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The Dominican Republic, where white sand beaches hug the coastline and calm aquamarine waters beckon you in for a dip. Where the warm personality of the locals, coupled with their infectious smile, is sure to have you under its spell from the moment you arrive. The customary greeting in the Dominican is ‘welcome home’, and by the end of your visit you’ll be convinced that it is.

The Dominican Republic is a friendly and varied country, where you can drive along main roads lined with coconut sellers to one side and lush fields with cows grazing beside palm trees to the other. Purple, red and green mangos, pink, blue and yellow bananas can all be found, as well as the starchier plantain which is fried to make tostones – truly delicious. The food here is dangerously good, as are the rum-filled cocktails.

 

Beyond the breath-taking beaches and five star resorts is a rich and intriguing culture begging to be explored. Destinology writer Joe Mccully went on a seven-day trip to experience it for himself. Here are his favourite experiences:

A day in Santo Domingo

My first recommendation is Santo Domingo, the capital of Dominican Republic and the oldest city of the New World. I began with lunch which offered excellent opportunity to try some of the local cuisine; a delicious blend of Spanish, African and Taino. Moro de Habichuelas, or rice and beans, is predominately featured alongside meats and succulent seafood. Finished perfectly with a cup of Dominican coffee, which is among the best in the world, I was ready to explore on a trike tour around the colonial zone of the city. Santo Domingo is split into two parts: the modern city and the colonial zone in the historic central neighbourhood.

A trike, similar to a Segway, is a really fun way to see the city. The tour took me past places like the clock tower - over 260 years old, the Cathedral of Santa Maria - the oldest cathedral in the Americas, and Alcázar de Colón - formally the home of Christopher Columbus’s eldest son Diego. No wonder the colonial zone is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The tour ended with a visit to the Colonial Gate 4D Cinema, another fun way to learn about the history of the city with a short film.

A night in Santo Domingo

The historic city of Santo Domingo comes alive at night. People gather in colmados (like little shops but with seating around the counter) for a beer and a game of dominoes, children dance in the street and a laidback vibe takes over. This being a Sunday, I headed down to the ruins of the San Francisco Monastery where tourists and locals alike gather for a weekly performance from Grupo Bonye. As to be expected in Dominican Republic, everyone is invited to this party and you will see people of all ages.

The band plays from 18:00 until 22:00 and the performance is free for everyone to watch. The sounds of traditional merengue music, bachata and salsa fills the air, Presidente beer flows and everyone dances amid the ruins of the 16th-century monastery. Reluctant to leave but appetite growing, I headed to Pat'e Palo Restaurant just ‘round the corner on the Spanish Square. The show doesn’t stop here, after being seated we are serenaded with a performance of Guantanamera.

Touring and tasting at the Ron Barcelo Distillery

Rum is a great source of pride for the Dominicans, and for good reason. Some of the world’s best rums are produced here, with many coming out of the doors of Centro Historico Ron Barcelo, located around one hour away from Punta Cana. After learning about what made Dominican rums so smooth with a guided tour around the distillery, it was time to sample the collection for myself. Rums at the factory range from 18 months to 10 years old, my favourite being the Imperial - which found its way into my suitcase as if by magic. 

Finding bliss at Isla Saona

A short boat trip away from the south-east tip is Isla Saona, a protected national park. I reached the island by way of catamaran, which was a great way to see some of the amazing scenery whilst relaxing with a cuba libre (rum and coke) on the boat’s net. This is a paradise with powder white sand beaches, thick coconut forest and shallow turquoise waters. Included in my trip was a barbeque with fresh fish and meats, as well as an open bar with a wide range of drinks. Massages overlooking the Caribbean Sea were an indulgent extra.

As much as I wouldn’t have minded being left behind, the speedboat was waiting to take me to my next destination: a natural swimming pool in the middle of the sea. Shallow and clear, the pool is home to starfish which can be picked up and held, as long as they are not taken out of the water.

Testing my nerves at Scape Park

Scape Park at Cap Cana, Punta Cana is a natural theme park encompassing more than 1 million square metres. Here I would experience the two main attractions; the Hoyo Azul Eco Tour and the zip line. First up was the eco tour, taking me past rich flora and fauna on the way to a hidden cenote at the foot of a 75 metre high cliff. The azure waters of this hidden oasis were so cool and fresh, perfect after a day in the beaming Dominican sun.

Scape Park at Cap Cana, Punta Cana is a natural theme park encompassing more than 1 million square metres. Here I would experience the two main attractions; the Hoyo Azul Eco Tour and the zip line. First up was the eco tour, taking me past rich flora and fauna on the way to a hidden cenote at the foot of a 75 metre high cliff. The azure waters of this hidden oasis were so cool and fresh, perfect after a day in the beaming Dominican sun.

 

The zip line is not for the faint hearted. A two hour thrill fest consisting of eight different zip lines, the course culminates at 65 metres above ground. To put that into perspective, imagine 15 double-decker busses stacked on top of each other.

Seeing Bruno Mars live

Okay, so maybe this wasn’t the real Bruno Mars, but rather one of the tribute acts at Coco Bongo in Punta Cana. Coco Bongo is a large nightclub playing music ranging from the latest hits to 80’s classics, interspersed with various shows, tribute acts, acrobatics and dancers. One minute Michael Jackson is moon walking across the full length of the stage, the next ninja-like acrobats are flying through the air in perfect tandem. The show continues till three in the morning and all tickets include unlimited drinks to keep you going throughout the night.

 

This is just a taste of what the Dominican Republic has to offer and there are many places, such as Samana in the northeast and Puerto Plata in the north, that I’ve yet to discover. But that just gives me more reason to return, as if I needed any.

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