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Welcome to Dominican Republic

dominican republic


   Occupying the eastern half of the island of Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic (or the DR, as it's often known) is a hugely popular destination, thanks to the portion of the country that most resembles the image of a Caribbean playland: the crystal-clear waters and sandy beaches lined with palm trees, of which the DR has plenty. This vision of leisurely days spent by the sea and romantic nights filled with merengue and dark rum is supported by what turns out to be the largest all-inclusive resort industry in the world.
   Set on the most geographically diverse Caribbean island, the DR also boasts virgin alpine wilderness, tropical rainforests and mangrove swamps, cultivated savannas, vast desert expanses and everything in between within its relatively small confines - slightly smaller than the US states of New Hampshire and Vermont combined - providing staggering opportunities for ecotourism and adventure travelling.
   The DR also lays claim to some of the more intriguing culture and history in the area, dating back to its early cave-dwelling groups, the Tainos, who recorded much of their activities in the form of rock art - it's quite likely you'll find yourself clambering down a dark cave to view some of these preserved paintings during your stay. In addition, as Dominicans are often quick to point out, their land was the setting for Christopher Columbus's first colony, La Isabela, and Spain's first New World city, Santo Domingo, at the end of the fifteenth century. Though the island quickly lost this foothold, the events that took place during its brief heyday did much to define the Americas as we know them.

Where To Go

   The southeastern part of the country probably has the loveliest all-inclusive resort zones, Bavaro and Punta Cana, both holding pristine coastline stretching for kilometres on end. These are slightly overshadowed, if not in attractiveness then in sheer magnitude, by the complex at Playa Dorada along the north coast. Fortunately, this is close by Puerto Plata, an historic city worth examining for its wealth of Victorian architecture and proximity to developed stations like windsurfing capital Cabarete, to the east. Dominican republic-Las Terrenas

    More great beaches are scattered about the Samana Peninsula, poking out at the country's extreme northeast, from where you can also check out migrating humpback whales. In the mountainous interior, a few national parks make for good hiking terrain; while midway along the southern coast, Santo Domingo is an obvious draw, for its history and big urban feel.

When To Go

   The northern hemisphere's winter is high tourist season in the Dominican Republic; this is when the Dominican climate is at its optimum, having cooled down just a bit. You'll therefore save a bit of money - and have an easier time booking a hotel room on the spot - if you arrive during the spring or the fall, which is just fine, as the temperature doesn't really vary all that much from season to season. Keep in mind, though, that the Dominican Republic is right in the centre of the Caribbean hurricane belt, and gets hit with a major one every decade or so; August and September are prime hurricane season, though smaller ones can occur in the months preceding and following.

Getting There

Dominican republic-Santo Domingo    The cheapest and most frequent flights depart from gateway cities such as Miami and New York. Flights from the latter average about US$450-550. As there are no non-stop scheduled flights to the Dominican Republic from the UK, many British and Irish visitors to the Dominican Republic arrive on a charter flight as part of a package holiday, though you can also fly via the States or various stops in Europe; try Iberia Airlines for the least expensive deals. Visitors from Australia and New Zealand will need to travel first to the US or Europe and pick up onward connections from there. Most flights go into Santo Domingo, but some fly into Puerto Plata.

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   Options for arriving in the Dominican Republic by boat are mostly limited to hitting the country as one of the ports of call on a longer Caribbean cruise.
   Otherwise, it is possible to arrive via ferry from Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, on Ferias del Caribe (tel 809/688-4400, Puerto Rico tel 787/832-4800), but it's a long, uncomfortable overnight trip. Ferries depart Mayaguez three times a week; the cost is US$144 one-way, plus the US$10 entry tax and US$60 for a private cabin.

Entry Requirements

   Citizens and permanent residents of the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia and all EU countries don't need a visa when visiting the Dominican Republic, but must obtain a ninety-day Dominican Republic tourist card for US$10 (US dollars only) at the airport on arrival. New Zealanders need to apply for an $A80 visa from the embassy as well.

