|Country Information & Lifestyle|
One Step Closer To Eden
The Dominican Republic is a colourful tapestry of Spanish, French, Haitian and African influences woven by a rich and storied history. Located on the eastern two-thirds of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola bordering Haiti, Hispaniola is near the centre of the West Indies, a group of islands that extend from Florida to Venezuela. To the north is the Atlantic Ocean, to the south the Caribbean Sea, to the east Puerto Rico and to the west Cuba. Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Jamaica are referred to as the Greater Antilles.
The weather is mostly tropical especially along the southern and eastern coasts, in the west and southwestern regions the climate is dry and desert like because of low rainfall and/or deforestation. The time and magnitude of the rainy season varies in different parts of the country but generally occurs in late spring and early fall. In the breeze filled mountains the climate is cooler and in fact there is a part that is called the Alps of the Caribbean with mountain ferns and pine trees.
This beautiful island has some of the loveliest and diverse topography in the Caribbean with an estimated 1,000 miles of gorgeous beaches with super fine whites, warm clear waters, and a collection of four mountain ranges. The Dominican Republic has some of the most cosmopolitan cities in the Caribbean and the capital Santo Domingo, situated in the southern portion of the island, is a major seaport.
Christopher Columbus discovered the island in 1492 during his voyage to the New World. At that time the island of Hispaniola was called "Quisqueya" by the Taino Indians who occupied the land. He described the island as "a beautiful island paradise with high forested mountains and large river valleys".
The spirit and charm of the Dominican Republic is captured in its music, food, and national pastimes. Known for its professional winter baseball, handcrafted cigars, and annual music festivals, the Dominican Republic is a destination like no other, a sensual feast of dazzling landscapes, exotic cuisine the pulse pounding thrill of the merengue, intriguing relics from centuries past and premium cigars.
The mountains of the Dominican Republic divide the country into northern, central and southwestern regions. The northern region includes the Cordillera Septentrional northern mountain range, the Cibao Valley, which is the country's major agricultural area and the tropical Samana Peninsula with its coconut plantations and bay, where humpback whales breed.
The central region is dominated by the Cordillera Central which ends at the Caribbean Sea and the southwestern region lies south of the Valle de San Juan and encompasses the Sierra de Neiba. Much of the region is desert and it includes Lake Enriquillo, the island's largest lake, a saltwater lake that lies 46 meters below sea level and is inhabited by unique fauna, including crocodiles, huge iguanas and flamingos.
The cuisine of Dominican Republic is predominantly made up of a combination of Spanish, indigenous Taino and African influences, and although spices are used on the whole the food is not hot and spicy. The national dish is sancocho, a meat, plantain and vegetable stew and on the coast fish and conch are enjoyed, coconut is used to sweeten many seafood dishes. Root vegetables include sweet potatoes, yam, cassava and potatoes and small quantities of chicken, beef, pork or goat are eaten. Food served by street vendors such as grilled meat or tostones and fried plantain patties are delicious.
Popular African dishes include mofongo made from fried green plantains or fried yucca seasoned with garlic, olive oil and pork cracklings then mashed with a little broth. Casabe a bread made out of yucca and chulitos meat stuffed re-fried yuccas are Taino dishes, Sofrito is a sauteed mix of local herbs and spices and is used in many dishes.
Dominicans love music and dancing and the Merengue, with its Africa tom-tom beat and Spanish salsa spirit can be herd on almost every street corner. Other influences are the sound of reggae from Jamaica and the Spanish guitar.
Folk arts provide a cottage industry for many and terra-cotta pottery pieces are sold in markets, particularly popular are terra-cotta figures for Christmas nativity scenes. Carved calabash or gourds are made into masks or filled with seeds to rattle as maracas.
Women in rural areas are well known for their macrame hammocks and bags. Other crafts include basket making, palm weaving, and jewellery made from native coral and seashells. More elaborate jewellery is made from the high-quality native amber and larimar, a semiprecious ocean-blue gemstone found only in the Dominican Republic.
Roman Catholicism has been combined with traditional folk religion, particularly in rural areas and it is quite common for devout Catholics to consult a folk practitioner for spiritual advice or to prevent some calamity. Folk healers work through the saints and ask for special help for those in need.
The ensalmo is a healing chant that is usually performed by an elderly woman, and is among the most respected folk practices. A few people are skilled in the use of herbs and other natural objects for healing, and are called witch doctors. They are also believed to have the power to banish evil spirits.
Voodoo is practised secretly, primarily along the border with Haiti, and originated with the African slaves, particularly those from the Dahomey region. Practitioners believe in one God and many lesser spirits. They believe that each individual has a protector spirit who rewards that person with wealth and punishes him or her with illness.
Nature spirits oversee the external world. Ancestral spirits are the souls of dead ancestors and will protect the living if properly remembered with funerals and memorials. Although many voodoo products are for sale in markets, voodoo is unpopular with most Dominicans.
The vibrant capital, Santo Domingo, is the largest city in the Caribbean and was the first permanent European settlement in the New World, established by Spain in 1496. The city is known throughout the Caribbean for its upscale hotels and restaurants and certainly its nightlife. The city's Colonial Zone one of the great treasures of Spanish America today, with many original buildings intact and restored, full of ambience and romanticism of such an old-world setting.
Santiago, which is in the province of the same name, is in the agricultural heart of country in the fertile Cibao Valley where most of the country's sugar, tobacco and coffee are grown. This provincial city has many centuries-old buildings, architectural vestiges of its Victorian heyday a dominating cathedral, an authentic fort/museum, fascinating side streets, and a festive covered market dating from the 1940s.
