The Dominican Republic (DR) shares the island of Hispaniola, also known as Santo Domingo, with the country of Haiti. It is the second largest Caribbean nation after Cuba and the most visited of all the Carribean Islands. Originally inhabited by Taino indiginous peoples, DR was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492, and was under Spanish rule for about three centuries, with French and Haitian interludes. DR gained its independence in 1821 though it struggled to maintain it throughout its tumultuous history of government and slave revolts. Unemployment, government corruption and inconsistent electric services challenges the country even today. But when all is said and done, DR offers the tourist a first-class affordable experience. For those living on the east coast of Canada, it's about a 3-hour trip. For those of us on the Prairies, it's closer to 7 hours.
DR is geographically diverse, with 4 mountain ranges; rich fertile valleys, hot, desert-like areas and, of course, beautiful coastlines. January and February are the coldest months of the year, with the wet season, mostly along the northern coast, lasts from November through January. In January, for example, temperatures will peak around 28C, cooling off to around 20C in the evenings. Rain will typically fall during the evening and can be intense but short-lived.
The country's economy relies primarily on natural resources and government services. Due to the growth in tourism, the public service sector has overtaken mining and agriculture as the leading employer. There remains a noted problem in child labour laws; on our very first visit we were disturbed to be given a tour of a local jewelry store where the owners proudly displayed a group of 12-15 year old boys working at the rear of the shop. When asked what kind of hours they worked, we were told ' full days, like we do'. Trust me when I tell you, 'full days' are considerably longer in the DR than in Canada or the USA.
|Playa Dorado, Puerto Plata|
But don't let this be the deciding factor in visiting the DR. Not only is there a lot to offer the tourist; perhaps there is something you can offer its citizens by treating those who serve you with dignity and kindness, tipping generously and finding ways to help the poor. We often take balls and school supplies for children, and light clothing for adults. In particular, you may find numerous Haitians employed in the more menial positions in the tourist industry. These men and women are often lured to the DR, particularly since the 2000 earthquake, in hopes of making a decent livelihood to bring home to their families. More often than not, they are bound to their new country by poverty, never able to return home to their loved ones. Current, however, many Haitian migrants face expulsion. Here's a link where you can read more about their plight: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/22/haitian-migrants-dominican-republic_n_7641030.html
|San Felipe Fortress, Puerto Plata|
Punta Cana was our lmost recent destination in the DR. After visiting some years prior, we decided we weren't quite finished there. We liked its rural flavour and mix of traditional caribbean villages and agriculture consisting of sugar cane, coffee, cocoa beans, tobacco and bananas. The area's best asset, however, is its people who are warm, friendly and easygoing. