Dominican Republic Guide
Dominican Republic Holidays
A hodgepodge of lush jungles, palm-fringed beaches and undulating mountain landscapes, the Dominican Republic is one of the most diverse countries in the Caribbean. When joined with neighbouring Haiti, it’s also the second biggest island, an emerald behemoth just a stone’s throw from Cuba, Jamaica and Puerto Rico, and home to some of the tallest peaks in the region. It’s this diversity and vastness – combined with stunning scenery, a wealth of warm, welcoming locals and a distinctly European feel – that make for the dream holiday destination.
Start your journey in the cobblestoned, atmospheric hub of Santo Domingo – the Dominican’s capital and one of the oldest cities in the Caribbean. Its iconic Catedral Primada de América is known for being one of the first of its kind in the western hemisphere, boasting 14 interior chapels, a striking vaulted ceiling and a pretty impressive creator: Christopher Columbus’s son, Diego, laid the first stone in 1514. Then there’s Zona Colonial, the thumping heart of the city where merengue, frenzied traffic and a plethora of New World firsts fuse together to create a truly unique epicentre. The beaches beckon too – from the white sands of Punta Cana and La Romana, to the Samana peninsula. The waters may not be as clear in Samana, but you can spot whales at the right time of year and take horse-back rides to the majestic El Limon Waterfall.
Eat and Drink
Lunch is undoubtedly the most important meal of the day here, just like in Spain – think stewed or boiled meats served with rice, accompanied by passion fruit juice and followed by a tasty batch of fried plantains. The Dominicans love their coffee too – they have a caffeine culture that goes back over two centuries and they produce nearly 500,000 bags of rich, sun-soaked Arabica every year. Why don’t we see much of it in the UK, we hear you ask? Well, less than 20 percent of the beans are actually exported because the locals drink so much of it. Santo Domingo boasts many restaurants where you can sample all of the above and more. Try La Briciola for some European flair, Pura Tasca for tapas and sangria by the bucket-load, and Pat’e Palo for their ‘Rum Experience’ menu.
Where to Stay
You may come for the historic Santo Domingo, but you’ll stay for the incredible beaches. Facing Puerto Rico on the country’s easternmost tip, Punta Cana is where the sands are at their very best – and there’s 20 miles worth. The 4.5-star Paradisus Punta Cana Resort is a perfect example of this, located on the seemingly endless Playa de Bavaro and boasting nine a la carte restaurants, yoga, water sports and an adult’s-only section. Those who opt for the island’s northern side should head for Samana. Between January and March each year, humpbacks mate and calve in the bay’s warm waters, often spotted breaching and tail lobbing till their hearts’ content. La Romana is nestled on the south coast and is the closest of the three main beach resorts to the capital.
Shopping for amber
Visitors to the Dominican Republic don’t generally go for shopping, but they’re missing a trick. The country may not have a wide range of wares to choose from, but it does have an abundance of amber that’s thought to be some of the best in the world. This semi-precious stone looks stunning when set in jewellery and, because it’s sourced here, it won’t break the bank. Chunks of amber with insects fossilised inside are sometimes sold by local miners for just a few pesos, but do be wary of fakes, especially at street-side souvenir shops. The Amber World Museum in Santo Domingo and a similar museum in Puerto Plata can help you identify any knock-offs, but your best bet is to opt for a reputable store, like Harrisons. It has outlets all over the country and prices are still 50 percent of what they are in the UK.
Dominican Republic like a Local
The lure of Punta Cana’s crystalline waters or the call of coastal Santo Domingo’s history may be too much to resist, but those who head for the interior instead will be rewarded with a truly local experience. In particular the Cordillera Central, the Caribbean’s highest mountain range, cuts right through the country’s centre and is ripe for hiking. Take a few days to discover the towering twin peaks of Pico Duarte and Le Pelona. Spare the time to visit Santiago too; it’s the second biggest city in the Dominican Republic and is fringed by a collection of fertile farming valleys, tobacco fields and thunderous waterfalls.