Money And Costs

Find Top DR hotels by destination:
   The official Dominican currency is the peso (RD$), which comes in notes of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, 1000 and 5000; there are also 0.10, 0.25, 0.50 and 1 peso coins, though only the last sees much use. The exchange rate varies from day to day, but typically hovers at around 16-17 pesos to the US dollar. It's impossible to find Dominican pesos outside the country, but visitors are well advised to come armed with a substantial amount of US dollars, as these are the most readily accepted (and exchangeable) foreign currency in the land. The best places to change money are the banks, which offer good exchange rates; keep your receipts, as this allows you to exchange 30 percent of the pesos back into hard currency (dollars or euros) on departure. In a pinch, smaller casas de cambio are fine, though you should avoid the street moneychangers. You can use this Currency Converter to always have exact information about foreign currency you need.
   The Dominican Republic is one of the last true budget destinations in the Caribbean. Package deals are relatively low-priced, and in many parts of the country shoestring travellers can spend as little as US$30/RD$19 per day. The savings are spread unevenly, though, and some things are pricier here than elsewhere: riding from town to town via public transport can cost as little as US$0.35/RD$0.20, but car rental will set you back at least US$45/RD$28 a day.

City Arrival Date Nights

Getting Around

Dominican republic-Beautiful Dominican Villa    The Dominican Republic's bus companies provide an excellent, inexpensive service over much of the country. Lines at the stations move quickly, there's plenty of room for luggage on the vehicles and trips are relatively pleasant. Even more extensive, and cheaper, is the informal network of guaguas - ranging from fairly decent minibuses to battered, overcrowded vans - that cover every inch of the DR; in most cases, you should be prepared for some discomfort - and you'll have a hard time fitting in much luggage. Taxis are another option for getting around the cities, and by foreign standards are relatively cheap; reputable operators are listed throughout the section.
   Car rental is common as well, but the cost is generally high. Domestic airlines, on the other hand, are reasonably economical, and can make sense if you're not exploring much beyond the main centres. Finally, a number of tour operators in Santo Domingo, Puerto Plata and the all-inclusive resorts organize individual itineraries and packages with transport included.

    By bus
   Caribe Tours (in Santo Domingo tel 809/221-4422) boasts by far the most extensive bus network, while Metro (in Santo Domingo tel 809/566-7126) can get you from the capital to the Cibao, Puerto Plata and the Samana Peninsula. Both have comprehensive brochures available in their stations, listing destinations and departure times. In addition, you'll find several regional bus companies, though vehicles and drivers tend to vary more in quality. Unless it's a public holiday, you won't need advance reservations, but you should arrive at least an hour before the bus leaves to be sure of getting a seat. As the bus companies strive to stay in competition with guaguas, rates are extremely cheap. Even a cross-country trip from Santo Domingo to Samana or Monte Cristi will set you back no more than RD$70, while shorter trips fall in the RD$40-50 range.

    By guaguas, publicos and motoconchos
   The informal system of guaguas, an unregulated network of private operators, is a distinctive Dominican experience that you should try at least once. Aside from the local colour, they're worth using because they're incredibly cheap and cover far more of the country than the bus companies. To catch a guagua , either ask for the location of the local station or simply stand by the side of the road and wave your arms at one as it passes. For longer trips, you'll often have to transfer guaguas at major towns, but even the longest leg of the trip will cost no more than RD$40; more often, you'll be paying RD$5-10.
   Santo Domingo to the southeast and the Barahona region are often served by far more comfortable, air-conditioned minibuses ; along the Silver Coast, the vans are augmented by private cars called publicos , which charge RD$5 and only go to the next nearest town and wait to fill up before heading off. Publicos also make up part of the city transport system in Santo Domingo, and dominate it in Santiago. City routes rarely cost more than RD$2. In Puerto Plata and other smaller towns, city transit is instead in the form of motoconchos , inexpensive, small-engined motorbikes that ferry you from place to place; they're faster than the publicos but can be dangerous.

