Since Coloumbus's historic landing, millions of temperate dwellers have made their home on Dominican soil, lured by its spectacular golden palm-fringed beaches, impressive
mountain ranges etched with dramatic rivers and waterfalls, lush tropical rain forests and
pristine reefs teeming with marine life. Toss in its historical charm, Latin culture and great resorts and it’s easy to see why the Dominican Republic (or the DR, as it is often dubbed)is one of the Caribbean’s most popular destinations.
Whether you’re looking for a place to “zone-out” for a week, view tropical sunsets from a beach chair, spy on courting humpback whales, explore 300-year-old shipwrecks, play golf, party every night or just hang out with the locals, the DR offers a plethora of diversions. And the best part is you won’t have to take out a second mortgage to enjoy a week or two
on the island. Of the 400,000 Canadians per year who travel to the Dominican Republic, more than 50,000 choose Sunwing to enjoy their value-packed inexpensive vacation.
One reason for the Dominican’s wonderful repertoire of tropical diversions lies in its geography. Located only 112 km due west of Puerto Rico, this tropical haven is the Caribbean’s second largest nation in size (48,484 sq km) and population (8.7 million). The DR covers the eastern two-thirds of the
island of Hispaniola, with Haiti occupying the western third. Among its many attributes, the DR boasts more than 300 kilometres of soft white-sand beaches, the Caribbean’s
loftiest peak (3,175-metre Pico Duarte) and Lake Enriquillo, the West Indies’ largest natural saltwater lake and the Caribbean’s
lowest point (40 metres below sea level).
The other two essential ingredients to this melting pot of island diversions are the people
and their culture. The DR’s unique Latin-culture melting pot has been simmering for 500 years. Unlike its neighbours Cuba and Puerto Rico, the DR’s unquestionably Spanish
culture has been seasoned by African and French colonial influences. These influences have found their way into the island’s cuisine, religion, language, music and joie de vivre. For example, most Caribbean destinations have only one carnival a year. The DR has two – the traditional boisterous pre-Lent celebration
(starting in February before Independence Day) and a second raucous affair that begins on
August 15, to commemorate Restoration Day (when the DR declared war on Spain in1865). The fact that this relatively small Caribbean country would even think of declaring war on Spain is testament to their robust attitude.
And it doesn’t end there. During the last week of July and first week of October, the island hosts merengue festivals that attract some of the world’s best ballroom shufflers to Santo Domingo. Merengue is the country’s
national dance and its accompanying toetapping, hip-swaying rhythms have roots in the African, Spanish and French cultures.
Politically, the DR has had its share of rough roads. Occupation, dictatorship, civil war and unrest have plagued the nation for much of the last century. American forces
occupied the island from 1916-1924. After they pulled out, the army commander, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo seized power and ruled until 1961. Election discrepancies caused a civil war in 1965 and the country suffered from unrest in 1985 and 1986 in response to International Monetary Fund mandated prices for gasoline and basic foods.
But all this is in the distant past. Today you’ll find that the DR is a stable, democratic and friendly nation to visit. In fact, most arguments today seem to revolve around baseball and whether “Slamming” Sammy Sosa is the best hitter in major-league
baseball or whether he knew he was using a corked bat.
Sand And Surf
The country’s idyllic white-sand beaches and clear blue water are its main draw. You’ll discern plenty of space for beach towels and
long romantic sunset walks on most of the island’s sensuous strands. If you prefer to spend your days splashing around in the warm water, you’ll find watersport shops on most beaches offering just about every splashing sport imaginable.
Wonderful stretches of sand line the 120- kilometres of north coast between Puerto Plata and Cabarete. The region is commonly
referred to as the Amber Coast because of the world’s richest deposits of amber, found in the
hills overlooking the coast.
These exceptionally long and golden sand beaches border the prime resort towns of Puerto Plata, Playa Dorado, Sosúa and Cabarete and are some of the most popular
on the island. They are a water enthusiast’s nirvana with everything from scuba diving to whale watching. Cabarete is popular with windsurfers and scantily clad Europeans frolicking on the beach. When you’ve had your fill of Speedos, try some snorkeling or
boogie boarding in the bay’s warm waters.
There are few beaches bordering the island’s capital, Santo Domingo, but less than a 30-minute drive east along the south coast,
you will find the talc-like strand of Boca Chica, one of the finest beaches on the island. About an hours drive further east, but served
by La Romana airport, you’ll find the long, luxurious, palm-lined arc of Bayahibe Beach another of the island’s top beaches. With only
a spattering of smaller resorts dotting their shoreline, both beaches seem deserted compared to those on the north shore.
At Punta Cana, in the southeast corner of the island, you’ll find some of the Caribbean’s top beaches and the island’s newer hot resort areas as well as great golf and superb diving, including Laguna Pepe, a freshwater cavern dive in the middle of a golf course. It brings a completely new meaning to the phrase “surf and turf.”
Santo Domingo – A Worthwhile Diversion
Most visitors to the DR tend to arrive at one of the international airports in the resort areas and therefore never get to see Santo
Domingo. But if you’re a history buff and have the time, it is definitely worth a visit. Most resorts offer guided day trips to the capital’s Colonial Zone, the historical gem of the Caribbean.
Founded in 1498 by Columbus’ brother, Bartolomé, Santo Domingo was the first European city in the New World. It is an enchanting and vibrant city of New World “firsts.” So much so that UNESCO designated
the city’s Colonial Zone a World Cultural Heritage site in 1990. The Colonial Zone contains many of the oldest buildings in the Western Hemisphere, including the first
cathedral (Cathedral Of Santa María la Menor 1514), convent (Convento de los Dominicos 1510) and hospital (Hospital San Nicolás de Bari 1519).
The centerpiece of the old city is the 1511 palace Alcázar de Colón, which sits at the edge of a large square on the banks of the Rio
Ozama. Built without using a single nail, the palace was home to Don Diego (Columbus’s son), the first Viceroy of Hispaniola. A couple
of blocks away is the oldest surviving building in the Western Hemisphere, Casa de Cordon (1503). It was home to Don Diego and his
family during the construction of the palace.