Spanish: República Dominicana, 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), with 48,442 square kilometres (18,704 sq mi) and an estimated 10 million people.
Taínos inhabited what is now the Dominican Republic since the 7th century. Christopher Columbus landed on it in 1492, and it became the site of the first permanent European settlement in the Americas, namely Santo Domingo, the country's capital and Spain's first capital in the New World. After three centuries of Spanish rule, with French and Haitian interludes, the country became independent in 1821. The ruler, José Núñez de Cáceres, intended that the Dominican Republic be part of the nation of Gran Colombia, but he was quickly removed by the Haitian government and "Dominican" slave revolts. Victorious in the Dominican War of Independence in 1844, Dominicans experienced mostly internal strife, and also a brief return to Spanish rule, over the next 72 years. The United States occupation of 1916–1924, and a subsequent calm and prosperous six-year period under Horacio Vásquez Lajara, were followed by the dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina until 1961. The civil war of 1965, the country's last, was ended by a U.S.-led intervention, and was followed by the authoritarian rule of Joaquín Balaguer, 1966–1978. Since then, the Dominican Republic has moved toward representative democracy and has been led by Leonel Fernández for most of the time after 1996. Danilo Medina, Dominican Republic's current president, replaced former president Leonel Fernández holding 51% of the Electoral Vote over his opponent ex-president Hipolito Mejia in 2012.
The Dominican Republic has the ninth largest economy in Latin America and the second largest economy in the Caribbean and Central American region. Though long known for sugar production, the economy is now dominated by services. The country's economic progress is exemplified by its advanced telecommunication system. Nevertheless, unemployment, government corruption, and inconsistent electric service remain major Dominican problems. The country also has "marked income inequality". International migration affects the Dominican Republic greatly, as it receives and sends large flows of migrants. Haitian immigration and the integration of Dominicans of Haitian descent are major issues. A large Dominican diaspora exists, most of it in the United States. They aid national development as they send billions of dollars to their families, accounting for one-tenth of the Dominican GDP.
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. Quisqueya, as Dominicans often call their country, 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.
The beaches along the eastern coast, around Punta Cana and Bavaro, are beautifully white and well groomed and the water is turquoise clear They are lined with tall palms, seemingly go on forever. The large, all-inclusive resorts in this area are like small, self-contained cities. Resort offerings can include various swimming pools and watersports activities, different restaurant and nightlife options (including casinos), golf courses, spas, tropical gardens and even mini-zoos. These resorts are not for those that want a more active or cultural vaction and want to get to know the country and its people.
Most visitors to these areas fly directly into Punta Cana Airport, as it is quite a drive from most of the country's other international airports.
Las Terrenas - Samana
Las Terrenas, located approximately 245 km east of Puerto Plata, must be accessed by one of two mountain roads. If you are coming from the west, you would turn left after the town of Sánchez. If you are arriving from the east, you would drive through Samaná, and turn right on the road towards El Limón and El Portillo. Once you're on either road it will take another 1/2 hour to 45 minutes to reach the town of Las Terrenas. The road from Sánchez is the most exciting route to take. This curvy, steep road takes you through the Cordillera Samaná mountain range. Go slowly and you'll see spectacular views of Samaná Bay and Parque Los Haitises on the south side, and the Atlantic coast on the north side. Along the way you'll see brightly painted Dominican homes, as well as the unique farming and vegetation of the area, including 60 varieties of palms. Upon arrival in Las Terrenas, you'll be awed with the calmness of the area and the beautiful white sand beach lined with tall palms and pastel-colored wooden fishing boats. The next thing you may notice is its Mediterranean-influenced atmosphere. There are plenty of cafés and oceanfront restaurants where people can be found sipping wine, over long, leisurely lunches, or having a mid-day break over a café latte. Shops there offer a variety of arts and crafts, many of them unique handmade items that can be difficult to find elsewhere in the Dominican Republic. Activity-wise, you can enjoy watersports like snorkeling, diving, windsurfing and kiteboarding. The 4-wheel drive and horseback riding trips are also popular because they allow you to see otherwise non-accessible areas of beauty. If you just want to plant yourself on a beautiful beach you can also visit closeby Playa Bonita or Playa Las Balleras.
