The Dominican Republic is unusual for a Caribbean nation, in that shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti to the west. It occupies the eastern five eighths of the island. (Only the island of St Martin is also divided into two.)
The colony of Santo Domingo became the site of the first permanent European settlement in the Americas after it was 'discovered' by Christopher Columbus, on his first voyage in 1492. In 1697, Spain ceded the western third of the island to the French (this became the independent state of Haiti in 1804.
The Dominican people eventually declared independence in November 1821, but their independence has been turbulent. Over the last 200 years. Haiti has tried to annexe the country several times, there have been numerous civil wars, Spain has regained control for a short while and the country has been occupied by the USA. Despite the instability, the country now has the largest economy in the Caribbean - this is growing at the fastest rate in the western hemisphere.
The terrain of the Dominican Republic comprises rainforest, savannah and highlands, including Pico Duarte, the Caribbean’s tallest mountain. But it's probably better known for its beaches, resorts and golfing. It's not the safest of countries to visit. Poverty leads to relatively high levels of petty crime and some violence in much of the Caribbean. Poverty levels run at 40% in the Dominican Republic. So, as with many countries, it pays to be cautious about where you travel and at what time of day.
Nevertheless, the Dominican Republic is still the most visited destination in the Caribbean. This is what sustains the economy, (as well as the world's third largest gold mine). The year-round golf courses are, apparently, major attractions.
Where tourists are concerned the Dominican Republic is mega resort country. I’m staying on Playa Dorada in San Felipe de Puerto Plata (thankfully usually known just as Puerto Plata). The lengthy beachfront is backed with resorts and an 18-hole golf course. My hotel is in an enclave with about 12 others. There are about 100,000 hotel beds in the city altogether.
It’s a very relaxing break, if you don’t want to do anything except lie on a very beautiful (but busy) beach and eat mediocre ‘international’ food. There are the standard boat trips supplying some average snorkelling, complete with the usual rum punch – and some tin pan drumming.
Finding local culture or communing with nature is a challenge. The historic capital Santa Domingo, is the oldest city in the new world and it also boasts the oldest cathedral. But it's 215 kilometres away, so I’m passing on a trip there.
Puerto Plata is worth a short trip. It’s mainly a trading port, as the name implies, but it has an old colonial-era centre. This is dominated by the sixteenth-century Fortaleza San Felipe. This is a sixteenth century Spanish fortress that served as a prison and now houses historical and military artefacts. The only aerial tramway in the Caribbean, takes us up to the Pico Isabel de Torres, a 793 metre high mountain, for great views across the city.
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