Thanks to a profusion of affordable vacation packages, the sugary beaches of the Dominican Republic have lately emerge as one of the most popular Caribbean destinations for sun-seeking North Americans and Brits. Most make a beeline to the so-called “Coconut Coast,” the eastern tip of the island, which is home to the well known resort of Punta Cana. But the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti , to the west, is more than just the all-inclusive hotels of Punta Cana. The Dominican Republic is a lively amalgam of cultures, with a rich history that runs from Taino Indians to Christopher Columbus to Major League baseball.
In travel circles, the name Punta Cana has become shorthand for “inexpensive warm-weather getaway.” With nonstop flights from much of the U.S. to Santo Domingo lasting only a few hours, it’s even conceivable to go for a long weekend from North America. Miles of brilliant white sand beach lined with leaning palms and a festive assortment of water sports, beach bars, and boutiques make Punta Cana a great place to unplug and still enjoy lots of amenities. It would be a shame, however, to limit yourself to the resort bubble while so many sights, and the real pulse of the Domincan Republic., lie so close by.
On arrival in or departure from the Dominica Republic ,be sure to carve out at least a few hours to tour old Santo Domingo. The colors and vibrant spirit here are infectious, and the crumbling colonial architecture is wonderfully evocative of the capital’s history as a crossroads for all—French, Spanish, Africans— who fought for control of Hispaniola.
Columbus landed here on his famous voyage in 1492, and the cathedral of Santo Domingo houses a funerary monument that may indeed be Columbus’s final resting place (though this is disputed by Seville, Spain, which claims to have the explorer’s bones).
Not far from the resorts of the Coconut Coast, the cultural pride and joy of the Dominican Republic is, curiously enough, a replica of a Mediterranean village, called Altos de Chavon. (www.altosdechavon.com).
Complete with Renaissance plazas, churches, and shops that look like something out of the Italian or Spanish countryside, Altos de Chavon is de rigueur as a day trip. The village also hosts a music festival, with open-air concerts taking place in its Greek-style amphitheater.
For die-hard sports fans, of course, a mention of the Dominican Republic calls to mind baseball greats. Beisbol is a way of life here, and as a result, the Dominican Republic has been a reliable producer of Major League star players over the decades, from Sammy Sosa, Manny Mota to Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. One of the most fun ways a visitor and sports enthusiast can get into the local passion for baseball is to catch a game in the sugar-factory town of La Romana (near Punta Cana). Here, at Michelin Baseball Stadium, the home team is called the Azucareros (“Sugar Bowls”), a nod to the Dominican Republic’s deep roots as a sugar cane plantation island.
Airport: Santo Domingo, connections from
North, Central, and South America.
4 Star Hotel: Hotel Santo Domingo, Avenida. Independencia 800-877-3643 in the
U.S., or 809-221-1511; www.hotelsanto domingo.com.do).
Hotel: Iberostar Bavaro, Punta Cana (www.iberostar.com).