By car
   Car rental is expensive in the DR, though you can cut your costs a bit - and avoid a lot of hassle - by booking in advance with an international operator. Rates start around US$45-50 per day, with unlimited mileage but no discount for longer rental periods; you should also get full collision insurance, an extra US$10-12 per day. Even with collision, though, you're contractually responsible for any damage up to RD$25,000. You should therefore take special care to note all dents, scratches and missing parts before signing off. Dominicans drive on the right-hand side of the road, often at a breakneck pace. You'll have to keep a careful eye out along the highways, as large commercial buses and cargo trucks constantly veer into the opposite lane to pass slower vehicles.

   By plane
   If you're travelling across the country, say from Santo Domingo to Samana, and aren't especially interested in what lies in between, it's worth considering a domestic flight . Air Santo Domingo (tel 809/683-8006, ) is a good local carrier, affiliated with Air Europa, offering fast, fairly priced connections between Puerto Plata, Punta Cana, El Portillo (near Las Terrenas), La Romana, Santiago and Santo Domingo. Flights cost RD$500-1000 and last no more than an hour.

Food And Drink

   If you take all your meals at an all-inclusive hotel, you'll get little sense of how Dominicans eat and drink; the "international" buffet fare on offer at these resorts can't compete with the delicious, no-nonsense cooking at the many mom-and-pop restaurants just outside their walls. Dominicans call their cuisine "comida criolla", and it's a delicious - if often a bit greasy - blend of Spanish, African and Taino elements, with interesting regional variants across the island. Dishes usually include rice and beans - referred to locally as la bandera dominicana (the Dominican flag) - using either habichuelas (red beans) or the tiny black peas known as morros. Most often the rice is supplemented with chicken, either fried, grilled or served asopao (in a rich, soupy sauce). Invariably main courses come with platanos (deep-fried green plantains, which locals often inundate with ketchup), and a small coleslaw salad. Outside of the major cities, vegetarians will often have to stick to rice and beans.
   Local breakfasts are traditionally starchy and huge, and typically include huevos revueltos (scrambled eggs), sometimes con jamon (with bits of ham mixed in); mangu, mashed plantains mixed with oil and bits of fried onion; and queso frito, a deep-fried cheese. Dominican lunches are the day's main meal. Aside from the omnipresent chicken, popular main courses include mondongo, a tripe stew strictly for the strong of stomach; mofongo, a tasty blend of plantains, pork rinds and garlic; and bistec encebollado, grilled steak topped with onions and peppers. Special occasions, particularly in rural areas, call for either chivo (roast goat) with cassava, a crispy, flat bread inherited from the Tainos; or sancocho, a hearty stew with five different kinds of meat. For the very best in Dominican eating, go for the seafood, which is traditionally prepared one of five ways: criolla, in a flavourful, slightly spicy tomato sauce; al ajillo, doused in a rich garlic sauce; al horno, roasted with lemon; al oregano, in a tangy sauce with fresh oregano and heavy cream; and con coco, in a tomato, garlic and coconut milk blend especially prevalent on the Samana Peninsula. The best local fish are the mero (sea bass), chillo (red snapper) and carite (kingfish). Other popular seafoods include langosta (clawless lobster), lambi (conch), camarones (shrimp), pulpo (octopus) and cangrejo (crab).
   As far as drinks go, Dominican coffee is among the best in the world. Most Dominicans take it solo, with a great deal of sugar added, which is the way it's sold for RD$1 by morning street vendors, and handed out for free in the petrol stations. Dominican cafe con leche is made with steamed milk and is extremely good. Jugo de naranja , fresh orange juice squeezed as you order it, is another omnipresent Dominican morning drink; be sure to ask for it sin azucar (without sugar). Later in the day you should sample the fresh coconut milk sold by street vendors, and the many Dominican batidas , popular fruit shakes made with ice, milk and either papaya, mango, pineapple or banana.
   There are several Dominican beer brands, but by far the best and most popular is Presidente, served in both normal-sized and surreally large bottles, and comparing favourably with beers from across the world. Also popular are the very good, inexpensive local rums, Brugal, Barcelo and Bermudez.

