Dominican Republic

Essentials

Capital: Santo Domingo

Size: 48,700 km²

Population: 7.7m

Currency: Dominican Peso

Language: Spanish

Food: Exotic and challenging is the legendary sancocho or salcocho prieto, a hearty stew made of six or seven different types of meat with vegetables.

Drink: Fresh fruit abounds so go for the delicious fresh batidas (milk shakes).

Festivals: New Year is celebrated in the capital on Avenida Francisco Alberto Caamaño Deñó beside the river. The major bands and orchestras of the country give a free concert, which attracts thousands of people. The celebration ends with fireworks and the whole area turns into one huge disco.

Laze on a beach under swaying palm trees, the blue sea lapping at your toes while you sip rum cocktails and catch up on your reading. Or, if the novelty of a Bounty-style paradise wears off, don a wet suit and tackle the rapids, leap off a waterfall, hike up a mountain and then tear back down it on a mountain bike – the Dominican Republic has a bit of something for everyone. 

Santo Domingo is the well-preserved colonial capital, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which showcases the conquistadores' first cathedral, first paved street and first court in the New World. Men cluster around tables at the road side, deliberating over their next domino move; raucous baseball fans spill out of Estadio Quisqueya to celebrate their victories and bemoan their losses; people dance, sip sweet coffee and bet on the next cock fight. Every night, the seafront drive - the Malecón - becomes a huge multicoloured disco. The most riotous celebrations are during the month-long Carnaval, when street parties erupt all over the island, culminating in a colourful parade through the capital.

The Dominican Republic has the Caribbean's highest peak - the rugged Pico Duarte - which towers over the Cordillera Central at 3,175m. Nearby, Jarabacoa is the centre for most adventure sports, from white-water rafting to canyoning.

Further east, head to Samaná Bay to watch humpback whales frolicking in the ocean. Parque Nacional Los Haitises is a 1,200sq km park of coastal wetlands, lush grassy knolls and a series of limestone caves with Amerindian cave drawings. When you tire of nature-watching, sign up for a riding trek to El Limón to bathe in the cool pool at the bottom of its 150m waterfall. Or try your hand at kite-boarding at Cabarete, one of the world's top destinations for the sport.


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