Tag - Dominican Republic

Dominican Republic Photo Gallery

Vendors on the beach at Boca Chica

Dominican Republic Photo Gallery

This is a Dominican Republic Photo Gallery. To read about this destination, please refer to my Dominican Republic Travel Guide.


All images are copyright! If you wish to purchase any images for commercial use, please contact me via the Contact page.


 


About taste2travel!

Hi! My name is Darren McLean, the owner of taste2travel. I’ve been travelling the world for 33 years and, 209 countries and territories, and – seven continents later, I’m still on the road.

Taste2travel offers travel information for destinations around the world, specialising in those that are remote and seldom visited. I hope you enjoy my content!

Ever since I was a child, I have been obsessed with the idea of travel. I started planning my first overseas trip at the age of 19 and departed Australia soon after my 20th birthday. Many years later, I’m still on the road.

In 2016, I decided to document and share my journeys and photography with a wider audience and so, taste2travel.com was born.

My aim is to create useful, usable travel guides/ reports on destinations I have visited. My reports are very comprehensive and detailed as I believe more information is better than less. They are best suited to those planning a journey to a particular destination.

Many of the destinations featured on my website are far off the regular beaten tourist trail. Often, these countries are hidden gems which remain undiscovered, mostly because they are remote and difficult to reach. I enjoy exploring and showcasing these ‘off-the-radar’ destinations, which will, hopefully, inspire others to plan their own adventure to a far-flung corner of the planet.

I’m also a fan of travel trivia and if you are too, you’ll find plenty of travel quizzes on the site.

Photography has always been a passion and all the photos appearing in these galleries were taken by me.

If you have any questions or queries, please contact me via the contact page.

I hope you this gallery and my website.

Safe travels!

Darren


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Top 10 Caribbean Island Experiences

Top 10 Caribbean Island Experiences

Welcome to the taste2travel Top 10 Caribbean Experiences feature.

 

Introduction

It’s not all rum and reggae!

Beyond the tourist brochure images of white-sand beaches, palm trees, Bob Marley and rum punches, the 33 countries and territories of the Caribbean offer a wealth of diverse travel experiences.

During the colonial period the French, Spanish, Dutch, British and even the Danish and Swedish took possession of various islands, which has left its mark today. As a result of this Colonial mélange, the islands of the Caribbean offer a diversity of cultures, traditions and ethnic mixes. The cultural highlight on the Irish-settled island of Montserrat is a week-long St. Patrick’s Day Festival, which celebrates the Irish heritage of the island with a combination of Irish and African influences.

Geographically, the islands of the Caribbean have been formed by either volcanic activity or from the movement of tectonic plates, which has exposed ancient, limestone seabed’s. While the volcanic islands offer lush, rugged, mountainous interiors, cascading waterfalls, meandering rivers and black-sand beaches, the limestone islands offer flatter, arid interiors and blindingly white-sand beaches, it’s these beaches which are featured on the covers of tourist brochures.

The French territory of Guadeloupe consists of two (almost joined) islands, one being volcanic in origin and the other being a raised limestone seabed, offering its visitors the opportunity to explore two very different environments in one destination.

This list highlights just ten favourite travel experiences from Cuba to Trinidad, with links to relevant travel guides for further reading.

Experiences

My personal “Top 10 Caribbean Experiences” (listed in no particular order) are:

#1 – Montserrat

A view of the east coast of Montserrat with recent lava flows visible in the background.

A view of the east coast of Montserrat with recent lava flows visible in the background.

Feel like visiting a modern-day Caribbean Pompeii? The volcanic island of Montserrat offers a very different travel experience from the usual sun, sand and beaches.

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, tiny Montserrat (a British territory) is slowly dusting itself off after recent volcanic eruptions decimated the southern part of the island, including the capital Plymouth, covering large areas in ash, mud and other volcanic debris. Plymouth remains the capital of Montserrat, making it the only ghost town that serves as the capital of a political territory.

A sweeping view of the lush west coast of Montserrat from the Gingerbread Hill Guest House.

A sweeping view of the lush west coast of Montserrat from the Gingerbread Hill Guest House.

Volcano Tourism

While the Soufrière Hills Volcano is far from dormant, Montserrat is open for tourism and visitors are once again returning to the island that, due to its rich Irish heritage, bills itself as the ‘Emerald Isle of the Caribbean‘.

The buried capital of Plymouth, a modern day Caribbean Pompeii.

The buried capital of Plymouth, a modern-day Caribbean Pompeii.

Whilst the island has a few nice (black sand) beaches, the main draw today is ‘volcano tourism‘, with a highlight of any visit being a tour of the fascinating, abandoned capital of Plymouth, which lies entombed under many metres of volcanic debris, inside a restricted exclusion zone.

Pyroclastic flows and lahars inundated Pyroclastic flows and lahars inundated Plymouth with metres of ash, mud and rock covering the entire city.with ash, mud and huge rocks.

Pyroclastic flows and lahars inundated Plymouth with metres of ash, mud and rock covering the entire city.

I toured the exclusion zone with the knowledgeable and informative Sun Lea, the owner of Montserrat Island Tours. Tours can remain in the abandoned city for one hour and during that time the guide is required to maintain constant radio contact with monitoring staff at the nearby Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO).

Another requirement was that, even while walking about, the motor of our vehicle was always to be left running in case the MVO advised that we need to leave the area ASAP. Something very different form the usual Caribbean experience.

Who needs a white-sand beach? Beautiful Woodlands Bay Beach.

Who needs a white-sand beach? Beautiful Woodlands Bay Beach.

Musical Legacy

A photo of Paul and Linda McCartney on Montserrat.

A photo of Paul and Linda McCartney on Montserrat.

If you’re a fan of music (who isn’t?) you might be interested in the musical legacy of Montserrat. For a period of ten years from 1979 – 1989, the island was a magnet for many famous musicians who came to record at the legendary AIR Studios Montserrat, which was created by Sir George Martin – the renown English record producer who signed The Beatles and produced every album they made until they disbanded.

Did you know Dire Straits recorded ‘Brothers in Arms‘ on tiny Montserrat? Who else recorded music on Montserrat? It’s an impressive roll-call of famous musicians, including:

  • Boy George
  • Dire Straits (who recorded ‘Brothers in Arms‘ at the studio)
  • Duran Duran
  • Elton John (who recorded ‘Too Low for Zero‘ at the studio)
  • Eric Clapton
  • Genesis 
  • Jimmy Buffet (who recorded the album ‘Volcano‘ while looking at the then-dormant Soufrière Hills Volcano from the studio)
  • Little River Band
  • Lou Reed
  • Luther Vandross
  • Michael Jackson
  • Paul McCartney (who recorded the hit single ‘Ebony and Ivory‘ with Stevie Wonder at the studio)
  • Sheena Easton
  • Stevie Wonder
  • The Police (who recorded ‘Ghost in the Machine‘ and ‘Synchronicity‘ at the studio)
  • The Rolling Stones 
  • Ultravox

While it’s possible to visit the island on a quick day trip from neighbouring Antigua, it’s definitely worth spending a few days or more.

For more on this destination, please refer to my Montserrat Travel Guide.

#2 – Cayman Islands

Adult Brown Booby, Cayman Brac

Adult Brown Booby, Cayman Brac

The Cayman islands are all about three things: sun, sea and wealth. A British Crown Colony whose economy is based on tourism and offshore banking, the three, raised limestone islands which comprise the territory are exposed summits of the Cayman Ridge. Separating the islands is the 4.8 km (3 mi) deep Cayman Trench – which is home to the deepest point in the Caribbean sea and many incredible dive sites.

The capital and largest city, George Town, is located on the main island of Grand Cayman, which is the port of call for all cruise ships and the destination of choice for 95% of visitors. Two much smaller (and geographically very different) islands, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, lie a short flight to the east and should not be overlooked.

On approach to Cayman Brac.

On approach to Cayman Brac.

One of the highlights of a visit to Grand Cayman is Stingray City which provides tourists with the opportunity to interact with numerous Atlantic Southern stingrays, who cruise around on a shallow sandbar in the middle of the turquoise-blue waters of the Caribbean sea. This is a definite tourist trap but still a worthwhile experience.

Getting friendly with a local at Stingray city.

The two outer islands are much quieter, with Cayman Brac being a favourite nesting site for sea birds such as the Brown Booby.

The Cayman Trench passes close to the island, providing amazing scuba diving which can be arranged through Reef Divers, who operate out of the Cayman Brac Beach Resort and offer full-service ‘valet‘ diving.

What exactly is ‘valet‘ diving? Prior to entering the water, you sit yourself down on a bench at the back of the dive boat and relax while the crew fit you with all your equipment. Once done, you stand, step forward and plunge into the beautiful, crystal-clear water for which Cayman Brac is famous.

