The Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, features 1,000 miles of sugary white-sand beaches shaded by coconut palms. But its not just a beach destination, as it offers mountainous regions including the Caribbean’s highest mountain, Pico Duarte, and other natural wonders including Lake Enriquillo, the Caribbean’s largest lake and lowest elevation. Quisqueya, as Dominicans often call their country, also features great biological diversity.
Santo Domingo, on the country’s south coast, is the capital and the oldest city in the Americas, founded in 1496. The city’s cobbled streets feature the continent’s first cathedral, hospital, chapel and university. Otherwise, Santo Domingo is a modern city divided into two parts by the Ozama River. The western side is more developed, than the eastern part, known as “Santo Domingo Oriental.” Santo Domingo’s most important tourist destination is the Zona Colonial or Colonial Zone, on the Ozama’s western bank facing the Caribbean Sea.
To Zona Colonial’s west lies Gazcue, one of Santo Domingo’s oldest neighborhoods, filled with old Victorian houses and tree-lined streets. At the city’s waterfront “El Malecon,” a lengthy sea-side strip, borders the Caribbean Sea and attracts many tourists to its hotels, casinos, palm-lined boulevards and monuments. Santo Domingo’s attractions also include the cave complex the Three Eyes of Water, featuring three turquoise lagoons on different levels. Around the Gazcue area travelers will find the Palacio Nacional (seat of the Dominican government), the National Theater, the Museums in the Plaza de la Cultura, and the Palace of Fine Arts. Oriental Santo Domingo offers its own monuments and tourist spots, including the Lighthouse, where the explorer’s remains are buried, the open caves of the Parque Nacional Los Tres Ojos, and the National Aquarium.
Santo Domingo’s economic and commercial heart is the area known as the “Poligono Central,” at the nexus of 27 de Febrero, John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill and Maximo Gomez avenues. Many of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods surround Santo Domingo’s two main parks, the Parque Mirador Sur in the South and the Jardin Botanico in the North. South coast vacation areas include Boca Chica, environmentally forward Bayahibe – whose national park contains 200 ancient caves – La Romana, with features the 7,000-acre luxury resort Casa de Campo. The Altos de Chavon Cultural Center, a reconstructed 15th century village that also hosts concerts in a 5,000-seat Grecian amphitheater, is located within the resort.
Punta Cana/Bavaro is located on Santo Domingo’s eastern tip and features 21 miles of white-sand beaches and more than 30 all-inclusive resort properties. The majority of tourist attractions are located on the northern Atlantic coast; resorts within the 40-mile zone incorporate Puerto Plata, Sosua and Cabarete. Playa Dorada and Samana, a breeding ground for humpback whales, are located in the north.
The north coast also features a wide array of natural environments, including dense jungles, waterfalls, mountains and golden-sand beaches. Visitors can find multiple active pursuits, including diving, snorkeling, whitewater rafting, tubing, cascading, surfing, windsurfing, kiteboarding, bird-watching, rock climbing, caving, hiking, kayaking, horseback riding, mountain biking and sandboarding.