Phones, Post And Email

Top Dominican Republic Attractions:

  • Saona Island
  • Cabarete Beach, Puerto Plata
  • Mount Isabel de Torres, Puerto Plata
  • Isla Saona, Punta Cana
  • Bavaro Beach, Punta Cana
  • Fort San Felipe, Puerto Plata
  • Golden Beach (Playa Dorada), Puerto Plata
  • Alcazar de Colon, Santo Domingo
  • Altos de Chavon, La Romana
  • Checkpoint Pub, Sosua
  •    It's not hard to keep in touch with home by phone or fax while you're in the DR because storefront phone centres are scattered about the country, though the price can be a bit steep. These phone centres are run by DR's many private telephone companies.
        The oldest, most venerated and by far the most omnipresent company is Codetel, which charges RD$5 per minute to North America; RD$18 per minute to Europe; and RD$26 per minute to Australia and New Zealand. The rates are a couple of pesos cheaper if you use a Codetel calling card , sold at Codetel phone centres in denominations of RD$25, 45, 95, 145, 245 and 500. You also have the option of going to one of Codetel's competitors that have sprung up over the past decade, the most popular of which is Tricom ; they charge RD$5 per minute to North America; RD$15 to Europe and RD$24 to Australia and New Zealand. Local calls cost RD$1 per minute, but it's important to note that a telephone call between towns in the DR is considered long-distance, and charged at the same rate as North American calls; all areas of the DR, however, are under one area code, 809. If at all possible avoid calling collect with any of these companies.
       Dominican correos, or post offices, are notoriously slow; even if you use special delivery (highly recommended) you'll still have to allow at least three weeks for your postcard or letter to reach North America, and at least a month for it to reach Europe or Australasia. Postage costs RD$3 to North America, RD$4 elsewhere.
       Email, on the other hand, is steadily growing in importance, with many phone centres in the larger cities offering internet and email access, and a few private cybercafes cropping up in the resort areas.
       The country code for the Dominican Republic is 809.

    Crime And Safety

       Aside from the poorest neighbourhoods in Santo Domingo and Santiago, the Dominican Republic is a relatively safe place - though women travelling solo need to stay on their guard even here. In cities, take the same precautions that you would anywhere else: don't flaunt your wealth with fat rolls of pesos, leave your expensive jewellery at home and avoid walking alone late at night.
       Corruption is rife throughout the police force; many officers do little besides collecting small bribes. Nevertheless, you shouldn't give an officer a bribe unless he first asks, albeit rather obliquely; if he does ask, you're probably best off complying, provided he doesn't ask for more than RD$20 or RD$30. The good news for you is that police are routinely instructed not to ask bribes of foreigners, and their only other focus is crime against tourists , which they are adamant about quashing; dial 911 in case of an emergency.
       Penalties for drug use and possession are extraordinarily stiff, and Dominican prisons are notorious. Drug possession is the one crime you won't be able to bribe your way out of; whatever you do, don't carry any with you into the country.
       Though violent attacks against women travellers are rare, many women find that the constant barrage of hisses, hoots and comments comes close to spoiling their vacation. Whatever you do, don't be afraid to seem rude; even the mildest polite response will be considered an indication of serious interest. Chances of trouble depend to an extent on where you are. Avoid walking alone on city streets late at night and you'll circumvent much of the risk; it's also a good idea to opt for private taxis over motoconchos and guaguas after dark.


       Before Columbus, Hispaniola was inhabited by the Tainos, an Arawak group that had migrated up from the Amazon basin and maintained an advance culture on the island for centuries. This all came to an end in 1492, when Christopher Columbus "discovered" the New World. After stopping off at the Bahamian island of San Salvador, Columbus landed in what is today the Dominican Republic, where he encountered the Tainos. Attempting to circle around the island, his ship the Santa Maria grounded against a coral reef on December 25, 1492, forcing him to set up a small fort there - which he named La Navidad, leaving 25 men there before heading back with his remaining ships.
       Upon returning in late 1493, Columbus found his fort burned and the settlers killed. He established his first small colony further east - La Isabela , today the village of El Castillo - where he set up a trading settlement to trade cheap European goods in return for large quantities of gold. La Isabela soon fell apart. Settlers died in the hundreds from malaria and yellow fever, and one disgruntled colonist hijacked a ship and headed back to Spain to complain. Columbus followed him back in 1496, and during his absence the colony was abandoned, with most Spaniards re-settling at Santo Domingo along the mouth of the Ozama River. When Columbus returned in 1498, the colonists refused to obey his orders, and in 1500 he was sent back to Spain in chains.
       Spain's King Ferdinand replaced Columbus with Nicolas de Ovando , with instructions to impose order on the unruly outpost. Ovando instigated the monumental construction in today's Zona Colonial and engaged in the systematic destruction of Taino society, apportioning all Tainos to Spanish settlers as slaves and forcing their conversion to Christianity. Lacking resistance to Old World diseases and subjected to countless acts of random violence, the Tainos were quickly exterminated through overwork, suicide and disease.
       To make up for the steep decline of forced labour, the Spaniards began embarking on slaving expeditions throughout the Caribbean and Central America in 1505, laying the foundation for future Spanish colonies. By 1515 the Spaniards had wiped out enough Native Americans that they began looking to slave labour from Africa, setting in motion the African slave trade. Santo Domingo's power slowly eroded as Spain branched out across the Americas, and by the end of the sixteenth century was little more than a colonial backwater. The French began encroaching in 1629, settling the island of Tortuga and branching out from there onto the western side of Hispaniola. When the French colony's slaves revolted in the early nineteenth century, they had little trouble invading and occupying Spanish Hispaniola, ruling it for 21 years. Only in 1843 were the Spanish colonists able to boot the invaders out, and for the first time establish the Dominican Republic as an independent country.
       But this independence did not last long. A series of warlords known as caudillos tore the country apart in their quest for money and power, and in 1861 strongman Pedro Santana sold the island back to Spain. The Spaniards didn't last long, though; almost immediately a new revolutionary movement was formed, and the occupiers were forced to withdraw in 1865. A renewed period of extended civil warfare between caudillos ensued until the United States intervened in 1914. The Americans stayed for over eight years, successfully reorganizing the nation's financing but instituting a repressive national police. When the US left, this new police force took control, and its leader Rafael Leonidas Trujillo maintained absolute totalitarian control over the Dominican Republic for three decades. In the late 1950s, though, Cuba's Fidel Castro took an interest in overthrowing the dictator, and concerns about a possible Communist takeover prompted the CIA to train a group of Dominican dissidents, who assassinated Trujillo in a dramatic car chase on May 30, 1961.
       Upon Trujillo's death, Vice President Joaquin Balaguer rose to power, and continued his totalitarian practices. Balaguer was deposed in a popular 1965 uprising, but the US military again intervened and soon placed him back in control. Only in 1978 was he forced to hold free and fair elections - and was promptly thrown out of office, only to win it back in 1986 after an extended economic crisis. Balaguer managed to edge out his rivals again in 1990, but left the presidential race in 1994 when it was obvious that he would not beat Leonel Fernandez , who ran a slick, centrist American-style campaign and edged the competition out by a few thousand votes. 1998 saw the first back-to-back free and fair elections in the Dominican Republic's history, as Fernandez gave way to political opponent and current Dominican President Hipolito Mejia . The Dominican Republic has also enjoyed the highest economic growth rate in the entire hemisphere (though this has slackened of late), and the outlook today for the nation is better than it has been in centuries.

