Majestic mountains, vibrant cities and living history compete with miles of beaches for visitors’ attention.
Sprawling across more than half of Hispaniola, the second-largest Caribbean island, the Dominican Republic abounds with vacation options. Those seeking pure relaxation can lounge with a juicy novel on a powdery white swath of sand or sign on for a massage using tropical lotions in a sumptuous spa. Active adventurers might seek out canyoning and windsurfing opportunities. Hikers can scale Pico Duarte, the Caribbean’s highest mountain at 10,000 feet, while strollers can shuffle along 1,000 miles of sublime coastline. For cultural immersion, history buffs can take a step back in time in the centuries-old capital, Santo Domingo. Wherever you go, you’ll hear the infectious sounds of merengue, the national music and dance.
The tropical wildlife astounds nature lovers. Within 19 national parks, six scientific reserves, 32 natural monuments, 15 natural reserves, two marine sanctuaries and nine protected parcels of islands, there exist 5,600 plant species (including 300 endemic orchids), 303 bird species (27 endemic), and a rich underwater world.
Resorts tend to be priced fairly, and many are all-inclusive, meaning most meals, beverages and activities are covered by the room rate.
The East Feast
Long the center of Dominican tourism, the east coast is undergoing a building boom. More than 30 resorts line 21 miles of picturesque coastline in the Punta Cana/Bávaro area, where a sizeable coral reef draws scuba divers.
The tourist hub is getting even better. New hotels and mega-resorts have opened recently – one with a Nick Faldo golf course, a water-sports center, a spa and a full-service marina, the second with the largest marina in the Caribbean and three Jack Nicklaus golf courses. Restaurants, boutiques, a casino and polo grounds are part of the long-term plans.
A 24-mile boulevard now being built will ensure that traffic isn’t a problem.
A short drive away, La Romana has the quaint Altos de Chavon artist enclave and a walled resort compound known for its three challenging golf courses, a polo field, horseback riding, sport shooting, tennis and a marina accommodating 250-foot yachts.
Isla Saona, off the southern shore near Bayahibe, is a 45-square-mile island with pristine beaches and mangrove-lined lagoons. The tiny 6-square-mile piece of paradise called Isla Catalina is a popular diving spot.
On the northeast coast, the Samaná Peninsula is a restful haven, as simple and beautiful a place as can be found anywhere. Untouched beaches lead to brilliant coral reefs, while gushing inland waterfalls and thick rainforests add tropical zest. Samaná is the ideal locale for spotting some of the 5,000 humpback whales that swim by from January through March.
The town of Samaná is the jumping-off point for eco-tourism activities. Ride through old coffee plantations by horse or mule to Salto de Limón, an impressive 150-foot waterfall that cascades into a swimming hole at the bottom. During your stay, you may spot locals carving calabash wood into decorative accessories.
The north coast is known as the Amber Coast because the gem of the same name is mined there. Mountain ranges beckon while blue water and golden beaches yearn to be explored.
Lively waves and winds are the region’s second calling card, as the beach at Cabarete is perfect for kiteboarding and windsurfing. At nearby El Encuentro, waves can get up to 14-feet high.
In this jungle-rich region, adventure seekers spend time whitewater rafting, rock climbing and mountain biking. Two golf courses designed by Robert Trent Jones are among the country’s 21 exceptional golf courses.
To the west of Cabarete lies Puerto Plata, where lively beaches host the guests of attractively priced resorts. San Filepe Fort, used by the Spanish to fight off pirates in the 16th century, is a tribute to colonial days. Ocean World Adventure Park in Cofresi boasts a dolphin lagoon plus a swimmable aquarium and an interactive shark pool.
Park It Here
Birders enjoy the Dominican Republic’s southwest region, since a number of exotic avian friends are found in the lush rainforest, pine forest and arid desert of this region, which contains eight national parks. Pedernales, a small fishing village, is a good jumping off point for two of the major national parks – Parque Nacional Jaragua, home to a large flamingo population as well as egrets, green-tailed warblers and little green herons, and Parque Nacional Sierra de Bahoruco, a semi-desert environment with Larimer mines.
Baní and Las Salinas offer some of the best windsurfing options outside Cabarete, and don’t have the crowds. The Baní Dunes Ecological Reserve is 10 square miles of iron-rich yellow sand that naturally formed into three-foot hills, some close to two miles wide. Sand-boarding is quite popular in this moonscape-esque locale.
The fertile lands of Santiago, La Vega and the Cordillera Central Mountain Range in the central region help keep this swath of the Dominican Republic lush and green. An area known as the Dominican Alps is prime for hiking, cycling and river rafting. The island’s highest mountain, Pico Duarte, calls to expert hikers; it takes three days to reach the summit. Cabins situated along the way provide overnight shelter, and mules carry gear.
The south central part of the country includes Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic’s historical and vibrant capital. In the New World’s oldest city, modern hotels sit on antiquated cobblestone streets and the malecón (boardwalk) wraps around the coast. The likes of conquistador Juan Ponce de León once strolled the walkways of the Colonial Zone, the original city.
The towns of Boca Chica and Juan Dolio are popular for their busy beaches. Divers in this area often head to La Caleta National Underwater Park for the wrecks Hickory, a 130-foot transport freighter, and El Limón, a 69-foot tugboat; both attract soldier fish, moray eels and sergeant majors. On cave dives leaving from Juan Dolio, scuba enthusiasts can also encounter black coral, blacktip reef sharks, hammerheads and big rays.
Some of the best dining in the Dominican Republic can be found in Santo Domingo, where hip contemporary restaurants sit next to old-time street vendors who dish out traditional island fare.
Entertainment available includes-Casinos. Bingo. Discos. Clubs. Theaters. Cinemas. Bars. Cafes. Live Bands. Shows.
AIRLINES: Air Europa. Air France. Air Guadeloupe. American. American Eagle. Spirit Airlines. Condor. Copa. Iberia. interCaribbean Airways. Qatar Airways Holidays. Lan Chile. Martinair Holland. Tap Air Portugal.
AIRPORTS: Las Americas Int’l Airport Dr. Jose Francisco Pena Gomez, located 25 mins east of Santo Domingo. Puerto Plata Int’l Gregorio Luperon Airport, located 15 mins from Puerto Plata. Punta Cana Int’l Airport serves the east. Barahona Maria Montez Int’l Airport, in the southwest coast, which opened last year. The smaller Int’l Airports in La Romana and Santiago (Cibao Airport), La Isabela Airport and Aeropuerto Int’l Las Americas in Santo Domingo, Arroyo Barril International Airport, Portillo Airport (domestic airport), Catey International Airport, in Samana, Catey is the newest.
All US citizens traveling by air to and from Bermuda and the Caribbean are required to have a valid passport to enter the United States. US residents also need their green card and a valid passport. A Tourist Card (US$10.00) must be purchased at the airport. Citizens of other countries should contact their closest Dominican Consulate. Large quantities of the Tourist Cards may be purchased at the Dominican Consulate.
Before arriving in the Dominican Republic you should get permission to marry from the American Consulate in Santo Domingo. Then you go to the Dominican Consulate with all your documents and get them legalized at that time. When you arrive in the country, you present both these letters together with your birth certificate and any divorce judgments (if applicable) to the Consul. The American Embassy is located at Cesar Nicolas Penson Street in Santo Domingo and the telephone number is 809-221-5511. After obtaining the permission to get married, you may do so in a civil ceremony. The Consul can and will instruct you as to where and when the ceremony may be performed.