's company organizes travel experiences enriched with cultural interactions, extending to Colombia, Cuba, and beyond.
Driven by a desire to improve Dominican-Haitian relations and challenge prejudices, Jenny has successfully led over 50 groups to Cap-Haïtien. Through Atlas Travelers, she designs immersive experiences that encourage cultural understanding and sustainable tourism practices. Recently, she also co-founded Chocolate Mountain RD, a community tourism project located in the Septentrional mountain range near Puerto Plata.
We sat down with Jenny to delve into her unique insights. Get ready for tips and secrets about the best spots and bites in Hispaniola and personal recommendations that only a true insider like Jenny can offer!
Jenny Checo at tobacco farm in Villa González, Dominican Republic
Photo: Ryan Bowen
Tell us what you miss the most about the Dominican Republic whenever you leave the island.
Haha, I always find myself missing my rice and beans! I'm all for trying new cuisines, but a few weeks away and I start craving them. Whenever I return from a trip, the first thing I do is ask my mom to make them.
And for everything else, I try to embrace all aspects of my travels, even if it's outside my comfort zone. Like, I'm not keen on cold weather, but I gear up and enjoy it as part of experiencing new places.
Considering your travels in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, what similarities and connections do you see between these neighboring countries?
As someone who has traveled extensively across the wole island, I've observed striking similarities between our neighboring countries. A shared love for delicious food and festivities is evident in both cultures.
People in both nations are incredibly welcoming and place a high value on family and traditions. And here's a funny thing – even though I've always been a fan of Dominican plantains, I realized Haiti's bannann peze actually tastes way better!
Is it complicated to visit Haiti?
Visiting Haiti is unique; it's about understanding the country and its layers. My advice? Come with an open heart and an open mind. And I really suggest hiring a local travel company that tailors your experience, ensuring you have a trip that's not just memorable, but truly enriches your understanding of Haiti.
What kind of feedback do you get from Dominicans visiting Haiti for the first time?
It's eye-opening for them. Most Dominicans who visit Haiti for the first time come to realize the importance of bridging the gap between our countries. They see it's not just a trip to another destination; it's a cultural exchange, a conversation starter that really strengthens our bonds and understanding. It's about building relationships, not just tourism.
Jenny Checo with Atlas Travelers in Rwanda, Africa
Photo: Ryan Bowen
Tell us about some of your favorite places in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
In the Dominican Republic, I'm particularly drawn to Samaná Province for its diversity, hidden beaches, waterfalls, and eco-projects. Rio Grande in Altamira is another gem, offering mountainous landscapes and a culturally rich community.
In Haiti, the northern coast, including Cap-Haïtien, Milot, and Labadee, holds a special place in my heart. The Citadelle in Milot is particularly impressive, being the largest fortress in the Americas, built by the first free black nation – a historical fact everyone should know. Cap-Haïtien's colorful cityscape and Labadee's exotic beaches are truly captivating. Among these, Cadras Beach is my personal favorite.
How about Haitian and Dominican cuisine? Can you recommend some must-try Hispaniola dishes?
In Haiti, I absolutely love the local flavors of northern Haitian cuisine. Dishes like akra, diri ak djondjon, and poul ak nwa really bring out the unique tastes of the region. And let's not forget about pikliz – its spiciness is just perfect for adding that extra zing!
Every January 1st, I make it a point to savor Soup Joumou. It's not just a treat for the taste buds; it's a cherished tradition that connects me to Haiti's incredible history.
For drinks, I can't get enough of the Haitian Barbancourt rum – especially in a rum sour cocktail. And to cool down, a cold Prestige beer is just unbeatable with any Haitian meal.
Back in the Dominican Republic, I always crave rice and beans right after my travels. There's nothing quite like the comforting taste of asopao, sancocho de habichuelas, and sweet plantains – they're what Dominican cooking is all about for me.
For drinks, artisanal and local beers are my go-to choices, with Cibao and Caribe beers topping my list. The unique Cimarrona beer, infused with cacao from Altamira, offers a distinctive taste experience. Must-try dishes include our hearty national dish La Bandera, and flavorful Dominican empanadas.
Also, the unique morirsoñando, is literally a drink to die for, blending milk with citrus flavors. So refreshing!
What would you say to someone who has never visited Hispaniola but might be considering visiting?
Oh, you're in for a treat with Hispaniola! It's not just about those long palm beaches and sipping fresh coconuts – though they're great too. The real heart of our island begins inside, right in the heart of our communities. There’s a whole world of experiences waiting there.
Jenny Checo with Atlas Travelers in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti
Photo: Ryan Bowen
Interview by Diego Angeles King.
Published December 2023.
Subscribe to our newsletter
Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox