Dominican Republic
 
The island of Hispaniola is shared by the Dominican Republic and the former French colony, Haiti. Often mistakenly referred to as “just a poor man’s Puerto Rico”, the Dominican Republic has its own distinct cuisine and cultural heritage.
One-third of the Dominican Republic's coastline is devoted to beaches, the best of which are in Puerto Plata and La Romana.
The white-sand beaches, stunning mountain ranges, waterfalls, and saltwater lakes teeming with exotic wildlife are just part of the Dominican Republic's appeal and no where is that more apparent than on the Samana peninsula. Whether you're looking to party, relax or explore, or enjoy an all-inclusive resort holiday such as at Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic has a lot to offer.
The Dominican Republic is geographically very diverse boasting a virgin alpine wilderness, tropical rainforests and mangrove swamps, cultivated savannas, vast desert expanses and everything in between providing stunning opportunities for eco-tourism and adventure.
It also lays claim to some of the more intriguing culture and history in the area, dating back to its early cave-dwelling groups. The Taínos recorded much of their activities in the form of rock art. There is a wealth of sights and history just waiting to be discovered. Natural wonders such as Los Tres Ojos de Agua (The 3 eyes of water), a cave complex with 2 turquoise lagoons on 3 different levels fed by an underwater river, the Amber Coast, and views from Mount Isabel de Torres. As well as historical sights such as San Cristóbal, Fort San Felipe and the colonial architecture at Puerto Plata.
The Dominican monetary unit is the peso, indicated by the symbol RD$. ATMs are available on the island with Banco Popular, Banco Progreso, Banco de Reservas, Banco León and Scotiabank accepting most foreign debit cards. Visa and MasterCard are accepted widely (Amex a little less so), especially in areas frequented by tourists. Some businesses add a surcharge for credit card purchases (typically 16%).
The people of the Dominican Republic are among the friendliest in the Caribbean. The weather is nearly perfect year-round. Safety is still a concern but it shouldn't dissuade you.
 
La Romana
Introduction
La Romana is located in the South East and boasts clear waters, white sandy beaches and the finest golf courses and resort hotels in the country. Little wonder then that it is the most visited region in the Dominican Republic.
It was once known as a sleepy sugar-cane town. Most visitors to the Dominican Republic didn't bother venturing to the southeast city of La Romana. But then a luxurious tropical paradise resort opened just over a mile (2km) from the town. Today, this region is synonymous with exquisite turquoise waters, white sandy beaches and some of the finest golf courses and holiday resorts the country has to offer.

Today many of the world's rich and famous make this relatively secluded tourist destination their summer playground. Couple that with plenty of markets selling exotic foods, trinkets, clothing and souvenirs and you've got the perfect recipe for a holiday paradise!
 