Starfish at Starfish Point.

Starfish at Starfish Point.

For more on this destination, please refer to my Cayman Islands Travel Guide.

#3 – Dominica

The view from Scotts Head of the narrow isthmus that separates the fierce Atlantic and the calm Caribbean.

The view from Scott’s Head of the narrow isthmus that separates the fierce Atlantic and the calm Caribbean.

Known as the “Nature Island,” volcanic Dominica lies at the top of the Windward Islands, south of Guadeloupe and north of Martinique. Although a short boat ride away, Dominica is a world away from its more modern, developed French neighbours.

Kalinago culture is alive and thriving on Dominica.

Kalinago culture is alive and thriving on Dominica.

The island is still home to a sizeable population of indigenous people, the Kalinago, who’ve lived on the island since the 13th century.

Trafalgar falls: Offers the option of hot water (left) or cold water (right) bathing.

Trafalgar falls: Offers the option of hot water (left) or cold water (right) bathing.

Although Dominica is in the Caribbean, it is not considered a resort island and if you’re looking for all-inclusive resorts on sandy beaches this island is not for you. What the island does offer is spectacular, rugged nature. Where else can you swim in a warm-water waterfall which is adjacent to a cold-water waterfall?

For those who like snorkelling, Champagne Reef is not to be missed. Located south of the capital of Roseau, the warm, crystal clear water of the reef is infused with streams of bubbles which emanate from an underwater spring. It’s like snorkelling in a giant bottle of San Pellegrino. Magic!

Wotten Waven hot springs

At the end of a long day of hiking, what better way to relax than in one of the many hot sulphur spring baths in the mountainside village of Wotten Waven.

Hurricane Maria

In September of 2017, Dominica was devastated by Hurricane Maria. The island is slowly rebuilding and the government is keen to see tourists return. Lonely Planet recently published an update detailing which islands are ready for tourists post-hurricanes. Most guest houses and hotels are now operational and most sights are open.

For more on this destination, please refer to my Dominica Travel Guide.

#4 – Bonaire

Most of the coastline of Bonaire is rocky with a reef running along the entire shoreline

When your plane pulls up outside the small terminal building of Bonaire’s Flamingo International Airport (which is painted ‘Flamingo pink’) you’ll know you’ve landed somewhere special. Part of the ‘ABC islands’, tiny and quiet Bonaire is a municipality of the Netherlands, located 48-km east of Curaçao and 140-km east of Aruba.

Sunset on Bonaire.

Sunset on Bonaire.

The island bills itself as a ‘Diver’s Paradise’ and with a colourful, onshore reef running the entire length of its protected leeward coast, the island lives up to its name. Due to the onshore reef, there are no sandy beaches on Bonaire with the nearest beach being on neighbouring Curaçao.

Caribbean Flamingo on Bonaire’s lake Gotomeer.

Caribbean Flamingo on Bonaire’s lake Gotomeer.

While the island is famous for its reef, the arid interior provides several attractions. Bonaire is famed for its Caribbean Flamingos which are drawn to the brackish salt water of the island’s lagoons. The best place to observe these graceful creatures is at Lake Gotomeer, which contains a healthy supply of brine shrimp, the main diet of Flamingos.


Did you know:

Flamingos are born with grey feathers, which gradually turn pink because of a natural pink dye called canthaxanthin that they obtain from their diet of brine shrimp.


 

Salt Mine on Bonaire

Looming on the horizon south of the capital, are a series of white hills which are part of the Cargill salt mining operation. Salt mining has always been an important industry on the island. Fort Oranje was built by the Dutch in 1639 to defend the harbour, from which the main export was salt. The capital (Kralendijk) then developed around the fort.

Cactus Vodka!

Cactus vodka from the Cadushy distillery.

Cactus vodka from the Cadushy distillery.

There are many cacti on Bonaire and one local company – The Cadushy Distillery – has figured a way to distil the spiny Kadushi Cactus into a less-than-spiny vodka, creating the world’s first cactus vodka.

The Kadushi cactus.

For more on this destination, please refer to my Bonaire Travel Guide.

#5 – Trinidad & Tobago

Male Purple Honeycreeper at Asa Wright nature reserve

Trinidad and Tobago (TT) is a two-island country offering the visitor two completely different destinations in one and, due to the diversity of its fauna, flora and people, one of the more interesting destinations in the Caribbean.

The national bird of Trinidad & Tobago, the Scarlet Ibis, at Caroni Bird Sanctuary.

The national bird of Trinidad & Tobago, the Scarlet Ibis, at Caroni Bird Sanctuary.

Trinidad

Nowhere is this diversity more obvious than on the main island of Trinidad, which has not always been a Caribbean island. Located just 11 km from the coast of Venezuela, Trinidad was once joined to the South American mainland and sits on the same continental shelf.

A close up view of a sleeping Tree Boa in the Caroni Bird Sanctuary.

A close up view of a sleeping Tree Boa in the Caroni Bird Sanctuary.

Due to its geological history, the geography, fauna, flora and climate of Trinidad are completely indistinguishable from neighbouring Venezuela. From Howler and Capuchin monkeys to ocelots and tree boa’s, Trinidad is home to a rich variety of ‘mainland’ wildlife which can be found in the jungles of South America but not on any other Caribbean island.

Female white-necked Jacobin hummingbird at Asa Wright Nature Centre.

Female white-necked Jacobin hummingbird at Asa Wright Nature Centre.

Trinidad offers some of the best bird watching in the Caribbean, with two highlights being the Caroni Bird Sanctuary, where thousands of Scarlet Ibis roost at sunset and the Asa Wright Nature Centre. Located in the Northern mountains, the centre is one of the top bird-watching spots in the Caribbean with 159 different species having been recorded.

White-necked Jacobin hummingbird at Asa Wright nature centre.

White-necked Jacobin hummingbird at Asa Wright nature centre.

Tobago

Pigeon Point beach, Tobago

A short flight (or ferry ride) from Trinidad, neighbouring Tobago is much quieter and more relaxed than its bustling neighbour. The island is known for its laid-back tempo, it’s many fine beaches, rain-forest, excellent snorkelling and diving and so is a popular tourist destination.

North coast of Tobago

For more on this destination, please refer to my Trinidad & Tobago Travel Guide.

#6 – Saba

Artwork at Saba airport, which is ranked as one of the world's most dangerous airports.

Artwork at Saba airport, which is ranked as one of the world’s most dangerous airports.

Along with Bonaire and neighbouring St. Eustatius (Statia), this volcanic island of 1,991 souls is part of the Caribbean Netherlands. At 887 metres (2,910 ft), the summit of Saba – Mount Scenery – is the highest point within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Sand-less Saba is completely unique! A rugged volcanic peak which rises steeply out of the Caribbean sea, all the major infrastructure on the island was hand-built by defiant locals after they were advised by Dutch and Swiss engineers that infrastructure couldn’t be built on the impossibly steep slopes of the island.

The main settlement on Saba, Windwardside, with Mount Scenery in the background.

The main settlement on Saba, Windwardside, with Mount Scenery in the background.

The one road on the island, known as “The Road”, is a 16 km ribbon of hand‐laid stone which bisects the entire island.

After engineers advised a road couldn’t be built, one local resident took a basic engineering course then starting laying out a route across the island. It took 20 years for locals to hand-cut and lay the stone with the road opening in 1958.

At about the same time, Dutch engineers also advised there was no area on Saba level enough to construct a runway.

Again, they would be proved wrong by the defiant locals. In 1959, regional aviator, Remy de Haenen performed an aerial survey of the island and identified “Flat Point” as a suitable area for a runway.

Within weeks, the locals had cleared and graded the area in preparation for a landing. De Haenen made the first landing of an aircraft on the island on February 9, 1959 with nearly the entire population of the island in attendance.

No room for pilot error at perilous Saba airport. "The Road" snakes its way from the airport across the island to Fort Bay.

No room for pilot error at perilous Saba airport. “The Road” snakes its way from the airport across the island to Fort Bay.

One of the World’s Most Dangerous Airports

Saba Airport is ranked as one of the most dangerous airports in the world, and boasts the shortest commercial runway at 400-m in length.

Arriving and departing by plane is one of the highlights of a visit to the island – it’s both dramatic and scary. At the end of the runway are cliffs that plunge into the sea and on one side of the airport is a towering mountain, all of which present plenty of challenges for the pilots of Winair – the only airline to fly to Saba.

All flights to this tricky airport are flown by the most experienced of Winair pilots from neighbouring St. Martin and utilise special STOL (Short Take-off / Landing) aircraft.

Upon landing, the pilot jams on the breaks the instant the wheels hit the tarmac. Upon take-off, you only start climbing once you have flown off the end of the runway – a bit like a young bird being pushed out of the nest for the first time – you just have to fly!

