Dominican Republic occupies two thirds of the eastern part of the island of Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic covers 48,442 square kilometers, to the west, the country shares its only border with Haiti.
The remainder of the Dominican Republic is surrounded by water: To the north is the Atlantic Ocean, the Southern part is skirted by the warm waters of the Caribbean.
The island is located between Puerto Rico and Cuba.
Inhabited then by the Taino Indians, the island was discovered on December 5th, 1492 by Grand Admiral Christopher Columbus.
The Spaniards founded the city of La Isabela on the north. It was the first village in the New World. However, it had a short life because its inhabitants soon moved to other places in the island. Still, some of its remains can be seen at the original site. Columbus and the Spanish colonizers used the island as their base for further New World discoveries and the island remained a Spanish possession for 3 centuries.
Hispaniola, as the island was named, became the first and most important colony for many years, establishing itself as the political, cultural, religious and intellectual center of the new lands.
With the importation of African slaves in large numbers adding to the Spanish-Taino, the modern Dominican people began to emerge. Their cultural uniqueness is present in their food, music, arts & crafts, vocabulary and their relaxed, good-natured approach to life.
As time went by, the Spaniards realized there were greater and better opportunities to obtain riches in the new mainland. They started to neglect their first American colony and a long period of decay started. The Dominicans became French, and then Spanish again; they were attacked by pirates, and by adventurers of every type and origin.
Even the neighboring state of Haiti, which had obtained its independence from France more than twenty years earlier, invaded the old Spanish Colony and took possession of its lands and cities. On February 27th, 1844, the Dominican Republic became a sovereign and free country, and Dominicans venerate a trio of liberators Juan Pablo Duarte, Francisco Del Rosario Sanchez and Ramon Matias Mella.
In 1916 U.S. troops occupied the territory. It was in 1924 when those forces left the country after signing a treaty.
Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, following a coup d'etat, governed the country as a dictator from 1930 until May 30th of 1961, when he was ambushed and executed. Following his execution, a progressive and vibrant democracy has flourished. Free and peaceful elections are held every 4 years.
From 1966 until 1978 the democratic system was reinstalled and the political stability was pronounced with elections that are celebrated every four years:
The Flag was conceived by Juan Pablo Duarte, who initially drew up a white cross on the Haitian flag, which is divided horizontally in two equal parts with blue above and red below.
Successively it was transformed into the present one, divided in four quarters with the colors ready in opposed angles, with the blue one in stop to the left and down to the right, the red one vice versa, with the shield to the centre.
The base of the Dominican religion is the Catholicism. Nevertheless, like in all the layers of its culture, the Dominican one cannot escape to the syncretism that characterizes to him.
The popular religiosity is conformed by catholic components that are combined to elements of the indigenous and African religious inheritance. In addition there are Catholic, Adventist, Pentecostals, Evangelical temples and of other Christian churches.
The cult to the Virgin has two fundamental manifestations: the Virgin of the Altagracia Day (the 21 of January), and the Virgin of Las Mercedes, (the 24 of September). Both are holidays and they are celebrated with great processions and religious ceremonies.
The island boasts the most varied topography in the Antilles, including mountain ridges and chains, valleys, promontories, depressions, coastal plains, and mountain systems. The mountain systems consist of three chains (Central, Oriental, and Septentrional), and three ridges (Neiba, Bahoruco, and Yamasa). An extensive limestone karst formation, Los Haitises, covers 1,600 sq. km.
Protected areas include 14 national parks and seven scientific resources which occupy about 12% of the land areas as well as an underwater park (10 sq. km.), a humpback whale preserve (Banco de la Plata), a panoramic drive, and a bird sanctuary (Cayo Siete Hermanos).
More than 5,600 species of plants, of which 36% are endemic, compose dry and thorn forest, wet tropical forest, cloud and rain forest, pine forest swamp, mangrove, and coastal forest.
Sixty species of amphibians (97% endemic) and 141 species of reptiles (83% endemic) takes part of the widest mix in the Antilles. Notable are the rhinoceros iguana, Ricord's iguana, and the American Crocodile, as well as marine and fresh water turtles.
Of the 258 species of native and exotic birds, 22 are endemic to Hispaniola. Included in the list are the Hispaniola Troglo, Hispaniola Parrot, Hispaniola Parakeet, Bay-breasted Cuckoo, Hispaniola Lizard cuckoo, Antillean Siskin, and the Palm-Crown.
Thirty-three species of land mammals have been identified, including 4 endemic: two solenodontes, one “jutia” and one bat. Fourteen marine mammals have been reported; beaked whales and the Antillean Manatee, as well as the humpback whales, returning each winter from the North Atlantic to breed in numbers in excess of 2,000 in the Dominican waters.