One of the best ways to see this charming city is by horse carriage so that you can soak up the atmosphere. The city is an ideal base for exploring the mountainous Cordillera Central and national park of Valle Nuevo. The four lane highway that goes from Puerto Plata follows a centuries old trade route that is even still dotted with sugar mills, many of which are being renovated by the Office of Cultural Patrimony and the Brugal Rum company.
The city is dominated by the families of sugar barons, who have been making their fortunes from rum for centuries, the cigar kings, and bankers. The city is worth exploring with some colonial-style buildings dating from the 1500s, with wrought-iron details and tiled porticos, and others are from the Victorian era, with the requisite gingerbread latticework and fanciful colours, while more recent construction is nouveau Victorian. Santiago is also the centre of the island's cigar industry, and the Arturo Fuente factory is in the free zone here.
Cabrera, Abreu, Rio San Juan, and the Playa Grande area are largely unspoiled, pristine coastal areas. There's a raw beauty, with some beaches that are still completely undeveloped, soaring cliffs overlooking pounding ocean waves, and towering inland hills with sweeping vistas not seen elsewhere on the island. It is just an hour's drive to the east over a well-paved highway, making day trips a possibility.
Though originally thought of as remote, this area is now booming. It has come full circle from being out in the country, when most of the land was still held in small, family-owned farms, mainly a cattle-raising area. Now tucked into the pastoral landscapes and oceanfront vegetation are some of the most exclusive gated communities in the country and some of the most luxurious villas. Yet Cabrera itself is still a sleepy, dusty Dominican town centred on its central square, which is remarkably clean. In a land of warm friendly people, Carbrerans are among the sweetest.
Nearest to Santiago is La Vega, the somewhat quaint centre of lower Cibao Valley. Head up to the mountains which will offer you a respite from the hot temperatures and a complete change of pace. The air is crisp and pine-scented, and around every turn in the mountain roads is a panoramic view. It can be a glorious and unexpected experience in a Caribbean island best known for its beach resorts.
Nature lovers should consider a trip to Jarabacoa, in the mountainous region known rather wistfully as the Dominican Alps and a trip on foot, horseback or motorcycle taxi to the surrounding waterfalls and forest is really something. There are plenty of adventure tours such as white-water rafting or canoe trips, canyoning, jeep safaris, paragliding to name just a few, this is a fun place to visit.
Founded in 1495 by Christopher Columbus, La Vega is the site of one of the oldest settlements in the New World. Gold was discovered here by the Spanish in the 1490s, and they also established the first mint in the New World here. The original settlement, now referred to as La Vega Vieja, was destroyed by a hurricane.
The Dominican Republic's northern coast, with mountains on one side, is also called the Amber Coast or the Amber Riviera, because of the large quantities of golden amber found in the area. The sands on its 121 km of beach are also golden. The north country is like Eden when you venture out to more remote areas and discover the beaches and the rich, tropical vegetation that grows up the hillsides to the cliffs.
Puerto Plata's name was inspired by the shimmering silver (plata) color of its coast at sunset. The largest city is cradled between the colonial harbour and Mt.Isabel de Torres, which provides a dramatic backdrop. In colonial days there were pirates, skulking around almost every cove, to the degree that the city had to be abandoned in 1606.
The charm of the city is in its Victorian architecture, unrivalled by any other Dominican city with gingerbread fretwork and pastel colours of its houses and public buildings which convey the romantic aura of an earlier time. Although Puerto Plata seems to have been sleeping for decades, this was a dynamic city both in colonial times and the Victorian Era, and it's on the way back up now. The Fortaleza de San Felipe protected the city from many a pirate attack and was later used as a political prison.
As the sun rises on Hispaniola, Punta Cana awakens to the lapping ocean, its clear, unspoiled blue brushing up against the pristine stretches of sugar-white sand, and swaying coco palms in the backdrop. The region commonly referred to as Punta Cana actually encompasses the beaches and villages of Juanillo, Punta Cana, Baivaro, Cabeza de Toro, El Cortecito, Arena Gorda, Macao, and Uvero Alto, which hug an unbroken stretch of the eastern coastline.
A hot destination for golf, Punta Cana lures players with its abundance of spectacular courses crafted by renowned designers and posh clubhouses. Here you will see verdant mountainsides, tropical forests, tiny villages lined with street side fruit vendors, secluded beaches, and the radiant warmth of the Dominican people. The green mountains teem with coconut trees and dramatic vistas of sea, full of hidden beaches reachable only on foot or by sea, protected coves, and undeveloped bays.
Samana is the name of both the peninsula and its biggest town, as well as the bay to the south. Santa Barbara de Saman makes a great departure point for whale-watching or an excursion to Los Haitises park across the bay. The bay is home to some of the world's best whale-watching from mid-January to late March. If you're here during that time, don't miss it.
A visit to Saman is really about two things: exploring its preserved natural wonders and relaxing at a small beachfront hotel or in your own private villa. In Las Terrenas you can find picturesque restaurants, great beaches and accommodations of all types. Reach it by taking a winding road through the mountains from the town of Sanchez.
At Las Terrenas you can enjoy peaceful playas, take advantage of the vibrant nightlife, including a casino, and make all your plans for expeditions on the peninsula. The other pleasures are solitary quiet beaches, the massive national park Los Haitises, and water sports and hiking.
The Dominican Republic is a beautiful place to spend a few months of the year or live permanently. With warm friendly people, plenty of activities, excellent cuisine and stunning beaches this paradise island could be your new home.