If it all sounds too scary, you have the more sedate option of arriving by ferry from St. Martin.

A strict building code on the island ensures all buildings are painted white, with green trim and red roofs.

A strict building code on the island ensures all buildings are painted white, with green trim and red roofs.

The main settlement of Saba is the picturesque village of Windwardside, which is located high up on the slopes of Mount Scenery at 400 metres.

The population of Windwardside is an eclectic mix of recently arrived expats (many of whom have introduced a creative flair to the island) and descendants of European migrants.

Less eclectic are the strict building codes which ensures all structures on the island sport the same white, green and red colour scheme.

Hiking trail on Saba.

Hiking trail on Saba.

While the only beach on the island consists of a tiny man-made strip of sand (adjacent to the airport), the real attractions of Saba are the extensive network of hiking trails and the incredible Scuba diving.

The only beach on Saba is man-made.

The only beach on Saba is man-made.

Saba is known for its unique pinnacle dive sites, created when magma pushed up through the seafloor creating underwater towers of rock which soar up to around 26-m beneath the surface.

Due to the unique underwater seascapes, diving on Saba is a unique experience. I chose to dive with Sea Saba, who I would recommend.

For more on this destination, please refer to my Saba Travel Guide

#7 – Jamaica

Jamaica Travel Guide: Rasta rafting guide

Rasta rafting guide

Jamaica is as smooth as its rums and as spicy as its Jerk – a rewarding destination for those willing to pull themselves away from the legendary beaches and venture off the beaten track.

There is much more to Jamaica than Bob Marley, quintessential tropical beaches and sunsets. The third largest island in the Caribbean (after Cuba and Hispaniola), offers an abundance of culture from Reggae music to Rastafarians, a unique cuisine in the form of ‘Jerk’, lush tropical rain forests, misty blue mountains, superb coffee, hidden waterfalls, meandering rivers, famous dark rums and so much more.

Beaches

Of the many beaches on the island, my favourite is Seven Mile beach at Negril. As the name suggests, this is a long stretch of powdery-white sand with a variety of accommodation options strung along the main road.

Seven Mile Beach, Negril.

Seven Mile Beach, Negril.

Blue Mountains

Away from the coast, the rugged, lush-green, verdant interior is home to many spectacular sights, including the famed Blue Mountains.

Located between Kingston to the south and Port Antonio to the north, and deriving their name from the azure haze which hangs over them, the Blue Mountains are the longest mountain range in Jamaica and include some of the highest peaks in the Caribbean. The highest point is Blue Mountain Peak, at 2256-m.

Blue Mountains, home to Jamaica’s famous coffee farms

Today, the mountains are renowned as being the place where the famous Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee is cultivated.

Coffee plants were first introduced to Jamaica by a former British governor in 1728. Their cultivation started in a field near a parish in Kingston before eventually being extended into the Blue mountains where they flourished.

I travelled through the mountains in my rental car, which allowed me to stop at various cafes along the main road, where I could sample the most amazing, freshly brewed coffee.

Roasting coffee in the Blue Mountains

Waterfalls

The incredible refreshing - Dunn's river falls.

The incredible refreshing – Dunn’s river falls.

Mountainous Jamaica is home to many wonderful waterfalls, all of which provide a refreshing escape from the heat and humidity. One of the more famous is Dunn’s River falls which are located a short drive from the north coast city of Ocho Rios.

The falls are fed by spring water, which is rich with calcium carbonate. This deposits travertine, which is a form of limestone. The falls are described as a ‘living phenomenon’ because the travertine is continuously rebuilt by the sediments in the spring water.

The falls are 55-m high and cascade gently over limestone for 180-m before emptying onto a beautiful sandy beach and into the Caribbean sea. The falls is one of the very few travertine waterfalls in the world that empties directly into the sea.

Rio Grande

Rafting the Rio Grande.

Rafting the Rio Grande.

Another highlight of my trip to Jamaica was my raft trip down the Rio Grande. Located on the north coast in the parish of Portland, the Rio Grande was named when the Spanish occupied Jamaica in the 15th and 16th centuries. One of the largest rivers in Jamaica, it is today a popular destination for rafting.

The river is fed by rainwater flowing down from the Blue Mountains. The bamboo rafts, which today carry paying tourists, were originally used to transport produce, especially bananas, from the interior of the island.

The ‘rafting for fun’ craze was started by Hollywood star, Errol Flynn, who made Port Antonio his home and wanted something fun to do when his friends visited. My rafting guide was a 70-year old Rasta dude who was as cool as the flowing river water.

For more on this destination, please refer to my Jamaica Travel Guide.

#8 – Dominican Republic

Vendors on the beach at Boca Chica

Discovered by Columbus on his first voyage to the Americas. Home to the oldest continuously inhabited city in the Americas and today the most popular tourist destination in the Caribbean region, the Dominican Republic is a dream destination.

There is good reason the masses flock to the Dominican Republic (DR). The country is a unique destination, offering an abundance of history, culture, charming colonial cities, white-sand beaches, excellent diving and snorkelling, unspoilt nature, soaring mountain ranges (including the highest peak in the Caribbean) and a friendly and welcoming population.

Add to this a stable political environment, good infrastructure, reliable and modern transportation options, affordable prices and a booming economy. It’s easy to see why the country is the preferred choice for so many visitors. There is something for everyone in the DR – no matter your interest or budget.

A true colonial relic - the Convent of the Dominican Order in Santo Domingo.

A true colonial relic – the Convent of the Dominican Order in Santo Domingo.

Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, was founded in 1496 by Bartholomew Columbus (the younger brother of Christopher Columbus), and has the distinction of being the oldest continuously inhabited European city in the Americas. 

Interior of the first Cathedral built in the Americas - Catedral Primada de América.

Interior of the first Cathedral built in the Americas – Catedral Primada de América.

The old town, known as the ‘Zona Colonial‘, has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and is a charming place to base yourself, with lots of cool and breezy, renovated colonial relics providing pleasant accommodation options and a respite from the constant heat and humidity.

The narrow streets of the old town are home to many ‘firsts’ in the Americas; the ‘first road’, the ‘first hospital’, the ‘first cathedral’, the ‘first convent’ and so on. If you enjoy immersing yourself in history and culture, Santo Domingo is an engaging destination.

Built by Bartholomew Columbus as his residence - Alcazar de Colon, Santo Domingo.

Built by Bartholomew Columbus as his residence – Alcazar de Colon, Santo Domingo.

The dining and entertainment scene in the old town is one of the best in the Caribbean and is constantly evolving, with new restaurants and bars opening on a regular basis. With all this activity, there’s much to keep the visitor occupied and when you need to take a break, beautiful white-sand beaches are a short taxi ride away.

Beaches

Broad-billed Tody in the 'Indigenous Eyes National Park', Punta Cana.

Broad-billed Tody in the ‘Indigenous Eyes National Park’, Punta Cana.

Without a doubt, the most popular tourist destination in the Dominican Republic is Punta Cana. Located at the easternmost tip of the Dominican Republic and blessed with 32 kilometres of fine white-sand beaches, Punta Cana is the #1 tourist playground with flights arriving at its busy airport from throughout Europe, North and South America.

All this tourism has had a negative impact on the one key asset, the beach, with almost all beach-side land walled-off by large, private resorts who restrict access to their paying guests. For those staying away from the beach, the only access points are a few crowded and congested public lane-ways.

Natural springs in the ‘Indigenous Eyes National Park’, Punta Cana

One non-beach highlight in Punta Cana is the Indigenous Eyes National Park. This is a private forest reserve operated by the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation.

The reserve features walking trails, which lead you through the forest, past twelve crystal-clear, freshwater lagoons. Five of the lagoons are open to visitors for swimming, a great way to cool off on a hot day.

The lagoons are home to fish and turtles and the trails provide good bird watching opportunities and will eventually lead you onto the beach.

Stormy skies over the beach at Las Terrenas

My preferred beach experience can be found at the much quieter Las Terrenas, which is located on the north-east coast, a 3.5 hour drive north of Punta Cana.

Beach at Las Terrenas.

Beach at Las Terrenas.

Las Terrenas is nestled among green hills and started life as a quiet fishing village, however it was only a matter of time before developers would exploit its fine white sand beaches.

Today the beaches are lined with hotels, restaurants and bars but there are far fewer tourists here than Punta Cana and beach access is not restricted.

Mountains

Baiguate Waterfall, Jarabacoa

Baiguate Waterfall, Jarabacoa

While the focus of Dominican tourist brochures are the many fine beaches, the mountainous interior of the country also warrants investigation.

A centre for tourism, with lots of accommodation options, is the mountain town of Jarabacoa (525 metres above sea level) which is located a two-hour drive north-west of Santo Domingo, via an excellent highway.