The mineral world is full of elements such as gold mines, Ferro-nickel, and bauxite already exploded, and amber, a vegetal fossilized resin of the Jurassic period; as well as Larimar, a rock with beautiful blue color.
HIGUEY / PUNTA CANA
The town of Higuey, capital of La Altagracia province, is the country's most religious region and center of its Marian cult. Each year, January 21 is set aside to celebrate the Virgin of Altagracia, the spiritual/religious mother of the Dominican people.
In the beginning of the 16th century, the Yuma River port served as the base of operations to conquer Puerto Rico and the neighboring islands. Juan Ponce de Leon sailed from this port in the 1600's to defeat Borinquen and his home in the village of Yuma, which is completely restored and is one of the region's main attractions. Boca Del Yuma is excellent for fishing and exploring its outstanding caves.The coconut coast at the eastern tip of the island is called Punta Cana, the Caribbean’s most popular and fastest growing tourist destination. Here you find a 35 km long paradise beach as well as an endless number of palm trees and coral white sand. The area embraced by Macao and Punta Cana, including Bavaro, now is home to more than 30 large tourist complexes. The most modern hotel complexes are located on this coast. There are several entertainment centers and all the water sports you can imagine. It has a modern international airport which serves more than 70 charter and regular flights.
La Romana, a city built and maintained by the sugar mills, but the main attraction is now one of the world’s most fabulous resorts Casa de Campo. It is a very impressive sight, its hotel and villa accommodations and endless leisure facilities are spread over 7,000 acres of lush terrain on the Caribbean coast. The resort boasts ultra chic interiors decorated with the help of Dominican designer Oscar de la Renta and beautifully landscaped gardens and grounds.
Casa de Campo’s golf course Los Cajuiles, designed by Pete Dye, is one of the most famous in the world.
Part of the Casa de Campo complex is “Altos de Chavon”, an exact replica of an Italian village lying just above the Chavon River. The village, hand-constructed in 1978 by local artisans has been kept as an ambitious cultural center, to promote the talent of locals artists.
There are three major art galleries in the village, showcasing the works of Dominican, European and American artists. Throughout the winding cobblestone streets are smaller galleries where visitors can learn macramé, jewelry making, print making and other crafts or buy the finished products.
It also has a magnificent open air amphitheater which periodically presents famous artists and bands.
A great place to begin your explorations is the nation’s capital, Santo Domingo. An enchanting city uniting modern sophistication, world charm, and Latin charisma. Santo Domingo is the newest and oldest capital city in the new world.
The charming and symbolic palm tree lined Malecon serves as the entrance to the colonial riches of the old city, a city of many firsts, museums, attractions, outdoor bars, restaurants and much more. Great strides have been made in the last few years to restore this part of Santo Domingo to its original look of 500 years past. In recognition of these achievements, the United Nations has declared Santo Domingo “city of world cultural heritage”. The cobblestone streets and centuries old facades of the Colonial City are a framework for the sidewalk cafes that come alive after dusk.
Modern Santo Domingo is a lively and exciting city of museums, superb cuisine, pulsating night life, casinos, culture, art, great shopping, top class hotels and ideal venues for meetings and incentives. The newest and greatest tribute to the great Admiral Christopher Columbus is the majestic Faro a Colon, the Columbus Lighthouse, which has already become our most visited tourist attraction. Its powerful light beams project an impressive cross in the sky that can be seen for many miles.
The National Aquarium is one of the most attractive and educational in the region. Another interesting attraction is Los Tres Ojos, a breathtaking 50 foot deep cave with three lagoons surrounded by stalagmites and lush vegetation.
One hundred feet below street level in an enormous cave with a capacity of 2000 people is the sensational disco and folklore center Guacara Taina, unique in the Caribbean. This is a must for nighttime exploration.
Santiago is the second city in the country and it is located in The Cibao Valley, the most fertile and productive land in the Dominican Republic. The Cibao Valley, in the center of the country, is internationally famous for its Tobacco Plantations. Santiago has a long tradition in the growing, harvesting, elaboration and marketing of this important income generating commodity for the luxury markets. Without a doubt, this region has received the greatest privileges from nature. It supplies the rest of the country with food and has deposits of gold, iron, nickel, and other minerals.
Its people are hospitable, warm, and down to earth who enjoy great prestige as a result of their hard work and vitality.
Architecturally, the city is a jewel. Whatever streets you happen to be in, you are bound to see one or two colonial style buildings. Many of the cities older homes reflect a definite Victorian influence in their style.
