A Journey Through the Dominican Republic

by Ollie Barstow on 11 January 2012, 12:01PM A Journey Through the Dominican Republic

Home to both the tallest and the lowest points in the entire Caribbean, the Dominican Republic’s natural contrasts are reflected in the juxtaposition of its culture, displaying an unusual, yet striking, blend of western and African influences in a tropical setting.

While political matters, power struggles and several changes of ownership have defined much of its fairly young history, a pretty landscape and natural masterpieces better define modern day Dominican Republic, the tourism boom of the 1970s and 1980s hauling the country out of anonymity and into the public conscious as a foremost Caribbean destination.

With its stunning beaches and breathtaking scenery, the Dominican Republic adds a distinctive Spanish flair to its healthy list of attributes, particularly compared to its more British-inspired contemporaries with which it shares the Caribbean Sea.

Located on the island of Hispaniola alongside Haiti, which covers the western side, the Dominican Republic juts into the Caribbean Sea from the eastern side and is bless with a coastline that has established itself as the epitome of tropical splendour, endowed with secluded white beaches, shimmering waters that lap gently against the shore and palm trees that bend in the light winds.

Conjure a fantastical image of the Caribbean and the Dominican Republic offers a realistic rendition…

Well, almost, because venture inland and the Dominican Republic’s territory changes between mountain ranges, notably the 3098m Pico Duarte, valleys, such as El Cibao and lakes, including the lowest in the entire Caribbean at Enriquillo.

But that is just one of the reasons why the Dominican Republic is a Caribbean country with a difference, appealing to each visitor, whether your desire is to while away the hours on the soft-sand beach, or explore some of the more challenging peaks.

Even so, it is Dominican Republic’s coastline that has caught holidaymakers’ imaginations, with resort towns peppered across the north, east and southern sea stretches of the country.

Punta Cana on the eastern tip, which has grown at a substantial rate since the 1980s, is considered the country’s jewel, its epic natural beauty now complemented by a myriad of luxury all-inclusive resorts and its proximity to an International Airport.

Headlined by Bavaro, Arena Gorda and Macao, Punta Cana’s delightful, palm-tree fringed beaches are now lined by hotels, bars, restaurants, cafes, casinos and golf courses. Indeed, with 12 courses, some designed by Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo, in operation – and more under construction -, Punta Cana has established itself as a year-round golfing mecca, namely Punta Espada, which is considered one of the world’s finest places to ‘tee-off’.

Still, the Dominican Republic isn’t confined to just one resort, with Puerto Plata in the north, including the pretty towns of Sousa, Cabarete and Playa Dorada, offering 62 miles of glorious ‘Amber Coast’, eponymously titled by its rich Amber deposits.

Then there is the Samana Peninsula on the north-east tip, distinguished from other areas in the Dominican Republic by its thriving natural landscape, notably the verdant green hillsides that provide a picturesque backdrop from its ivory-hue beaches.

Indeed, Samana’s impressive eco-biological diversity can be explored in the Los Haitises National Park, with its islets, mangroves and caves, while January-to-March offers a spectacular opportunity to witness the humpback whales that migrate to this region.

Venturing along the south coast, La Romana and Boca Chica are pleasant beach towns, though the former encourages you to step away from the waters to explore its cultural offerings, not least Altos de Chavon, a replica 16th century Mediterranean Village, where the shops, galleries, arts and crafts are captivating curios worth perusing.

To better experience the Dominican Republic’s surprisingly significant culture, however, then the capital city of Santo Domingo beckons. For what it lacks in beachside excellence, Santo Domingo makes up with historical intrigue having been established as the first European settlement in the Americas, while the fascinating Zona Colonial district is now a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.

Spain’s colonial influences are evident at each turn, in particular the language, architecture and place names, while the food menus can also be cross-examined with those found in the European nation.

Nonetheless, the Dominican Republic successfully carves a niche for itself as an independent entity, perhaps best represented – unusually – by a music and dance genre that has no obvious origin, yet is regarded as a national obsession.

Whilst enjoying a Dominican Republic holiday you can’t miss the unmistakable beats of Merengue, Latin American inspired music and dance that is exceptionally popular. Lending the country a distinctive vibe not shared by other Caribbean locations, the infectious rhythms complement the sunny disposition of the friendly inhabitants.

It’s a quirk that helps define the Dominican Republic, the flamboyance of the merengue dance replicated by locals across the country and welcoming you to have a go.

Indeed, as mentioned earlier, the Dominican Republic is no ordinary Caribbean country… After all, many associate the Caribbean as lulling you into a relaxed state of calm, cocktail in hand, feet tapping to the distant sounds of reggae.

The Dominican Republic, on the other hand, drags you to your feet, hauls you onto the dance floor and encourages you to join in… And you know it’d be rude not to!

 

Dominican Republic Useful Information

Currency

Peso (RD$)

1, 5 Peso Coin Denotations

10, 20, 50, 100, 500, 1000 Peso Paper Money Denotations

 

Weather

Tropical maritime, with minimal season variation in temperature but a seasonal variation in rainfall

 

Visas

Tourist Card required for entry to Dominican Republic, but not a Tourist Visa

 

Language

Spanish

 

Dial Codes

Dominican Republic + 1 809 & 1 829

Dial 00 1 809 & 00 1 829 from UK to Dominican Republic

Dial 011 44 from Dominican Republic to UK

 

Electricity

110 Volts/60 Hertz (same as North America)

 

Health & Safety

Recommended Vaccinations – Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Hepatitis B, Rabies, MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella), Tetanus Diphtheria

 

Time Difference

UTC -4 hours

 

Images Courtesy of the Ministry of Tourism of the Dominican Republic


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