The pleasant countryside around Jarabacoa is full of hiking trails which follow the course of various rivers and provide access to a number of waterfalls. For those hikers with lots of energy and enthusiasm, nearby Pico Duarte (3,087m) is the highest mountain in the Caribbean.

With an average daily temperature of 22 degrees (Celsius), the climate in Jarabacoa is cooler and less humid than the low lands, which allows local farmers to grow lots of amazing produce, including the juiciest and sweetest of strawberries.

Rio Jemenez, Jarabacoa

Rio Jemenez, Jarabacoa

For more on this destination, please refer to my Dominican Republic Travel Guide.

#9 – Cuba

Cuba is an enchanting destination! A country with a long and complex history and fascinating culture, the largest island in the Caribbean, which is home to the region’s largest population.

Once a favoured hedonistic destination for American celebrities and socialites, Cuba had a reputation as an exotic and permissive playground.

In the early 20th century, Cuba’s ideal tropical beaches attracted the American masses who could purchase cheap package tours from Florida, which included round-trip tickets from Miami, hotel, food and entertainment.

The island also attracted famous celebrities such as Ava Gardner, Frank Sinatra and Ernest Hemingway (who loved Cuba so much he relocated to Havana).

A propaganda painting in Havana's 'Museum of the Revolution', celebrates the overthrow of former President Batista by Fidel Castro.

A propaganda painting in Havana’s ‘Museum of the Revolution’, celebrates the overthrow of former President Batista by Fidel Castro.

The party ended in 1959 when a young Fidel Castro, having overthrown the corrupt President, Fulgencio Batista, came to power, installed a communist government and promptly destroyed all symbols of the hedonistic past, including most tourist infrastructure. This effectively ended tourism in Cuba with visitor numbers plummeting from 350,000 visitor’s in 1957 to 4,000 in 1961.

School children in Havana.

School children in Havana.

Today, the country is once again open to tourism and, in 2016, it attracted a record four million tourists, many of them arriving on cruise ships, carrying US passports.

Cruise ship arrivals increased from 24 in 2012 to 139 in 2015. The Ministry of tourism has forecast more exponential growth in the coming years, all thanks to an increase in visitors from the United States.

Despite the setbacks from the current US administration, the floodgates have been opened and American tourists are once again flocking to this Caribbean jewel.

Havana

The old town in Havana is a treasure trove of Colonial architecture,

The old town in Havana is a treasure trove of Colonial architecture,

Havana is the throbbing heart of Cuba. It’s the capital city, largest city (population: 2.1 million), main aviation and maritime hub and leading commercial centre.

At its heart lies the charming Habana Vieja, the old town and the place of most interest to tourists. Within the walls of the old town, the party never stops, with Salsa music echoing from bars where you can dance 24×7 and where it’s socially acceptable to drink Mojito’s (the national drink) anytime of day.

A Florist in the old town of Havana.

A Florist in the old town of Havana.

With a history stretching back 500 years, the old town is a treasure trove of Colonial architecture and, after 50 years of neglect, is slowly, and carefully, being renovated. Walking the streets of the enchanting old town, you can feel the history around you – it’s a powerful place.

There are lots of classic beauties to be found on the streets of Havana.

There are lots of classic beauties to be found on the streets of Havana.

The old town is comprised of numerous grand squares, which can best be described as jewels of colonial architecture.

Lining the squares are cathedrals, old mansions which have been converted into museum’s and galleries, shop’s, restaurant’s, cafe’s, bar’s, and always – music.

The music never stops in the old town, there’s always a band playing somewhere and there are lots of venues where you can dance salsa through the night.

Outside Havana

The colourful old town of Trinidad.

The colourful old town of Trinidad.

Cuba is a largely urban country, and offers many other resplendent colonial cities such as Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Sancti Spíritus, Ciego De Avila, Camagüey, Holguín and Santiago de Cuba.

Parque José Martí in Cienfuegos.

Parque José Martí in Cienfuegos.

Of these, my top pick would be Cienfuegos which was founded by French settlers escaping the revolution in neighbouring Haiti. The French established themselves as agricultural barons and used their wealth to construct fantastic mansions in the neoclassical style, which today makes Cienfuegos a pleasure to explore.

A classic American car parked outside Teatro Terry in downtown Cienfuegos.

A classic American car parked outside Teatro Terry in downtown Cienfuegos.

For more on this destination, please refer to my Cuba Travel Guide.

#10 – Bermuda

Bermuda Travel Guide: White Tailed Tropic bird

Native to Bermuda – the White Tailed Tropic bird is locally known as the Long-tail.

Okay! Bermuda is not part of the Caribbean but it is an island nation in the Atlantic and located a mere 1463 km (909 miles) north-east of the Bahamas – its nearest Caribbean neighbour.

Although, in geographical terms, it’s not part of the Caribbean region, in many other respects, Bermuda has a distinctly Caribbean soul, so I’m including it in my Caribbean ‘Top 10’.

Storm approaching Horseshoe Bay Beach.

Storm approaching Horseshoe Bay Beach.

Although a British territory, approximately 60% of the population traces its heritage to the West Indies with the Caribbean connection evident in everything from the local music, cuisine and culture to the Caribbean lilt of Bermudian voices.

Despite being located well north of the Tropic of Cancer, Bermuda is kept warmer than usual thanks to the Gulf Stream. It’s all like the Caribbean – just a little to the north!

Bermuda Blues

The beaches on Bermuda can only be described as gorgeous, offering translucent waters, pink-sand and rivalling anything found in the Caribbean. The surrounding reef offers a plethora of diving and snorkelling opportunities and the rich, carefully preserved history is engaging.

Today a UNESCO world Heritage site, St. Georges served as the capital of Bermuda for the first 200 years.

Today a UNESCO world Heritage site, St. Georges served as the capital of Bermuda for the first 200 years.

St. Georges town was Bermuda’s first English settlement and served as the capital of Bermuda for its first 200 years. The colourful, mostly pedestrian, town is beautifully renovated and offers a wealth of sights for visitors to explore.

The colourful, calm, traffic-free, streets of St. Georges are a pleasure to explore.

The colourful, calm, traffic-free, streets of St. Georges are a pleasure to explore.

Bermuda Shorts

How to wear Bermuda Shorts
Source: “Tabs” – Authentic Bermuda Shorts

If you’re still struggling to find a reason to visit Bermuda then you simply must go as there is no other place on the planet where you can buy yourself a pair of genuine Bermuda shorts. Winston Churchill once famously quipped “The short-pant is a terrible fashion choice, unless it is from Bermuda.”

Bermuda shorts in every colour of the rainbow at 'Tabs' in Hamilton

Bermuda shorts in every colour of the rainbow at ‘Tabs’ in Hamilton

Local men wear their shorts (always with matching knee-length socks) as a matter of pride. They are perfectly acceptable attire for any occasion, including business meetings and weddings!

Bermuda shorts come in a variety of colours, with red (same colour as the flag) being especially popular.

Bermuda shorts come in a variety of colours, with red (same colour as the flag) being especially popular.

For more on this destination, please refer to my Bermuda Travel Guide.

 


That’s the end of my Top 10 Caribbean Island Experiences. I Hope it’s provided some inspiration for your next trip.  

Safe travels!

Darren


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Further Reading

Other travel reports from the Caribbean region include:

Top 10 Caribbean Experiences Top 10 Caribbean Experiences Top 10 Caribbean Experiences Top 10 Caribbean Experiences Top 10 Caribbean Experiences Top 10 Caribbean Experiences Top 10 Caribbean Experiences Top 10 Caribbean Experiences Top 10 Caribbean Experiences Top 10 Caribbean Experiences Top 10 Caribbean Experiences Top 10 Caribbean Experiences Top 10 Caribbean Experiences Top 10 Caribbean Experiences Top 10 Caribbean Experiences Top 10 Caribbean Experiences Top 10 Caribbean Experiences

Dominican Republic Travel Guide

Broad-billed Tody, Punta Cana.

Dominican Republic Travel Guide

Welcome to the taste2travel Dominican Republic Travel Guide!

Date Visited: May 2015

Introduction

Discovered by Columbus on his first voyage to the Americas. Home to the oldest continuously inhabited city in the Americas and today the most popular tourist destination in the Caribbean region.

Stained-glass window inside the 'Capilla de los Remedios', Santo Domingo.

Stained-glass window inside the ‘Capilla de los Remedios’, Santo Domingo.

There is good reason the masses flock to the Dominican Republic (DR). The country is a unique destination, offering an abundance of history, culture, charming colonial cities, white sandy beaches, unspoilt nature, soaring mountain ranges (including the highest peak in the Caribbean) and a friendly and welcoming population.

A storm approaches Las Terrenas beach.

A storm approaches Las Terrenas beach.

