The Dominican Republic, is a nation on the island of Hispaniola, part of the Greater Antilles archipelago in the Caribbean region. The western third of the island is occupied by the nation of Haiti, making Hispaniola one of two Caribbean islands, along with Saint Martin, that are shared by two countries. Both by area and population, the Dominican Republic is the second largest Caribbean nation (after Cuba),The Dominican Republic is the most visited destination in the Caribbean. The country's year-round golf courses are among the top attractions on the island. In this mountainous land is located the Caribbean's highest mountain, Pico Duarte, as is Lake Enriquillo, the Caribbean's largest lake and lowest elevation. It has an average temperature of 26 °C (78.8 °F) and great biological diversity. Music and sport are of great importance in the Dominican culture, with Merengue and Bachata as the national dance and music, and baseball as the favorite sport. And the country’s image as a sun-blessed playground is merited – you can happily spend your days on sandy beaches framed by crystal-clear waters and lofty palm trees, and fill your nights with merengue and dark rum. But there’s a lot more to the DR, as it’s commonly known. Set on the most geographically diverse Caribbean island, it boasts alpine wilderness, tropical rainforests and mangrove swamps, cultivated savannahs, vast desert expanses and everything in between. The opportunities for ecotourism and adventure travel are staggering: if you were so inclined, in a single week you could scale a 150m waterfall on a rope, mountain bike along remote dirt tracks, ride the best windsurfing waves in the hemisphere, trek to the top of a 3000m mountain and head out in a fishing boat to marvel at the humpback whales crashing about in the bay of Samaná. As Dominicans are quick to point out, their land was the setting for Christopher Columbus’s first colony, La Isabela, and Spain’s first New World city, Santo Domingo. The events that took place during this brief heyday did much to define the Americas as we know them, and examples of period architecture – both preserved and in ruins remain in the colonial heart of Santo Domingo. As for Dominican culture today, locals take great pride in the sophisticated and intoxicating rhythms of merengue and bachata – the national musical forms – and in the exploits of homegrown baseball players who become stars in the North American leagues. Religion, too, is an integral part of life. The roots of syncretic religion are complicated and nuanced but its theatrical side can be experienced firsthand at one of the dozens of vibrant fiestas patronales. Held in every town across the country, the celebrations in the name of a patron saint are usually music-driven, round-the-clock processions and street parties that can last several days, and offering visitors another chance to see the DR in full, passionate swing.
Explore Dominican Republic:
Many visitors head directly for beachfront resorts, and there’s much at these vacation retreats to admire. The southeastern part of the country probably has the loveliest all-inclusive resort zones, Bávaro and Punta Cana, both holding pristine coastline stretching for kilometres on end. Also dedicated to mass tourism is the mega-complex Playa Dorada on the north coast. Playa Dorada is set beside the city of Puerto Plata, a historic city worth examining for its wealth of Victorian architecture, and is also in easy proximity to wind- and kitesurfing capital Cabarete. Of course, you don’t have to base yourself in a resort to visit the DR’s most popular sights, and there are plenty of opportunities for independent travellers to range further afield too. A quest for immaculate beaches may take you to the most remote corners of the southwest, where your efforts will be rewarded with the breathtaking sands of the Jaragua Peninsula. There are some beautiful, and far more accessible, beaches scattered about the Samaná Peninsula, however, poking out at the country’s extreme northeast. Its primary city, Samaná, serves as a base for checking out the humpback whales that migrate to the Bahía de Samaná each winter, while Las Terrenas is the peninsula’s liveliest town. Its long, sandy seafront is lined with expat-owned hotels, tour operators, and popular restaurants and bars, while secluded paradise isn’t far away at the beaches of playas Bonita and Rincón.
On the southern coast the capital city, Santo Domingo, offers the most fulfilling urban experience, and should be on everyone’s itinerary and not just because it has the country’s largest airport – historic forts, churches and the elegant homes of the Zona Colonial make it a fascinating destination in its own right. If you’re seeking a bit more adventure and outdoor life, you needn’t look too hard. The Cordillera Central is the island’s largest mountain range and provides the stunning setting for multi-day treks through the wilderness to the top of Pico Duarte – the tallest peak in the Antilles – and trips to Jarabacoa, a resort town blessed with a cluster of four waterfalls in its immediate vicinity and featuring all manner of mountain sports.
Punta Cana and Bávaro were two distinct areas lying at either end of a long curve of coconut-tree-lined beach. However, an extraordinary spate of construction over the past 25 years has blurred the boundaries between them. Nowadays, “Punta Cana” is more of a marketing brand than a specific location, incorporated liberally into the title of most of the hotels in the region, even those 40km north of the regional airport. There are actually very few services in what might be termed Punta Cana proper; most of the action occurs round the plazas in Bávaro, and the dusty urban area surrounding the busy traffic intersection, to the west, known as Friusa.
Go elsewhere if you want to explore the country, as the individual resorts here tend to be cities unto themselves, encompassing vast swathes of beachside territory, expansive tropical gardens and several separate hotels. And, given the size of the Punta Cana area, development is far from complete. New hotels continue to go up along the coast, malls are erected inland and to the south the vast Cap Cana project is well under way.
THINGS NOT TO MISS:
Unbeatable as an authentic, locally produced souvenir, this semiprecious stone is stunning when set in jewellery.
See the best young players in the world before they’re whisked off to the US to make it big.
A saltwater lake the size of Manhattan, populated by crocodiles, rhinoceros, iguanas and tens of thousands of colourful tropical birds.
Museo del Hombre Dominicano, Santo Domingo:
This impressive museum, one of four in Santo Domingo’s Plaza de la Cultura, houses an outstanding collection of Taino artefacts, plus exhibits on the island’s African heritage.
La Vega Carnival:
Each February, La Vega transforms itself with the biggest, wildest party in this Carnival-crazed nation.
The stuttering, fast-paced national music has been around in various forms for the past three hundred years.
Santo Domingo’s compact treasure-trove of colonial architecture.
One of the world’s great natural spectacles takes place every winter in Samaná bay when thousands of humpback whales arrive to breed, give birth and fill the memory cards of the watching tourists’ cameras.
Simply the country’s finest beach, where you can relax beneath palm trees, swim in turquoise waters and enjoy freshly caught fish grilled at a waterside shack.
El Limón waterfall:
Hidden deep within the Samaná mountains, but accessible on horseback, this pristine 150m waterfall is one of the loveliest spots on the island.
A circular Shangri-la valley set deep in the heart of the Caribbean’s tallest mountains.
This lively beach town boasts the best windsurfing and kitesurfing in the Caribbean.
Punta Cana and Playa Dorada:
Enjoy with family the comforts of the hotels and the crystal clear waters that these wonderful beach offer.