Pleasure Beach . . .
The Dominican Republic has come out of the shadow of other Caribbean islands to become the must-visit destination of the decade . . .
About eight years ago a newly married friend announced that she was going to the Dominican Republic for her honeymoon. The immediate reaction was quizzical and uncertain. ‘Dominican Republic?’ screamed the collective gaze. My friend was obviously in the know. Nowadays the Dominican Republic is the must-visit Caribbean destination with great beaches, great hotels, great mountains and much more than you’d expect.
In 1492, the island of Hispaniola was the starting point for the Spanish conquest of the Caribbean and America. It was once ruled by Haiti for 22 years; and it was not until 1865 that the Dominican Republic gained independence.
The larger part of Hispaniola is, indeed, a separate expanse of impressive mountains, waterfalls, rivers, lakes, wildlife and of course, those beaches that are speckled with soft white sand. It is in many respects the perfect destination for honeymoon or otherwise.
Hispaniola is dived into two parts, Haiti occupying the western third with the Dominican Republic commanding the lion’s share and the most verdant of the land mass to the east. It is the capital city though, that is the heartbeat of the country. Santo Domingo is party town. The Dominicans do not need an excuse to let their hair down and do it frequently. Festivals and carnivals are frequent in this tropical city with European architecture and nightlife more in keeping with London, Madrid or Barcelona.
The calendar I circled with good time days. Santo Domingo has two carnivals and being a predominately Catholic country, there is pre-Lent carnivals in Santiago Cabral, La Vega and Monte Cristi where floats, dancing, costumes and live music abound. And not being ones for stopping while the party’s in full swing, the Dominicans also have two meringue festivals and a Latin music festival, which is held once a year.
Apart from the fierce partying, the other reason to tick the must-see box to the Dominican Republic is that since 1996 when the 30 year presidential reign of Joaquin Balaguer came to an end, the country’s economy has seen the fastest growth in the Western hemisphere, with a heavy reliance on the export of sugar, tobacco, nickel, gold mining, cement and coffee. This has been boosted by the massive growth of the service sector and of tourism. And for the tourist there is plenty to see and do. The Cathedral de Santa Maria La Menor is the oldest cathedral in the Western hemisphere and dates back to the 16th century. There is also the Alcaza de Colon, the first European-style castle in the Americas and was home of Diago Columbus, the son of Christopher and ruler from 1510 to 1515.
Windsurfing is big here too, and you can also navigate a small boat through mangrove forests in search of gentle manatees and in the bay of Bahla de Saman, humpback whales come to mate and care for their young.
Speaking of love and procreation, the Dominican Republic has of late positioned itself as the Caribbean’s premier wedding destination. The resorts of Sosa, Puerto Plata, Playa Dorada, Playa Grande, Punta Cana, Bavaro, Macao, Juan Dolio, Boca Chica, Saman (where incidentally, most of the inhabitants are English-speaking and Protestant instead of Catholic), Bayahibe and La Romana all have hotels that will plan and coordinate your wedding.
If you do decide to get hitched on the island, packages in the resorts include the judge, wedding license, flowers, music, the cake and champagne. The hotels prefer that you give them a three-month notice in order to make the necessary arrangements. If you’re not convinced, the Dominican Republic has the greatest number of hotel rooms in the Caribbean with more than 30,000 and it also has the longest beach, the La Costa del Coco, which stretches for 22 miles. It is clearly the place to have fun.
If you want to stay in style, look no further than Hostel Palacio Nicolas de Ovando, a fortified house built in 1502, but today guests in one of 45 beamed, air-conditioned rooms that overlook the river.
There is also the more affordable Gran Hotel Lina, which has 220 rooms, swimming pool, tennis courts and casino.
The Hotel Santo Domingo was built by the Dominican born Oscar de la Renta and the hotel nestled amid sprawling stately gardens and overlooking the sea. Rooms lacking a Caribbean view look out onto a verdant courtyard rimmed with awnings. There is a Premier Club, a concierge floor with regal ambience and first rate service. It has restaurants, three tennis courts, swimming pool, sauna and 220 rooms.
Currency: Dominican peso.
Languages: In the Dominican Republic, only Spanish is spoken, however; there are 3 major languages that are also spoken such as Haitian Creole, Samana English, and the West African Yoruba language known as Lucumi spoken by few. There is a local dialect or patois which is spoken by all Dominicans.
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