Christopher Columbus discovered this natural port in the early 1490's. History has provided a couple of explanations for its name, which translated into English, means Port of Silver . Some say it was due to the silvery appearance the mist took on the background mountain, Isabela de Torres. Others say it wasn't the mist at all, but the silvery looking leaves of the guayaba trees that grow on the mountain. Others believe it derived from the appearance of thousands of shimmering silver coins in the port's waters at sunset. The beauty of Puerto Plata is illustrated by its nickname, 'La Novia del Atlantico' (The Bride of the Atlantic).
In 1540 the first fort in the New World was built, Fuerte de San Felipe, and the port became a stop for traders between Europe and this area. During the 1600's the Spanish lost interest in the port, moving south to Santo Domingo and the neighboring Caribbean islands of Puerto Rico and Cuba. Having been abandoned, illicit activities increased, and as a result, the city was later destroyed by Spanish royal decree. In the 1740's the city was rebuilt by some Spanish families who immigrated from the Canary Islands. The thriving port and a tobacco boom made this city the wealthiest and cosmopolitan in the Caribbean for a few decades, beginning in the 1870's. It lost most of its importance of that time but did grow into the largest city on the North Coast of the country. The 1970's brought tourism to the area and while the city of Puerto Plata did not itself become a major tourist destination, it continues to have many visitors from the surrounding resort areas.
Many visit the city to see the historic fort, Fuerte de San Felipe, and the Victorian gingerbread-like mansions from the late 1800's, located in the older part of the city. There is a 2 km boardwalk, or Malecón, lined with typical Dominican restaurants, where you can take a walk and enjoy views of the port and the Atlantic Ocean. Popular attractions include the Amber Museum of Puerto Plata, featuring leaves, flowers, insects and reptile fossils trapped in amber (resin) pieces; the Brugal Rum Distillery, where they offer guided tours of how their rum is made; Central & Independance Parks, where you can see city residents enjoy a break from the mid-day sun under the shade of trees; and Mount Isabel de Torres , the mountain located just behind Puerto Plata. You can take a gondola/cable car from Puerto Plata, to the top, which will provide you with spectacular views of the city and surround area. Once at the top, you'll find the statue of Christ the Redeemer, beautiful botanical gardens and the famous OCEAN WORLD.
Boca Chica is located just a 15 minute's drive east of Santo Domingo's major airport, Las Americas International Airport. Before Columbus arrived to the DR, this area was of major importance to the Taino civilization. The area did not have a lot happening from then until the Trujillo era (1931-1961), at which time it became a popular resort destination for wealthy Dominicans from the capital. The 1970's brought outside tourism and the town and surrounding area grew accordingly. Boca Chica is best known for its beautiful white sand beach located in a small cove protected by a protruding reef surrounding the cove. These geographical features create what has been described as a great big swimming pool. The shallow depth of the cove and the outside reef keep the waters within the cove crystal clear and calm - especially safe for children. In addition to swimming, watersports like snorkeling, waterskiing, paddle boating, kayaking, windsurfing and jet skiing, take place. At night the town comes alive with incredible dining and nightlife options. Popular excursions include trips to the capital; diving at La Caleta Submarine National Park, Saona or Catalina Island; horseback riding; deep-sea fishing; or watching one of the daily baseball games taking place at Calle del Sur .