See & Do
La Romana is the perfect place to sit back, relax and unwind. But if you want to be a bit more adventurous, it has a lot to offer:
  • Deep sea fishing
  • Scuba diving
  • Snorkelling
  • Horse riding
  • Visiting cigar factories
  • Ancient ruins
  • Museums
If you are keen golfer, you will be in paradise. La Romana is home to 4 championship ranked 18-hole golf courses.
One of the most interesting cultural attractions is Altos de Chavon, a beautiful model town, designed in the early 1980’s by Roberto Copa. It boasts a 5,000 seat open-air amphitheatre which serves as a venue for festivals, classic symphonies, theatre, and concerts.
La Romana’s cobblestone streets house a wide assortment of artisans producing stunning works of art including rich tapestries and other fine textiles, ceramics and hand-crafted jewellery.
Throughout its picturesque centre, you will encounter fascinating recreations of historical architecture such as the Church of St. Stanislaus on main plaza, which is graced by the lovely fountain of four lions and a colonnade of obelisks, surrounded by a breathtaking view.
There are numerous art galleries and a remarkable archaeological museum.
Of course, in addition to the wide variety of cultural pursuits to be found in La Romana, there are many opportunities for those seeking the more traditional joys of the Caribbean – sun and sand. La Minitas, Bayahibe and Catalina are three popular beaches that will provide visitors with the quintessential Caribbean experience.  
Shopping
Local shops abound in La Romana along with several outdoor markets which sell exotic food, trinkets, clothing and souvenirs.
Altos de Chavón is a re-creation of a 16th-century Mediterranean village on the grounds of the Casa de Campo resort, where you can find art galleries, boutiques, and souvenir shops grouped around a cobbled square.
La Marina Chavón, Casa de Campo's top-ranked marina, is home to more than 60 shops and international boutiques, galleries, and jewellers scattered amidst restaurants, ice-cream parlours, Euro-style bars, and a yacht club. It's a great place to spend some leisure time shopping, sightseeing, and staring at the extravagant yachts. The chic shopping scene at the marina includes Burberry, Bleu Marine, Pucci, Benetti-Azimuth-Perini Nave, Gucci, Cartier-Montblanc, and Mondo Versace. Although upscale is the operative word here, this does not mean that you cannot buy a postcard, a pair of shorts, or a logo sweatshirt. Also, the Supermercado Nacional at the marina has not only groceries but sundries, postcards, and snacks.
Food & Drink
As well as the usual resort food, there are also various beach restaurants and local bars and restaurants catering from a casual snack to a more formal dinner.
Restaurante Yssamar, located right on Bayahibe beach, is an example of a small, casual eating establishment that offers excellent local cuisine at reasonable prices. Known for the quality of its seafood dishes and its relaxing open air, beach setting, Restaurante Yssamar is a dining experience to remember.
La Romana offers many restaurants. Once such place is El Sombrero; outside is tethered a burro—appropriately named "Margarita"—who draws visitors like a magnet to this casual restaurant, which is your best bet for lunch at Altos de Chavón offering all your Mexican favourites.
The Panaderia Trigo De Oro, found in the downtown area of La Romana City, near the marketplace and the park, is a wonderful place to people watch and enjoy some of the best local pastries and coffee. Made fresh daily, the pastries fill the air, making it a perfect location to enjoy good conversation and the local atmosphere.
Entertainment
La Romana’s nightlife is definitely a lot of fun and provides entertainment from dusk till dawn.  Being a popular travel destination, there are a lot of options to choose from for all tastes and budgets. If you are looking for a chance to dance the night away try the Venta Club at Gran Dominicus or La Locura. To practice your meringue there is always the Big Sur just a short walk from Casa del Mar.
Whether you want sophisticated, wild, romantic or relaxing there is something for you on the vibrant and lively scene of the La Romana nightlife.  
Excursions
Although the resort of La Romana is stunning, you may want to explore further. Here are a few of the most popular excursions:
  • Saona Island – a palm studded tropical island
  • Isla Catalina – an uninhabited off-shore wildlife reserve
  • Fun Fun Cave (Hato Mayor) – a fun underground excursion
  • Cueva de las Maravillas (Cave of Wonders) – view ancient cave drawings
  • National Park of the East
Health & Safety
Many of the resorts have private security during the day time, however at night there are no such patrols. Although crime isn’t a huge problem you would be well advised not to wear excessive amounts of jewellery or carry large amounts of cash.
Buses are the safest mode of transport but they don’t run after 9pm. If you use a taxi you will have to negotiate a price which can be stressful. Car rentals are available but be warned – there are no rules of the road!
Puerto Plata
Introduction
Puerto Plata, the city capital of the Dominican Republic province of the same name, sits on the country's north coast and is the gateway to the numerous holiday towns and resorts on the coast.
It is a natural port that was discovered by Christopher Columbus in the 1490s. The first fort in the New World, Fuerto di San Felipe, was built here in 1540, and was an important stop on the trade route between the Americas and Europe.  
The coastline itself boasts beautiful stretches of pristine beach, lush green valleys and is backed by the majestic Mount Isabel de Torres. It has a romantic air of days gone by, enhanced by its Victorian architecture and 'gingerbread' motifs that characterise most of the buildings.
 