    Best Of

    Colonial Santo Domingo
    Chock-full of 500-year-old architecture - including the hemisphere's first cathedral, university, hospital and more.

    Watersports in Cabarete
    A bustling international enclave with the best windsurfing in the hemisphere, and much more.

    Hiking in Cordillera
    Pristine alpine wilderness, right in the middle of the Caribbean.

    Whale-watching in Samana
    An unforgettable spectacle of humpback whale migration; catch it from December to February.

    Old-style Cuban son at the Mauna Loa
    Catch a Buena Vista-style Cuban son show in a plush Santo Domingo ballroom.

    Playa Coson
    The best beach on the island bar none, with no crowds, gentle turquoise currents, swaying palms and soft white sand stretching for miles.

    Parque Nacional Los Haitises
    Boat rides through a surreal snarl of mangrove swamps and prehistoric caves in the island's remote southeast.

    Information, Websites And Maps

       The glossy promotional material handed out by Dominican Consuls and Tourist Agencies are pretty to look at but seriously lacking in hard facts. With the emphasis on the package vacations that have earned the country so much money, they hold little value for independent travellers. Their maps are likewise relatively useless, though there are several excellent ones of the country available, including the 1:600,000 Dominican Republic map published by Berndtson & Berndtson.
    The Dominican Republic maintains a large presence on the web , though, as ever, ferreting out a specific piece of information can take some time. The following are a few tried and tested sites.
       The most heavily trafficked tourist message board, and a useful daily news bulletin on the country.
       A good site dedicated to Dominican tourism, with a Dominican Spanish phrasebook, daily weather and an interactive map of Cabarete.
       An exhaustive news bulletin and comprehensive roundup of tourist attractions and businesses in the Puerto Plata area.

    Outdoor Activities

       Opportunities for sea sports are naturally tremendous, ranging from swimming, snorkelling and scuba Dominican republic-Dominican sunset diving, windsurfing and surfing, to deep-sea fishing and whale-watching. Though many beaches are protected from powerful ocean currents by natural barriers, others have dangerous riptides along them, and should be avoided by all but the strongest of swimmers.
       The vast majority of Dominican reefs have been damaged beyond repair by careless local fishing practices, notably the daily dropping of anchors by thousands of small vessels. The only place you'll still find a large system of intact reefs is the stretch west of Puerto Plata, between La Isabela and Monte Cristi. By no coincidence, this is also by far the most remote coastal region in the country, and devilishly difficult to access for scuba diving and snorkelling . A number of tour operators and most all-inclusive hotels in the resort towns can take you to the more modest reefs around the island.
       The north coast resort of Cabarete is known internationally as the windsurfing capital of the Americas. Learning here is a challenge due to the strength of the waves and wind, though a dozen different windsurfing clubs offer equipment rental and tutoring. Surfing is less organized and done mostly by locals. Though you won't find any schools for surfing, popular venues include Playa Encuentra near Cabarete, Playas Grande and Preciosa just east of Rio San Juan and Playa Boba north of Nagua.
       The country's five separate mountain ranges provide several options for mountain sports ; most popular are mountain biking, horseback riding and several-day mountain treks. Cabarete's Iguana Mama is the one major mountain-bike tour outfit in the country, offering challenging daytrips into the Cordillera Septentrional and week-long mountain-bike and camping excursions from one side of the country to the other. The best hiking can be found along the trails leading from disparate parts of the Cordillera Central to Pico Duarte, the highest peak in the Caribbean. Horseback-riding excursions are also quite popular. In addition to the plethora of outfits that offer day rides along the country's many beaches, you'll find quality mountain-riding operators in Cabarete, Punta Cana, Las Terrenas and Jarabacoa. Also in the mountains, Jarabacoa is the centre for white-water rafting and kayaking.
       Finally, though there are several small, nondescript golf courses spread across the island, three of them stand head and shoulders above the pack: the Pete Dye-designed Teeth of the Dog course at Casa de Campo in La Romana, and the excellent Robert Trent Jones courses at Playa Dorada and Playa Grande on the Silver Coast. All three have the majority of their holes set on spectacular open oceanfront and are occasionally used as tournament venues.