Barahona, located a three hour's drive west of Santo Domingo, was founded by French-Haitian General, Toussaint L'Overture. He believed Barahona's location was the perfect spot to build an alternate port to Santo Domingo's. The town itself is not really why people visit this area. There are a few small hotels and resorts in this region, but it's the surrounding landscape that is the real draw. The incredible natural environment includes mountains, lakes, interesting vegetation, and gorgeous coastline. The remote and hidden beaches are the prettiest you'll see in the Dominican Republic. A bigger attraction are the three national parks. The largest protected area in the country, Parque National Jaraqua, contains Laguna Oviedo, which is home to home to over 60 bird species, including the countries largest population of flamingos. Parque National Isla Cabritos, contains Lago Enriquillo, the largest salt water lake in the Antilles, located 45 meters below sea level, home of the American Crocodile. Parque Nacional Sierra de Baoruco is a mountainous park with rainforest vegetation. It is within this park that you can also visit the Larimar mines, which are located 40 km south of Barahona.
Cabarete, located approximately 40 km east of Puerto Plata and 20 km east of the POP Airport, is a charismatic little beach town that attracts sports enthusiasts and sun worshippers from all over the world. Until the late 1980's, this town was not much of a town at all, but a vacation area for a few Dominicans from Moca and Santiago. A couple of foreigners discovered the ideal windsurfing conditions in Cabarete Bay, and this secret spot didn't stay secret very long. Since the late 80's the town has hosted both professional and amateur international windsurfing competitions. In 2000, kiteboarding started to take off, and the town has hosted international professional competitions every year since. Cabarete is considered by many to be one of the top places in the world to windsurf and kiteboard, but that's not all that can be done here. You can surf, mountain bike, horseback ride, go canyoning, and take part in so many other adventures, or just simply enjoy the fun in the sun to be found here.
Playa Dorada is a gated resort community approximately 5 km east of Puerto Plata. This community attracts the greatest number of 'all-inclusive tourists' to the North Coast of the Dominican Republic. The area has over a dozen separate resorts - each with their own restaurants, bars, swimming pools and activity options. The majority of these resorts are all-inclusive resorts (accommodations and all food and beverages are included). The area boasts over 2 km of white sandy beach with watersports options; a shopping mall with additional restaurants, bars, gift shops and a movie theatre; two casinos; tennis clubs, horseback riding areas, and the Robert Trent Jones - designed 18 hole Playa Dorada Golf Course. Because of the variety of things available, it's easy not to leave this resort area at all. This would be a shame given all of the wonderful things you can see and do within very short distances of the Playa Dorada resort area.
La Romana, located an hour and a half's drive east of Santo Domingo, is a city that was pretty much built by the sugar industry. In fact it was the large sugar company, Gulf & Western , who developed Casa de Campo , which receives most of this area's visitors. This 7,000 acre property of rolling hills includes two 18 hole championship golf courses, tennis centers, swimming pools, equestrian stables, polo grounds, shooting stations and exclusive private villas. Pete Dye designed the famous, Dientes de Perro (Teeth of the Dog), where eight of the course's holes skirt the edge of the beautiful Caribbean coast. Just east of the resort is another of Gulf & Western's creations, the shopping/art/culture area, Altos de Chavón , which was built on a cliff overlooking the Río Chavón and designed to look like a 16 th century Mediterranean village. This area includes a Taino artifacts museum, a 5,000 seat amphitheater, as well as many shops and restaurants. A popular excursion from this region is to take a shuttle boat to Isla Catalina ; a small island located 2 km offshore. The island has an incredible coral reef, making it very popular for snorkeling and diving.