Add to this a stable political environment, good infrastructure, reliable and modern transportation options and a booming economy. It’s easy to see why the country is the preferred choice for so many visitors. There is something for everyone in the DR – no matter your interest or budget.

Location

Once ruled by Spain, the Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, a former French colony. Haiti makes up roughly the western 1/3 of the island, with the DR comprising the eastern 2/3 of the island.

Hispaniola is one of two Caribbean islands in which there are two countries; the other is Saint Martin. With a population of 9,980,000, DR is the third most populated country in the Caribbean (after Cuba and Haiti).

Map of Hispaniola in the Museo de las Casas Reales, Santo Domingo.

Map of Hispaniola in the Museo de las Casas Reales, Santo Domingo.

History

The original inhabitants of Hispaniola were the native Taino Indians, an Arawak Indian race from present day Venezuela. The Taino called the island ‘Ayiti‘. These were the people Christopher Columbus first made contact with in 1492 when he landed on the island. At the time of European contact, the Tainos inhabited all of the Greater Antilles islands and were battling against the more aggressive Carib Indians who had managed to conquer all of the Lesser Antilles islands.

Ceiling of the Catedral Primada de América, Santo Domingo.

Ceiling of the Catedral Primada de América, Santo Domingo.

When Columbus arrived, the island was inhabited by hundreds of thousands of Taino people but the population declined rapidly, due to diseases brought by the Europeans.

Columbus originally called the island ‘La Española’, meaning The Spanish Island. Later translations altered the name to HispaniolaColumbus claimed Hispaniola for Spain and returned a year later (1493) on his second voyage to establish the first Spanish colony – La Isabela – on the northeast shore of the island. La Isabela nearly failed because of hunger and disease, which prompted the Spanish authorities to develop a new colony at present day Santo Domingo.

Located on the northeast coast of DR, Las Terrenas is a beautiful, uncrowded beach.

Located on the northeast coast of DR, Las Terrenas is a beautiful, uncrowded beach.

Santo Domingo was founded in 1496 by Bartholomew Columbus, the younger brother of Christopher Columbus and an explorer in his own right. Today Santo Domingo remains the oldest continuously inhabited European city in the Americas. The city was the first Spanish settlement in the region and would be used as a base for conducting further exploration of the new world. From Santo Domingo, Juan Ponce de León colonised Puerto Rico, Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar colonised Cuba, Hernando Cortes conquered Mexico, and Vasco Núñez de Balboa sighted the Pacific Ocean.

Peacock in the garden of the Museo de las Casas Reales.

Peacock in the garden of the Museo de las Casas Reales.

The first sugar cane introduced to the new world arrived on Hispaniola from the Canary islands. The first sugar mill in the new world was built on Hispaniola in 1516. Sugar cane would become the most important cash crop on almost every Caribbean island, a crop valued by all the European powers at the time. A crop which would cause much conflict between nations. A crop which would fuel a new type of culture in the Caribbean – rum culture.

In no time the Caribbean became one big sugar plantation and all these plantations required an army of workers to operate them. The need for a labour force to meet the growing demands of sugar cane cultivation led to an exponential increase in the importation of slaves. Today the majority of inhabitants in the Caribbean are Afro-Caribbean, descendants of former slaves brought to the islands to work on sugar plantations.

Antique draw in the Museo de las Casas Reales.

Antique draw in the Museo de las Casas Reales.

Originally the Spanish claimed ownership of the whole of Hispaniola but they settled mainly in the east, in what is now Dominican Republic. The west of the island (present day Haiti) was left largely empty until the French arrived in the 17th century and started a settlement on Tortuga island. Once this toehold had been established, the French founded larger settlements on Hispaniola. The Spanish resisted these moves and battled against the French. A resolution was agreed upon in 1697 with the Spanish and French signing the Treaty of Ryswick – this gave France the western 1/3 of the island and Spain the eastern 2/3’s.

Ever since the signing of the treaty relations between the two countries have been unfriendly, largely due to cultural differences. Haiti is primarily populated by Afro-Caribbean people with a history of French colonialism. The Dominican Republic is made up of Afro-European people with a history of Spanish colonialism. At various stages Haiti has invaded the Dominican Republic and vice-versa. Relations hit an all-time low in 1937 when the Dominican Republic reportedly massacred 30,000 Haitians living in or near it’s borders. Today it is possible to travel by bus between the two countries – see the ‘Getting There‘ section below for more details.

Dominican Republic Flag

The flag of the Dominican Republic.

The Dominican Republic became independent in 1844, however the party didn’t last long. The country’s first president (Pedro Santana) effectively made himself a dictator. This was the start of a long period of political instability, internal disorder and dictatorships, which included the Spanish returning to restore order at one stage.

During WWI the American government, concerned the Germans would intervene in the affairs of DR, staged an invasion of the country. The Americans would remain in DR until 1924 at which point elections were held and the country returned to civilian rule. This lasted until 1930 at which point the next strong-man (Rafael Trujillo) would stage a coup. His dictatorship lasted until he was assassinated in 1961. During his rule Santo Domingo was renamed Ciudad Trujillo. 

The political situation today is much more stable and the economy is growing strongly. The DR still exports sugar and coffee but tourism is a rapidly growing industry. Today tourism is a vital component of the economy. DR is the most visited destination in the Caribbean, receiving 4,306,000 visitors in 2014. The second most popular destination – Puerto Rico – received 3,048,000 visitors during the same period.

Larimar

Larimar is only found in the Dominican Republic

Larimar is only found in the Dominican Republic

Larimar is a rare blue variety of pectolite – a volcanic rock formed from calcium and sodium. Pectolites are found in many places around the world but none have the unique blue coloration of Larimar. Furthermore, the mineral is only found in one small area in the DR, south of the city of Barahona.

Larimar was used thousands of years ago by the native Taino’s and was only rediscovered in 1974, on a beach at the foot of the Bahoruco Range by Miguel Méndez and an American peace corps volunteer. The name Larimar was created by Méndez who combined his daughter’s name – Larissa – and the Spanish word for sea (mar).

There are many shops in the DR where you can purchase your own piece of Larimar.

If you wish to learn more about the stone, you can visit the Larimar Museum (actually a shop fronting as a museum) in the old town of Santo Domingo.

Larimar Museum
Calle Isabel La Católica
Santo Domingo

Sightseeing

Freshly rolled cigars at the Boutique del Fumador, Santo Domingo.

Freshly rolled cigars at the Boutique del Fumador, Santo Domingo.

Sant Domingo

With a population of 965,040 (rising to 2,908,607 when its surrounding metropolitan area is included), Santo Domingo is the capital and largest city in the DR. It is also the most populous city in the Caribbean. Santo Domingo is the cultural, financial, political, commercial and industrial centre of the DR.

Founded in 1496 by Bartholomew Columbus (the younger brother of Christopher Columbus), Santo Domingo has the distinction of being the oldest continuously inhabited European city in the Americas. The old town, known as the ‘Zona Colonial‘, has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and is a charming place to base yourself while you’re in Santo Domingo.

At the centre of the Zona Colonial is the Parque Colon (Columbus Park). Here you will find a statue of Christopher Columbus and the Catedral Primada de America – America’s First Cathedral. A short stroll from the cathedral will bring you to a host of other ‘first in America‘ sites. The first road in America, the first castle in America, the first monastery in America, the first hospital in America, the oldest fortress in America.

The sites of the Zona Colonial can be easily covered on foot in a few days. When you wish to take a break, there are plenty of tree-lined plazas and pedestrian zones where you can relax. The pace of the old town is calm and relaxed, with horse-drawn carts plodding along cobbled streets.

A peacock at the Museo de las Casas Reales, Santo Domingo.

A peacock at the Museo de las Casas Reales, Santo Domingo.

Currently there is a huge restoration program underway in the Zona Colonial with whole streets being renovated, new limestone footpaths being installed, building façades receiving a fresh lick of paint, derelict colonial gems being converted into chic restaurants, shops and boutique hotels.

Sites in the Zona Colonial include:

  • Catedral Primada de América – Located on the main square and also known as the Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, this is the oldest cathedral in the Americas. Construction began in 1512 and was completed in 1540. The cathedral combines Gothic and Baroque elements and contains an impressive collection of antique religious art. The remains of Christopher Columbus were once buried here.
Interior of the first Cathedral built in the Americas - Catedral Primada de América, Santo Domingo.

Interior of the first Cathedral built in the Americas – Catedral Primada de América, Santo Domingo.

