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Dominican Republic

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Did You Know…?

  • The oldest European city in the New World is Santo Domingo (1496).
  • The merengue is the national dance.
  • The Dominican Republic is the world’s largest producer of cigars.
  • Some historians believe Christopher Columbus is buried in the Dominican Republic.
  • The voting age is 18, but married citizens younger than 18 can vote.

Home of the meringue

The Dominican Republic was one of the first places Christopher Columbus saw in the New World and, in short order, it became a Spanish colony. The Spanish established the New World’s first European city (Santo Domingo), first Catholic cathedral, first hospital, first monastery, first sugar mill, first university, all in today’s Dominican Republic. These and other colonial-era attractions, plus related museums, add up to a rich itinerary of historical and cultural attractions for the tourist.

The Dominican Republic occupies the eastern section of the island of Hispaniola (Haiti is the western portion). Its culture also is African, French and Haitian, reflecting the backgrounds of its citizens plus its historical ties to its neighbors in Haiti. And the country’s deep involvement in baseball reflects influence from a neighbor to the north, the U.S.

The Dominican Republic offers some of the same things its neighbor islands offer, but different. Indeed, the Dominicans will have us understand its cigars are better than Cuba’s. Also, Its rum is sweeter and heartier than that on other islands.

The island nation also is noted for the fast-moving merengue, local versions of Arabica coffee, El Presidente beer and souvenirs made with high-quality amber.  Beer lovers may find El Presidente brand in the U.S., but the taste is different at home because, in the Dominican Republic, it has 6% alcohol content, compared with 5% in the exported variety.

Merengue, born in the Dominican Republic, provides the occasion for two annual regional festivals. One other thing: The island’s national bird is a very talkative one, the cotica parrot, now a protected species.

There are many choices for the physically active — such as diving, windsurfing, rafting, sailing, mountain biking and horseback riding — as well as options for seeing manatees and whales. The country’s National Parks Office oversees 67 protected areas including 16 national parks and other areas that offer panoramic routes and recreational spaces.

Of course, the Dominican Republic, given its location in the Caribbean, also is a land of sun, sand and sea. It hosts world kiteboarding and windsurfing championship events and is known to some as the kiteboarding capital of the world.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Scuba dive to explore shipwrecks on the north coast. Or, scuba dive or snorkel to see the island’s reefs. Take diving lessons if necessary.
  • Go kiteboarding or windsurfing at Cabarete on the north coast, site of several Kiteboarding World Cup competitions and site of the annual World Cup Windsurfing Competition in June. Take lessons if these are sports you have not yet tried or mastered.
  • Learn how to roll a cigar during your tour of a cigar factory, then buy cigars to take home.
  • Go mountain biking in the northern and central mountain ranges; join full-day or multiday rides, or ride with local biking clubs.
  • Dance the merengue in the country where it is said to have been invented. Attend one of the country’s merengue festivals, in Santo Domingo in late July/early August or in Puerto Plata in October.
  • Look for a liquid cure-all (and aphrodisiac, it is claimed) called Mamajuana. It’s a homegrown concoction made with herbs, spices, tree leaves and tree stems, as well as honey, lemon juice, molasses, rum and wine.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Go bird-watching and look for the national bird, the cotica parrot, as well as several other types of parrots.
  • Ride horses on the beach, on open fields or in the mountainous terrain. Horses are available at ranches throughout the island and at some beach resorts.
  • Purchase and ship home a Dominican mahogany and guano rocking chair (guano is the dried leaf of a kind of palm tree).
  • Sample mangu, a puree of boiled plantains; this appears on the breakfast menu of most hotels.
  • Taste Dominican beer, coffee and rum. Make coffee one of your souvenirs.
  • Listen to music made by the guira, a Dominican instrument that is a brass grater in the shape of a cylinder that yields a buzzing rhythmic sound when rubbed with a scraper.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Shop for a wide range of local handicraft goods including basketry, Carnival masks, ceramics, embroidery and pottery, plus items made with amber, larimar (blue semiprecious gem), shells, leather and wood. Also, CDs of merengue music.
  • Take a guided tour of Santo Domingo, the capital. See the Alcazar de Colon, residence of Don Diego Columbus and his family, and the Cathedral of Santa Maria, the New World’s first cathedral, among other sites.
  • Visit the Museum of Taino Art for some insight into the first inhabitants of the Dominican Republic.
  • Fish in mountain streams and rivers or in freshwater lakes, such as Lake Hatillo.
  • Take the family on the Islabon Jungle River Tour, exploring the Islabon River by boat, walking jungle trails and visiting a mini-zoo. Or, spend a day on the Monster Truck Safari, involving travel in an eight-wheel-drive Jeep for a good look at the Dominican countryside.
  • In the land of Sammy Sosa and other baseball pros, watch Dominicans play the game on their own turf.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Dominican Republic Tourism Board at