       Opening Hours, Festivals And Holidays

       Business hours in the Dominican Republic are normally 8.30am-6pm Monday through Friday, and 8.30am-12.30pm on Saturday. About half of the stores still close for the midday siesta. Banks are generally open Monday through Friday 8.30am-noon and 2-5pm, with a few open on Saturday.
       The Dominican Republic has a bewildering barrage of festivals. On every day of the year, there seems to be some kind of celebration somewhere, the majority of which are regional fiestas patronales , held in honour of the city's or town's patron saint. These traditional fiestas are one of the great pleasures of a trip to the DR.

       Major holidays and festivals:

       Virgen de Altagracia
       January 21, the most important religious day in the Dominican calendar, including a several-day pilgrimage to Higuey.
       Duarte Day
       Holiday in honour of the Father of the Country, with public fiestas in all major towns on January 26.

       The pre-eminent celebration of the year, held on every Sunday in February and culminating on February 27. The biggest festival is in La Vega, with Santo Domingo a close second.
       Independence Day
       Celebration of independence from Haiti and the culmination of the Dominican Carnival (Feb 27). The place to be is Santo Domingo.

       Semana Santa
       The Christian Holy Week (variable, usually early to mid-April) is also the most important week of Haitian and Dominican vodu . Festivals take place in the Haitian bateyes and in Haina.

       Espiritu Santo
       Huge celebrations in the capital's barrio Villa Mella, pueblo Santa Maria near San Cristobal and the El Pomier caves, and San Juan de la Maguana - held seven weeks after Semana Santa.

       San Pedro Apostol
       A magnificent Cocolo festival in San Pedro de Macoris on June 29, with roving bands of guloyas performing dance dramas on the street.

       Festival of the Bulls
       Higuey's fiesta patronal (Aug 14), with processions coming into the city from all sides - some from as far as 30km - with cowboys on horseback and large herds of cattle.

       Guloya festivals in San Pedro de Macoris, Haitian Voodoo celebrations in the Haitian bateyes and rural groups of Caribbean-style Navidad carollers in the campos (Dec 25).
       Festival of the Bulls
       Traditional cattle festival in Bayaguana (Dec 28)

    Explore Dominican Republic

       Occupying the coast west of Santo Domingo and taking its name from the major city at its centre, the BARAHONA REGION was once the focus of Trujillo's personal sugar empire; vast tracts of cane still take up much of the land north of Barahona city, but today this is one of the country's poorest regions. As a result, the stunning Barahona coastline is almost completely undeveloped, making it perfect for independent travellers willing to rough it a bit in exchange for unblemished natural beauty.

       CIBAO (rocky land) is the word Tainos used to describe the Cordillera Central mountain range that takes up much of the Dominican Republic's central interior. These mountains are the highest peaks in the Caribbean, including Pico Duarte, the Caribbean's tallest at 3087m. The heart of the range is protected as Parques Nacionales Bermudez and Ramirez.
       Today, though, Dominicans use the term Cibao more to describe the fertile Cibao Valley, a triangle of alluvial plain that contains some of the deepest topsoil in the world. In the valley sits vibrant Santiago, the country's second largest city after Santo Domingo, well positioned for short excursions into the neighbouring farmland.
       The region is penetrated by the C-1 , also known as the Autopista Duarte, that links the northwest with the southeast, via Santiago and Santo Domingo. But, with most of interest gathered in the northern reaches, many vistors also take advantage of the good roads that hurdle the Cordillera Septentrional from the north. Once in the mountains, the best progress is made by following the biggest and best roads between towns, even when the distance travelled is far greater, which is often the case. Buses link most of the towns and guaguas make up for any shortfall.

