|Sharing the island of Hispaniola with neighboring Haiti, the Dominican Republic commands 19,000 square miles of mountainous rainforest and flawless silken beaches, populated by the descendants of Spanish conquistadors, of farmers and slaves who worked this lush land's earliest plantations. Today's Dominicans, however, cultivate more tourists than they do tobacco and sugar; with some 17,000 hotel rooms, this country beckons more leisure seekers than any other in the Caribbean - and does so with verve and variety. Though poverty is rampant (and not inconspicuous), the culture is warm, festive, and welcoming: Spanish is not just the language but the state of mind. Local customs not to be missed include meringue marathons, late-night dinners of fine local rum and spicy fish stew, and - a vacation must - languorous Latin siestas. |
The capital, Santo Domingo, is an open-air museum of the Caribbean's vibrant, contentious colonial history. Once Columbus set foot on the island (his first stop in the New World), this city quickly became the gateway to the Americas. Its cobbled streets, redolent with the pomp of Renaissance Spain, were trod by the likes of Cortez, Ponce de Leon, and Sir Francis Drake; the British, French, Spaniards, and Haitians all fought to control it.
But if history buffs rave about the attractions, so do play-hard, live-it-up vacationers, for the Dominican Republic's swank coastal resorts are among the Caribbean's most deluxe and affordable, replete with jet-age amenities, and from windsurfing to golf, sports of every ilk. In the ubiquitous casinos, discos, and spas, travelers flaunt the latest in sequins and spandex. Everywhere, from downtown Santo Domingo to the sparkling sands of Punta Cana, American chic reigns supreme.
For wilderness lovers, five national parks provide entertainment of a more primal, pristine sort: hiking and horseback riding along trails that hug rushing rivers and ramble through cavernous forests teeming with wildlife. Here, far from the roulette tables, hidden lagoons shelter some of the world's most opulent bird life: flamingos, parrots, ibis, and cranes.
Sporty, sun-loving clients who thrive in modern cosmopolitan surroundings will fall in love with the Dominican Republic, whose multi-faceted charms are directly accessible from several points on the East Coast.