See & Do
There is something for everyone in Puerto Plata. No matter whether you are looking for something energetic, relaxing or cultural you are sure to find something of interest.
Here is just a sample of what is on offer:
  • Scuba diving
  • Snorkelling
  • Golf
  • Wind surfing
  • Deep sea fishing
  • Brugal rum factory
  • Amber museum
  • Fuerte San Felipe – only remnant of the Spanish Colonial days
  • Mount Isable de Torres
The best diving on the North Coast of the island takes a little time getting to. There are several shallow water reef systems, however in Sosua, about 20 minutes from Puerto Plata you will find reefs, canyons, shipwrecks and gardens. The area of Playa Grande, about an hour and a half away, also features the Gri Gri lagoon for snorkelling.
Shopping
This area is sometimes called the Amber Coast due to its large deposits of the semiprecious stone. Therefore a popular souvenir is silver and amber jewellery.
As well as commercial malls which are clearly designed with the tourist in mind, there are also many bazaar-like shops for you to browse through, markets, cigar shops, jewellery shops and gift shops.
One of the largest shopping complexes is the Playa Dorada Plaza, just inside the gates of the resort area. Cash is usually the method of exchange, though major jewellery shops and other large stores accept major credit cards. Bargaining is expected in general, although larger stores have fixed prices.
Food & Drink
Many people make the most of their all-inclusive resorts, which typically offer a daily buffet with continental/Dominican cuisine plus speciality international restaurants. However the city of Puerto Plata has many other choices.
You can try traditional arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) or mangu (buttery mashed plantains) at many tiny, cheap cafes catering to locals. If you prefer Western food then there are plenty of eateries available.
Entertainment
You can party all night if you have the energy with the larger resorts all having their own discos.
Hemingway’s Café (Playa Dorada Plaza) is popular for its occasional live bands (merengue, rock or reggae) as well as its karaoke and DJ nights. If you like a bit of a gamble there are 3 casinos open nightly for table games and slots.
Excursions
Once you have had enough of relaxing on the beach or shopping, there are a number of excursions available to help you explore more of what Puerto Plata has to offer. These include:
  • Jeep safari
  • Catamaran trips
  • Canopy zip line adventures
  • Ocean World Adventure Park
  • Wale watching
  • Horse riding
  • White water rafting
  • Scuba diving
Health & Safety
Whilst crime in Puerto Plata isn’t a huge problem you would be well advised to take general precautions:
  • Don’t leave valuables lying around
  • Avoid walking alone at night
Always ensure you have comprehensive health insurance before you travel. The area does have good hospitals and private healthcare facilities.
The tap water is safe to drink, however should you prefer to use bottled water this is readily available.
Punta Cana
Introduction
Punta Cana is a point on the Playa de Coco, or Coconut Coast. With resorts and hotels scattered along the point, this is one of the Dominican Republic’s most popular tourist destinations.  
There have been settlements on this eastern tip of the Dominican Republic since Spanish colonial times, mainly little fishing villages where people lived off the bounty of the sea. It was only about 30 years ago that the area began to be developed for tourism.
Today, this is one of the Caribbean’s fastest-growing resort areas. The hotels and resorts are concentrated in a few towns along the coast, such as Bávaro, with its shopping complexes, restaurants and nightclubs; El Cotecito, a small fishing village with numerous private hotels and apartments; Cabeza de Toro, with a number of top-quality hotels; and Cap Cana, a complex stretching 4 kilometres along the coast.
See & Do
There is a huge variety of things to see and do in and around Punta Cana:
  • Golf
  • Horse riding
  • Scuba diving
  • Hiking
  • Mangroves
  • Marinarium (marine park)
  • Punta Cana ecological reserve
  • Banana boating
  • Kayaking
  • Windsurfing
  • Sailing
  • Beach volleyball
  • Parasailing
  • Diving
  • Snorkelling
Shopping
The tiny beach village of El Cortecito, located in the middle of the strip of beachside resorts, is set up for tourists, with shops and strolling vendors selling locally-produced rum, cigars, batik sarongs and amber jewellery, plus T-shirts, hats and other tourist souvenirs. Haggling is expected. The hotel gift shops and shopping arcades sell much the same wares, plus resort wear at slightly higher prices.  
Food & Drink
Punta Cana is not a gourmet’s destination, but there’s plenty of variety. Most guests take meals at their all-inclusive resorts, which typically offer a daily buffet with continental/Dominican cuisine plus speciality restaurants offering Italian, Asian, burgers, pizza and more.  
Outside of the resorts, dining establishments can be found in the Bavaro commercial areas, in Cabeza de Toro, El Cortecito and Punta Cana shopping mall, as well as at the Punta Cana Resort & Club’s La Yola and Cocoloba restaurants (reservations required) and at Cap Cana. More and more options are becoming available as the resident population increases.
Entertainment
Nightlife in Punta Cana centres on the resorts; most have a nightly show featuring costumed dancers performing to native merengue and bachata music, and almost all have a disco where guests can dance into the early hours. Several casinos offer slots, blackjack and craps tables.
For something a bit different, try one of the big shows in town is Tropicalissimo, staged at the Barceló Bávaro Casino in the style of the old Tropicana of Cuba. Punta Cana's shopping centre, opposite the airport, features the country's newest world class bowling alley

Major beach party live entertainment is provided on full moon nights at the Jelly Fish Restaurant or Hurricane Cafe on Bavaro Beach.
Excursions
You will never be stuck for ideas at Punta Cana. Here are just a few of the activities that are available:
 
  • Exploring the 50km of beaches
  • Catamaran boat trips
  • Double-decker boat parties
  • Glass bottomed boat trips
  • Helicopter rides
  • Safaris
  • Manati Park
  • Dolphin island
 
Alternatively if you want to venture further, why not explore a neighbouring town such as the small city of Higuey, about 45 minutes inland by car. It is dominated by its starkly modern cathedral, the Basilica, but it's a great place to sample real Dominican life.
Health & Safety
  • Always use bottled water (be careful of salads as they may be washed in tap water) for drinking, cleaning your teeth etc.
  • Make sure you have plenty of mosquito repellent.
  • Always look after your belongings and keep valuables out of sight.
  • All-inclusive hotels have small on-site clinics and medical staff, who can provide first aid and basic care. Head to one of several good private hospitals in the area for more serious issues.
 