  • Parque Colón (Columbus Park) – This is the main square of the old town, a leafy green, quiet space where you can relax and watch the world go by. If you are looking for a shoe-shine, you will find it in this square. The square is dominated by a statue of Christopher Columbus. The Catedral Primada de América occupies one side of the square.
  • Museo de las Casas Reales (Royal Houses) – Located a short walk from Parque Colón, this fine Renaissance style building was built in the 16th century and served as the seat of Spanish power for the entire Caribbean region. It once housed the governor’s office and the Audiencia Real (Royal Court). Today the building serves as a museum, showcasing colonial-period objects, including treasures recovered from wrecked Spanish galleons.
Courtyard of Museo de las Casas Reales in Santo Domingo.

Courtyard of Museo de las Casas Reales in Santo Domingo.

  • Alcázar de Colón (Columbus Palace) -The Alcázar is the most visited museum in Santo Domingo. Designed in the Gothic-Mudéjar style and built under Diego Colón, the son of Christopher Columbus; when he became Viceroy of La Española in 1509. The building is constructed from coral-line blocks and once served as the residence for Diego and his wife, Doña María de Toledo, during the early 16th century. The building today houses the Museo Alcázar de Diego Colón, whose collection exhibits an ensemble of European Medieval and Renaissance art and includes items that once belonged to the Columbus family.
The Alcazar de Colon in Santo Domingo, built as a residence for the son of son of Christopher Columbus.

The Alcazar de Colon in Santo Domingo, built as a residence for the son of son of Christopher Columbus.

  • Plaza de España – The largest square in the old town and a pleasant place to relax and unwind is the Plaza España (Plaza of Spain). The plaza is surrounded by historic colonial buildings, including the Alcázar de Colón and has a row of pleasant outdoor restaurants and cafes along one side. This is a great place for al-fresco dining in the evenings.
  • The National Pantheon – Located on Americas first street – Calle las Dames – the National Pantheon was built from 1714-1746 as a Jesuit church. Today it serves as a national symbol of the DR and is the final resting place for many of the Republic’s heroes. There is a very low-key ‘changing of the guard‘ ceremony daily at 11:00 am.
A guard at the National Pantheon in Santo Domingo.

A guard at the National Pantheon in Santo Domingo.

  • Capilla de los Remedios – This small Gothic-style chapel is located across the street from the National Pantheon. It was built during the 16th century to serve as a private chapel and family mausoleum. The chapel features a barrel-vaulted ceiling and beautiful stained-glass windows. Opening hours are erratic.
A stained-glass window at the Capilla de los Remedios in Santo Domingo.

A stained-glass window at the Capilla de los Remedios in Santo Domingo.

  • Fortaleza Ozama – Located on Calle de las Dames, this fort was constructed by the Spanish, who started work on it in 1502 and completed it two centuries later. The fort overlooks the Ozama river and is the oldest European fort in the Americas.
  • Calle Las Damas (Ladies street) – is the first paved street in the Americas and dates from 1502. The street gets its name from the fact that noblewomen of Santo Domingo, including Maria of Toledo, wife of Diego Colón, would stroll along the street every evening. Many important buildings are located along this street.
  • Monasterio de San Francisco – Located on Calle Hostos, this is the oldest Franciscan monastery in the Americas. It was built in 1508 but severely damaged during the invasion led by Sir Francis Drake in 1586. The monastery was rebuilt but later destroyed by an earthquake. It was then rebuilt as a mental hospital but then reduced to a ruin by a hurricane. Today the monastery lies in ruin and is normally closed. You can view it from outside the wire perimeter fence.
Monasterio de San Francisco, Santo Domingo.

Monasterio de San Francisco, Santo Domingo.

  • Ruinas del Hospital San Nicolás de Bari – Also located on Calle Hostos, this hospital, constructed in 1503, was the first hospital in the Americas. The hospital survived the invasion by Sir Francis Drake and earthquakes but was eventually destroyed in 1911 by a hurricane. The ruins are open for visits.
  • El Convento de los Dominicos (Convent of the Dominican Order) – Located on Calle Padre Bellini, construction of this monastery began in 1510. In 1538, it became the first university in the Americas. The building’s distinctive Baroque facade is striking, especially when it’s illuminated by the late afternoon sun.
Convent of the Dominican Order, Santo Domingo.

Convent of the Dominican Order, Santo Domingo.

  • Parque Duarte – Located opposite the convent on Calle Padre Bellini, this small, leafy park is a good place to relax. The sculpture in the centre of the park depicts Juan Pablo Duarte, one of the founding fathers of the Dominican Republic.
  • Parque Independencia – Located behind the Puerta del Conde (Count’s Gate – part of the original city wall) at the western end of the pedestrian shopping street – El Conde – this park is not only a nice place to relax but features the impressive marble monument known as La Altar de la Patria (Altar of the Fatherland), a monument to the founding fathers of the Dominican Republic.
  • Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Las Mercedes – Located on Calle Las Mercedes, and dedicated to the country’s patron saint, construction of the church began in 1527 and was completed in 1555. The church was damaged during the attack of Santo Domingo by Sir Francis Drake in 1586. Over the years it has suffered damage from various earthquakes and hurricanes but has always been repaired.
  • Boutique del Fumador – The Dominican Republic is famous for its cigars and this shop, located on the main pedestrian shopping street – Calle El Conde, is the ‘go-to’ place for everything to do with cigars. There is always a cigar-roller in residence at the front of the shop, who puffs while he rolls.
Cigar rolling at Boutique del Fumador in Santo Domingo.

Cigar rolling at Boutique del Fumador in Santo Domingo.

  • Choco Museo  – Who doesn’t like chocolate? At this shop/ museum you can not only purchase fresh, hand-made chocolates but you can learn the history of chocolate and even participate in a chocolate workshop. The workshop is a whole lot of fun and at the end of the class you get to take home your own hand-made chocolates. The shop is located just off the main square on Calle Arzobispo Meriño 254.
Chocolate making during my workshop at the Choco Museo in Santo Domingo.

Chocolate making during my workshop at the Choco Museo in Santo Domingo.

 

Chocolates, which I made during my workshop, at the Choco Museo in Santo Domingo.

Chocolates, which I made during my workshop, at the Choco Museo in Santo Domingo.

  • Larimar Museum – Also located off the main square on Calle Isabel la Catolica, this is the place to come to learn about Larimar. It’s more shop than museum but the displays are interesting and you can purchase a piece of Larimar to take home.
  • Museo Mundo de Ambar – Just like the Larimar Museum, the Amber museum is more shop than museum but the displays are interesting and there are guides on hand to explain everything you need to know about Amber. The museum includes a selection of rare blue amber.
Blue amber

Blue amber vs. traditional amber

Around the Island

Boca Chica

Vendors on the beach at Boca Chica

Vendors on the beach at Boca Chica

Located 30-km east of Santo Domingo, Boca Chica is a beach-side town of 70,000 inhabitants, which lies on a beautiful fine white-sand beach in a calm bay with crystal clear water. At weekends this is the most crowded beach in the DR.

The city offers a wide range of accommodation, bars, restaurants and shops and is very popular with tourists from Europe and North America. At night there is a lively bar scene. Peak season is from December through April.

Fisherman at Boca Chica

Fisherman at Boca Chica

Located across from the main square in Boca Chica, and a short walk from the beach, is the Parco Del Caribe apart-hotel. This hotel offers reasonably priced apartments with balconies all arranged around a well maintained garden.

Punta Cana

Broad-billed Tody in the 'Indigenous Eyes National Park', Punta Cana

Broad-billed Tody in the ‘Indigenous Eyes National Park’, Punta Cana

With 50 mega-resorts offering more than 40,000 hotel rooms and an airport serving more than 6 million holiday makers each year, Punta Cana is tourist central. The city has a population of 100,000, with most inhabitants involved in the tourism industry. Punta Cana sprawls along the coast and consists of different towns which have been swallowed up by rampant development.

Fresh-water turtle in the 'Indigenous Eyes National Park', Punta Cana.

Fresh-water turtle in the ‘Indigenous Eyes National Park’, Punta Cana.

The focus of this development are the miles of fine white-sand beaches, which are lapped by calm, turquoise waters. The ocean waters along the coast are mainly shallow, with several natural marine pools in which visitors can bathe.

Fresh-water turtle in the 'Indigenous Eyes National Park', Punta Cana

Fresh-water turtle in the ‘Indigenous Eyes National Park’, Punta Cana

Unfortunately public access to the beaches is restricted with most of the shoreline occupied by large, walled resorts. The road along the coast runs inland behind the resorts so you rarely see the beach, however there are a few roads which provide access to some public beaches.

Natural springs in the 'Indigenous Eyes National Park', Punta Cana

Natural springs in the ‘Indigenous Eyes National Park’, Punta Cana

One non-beach highlight is the Indigenous Eyes National Park.  This is a private forest reserve operated by the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation. The reserve features walking trails, which lead you through the forest, past twelve crystal-clear, freshwater lagoons.

Gecko at Punta Cana.

Gecko at the Indigenous Eyes National Park, Punta Cana.

