The Dominican Republic is a Caribbean nation that shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti to the west. It is one of the Caribbean’s most geographically diverse countries, with stunning mountain scenery, desert scrublands, evocative colonial architecture and beaches galore.
It was long one of the Caribbean’s more obscure destinations. In the 1970s, a group of investors developed Punta Cana as a beach resort destination unrivaled by any other. Then the Dominican Republic’s government began proudly splashing its assets around the world in colorful TV and print advertisements in a determination to elevate the country’s name on the list of Caribbean vacation spots.
Evidence of its success is visible throughout the country. Visitor numbers, which top 5 million annually, have soared along with the construction of dozens of world-class, all-inclusive resorts. There’s also been an increase in visits by cruise ships to the ports of Santo Domingo, Puerto Plata, Samana and La Romana.
Other improvements can be traced to the pursuit of tourism income: Many of the country’s roads have been widened and paved, historic areas in the major cities have been renovated, Santo Domingo has gained an underground metro system, and the nation has gained a new cache among the world’s rich and famous as more and more deluxe boutique-hotels, chic resorts, championship golf courses and marinas open.
Although the growth in tourism has eased some of the country’s economic troubles, it hasn’t ended the desperate conditions experienced by many Dominicans. The unemployment rate is high, and more than a quarter of the people live in poverty—many residing in shantytowns and rural shacks that even visitors to all-inclusive resorts will find hard to ignore.
The eastern coast of the Dominican Republic is here where the massive all-inclusive resorts dominate the scenic landscape. There are over 40,000 hotel rooms from Punta Cana to El Macao, luckily we were able to get one of them, thanks to our trusty agent, Monica. It truly is beautiful here. Soft, white sand and warm aquamarine waters make these beaches some of the best in the Caribbean. On our way to the hotel, the cab driver raved about the snorkeling, so we decided to give it a try. A popular spot for snorkeling is the Marinarium, a natural offshore pool near Cabeza de Toro. It was a very exciting, if not frightening day. We saw rays, nurse sharks, and a multitude of colorful tropical fish.
The Dominican Republic is a mashup of sights and sounds, best represented by the weekly block party beneath the 500-year-old Monastery of San Francisco. The ruins of the New World’s first monastery form the backdrop of live merengue and salsa music every Sunday night, as hundreds dance in the cobblestoned square and drink Presidente beer. Millions go to the Dominican Republic for the striking natural beauty of its beaches and ecology, but historical attractions and vibrant Latin culture form the crux of the country’s charm.
The Dominican Republic’s foremost attractions are its beautiful beaches and warm tropical waters, historical sites, casinos, golf courses, mountain scenery, national parks, merengue dancing, baseball games, cigars, reef and wreck diving, windsurfing and kiteboarding, and caves full of pre-Columbian art.
Travelers who are interested in resort activities (water-sports, golf, tennis), colonial history and Caribbean culture will be happy in the Dominican Republic. Those who would rather not witness conditions in a poor, developing country or who can’t tolerate reckless drivers may prefer the Virgin Islands or other smaller Caribbean resort destinations.
All in all, the Dominican Republic out there on it’s own next to Haiti, might not seem like an ideal vacation spot. Well, all I can say is look again. This is a wonderful little gem in the middle of the Caribbean. Sometimes quiet, sometimes overcrowded, but always satisfying.