       It's not hard to appreciate the beauty of THE SAMANA PENINSULA, a thin strip of land poking from the Dominican Republic's northeast. Perhaps the most appealing part of the whole country, the region boasts a coast lined with beaches that conform strictly to the Caribbean archetype of powdery white sand and transparent green-blue sea.
       Besides bumming on the beach, visitors come to see the thousands of humpback whales that migrate to the Bahia de Samana during the winter. Whale-watching has become a thriving local industry, peaking between mid-January and mid-March. Most whaleboats depart from Santa Barbara de Samana (generally shortened to Samana), the largest town on the peninsula and a welcome break from the more typical beach-oriented tourist resorts. If the hustle and bustle of more typical Dominican towns becomes too much for you, head east to Las Galeras, a pristine horseshoe of sand that, despite considerable development in recent years, still maintains an air of tranquillity. Along the peninsula's north coast you'll find the beautiful beaches of the remote expat colony of Las Terrenas, a burgeoning hangout for independent travellers.
       The Carretera 5 (C-5) that skirts the Dominican north coast leads all the way from Puerto Plata to Santa Barbara de Samana. At Sanchez, which nestles in the northwestern corner of the rectangular bay, another good road with spectacular views crosses the mountains to Las Terrenas. Travellers heading this way can catch the half-hourly pick-up trucks from the Texaco station on the C5. Recently paved roads now link Samana with Las Galeras and Las Terrenas although the road to the latter gets a little rougher after El Limon.

       Santo Domingo isn't the tropical paradise most travellers come to the Caribbean in search of, but at the core of the rather bewildering sprawl the old Spanish colonial capital - the very first European city of the New World - lies magically intact along the western bank of the Rio Ozama. This was the domain of Christopher Columbus : founded by his brother Bartolome, ruled by him for a time and claimed a decade later by his son Diego. After five centuries, the Columbus palace can still be found alongside the cobblestone streets and monumental architecture of the walled, limestone city the family built.
       Far more than just history makes Santo Domingo an integral part of any trip to the Dominican Republic; it is, after all, the modern face of the country, and as such has a non-stop liveliness not seen in many other places. The vitality extends, though in a slightly more disappointing manner, to the very reachable beaches east of the city, at Boca Chica and Juan Dolio, both fairly built-up resorts.

      The Dominican Republic's SILVER COAST, 300km of prime waterfront property on the country's northern edge, is the most popular tourist destination in the Caribbean. With a seemingly unending supply of great beaches around the booming towns of Puerto Plata and Cabarete , such a designation is no surprise. The Carretera 5 skirts the coast all the way east from Samana to just past Puerto Plata, making getting around this part of the region a breeze. The country's two major bus companies ply the highway, along with the guaguas and plentiful publico taxis. Heading west of Puerto Plata is more of a challenge (but not impossible) if you don't have a four-wheel-drive.

       The Santo Domingo valley stretches east along the coast from the capital, encompassing vast tracts of sugarcane. North of these fields roll the verdant hills of the Cordillera Oriental, which terminate at the bowl-shaped swamp basin of Parque Nacional Los Haitises. This is the Dominican Republic's SOUTHEAST, known primarily for its popular resort zones Bavaro and Punta Cana, bookends of a thirty-kilometre strip of uninterrupted sand lined with all-inclusives.
       Past these attractions, the Southeast is fairly poor, rural and bereft of must-see sights - with the exception of two national parks. Parque Nacional del Este, poking into the Caribbean at the southeastern tip of the Dominican Republic, continues the theme of great beachfront, especially along Isla Saona, while the mangrove swamps of Parque Nacional Los Haitises hide several Taino caves visited by boat.

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