As part of the Caribbean the Dominican Republic has the North Atlantic Ocean lying to its north and the Caribbean Sea to its south. It’s situated on the island of Hispaniola and occupies the eastern two-thirds of the island while Haiti occupies the western third.
After attaining independence in 1844 the Dominican Republic endured many years of a largely non-representative rule until Joaquin Balaguer became president in 1966 holding office until 1996. Today regular elections are held and the Dominican Republic now has an impressive and fast growing economy with tourism playing a major role.
For the adventure tourist this Caribbean country offers a diverse countryside comprising tropical rainforests, arid desert expanses, alpine ranges and steamy mangrove swamps. It’s a playground for trekkers, mountain bike enthusiasts and water-sport junkies.
The northern and eastern coasts are dotted with many luxurious resorts however the Dominican Republic has much more to offer than this. There is the wonderful Caribbean music and dance, exotic foods and drink, popular local baseball games, and the remarkable colonial architecture found in the capital Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial. There are also sugar plantations, small quaint villages and wonderful mountain retreats to explore and enjoy in Jarabacoa and Constanza. If you’re looking for a hassle free holiday that’s big on relaxation then the Dominican Republic is the place to be!
Explored and claimed by Columbus on his first voyage on December 5th, 1492, the island of Quisqueya, named by Columbus as La Hispaniola, became a springboard for Spanish conquest of the Caribbean and the American mainland.
The island was first inhabited by the Taínos, an Arawakan-speaking people who had arrived around 10,000 BC. Within a few short years following the arrival of European explorers, the population of Tainos had significantly been reduced by the Spanish conquerors. Based on Fray Bartolomé de las Casas (Tratado de las Indias) between 1492 and 1498 the Spanish conquerors killed around 100,000 Taínos. Today little remains of their culture aside from artifacts.
The first European settlement founded on the America continent was on La Isabela, Puerto Plata (19º53’15.08″ N 71º04’48.41″ W) founded in 1493 using a XV century style. The City of Santo Domingo was founded by Bartolomé Colón, on 5 Aug, 1496 and later that was moved by Frey Nicolás de Ovando to the west side of Ozama river in 1502.
In 1606, the King of Spain ordered the depopulation of the west part of the island due to high rates of piracy and smuggling. That measure was the cause of French invasion and, after that, the rise of the Republic of Haiti.
In 1697, Spain recognized French dominion over the western third of the island, which in 1804 became Haiti. The remainder of the island, by then known as Santo Domingo, sought to gain its own independence in 1821, but was conquered and ruled by the Haitians for 22 years; it finally attained independence as the Dominican Republic in 1844.
A legacy of unsettled, mostly non-representative rule for much of its subsequent history was brought to an end in 1966 when Joaquin Balaguer became president. He maintained a tight grip on power for most of the next 30 years when international reaction to flawed elections forced him to curtail his term in 1996. Since then, regular competitive elections have been held in which opposition candidates have won the presidency. The Dominican economy has had one of the fastest growth rates in the hemisphere.
The official language of the Dominican Republic is Spanish. You will find some Spanish-English bilingual locals, especially in Santo Domingo and tourist areas. Many Dominicans have spent considerable time in the United States, especially New York City, and enjoy speaking English with foreigners in order to keep their language skills sharp. If you speak some Spanish, most Dominicans will try hard to meet you half way and communicate. If you have a problem, you can probably find someone who speaks sufficient English (or probably French and possibly German or Italian in tourist areas) to help you out. Dominicans are quite friendly and will be quite helpful if you are polite and respectful. The large community of Haitians living in the DR speak Haitian Creole and in some cases French, and most speak Spanish well. In rural areas, you may hear a few African and Arawakan words interspersed with the Spanish, but standard Spanish is universally understood. Communication should not be a problem even for those who speak only a minimum of Spanish. If you are traveling to one of the large all-inclusive hotels, you will have no language problems.
One of the best spots in the Colonial District of Santo Domingo to shop is the several blocks long outdoor mall, El Conde Street. It offers everything from street vendors like food trucks and food carts. There are some very pleasant outdoor restaurants that serve as perfect spots to people watch and drink Presidente (their most popular beer).
During the day, there are also several touristy shops where you can buy cheap presents for the family back home including authentic paintings and beautiful jewellery. There is also a very nice cigar shop at the end of the mall across from the cathedral. Clothes, however, are generally very economical and often of good quality. Most prices can be negotiated. US dollars are accepted in most areas.
You can also buy things at local shops, all the major cities have streets packed with different shops, shopping malls or huge shops where you can buy all kind of things for a few pesos.