Situated in the Caribbean and sharing the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, the Dominican Republic is a popular tourist destination for holidaymakers seeking extended hours of sunshine and white sandy beaches upon which to relax.
The Dominican Republic has much more at its finger tips: a diverse and beautiful landscape encompassing arid deserts, tropical rainforests and lush mountain ranges offering more adventurous outdoor activities such as trekking, biking and snorkelling. Soak up the rich cultural tapestry which explodes in vibrant colours during the ‘fiestas partonales’ street parties and processions that can literally last for days at a time.
With package holidays to the Dominican Republic popular among British holidaymakers who are lured by the promise of sun-drenched beaches, escaping to some lesser known spots on the island can be rewarding if you are hoping to discover some of the most inspiring attractions off the beaten track.
In the north-west of the country, close to the border with Haiti, the town of Dajabon is the venue for a gigantic twice-weekly market which is as memorable as it is frenetic. Here, traders from Haiti visit to sell their wares – a range that includes just about everything you could possibly think of, from clothes and food to shoes and bags.
It’s hot, noisy, dusty and one continuous hive of activity in which you can experience watching merchants from across the Dominican Republic descend on the market in order to snap up some great deals which can be sold for profit in their own shops. With men pushing wheelbarrows laden with goods and women carrying huge containers on their heads, the market plays out an astonishing scene that is sure to live long in your memory.
Package holidays tend to focus on the fantastic coastline of the island, and rightly so, but venturing to the south-west of the country will give you a taste of unspoilt nature at its absolute finest. The national park here – the largest on the island – is a stunning mixture of desert, lush coastline, mangroves and mountains and is simply spectacular.
Unlike the sandy beaches of the north, the coastline at Los Patos consists of smooth pebbles and the real joy is not to be spent bathing in the sea, but in the crystal clear waters of the rivers which flow into it, including the shortest river in the world at only 200 yards!
Water flows towards the coastline from the Bahorucco Mountains, pooling at the basin to form a freshwater lagoon, before seeping away into the Caribbean Sea. At weekends, the locals descend on the rivers, in which bathing is safe and invigorating.
Feasting on the delightful seafood served up at any of a number of restaurants and shacks in the vicinity is the perfect way to relax after a river dip, before wandering at your leisure along the coastline as the sun sets.
Parque Nacional del Este
The Eastern National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s not difficult to see why. Home to literally hundreds of species of life, including more than 100 species of birds, the park also features one of the largest marine parks in the Caribbean which boasts a coral reef on an unimaginable scale. Here a variety of marine animals reside, including bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles and manatees.
With little of the interior of the park accessible by road, one of the best ways to enjoy it is to hire a boat at Bayahibe so that you can debark at any of the various points along the perimeter before walking inland.
Opportunities for snorkelling and diving are available and known to be fun and interesting, but an equally enjoyable day can be spent exploring the coastline on foot, voyaging into the cave system to view the pre-Columbian art or taking a boat trip to Isla Saona, a largely uninhabited ocean island that is straight out of the pages of Robinson Crusoe.
The Dominican Republic, with its outstanding natural beauty, colourful and spectacular culture, incredible seafood and welcoming people, is unsurprisingly a popular holiday destination. However, within this island gem are hidden a variety of attractions and sightseeing opportunities where you can witness and soak up traditional Dominican culture at its finest.