Five of the lagoons are open to visitors for swimming, a great way to cool off on a hot day. The lagoons are home to fish and turtles and the trails provide good bird watching opportunities and will eventually lead you onto the beach.

Noni Fruit, Punta Cana

Noni Fruit, Punta Cana

Samaná

Located in the northeast of DR, Samaná was the last stop made by Christopher Columbus on his first voyage to the Americas. Today it is an important tourism destination and is the main centre for whale watching (season runs from January to March).

A nice day trip from Samaná is to the most northeasterly point in the DR, where you will find Rincon beach and the town of Las Galeras, which is also located on a fine sandy beach. The region is famous for its beautiful palm beaches.

Las Terrenas

Stormy skies over the beach at Las Terrenas, which lies on the north-east coast of the Dominican Republic.

Stormy skies over the beach at Las Terrenas, which lies on the north-east coast of the Dominican Republic.

Las Terrenas is a town on the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic, located north of Samaná. The town is nestled among green hills and started life as a quiet fishing village. However it was only a matter of time before developers would exploit its fine white sand beaches. Today the beaches are lined with hotels, restaurants and bars but there are far less tourists here than Punta Cana or Boca Chica, which makes Las Terrenas a more relaxing destination. The town makes a good base for exploring the northeast corner of DR.

The beautiful beach at Las Terrenas, which is free of the tourist hordes found at Punta Cana.

The beautiful beach at Las Terrenas, which is free of the tourist hordes found at Punta Cana.

In Las Terrenas I managed to get a heavily discounted rate (through booking.com) at the beautiful and opulent Xeliter balcones del atlantico. This condominium complex is a nice place to lay your hat for a few days and is located directly across the road from sandy Las Terrenas beach. 

Jarabacoa

Baiguate Waterfall, Jarabacoa

Baiguate Waterfall, Jarabacoa

Located in the central range at an elevation of 525-m, Jarabacoa has a tropical rainforest climate. Evenings here are cool and require warm clothes. In the surrounding area you will find mountains, waterfalls and lots of natural beauty.

The view of the Rio Jemenez in Jarabacoa.

The view of the Rio Jemenez in Jarabacoa.

I stayed outside of town on the Río Jimenoa at the Hotel Gran Jimenoa, which offers comfortable accommodation with a swimming pool, Jacuzzi and an onsite restaurant overlooking the river.

Accommodation

Being the most popular tourist destination in the Caribbean, DR offers ample accommodation options for all budgets scattered around the island.

Deluxe, but affordable, condo-style accommodation in Las Terrenas.

Deluxe, but affordable, condo-style accommodation in Las Terrenas.

Whether you wish to stay in an opulent, well-appointed colonial-style hotel in the old town or in a cheap hostel in a back lane-way, you are spoiled for choice in the charming old town of Santo Domingo. Outside of the capital you will find a wealth of options in the beach-side tourist havens of Punta Cana and Boca Chica. No matter where the road leads you in DR you will find a range of accommodation options to suit your budget.

When I’m in Santo Domingo I always choose to stay in the old town.

Located on Calle Sanchez in the heart of the Zona Colonial, the Casa Sanchez Boutique hotel is a fine option, which I would definitely recommend. The hotel includes a pool in a cool courtyard, which is a great way to cool off after a day of sightseeing in the heat.

Just off the main square, the Casa del Sol is a small, French-run, guest house loaded with soul and charm. The casa is located at the quiet end of Calle Isabel la Catolica. Breakfast is served each morning on the rooftop terrace – a perfect way to start your day.

If you wish to book in advance, you will find plenty of choice on booking.com

Eating Out

Being a former Spanish colony, there are many influences in the cuisine of DR from the old motherland. The influx of African slaves has also had an influence on the cuisine as has the original indigenous inhabitants – the Taino. The cuisine of DR resembles that of other countries in Latin America and of its Latin neighbours such as Puerto Rico.

Due to the topography of the country, a variety of produce can be grown – from tropical fruits and vegetables along the hot and humid coastal plains to cooler climate produce in the central highlands. Markets in DR are a treat to visit. Seafood is abundant as is meat from local farms.

The dining scene in Santo Domingo is slowly being transformed with a good selection of options from inexpensive street food to fine dining restaurants and wine bars. The Zona Colonial is one of the best places in the Caribbean for wining and dining. Here you’ll find fine old colonial mansions that have been transformed into beautiful restaurants, funky bars and welcoming cafés. A popular location for dinner in the evening is Plaza de España. Restaurants line one side of the square with beautiful views across the square to Columbus’ house.

Visa Requirements

Some nationalities require visas for Dominican Republic – check your visa requirements prior to arrival.

Tourist Card

Most tourists arriving at an airport in DR will need to purchase a tourist card for US$10 before proceeding through immigration. This is simply a tourist tax – you do not need to show your passport, you just need to hand over $10 to the cashier at the desk in front of immigration who will issue you with a paper receipt. You should ensure you have US$10 in cash on hand and that you get your receipt before you join the immigration queue. You will not be allowed to proceed to passport control unless you produce your receipt.

Getting There

By Air

There are seven international airports in the Dominican Republic:

  • Las Américas International Airport, Santo Domingo City
  • Punta Cana International Airport, Punta Cana
  • Cibao International Airport, Santiago City
  • Gregorio Luperón International Airport, Puerto Plata
  • La Romana International Airport, La Romana City
  • Samana El Catey International Airport, Sanchez, Samana
  • María Montez International Airport, Barahona City

The two main gateways are covered here – they are:

  • Las Américas International Airport, Santo Domingo City
  • Punta Cana International Airport, Punta Cana

Las Américas International Airport

Las Américas International Airport is the second busiest in the country (after Punta Cana International Airport) and one of the largest and busiest airports in the Caribbean, handling 3.5 million passengers in 2015. The airport is located on the coast, 45-mins east of downtown Santo Domingo.

The following airlines provide international connections to Santo Domingo:

  • Aeroméxico – services to Mexico City
  • Air Antilles Express – services to Martinique, Guadeloupe
  • Air Caraïbes – services to Martinique, Guadeloupe, Paris (Orly)
  • Air Europa – services to Madrid
  • Air France – services to Paris (Charles de Gaulle)
  • American Airlines – services to Miami, Philadelphia
  • Aruba Airlines – services to Aruba, Curaçao
  • Aserca Airlines  – services to Caracas
  • Avianca – services to Bogotá
  • Condor – services to Frankfurt, San José de Costa Rica
  • Copa Airlines – services to Panama City
  • Cubana – services to Havana, Holguín, Santiago De Cuba
  • Delta Air Lines – services to Atlanta, New York (JFK)
  • Iberia – services to Madrid
  • Insel Air – services to Curaçao, St. Maarten
  • Insel Air Aruba – services to Aruba, St. Maarten
  • InterCaribbean Airways – services to Antigua, Providenciales, Port-au-Prince
  • Jetairfly – services to Brussels
  • JetBlue Airways – services to Boston, Fort Lauderdale, New York (JFK), Orlando (MCO), Puerto Rico
  • LASER Airlines – services to Caracas
  • PAWA Dominicana – services to Antigua, Aruba, Curacao, Havana, St. Maarten
  • Seaborne Airlines – services to Puerto Rico
  • Sky High Aviation Services – services to Antigua, Tortola
  • Spirit Airlines – services to Fort Lauderdale
  • Sunwing Airlines – seasonal services to Montreal (Trudeau)
  • United Airlines – services to Newark
  • Venezolana – services to Caracas, Maracaibo
  • Wamos Air – seasonal services to Madrid

To/ From the airport

Taxis charge anywhere from US$25 to US$40 for the drive from the airport into Santo Domingo. Alternatively, go upstairs to the second floor of the terminal (departures level) and at the very end of the concourse you will find a minivan, which charges 70 pesos or US$2 to the Zona Colonial. The van can accommodate a maximum of 8 passengers.

Punta Cana International Airport

Punta Cana International Airport is the busiest airport in the Caribbean, serving over 6 million passengers in 2014. Most passengers are holiday makers from Europe and North America who come to spend a week or two in one of the many mega-resorts that line the white-sand beaches.

Most flights to Punta Cana are seasonal, with the high season running from mid-December to the end of July and low season running from August to mid-December.