Samana
Introduction
The Samana peninsula is a thin strip of land that extends from the Dominican Republic’s northeast shore. The region boasts a coast that is lined with stunning beaches which epitomise the Caribbean ideal of powdery white sand and crystal clear turquoise water.
Although the beaches are undeniably the biggest draw to this area, many visitors also come to see the thousands of humpback whales that migrate to the Bahía de Samana during the winter (between mid January and mid March). Most whaleboats depart from the largest town on the peninsula, Santa Bárbara de Samana (normally shortened to Samana).
Samana is a pretty harbour town. Its winding streets and friendly people make it a delightful place to stay. The centre of activity is the city's Malecón, a broad boardwalk across the street from numerous outdoor cafés, storefront shops and patches of park.  
The beaches make Samana a very attractive location in which to relax. But the number of natural attractions makes it an excellent choice for anyone looking for an active holiday.
It is important to note that although credit cards are generally widely accepted in the Dominican Republic, Samana is one area where they are not readily accepted. Therefore it is important to remember to have cash or travellers’ cheques with you.
See & Do
If you just want to sit back and relax there are numerous beaches around Samana such as Playa Bonita, Playa Galeras, Playa Popy and Las Terrenas. However if you want to do something a bit more adventurous you could try one of the many activities available to visitors. Such as:
 
·         Horse riding
·         Swimming
·         Snorkelling
·         Diving
·         Sailing
·         Whale watching
·         Hiking
·         Mountain biking
·         Caving
·         Jet skiing
·         Parasailing
·         Visiting El Limon Waterfall
·         Los Haitises National Park
·         Rock climbing at Playa Fronton
Shopping
The Samana peninsula isn’t a place for serious shoppers. Most of the shops comprise of small boutiques offering t-shirt, beach wear and souvenir stores. Most of these are found in Las Terrenas, Samana and Las Galeras.
Popular items to buy include local art works (some of these are sold by the road side but the better quality paintings are available in galleries in the towns), wood and whale bone carvings, jewellery, amber and Dominican cigars.
Food & Drink
There are numerous places to eat in Samana ranging from road side stalls for food on the go, to fine dining and international restaurants. Why not try one of the local specialities such as:
·         Chillo con coco – whole snapper in coconut sauce
·         Pollo Samanesa – Samana style chicken
·         Chivo guisado – goat stewed in rich tomato sauce
·         Arroz con habichuelas – red beans and rice
·         Tostones – fried plantain chips
·         Ensalda repollo y zanahoria – cabbage and carrot salad
Don’t forget to try the local Dominican Republic brewed beer, Presidente.
Samana’s best restaurants are found in the Malecón around the port. Below are a few names to look out for.
 
·         Café de Paris
·         Le France
·         L’Hacienda
·         El Sabor Samanés
·         La Mata Rosada
·         Xamaná
 
Entertainment
There is always plenty of music and dancing happening in the local bars, restaurants, clubs and beaches of Samana and the local area. Below are the names of a few places you might like to try out.
·         El Mosquito, Las Terrenas
·         El Toro Sobre El Techo. Las Terrenas
·         Kick’n Ass Bar & Grill, Las Terrenas
·         Syroz Bar, Samana
·         Naomi, Samana
·         La Loba, Samana
If you fancy a flutter you can try Cacao Beach Casino in Las Terrenas.
 
Excursions
We have already seen there are number of things to see and do during your stay. However you may want to look a bit further afield. Your hotel will be able to provide you with details of possible excursions but below are a few suggestions to get you started.
·         Las Terrenas
·         Las Galeras
·         Cayo Lavantado
·         Playa Rincon
 
Health & Safety
You should always use bottled water (be careful of salads as they may be washed in tap water) for drinking, cleaning your teeth etc. Make sure you drink plenty, wear a high factor sun block and that you have plenty of mosquito repellent.
Although Samana is a safe area you should always take care of your valuables when out and about, keeping them out of sight.
Medical facilities are good but you will be required to pay for any treatment you receive therefore you are strongly advised to make sure you have comprehensive health insurance in place before travelling.  
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