The Dominican Republic is a nation on the island of Hispaniola, part of the Greater Antilles archipelago in the Caribbean region. The western three-eighths 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 48,445 square kilometres (18,705 sq mi) and nearly 10 million people, one million of which live in the capital city, Santo Domingo.
The Dominican Republic is renowned as an affordable beach destination brimming with package tourists and enticing all-inclusive resorts. But the country is also a captivating blend of culture, history, and stunning natural beauty. The main tourist magnets are the areas around Puerto Plata, Punta Cana, La Romana, and Samaná. However, the country’s cultural jewel is the capital, Santo Domingo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In addition to well-developed beach resorts and world-class golf courses, the Dominican Republic is home to vast coral reefs, waterfalls, jungles, secluded islands, pine forests, and the highest peaks in the Caribbean.
Santo Domingo, the oldest city in the New World, lovingly preserves the jewels of its rich history and culture. Top on the list of the city’s treasures is the historic Colonial City (Zona Colonial), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with cobblestone streets, stunning Spanish Colonial architecture, and excellent restaurants. Perhaps the most significant site here is the First Cathedral of America, the oldest existing cathedral in the Americas. Also worthwhile is the Museum of the Royal Houses and the early 16th century Alcazar De Colón, built by the son of Christopher Columbus. The Plaza de la Cultura is museum central. Here visitors will find the Palace of Fine Arts, Museum of Modern Art, and the National Palace to name a few. Other highlights of the city include the Columbus Palace, Ozama Fort, National Botanical Gardens, and the Malecón, a picturesque seaside promenade.
Eastern National Park
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Eastern National Park (Parque Nacional del Este) is a prime habitat for hundreds of species of plants and animals, including 112 species of birds. The reserve also encompasses one of the Caribbean’s largest marine parks with an immense coral reef system. Four species of sea turtles as well as manatees, bottlenose dolphins, and numerous species of fish live in its tropical waters. In addition to this wealth of biodiversity, the park is the habitat for the rare paloma coronita (crowned, or white-headed dove) and the rhinoceros iguana. Besides the excellent diving and snorkeling, visitors to the park can view examples of pre-Columbian art in its system of caves, or relax on some of the park’s remote beaches. The sandy beaches of Saona Island (Isla Saona) are a popular side trip for visitors to the region.
Punta Cana, on the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic, is one of the most popular tourist areas on the island. Packed with resorts, this large town is known for its beautiful beaches (palm-lined Bavaro is a favorite) and world-class golf courses. Nearby Scape Park offers a zipline tour, dune buggies, and a visit to the cool waters of Hoyo Azul Lagoon. Those seeking a slower pace can head north to the quaint fishing village of El Macao. Its public beach is a popular surfing spot. An airstrip with regular flights and charters flies pleasure-seekers to Punta Cana from around the world.
La Romana, on the southeast coast of the Dominican Republic, is home to the charming Altos de Chavón, a replica of a 16th century artisans’ village and one of the island’s best spots to shop for crafts. Visitors will also find the luxurious Casa de Campo resort here encompassing several hotels, beautifully landscaped gardens, a riding school, polo ground, and tennis courts. Dominican designer, Oscar de la Renta, helped decorate the rooms. Casa de Campo also boasts one of the top golf courses in the Caribbean, Teeth of the Dog, which dazzles golfers with spectacular ocean views. Isla Catalina, a cruise-ship port-of-call, south of La Romana, draws thousands of visitors a day.
An emerging eco-tourism destination, Jarabacoa lies in the spectacular Cordillera Central, (Central Mountains) a landscape of sweeping pine forests, rivers, waterfalls, and the highest peaks in the Caribbean. The Dominican Republic’s only whitewater river, Río Yaque del Norte, offers gentle rapids for rafters. Visitors here appreciate the milder alpine climate, and the region’s rugged terrain, with many trails, is excellent for mountain biking, hiking, and rock climbing.
Lake Enriquillo (Lago Enriquillo) is the lowest point and largest saltwater lake in the Antilles. Flamingos and iguanas are found in abundance here, and an island in the center of Lago Enriquillo, Parque Nacional Isla Cabritos, has one of the largest wild reserves of American Crocodiles. The park is home to over 106 species of flora and 62 species of bird ranging from the Hispaniolan Parrot to the White-crowned Pigeon.