The following airlines provide international connections to Punta Cana:

  • Aerolíneas Argentinas – services to Buenos Aires (Ezeiza)
  • Aerolíneas Mas – services to Santiago de los Caballeros, Santo Domingo
  • Air Antilles Express – seasonal service to Guadeloupe
  • Air Berlin – services to Düsseldorf, seasonal service to Berlin (Tegel)
  • Air Canada – seasonal services to Halifax, Ottawa
  • Air Canada Rouge – services to Montreal (Trudeau), Toronto (Pearson)
  • Air Europa – services to Madrid
  • Air France – services to Paris (Charles de Gaulle)
  • Air Transat – services to Montréal (Trudeau), Québec City, Toronto-Pearson, seasonal services to Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Hamilton, London (ON), Ottawa, Regina, St. John’s, Thunder Bay, Vancouver, Windsor, Winnipeg
  • American Airlines – services to Charlotte, Miami, Philadelphia, seasonal services to Boston, Chicago (O’Hare), Dallas/Fort Worth, New York (JFK)
  • Apple Vacations (operated by Allegiant Air) – seasonal service to Pittsburgh
  • Apple Vacations (operated by Swift Air) – seasonal service to Cincinnati
  • Avianca – services to Bogota
  • Avianca Ecuador Charter – services to Quito
  • Avianca Peru – services to Lima
  • Azur Air – services to Moscow (Domodedovo)
  • British Airways – services to London (Gatwick)
  • Condor – services to Frankfurt, Munich, seasonal service to Vienna
  • Copa Airlines – services to Panama City
  • Copa Airlines – services to Colombia Bogota, Panama City
  • Corsair International – services to Paris (Orly)
  • Delta Air Lines – services to Atlanta, New York (JFK), seasonal service to Cincinnati, Detroit, Minneapolis/St. Paul
  • Dynamic Airways – services to Chicago O’Hare, New York (JFK)
  • Edelweiss Air – services to Zürich
  • El Al Charter – services to Tel-Aviv
  • Eurowings (operated by SunExpress Deutschland) – services to Cologne/Bonn
  • Evelop Airlines – services to Madrid
  • French Blue – services to Paris (Orly)
  • Frontier Airlines – seasonal services to Chicago (O’Hare), Cincinnati, Cleveland, Philadelphia
  • Fly All Ways – services to Paramaribo
  • Gol Transportes Aéreos – services to São Paulo (Guarulhos)
  • Insel Air – services to Curaçao
  • Insel Air Aruba – services to Aruba
  • InterCaribbean Airways – services to Puerto Rico
  • Icelandair – services to Boston, Detroit
  • Jetairfly – services to Brussels
  • JetBlue Airways – services to Boston, Fort Lauderdale, New York (JFK), San Juan
  • LATAM Argentina – services to Buenos Aires (Ezeiza), Miami
  • LATAM Brasil – services to Brasília
  • LATAM Chile – services to Miami, Santiago de Chile
  • LATAM Colombia – services to Bogotá
  • LATAM Perú – services to Lima
  • Latin American Wings (operated by Chilejet) – services to Santiago de Chile
  • Nordwind Charter – seasonal services to Moscow (Sheremetyevo)
  • Orbest – services to Lisbon
  • Rutaca Airlines – services to Caracas
  • Servicios Aéreos Profesionales Charter – services to Antigua, Aruba, Barbados, Curaçao, Holguin, Guadeloupe, Port of Spain, St. Maarten, Santo Domingo, Varadero
  • Seaborne Airlines – services to Puerto Rico
  • Southwest Airlines – services to Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago-Midway, seasonal service to Milwaukee
  • Spirit Airlines – seasonal services to Fort Lauderdale
  • Sun Country Airlines – seasonal services to Minneapolis/St. Paul
  • Sunwing Airlines – services to Montreal (Trudeau), Québec City, Toronto (Pearson), seasonal services to Bagotville, Calgary, Gander, Halifax, Hamilton, Kitchener, London (ON), Milwaukee, Moncton, Ottawa, Saint John, St. John’s, Val-d’Or, Vancouver, Winnipeg
  • Swift Air (operated by Vacation Express) – seasonal service to Pittsburgh
  • Thomas Cook Airlines Charter – services to London (Gatwick), Manchester (UK)
  • Thomas Cook Airlines Scandinavia Charter – services to Copenhagen, Stockholm
  • Thomson Airways Charter – services to Birmingham, London-Gatwick, Manchester, seasonal service to Glasgow
  • TUI Airlines Netherlands – services to Amsterdam, seasonal services to Basel/Mulhouse, Katowice, Warsaw-Chopin
  • TUIfly (operated by Thomson Airways) – seasonal services to Hamburg
  • TAME Charter – services to Quito
  • United Airlines – services to Houston (Intercontinental), Newark, seasonal services to Chicago (O’Hare), Washington (Dulles)
  • Vacation Express (operated by Sunwing Airlines) – seaonal services to Baltimore, Buffalo, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Columbus (OH), Nashville, New Orleans, Newark
  • Vacation Express (operated by Swift Air) – seasonal services to Cleveland, Columbus (OH), Indianapolis, Houston (Intercontinental), Miami
  • Wamos Air – services to Madrid
  • WestJet – services to Montreal (Trudeau), Toronto (Pearson), seasonal services to Halifax, Hamilton, Ottawa, St. John’s
  • White Airways – seasonal service to Lisbon
  • XL Airways – services to Marseille, Paris (Charles de Gaulle), seasonal services to Bordeaux, Lyon, Nantes, Toulouse

By Sea

Ferries

There is a regular scheduled international ferry service between Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) and San Juan (Puerto Rico), which is operated by America Cruise Ferries. The service runs three times a week with the crossing taking 14-hours. Check their website for current schedule and fares.

Caribbean Fantasy (also operated by America Cruise Ferries) offers a weekly ferry service between Mayaguez (west coast of Puerto Rico) and Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic). The ferry sails every Wednesday from Puerto Rico, returning the following Tuesday from Santo Domingo. Crossing time is 12-hours.

Cruise Ships

Visiting cruise ships to Santo Domingo dock at the San Souci terminal, located to the east of the Zona Colonial. You will need to take a taxi from the dock into the Zona Colonial.

Getting Around

Buses

There are several inter-city bus operators who provide regular, reliable, fast, inexpensive service to all points in the country plus daily international connections to Haiti (Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haïtien). Buses are popular so it’s recommended to book your ticket in advance. Air-con on the buses is usually set to ‘arctic-blast’ so best to bring something to keep yourself warm.

The major operators are:

  • Caribe Tours – Provides comfortable, reliable bus services to many destinations throughout DR – and daily international services to Haiti. All services depart from their modern bus terminal at Av. 27 de Febrero Esq. Leopoldo Navarro, Ensanches Miraflores in Santo Domingo.
  • Metro Buses – Another reliable operator, Metro buses provide bus services from their terminal in Santo Domingo to cities in the north of the country and also a daily service to Haiti.
  • Espreso Bávaro – Offers regular services to Punta Cana from Santo Domingo.

Within all major cities you will find mini-buses that run on fixed routes to no fixed timetable. These buses stop to collect and drop passengers wherever required. Larger urban buses run on fixed routes and to fixed timetables, although little information is posted at bus stops.

Metro

Santo Domingo metro map.

Santo Domingo metro map.

Santo Domingo is home to only the second underground rail system in the Caribbean — the first is in San Juan, Puerto Rico. This is still very much a ‘work in progress’ – you can access all information on the metro website.

Car

Rental Car is a good option for exploring all that this magical country has to offer

Rental Car is a good option for exploring all that this magical country has to offer

If you wish to maximise your time on the island and explore off the beaten track you will need to hire a car. There are agents at both Santo Domingo and Punta Cana airports.

Driving in the DR is not for the feint-hearted with the local driving style best described as ‘obnoxious and aggressive’. Road rules are very flexible and you’ll need to adapt your driving style in order to get anywhere, especially in the busy urban areas. Not surprisingly, the purchase of comprehensive insurance is mandatory for all rental cars. This can add a considerable amount to rental costs.

The 4-lane freeway between Santo Domingo and Punta Cana is in excellent condition. Infrastructure is generally very good throughout the country and is continually being improved so getting around in your own car is not a problem.

Taxis

Taxi drivers in DR are generally friendly and courteous and while all taxis are fitted with meters, drivers normally prefer to negotiate a flat fee for the journey. Always ensure you either agree on a fare or agree that the driver uses the meter prior to commencing your journey.

Ferry

There are limited domestic ferry services in DR. One useful ferry – ‘El Bote‘ – connects Samana to Sabana De La Mar several times a day. The crossing time is one hour, which is short compared to the driving time.

 


That’s the end of my Dominican Republic Travel Guide.

Safe Travels!

Darren


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Further Reading

Other travel reports from the Caribbean region include:

Dominican Republic Travel Guide Dominican Republic Travel Guide Dominican Republic Travel Guide Dominican Republic Travel Guide Dominican Republic Travel Guide Dominican Republic Travel Guide Dominican Republic Travel Guide Dominican Republic Travel Guide Dominican Republic Travel Guide Dominican Republic Travel Guide Dominican Republic Travel Guide Dominican Republic Travel Guide Dominican Republic Travel Guide Dominican Republic Travel Guide Dominican Republic Travel Guide