Located a 30 minute's drive east from Santo Domingo is a 25 km stretch of coastline called Juan Dolio. In the 1980's developers began building private, luxury villas and all-inclusive resorts in the style of a 'Caribbean Riviera', to answer to ever increasing tourism to the area. The area enjoys nice beaches, a complete infrastructure and is especially proud of Metro Country Club's Los Marlins Golf Course . Charles Ankrom, an award winning international golf course architect, designed this course. The 18 hole, par 72 golf course offers multiple tees to challenge golfers of all levels. The natural beauty of the site, the artistic landscaping and design, excellent practice facilities and the attractive Clubhouse and Pro shop, make Los Marlins a highlight of any golfing vacation. Excursions available from this area are similar to those from Boca Chica - visiting the capital, Santo Domingo; diving; horseback riding; deep sea fishing; and day trips to watch baseball at Campo Las Palmas, the Dominican recruiting camp for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Bayahibe, located just east of Casa de Campo , is reached over a hilly drive with incredible views through the Boca de Chaon Valley . The town itself is more or less a small fishing village surrounded by a few large vacation resorts. Bayahibe provides one of the entrances to the Parque Nacional del Este and Isla Soana . The park consists of limestone terraces formed a million years ago and caves containing pre-Columbian pictographs and rock carvings of the Tainos. One part of the park's coast is known for excellent diving because of its amazing coral formation diversity. The southeastern tip of the park, Calderas Bay, is where you will find saltwater lagoons with mangrove swamps and dozens of different types of birdlife. Bayahibe is also where you can hire a boat for a 45 minute ride over to Isla Saona , a 25 by 5 km sized island. This picturesque island is a popular excursion due to its beautiful white sand beach, tall coconut palms and great snorkeling, which can sometimes include peeks of manatees and bottlenose dolphins.
An hour's drive south of Puerto Plata is the Dominican Republic's second largest city, Santiago de los Trenta Caballeros, with a population of about 1,000,000. Santiago came to life when Columbus had a fort built on the banks of the Yaque del Norte River to protect gold mining being done in the area. In 1504 Spanish farmers settled in this fertile center of the Cibao Valley and began farming tobacco. Today the area is still the most important to the Dominican Republic agriculturally - particularly for livestock, tobacco, coffee, and fruit farming. Santiago and its surrounding region are known for their elaborate celebration of the carnival taking place in February. The city also offers good restaurants and an active nightlife. During the day visitors can enjoy the busy street life of downtown, visit the Parque Duarte, the Cathedral of Santiago, or some of the many monuments and museums. The Tomás Morel Museum of Folkloric Art is popular for its very colorful collection of carnival masks. There is also the Santiago Museum and Tobacco Museum. A monument very difficult to miss is the 67 meter Monument a los Heroes de la Restauracion (Monument to the Heroes of the Restoration). Trujillo had the monument constructed to honor him, but after his death it was renamed to honor those who lost their lives in the War of Restoration. You can climb the stairs of the monument and get amazing views of Santiago and the surrounding area. Santiago's rum and tobacco factories - Bermudez Rum Factory and E Leon Jimenez Tobacco Company - offer tours that are quite popular with visitors. The Leon Jimenez Cultural Center offers cultural exhibits and performances rivaling those of the other museums in Santiago.
A 45 minute drive southeast of Santiago, in the heart of the Cordillera Central mountain range, you'll find Jarabacoa. This town has been a popular summer place for wealthy Dominicans for some time but adventure-sports tourism has made it increasingly more so. It's a natural hub for those wanting to participate in these types of activities - the surrounding nature offering mountain fresh air, tall pines, huge waterfalls and many river rapids. It's also a starting point for those wanting to hike Pico Duarte, highest peak in the Caribbean, at 3087 meters (10,128 feet). Tour operators provide river rafting, kayaking, canyoning, hiking, climbing, paragliding and horseback riding trips in this area from all over the country. The town itself is quite enjoyable whether you participate in these activities or not, offering a nice temperate climate, good restaurants and hotels, and nightly baseball games at the field on Calle la Confluencia.
Located in a beautiful circular valley - 90 km southeast of Santiago and 140 km northeast of Santo Domingo - you'll come upon the beautiful mountain valley town of Constanza. Created by a meteor millions of years ago, this fertile valley has made farming a stronghold since the Tainos inhabited the Dominican Republic. In addition to traditional Dominican agricultural activities, this is where strawberries, raspberries, apples and an incredible variety of flowers are grown. Visitors to this area will enjoy some of the Dominican Republic's most beautiful hiking trails and marvelous sunsets.