Santiago is famous for its carnival, and the fabulous masks used for its festivities are sold throughout the city. You will also find lovely ceramic dolls typical of this region.
Called the Amber Coast because of its rich deposits of this fossilized resin it has 125 Km of beautiful beach coast and is located at the foot of Mount Isabel de Torres, on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. A good start for a tour of the attractive city of Puerto Plata would be a cable car ride up Isabel de Torres, 2565 feet above sea level. From here you can enjoy a sensational view of the city and its surroundings.
Puerto Plata, the largest city on the North Coast, is characterized by Victorian architecture, gingerbread houses, white fences with bougainvillea, and the newly restored Gazebo in the central square of Independence Park. A walk through the center of town will take you to imposing San Felipe Fort, built by the Spaniards as protection against sea borne invaders, and now converted into a museum. At night, the fort is outlined by a dazzling display of lights.
Close by is the Amber Museum. An outstanding example of Victorian architecture, the museum houses some of the most remarkable specimens of this gemstone, the designated national gem.
A few miles east of Puerto Plata you can find Playa Dorada, grouping together 14 resorts which share a golden strip of sandy shore. This complex hosts numerous sports facilities, a shopping center and a golf course.
Another highlight of the North Coast is the town of Sosua, an old Jewish colony established in the 1940’s as a result of the Second World War. Today the population of Sosua is made up of many nationalities.
The immigrants developed Sosua’s dairy and sausage industries, establishing the town as the cheese and salami capital of the Dominican Republic. Although only about 100 remain and most have intermarried with the Dominicans, their influence on the area is evident and you’ll hear many languages spoken, including English, French, German and Italian.
Sosua is appreciated for its wonderful beach / bay surrounded by two villages straddling the bay: Los Charamicos to the west and El Batey to the east. A walk from one end to the other is easy enough, and you’ll see many of the early settlement buildings. The original synagogue is still open for weekly services and welcomes visitors of all faiths.
Sosua has remained popular with European visitors with casual open air restaurants cafes, and bars. Its nightlife is very lively and once a year it is held here an annual Jazz Festival with international performers is held here.
A small, pleasant and low-key beach village located 15 km. east of Sosua. It's one of those naturally charming places that has such a comfortable ambiance that most visitors who come here want to come back.
Cabarete has been taken over by the tourist industry and has developed a more casual international ambiance.
The heart of Cabarete lies at the base of a small bay. The road that runs through its half-mile long center is bordered with several small hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops and other businesses lining both sides. Behind the businesses on the northern side of the road lies one of the finest beaches in the Caribbean, whose golden fine sand stretches for more than 3 km. in both directions, perfect for taking long strolls or jogging. Because of its unique situation, there are no huge hotel complexes close to the village center, so the beach is never too crowded.
For windsurfing, Cabarete is considered one of the top 10 spots in the world. About 10 years ago it was discovered that the combination of the shape of its bay, with a reef at its entrance, and local wind conditions, made it ideal for this sport throughout the year.
Although fairly tiny, Cabarete offers plenty of entertainment options after sunset. A handful of restaurants along the beach offer seafood and shellfish, for reasonable prices.
For later in the evening there are several excellent bars, some of which have inexpensive specials for rum-based drinks. During peak seasons some of them feature live musical entertainment certain nights of the week (mainly rock, blues and reggae), including visiting artists from North America or top Dominican bands, or spontaneous Jam Sessions where visiting musicians are invited to join in. Later in the evening you can go dancing where the DJs mix up a blend of rock/techno/reggae with doses of popular Dominican merengue/bachata/salsa.
Samana is a coastal province with incredible geographical beauty, attracting whale watchers from around the world each winter. The City of Samana has been one of the most disputed territories and was settled by American slaves by 1824, and many residents still speak English. Here you can admire Victorian architecture and enjoy fresh sea food, since the region is a famous breeding ground for fish and shellfish.
Along the peninsula, tropical vegetation surrounds the bay and you find some small keys, including Cayo Levantado, famous for the many visitors that come here by boat in excursions. Besides the beautiful beaches, Samana offers its own culture which is a product of the mixture of settlers that established themselves here.
Nearby, are the beach resort areas of Las Galeras and Playa Rincon, and to the West: Las Terrenas and El Portillo with crystal blue waters and a perfect place for deep sea fishing and scuba diving. Las Terrenas has a variety of small beach-front properties such as small inns and restaurants with a very relaxed, unpretentious atmosphere.
Further along you can find Los Haitises a National Park worth a visit for those who love nature and natural history.