Things to see and do in Dominican Republic
Attractions in Dominican Republic
Be dazzled by the Columbus Lighthouse
This colossal cross-shaped monument to Christopher Columbus on the south coast was built to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of South America. It projects a cross-shaped beam of light into the sky, visible from as far as neighbouring Puerto Rico. Today, you can visit the 'lighthouse', which doubles as a museum, whose exhibits include a sarcophagus supposedly containing Columbus' remains.
Catch some baseball
Affectionately known as 'pelota', baseball isn't so much the Dominican national sport as the national obsession – male and female, young and old, they're all hooked. The professional domestic season, featuring six teams from across the country, runs from mid-October through late January, providing visitors a chance to experience the game in all its glory.
Dance, dance, dance
Throw yourself into Santo Domingo's nightlife by dancing down-and-dirty to the merengue with the locals. The city's Malecón boardwalk has a number of lively options, and there are several steamy nightclubs in the Zona Colonial which offer live jazz and Latino beats.
Drop in on Columbus junior’s family home
Santo Domingo's Zona Colonial is a World Heritage Site, where you can explore some of the most historic buildings in Americas. Completed in 1514, the Alcazar de Colón was the palatial residence of Diego Columbus, son of Christopher Columbus. Equally unmissable is the Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, the oldest Cathedral in Americas, completed in 1540. The cathedral is known as Christopher Columbus' resting place, and outside stands a bronze statue of the explorer overlooking Plaza de Colon.
Go mountain biking
The country's mountainous interior makes for a great biking terrain, with the Cordillera Septentrional being a particularly popular choice. The scenic Constanza and the forested Valle Nuevo National Park are also preferred by cyclists. Specialist agencies like Iguana Mama run cycling tours to the countryside with bikes and equipment included. The best time to go mountain biking is during the dry season, from May to September.
Hit the surf at Puerto Plata
This historical northern city has an absorbing Old Town, centred around Fortaleza San Felipe, which was constructed by the Spanish as both a defensive outpost and a keep for captured smugglers. If you're looking for adrenalin action though, the nearby beaches are superb, particularly Sosua and Cabarete, whose big surf and powerful breezes create some of the world's best windsurfing and kite-boarding conditions.
Join the Carnival
The city of La Vega bursts into life on every Sunday in February for its annual carnival, El Carnaval de la Vega. This pre-Lent festival has parades featuring costumed characters including a limping devil (Diablo Cojuelo). Although La Vega is known for the carnival, other cities hosting unique parades include Santiago, Santo Domingo, Montecristi, Bonao, Puerto Plata, Río San Juan, and Barahona.
Meet the Tainos
The Museum of Dominican Man (Museo del Hombre Dominicano) is Santo Domingo's best museum, devoted to the country's anthropology. Its sculptures and artefacts offer a fascinating insight on the Tainos, the island's earliest settlers. You can also see colourful carnival costumes and masks here, as well as exhibits of the Voodoo cult religion that once dominated the Caribbean.
Mind the crocs in Lago Enriquillo
Populated by countless flocks of tropical birds (and a healthy population of crocodiles), Lago Enriquillo is an enormous saltwater lake near the Haitian border, and largest lake in the Caribbean, which you can go on boat trips to explore. Its flora and fauna are protected within a combined national park: the Jaragua-Bahoruco-Enriquillo Biosphere Reserve.
Pick up some amber
Arguably the most authentic Dominican souvenir on the market, amber is widely available at reasonable prices. The northern coastline is known for producing some of the finest amber in the world. You can visit an amber museum (www.ambermuseum.com) in Puerto Plata, or tour the mines in the hills of La Cumbre (about 43km/28m from Puerto Plata). Keep a look out for blue amber which is found only in Dominican Republic. You can purchase them raw on the mining sites and get them polished, carved and set in jewellery later. However, be mindful of fakery.
Reel in a fighting dorado
Game fishing is popular and you can ask your hotel to arrange a fishing trip for you. Top catches include mahi-mahi (between October and March), white marlin (April to June), blue marlin (July to September), and tuna and kingfish (July to August).
Soak up the views on top of Mount Isabela de Torres
Close to Puerto Plata on the north coast, Mount Isabela de Torres provides awesome views of the ocean and surrounding national parks. If you feel adventurous you can climb to the top in a few hours, if not the cable car will whisk you up in minutes from Monday to Saturday. A replica of Rio de Janeiro's Christ Redeemer statue stands on the peak; there's also a botanical garden.
Enjoy a round of golf under the Caribbean sun. The sport is popular in the country, with luxury resorts offering challenging courses – some are even considered in the top 50 in the Caribbean. Several of the country's courses enjoy dramatic ocean-facing settings, with some of the best concentrated on the south coast, a short swing from Santo Domingo.
Watch out for whales
Jump on a whale watching boat and search for magnificent humpback whales, thousands of which make their annual winter arrival off the Samaná headland, on the northeastern tip of the island. The season for witnessing this thrilling spectacle, generally stretches from mid-January to mid-March. You can find organised boat trips in the little port of Santa Barbara de Samaná. Punta Cana is another great location to witness the beautiful humpback whales spring above the surface, in the attempt to mate with the female species. The Dominican Republic law enforces strict protection and guidelines for whales.
Dominican Republic Tourist Board in the USAAddress: 136 E. 57 St. Suite 805, New York, 10022
Telephone: +1 212 588 1012
Dominican Republic Tourist Board in the UKAddress: High Holborn, 85 Uxbridge Road, London, W5 5TH
Telephone: +44 (0)203 794 0661