Dominican Republic guide
Dominican Republic at a glance
By Fiona Dunlop
The Caribbean’s second largest nation after Cuba, with Haiti at its western end, was Columbus’ stepping stone in the New World, leaving heaps of history in the lively capital, Santo Domingo. Most of the 4 million annual visitors head for the high profile resorts of the east and north coasts. As new developments mushroom on seductive palm-fringed beaches elsewhere, eco-tourism is also thriving in spectacular national parks and the mountainous interior.
Accommodation runs the gamut from small-scale guest houses to elegant colonial hotels, vast all-inclusives to chic condo complexes or luxury villa resorts frequented by the likes of Rafael Nadal and the Clintons. A wealth of fresh seafood and tasty Creole dishes are very affordable in local comedores; this also features in higher end restaurants beside international cuisine with a strong Italian accent.
Read our guide about the Dominican Republic - with independent reviews, listings, and information from top travel journalists and Caribbean specialists.
- Best for:
- Spectacular contrasts of landscape, superb white beaches, myriad activities include watersports, golf, whale watching, horse riding and merengue dancing. Warm and friendly locals, upbeat city life and snail-paced rural areas.
- What for:
- Beach, Eco/nature, Weddings & Romance, Music, Nightlife, Family, Golf, Casinos, Watersports
- Not for:
- How to get there:
- Six international airports have direct connections with USA, Canada, Europe, Puerto Rico, Cuba and South America.
- Top tip:
- Don’t miss the unspoilt south-west with lakes, lagoons, tropical forest and the 8 km-long Bahia de las Aguilas – one long empty white beach.
Dominican Republic in depth
From the Atlantic Ocean in the north to the Caribbean in the south, the Dominican Republic unfolds over 48,442 square kilometres of incredibly diverse terrain. About one third of the 1600 km of coastline is classic palm-fringed, powdery white sand, while the rest alternates between coves, rocky cliffs and mangroves. Lapping much of its shores is calm turquoise water protected by coral reefs. Ironically, over the last few decades, these dreamy beaches have become the country’s Achilles’ heel, making it arguably the Caribbean’s most misunderstood island. Visions of mass tourism resorts dominate, overlooking unspoilt beaches and the phenomenal interior as well as the Dominican Republic’s watershed history. After all, it claims Christopher Columbus’ first Caribbean home after he set foot here in 1492, as well as the most important indigenous rock-art of the entire region. Sadly, you can also add to the equation the black mark of sex-tourism, despite attempts to change this.
The vicissitudes of Spanish colonial rule brought occupations by French, Haitian and American forces, as well as West African slavery. The blackest period in recent history came under the dictator, Trujillo, from 1930 to 1961. Further crises finally culminated in a fledgling democracy and economic diversification which from the 1980s fostered tourism. This all started on the blissful beaches of Puerto Plata and Punta Cana, where foreign visitors were lured by the comfort and affordability of all inclusive resorts. Another hub has developed at La Romana-Bayahibe, in the south-east, although smaller, more upmarket resorts and exclusive lifestyle resorts are the growing trend. Meanwhile, eco-tourism in the hinterland puts increasing emphasis on community links and sustainability.
The latest boom destination is the lush, undulating Samana peninsula, jutting out in the north-east corner. With its own micro-climate, idyllic beaches and cuisine it has long attracted independent travellers but now, with an international airport and fast highway to Santo Domingo, moneyed tourism is finding its way here too. Las Terrenas is the launch-pad followed by attractive Samana and, at the far eastern tip, low-key Las Galeras.
Those in search of the less trodden path should head for the undeveloped northwest and above all the far south-west, full of natural wonders and imaginative eco-lodges. In the centre, the dramatic forested mountains of the Cordillera Central foster cooler temperatures and challenging adventure sports; some visitors scale Pico Duarte, the Caribbean’s highest peak. The south coast is a mixed bag, with pockets of cultural and beach interest but above all the dynamic capital, Santo Domingo. The Zona Colonial of this city of 3 million inhabitants has oodles of charm, atmospheric hotels and cultural offerings including a thriving music scene. This is where to shop for cigars, jewellery or handicrafts.
Over the last decade, huge improvements in infrastructure have brought an improved highway network to the eastern half of the country, a general rise in living standards, diversified agriculture and enlarged National Parks. Telecommunications are excellent: you are rarely without mobile phone coverage and WiFi is ubiquitous. The big laggard is energy: a serious shortage means that many hotels depend on their own generators while locals endure regular power-cuts. Renewables are in their infancy, with the first wind farm established on the Baoruco peninsula in October 2011.
All in all, the size of the Dominican Republic, about twice that of Wales, means you need to choose your region carefully or go for a two or even three-centre holiday, depending on time and budget. Above all, the warm, gregarious nature of the Dominicans will help you on your way.
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Anguilla | Antigua | Aruba | Bahamas | Barbados | Bermuda | Bonaire | British Virgin Islands | Cayman Islands | Cuba | Curacao | Dominica | Dominican Republic | Grenada and Carriacou | Guadeloupe | Haiti | Jamaica | Martinique | Montserrat | Nevis | Puerto Rico | Saba | St Barthélemy | St Eustatius | St Kitts | St Lucia | St Martin/St Maarten | St Vincent and the Grenadines | Tobago | Trinidad | Turks & Caicos Islands | US Virgin Islands
Dominican Republic weather
Looking for inspiration?
- Soak up the sun on 1000 miles of beaches - watch out for the currents though
- Visit Lago Enriquillo, a vast salt lake below sea-level in a cactus-studded desert
- Get married amid the spectacular contrasting landscapes
- Learn to dance the Merengue in historic colonial buildings
- Experience local food and culture with friendly families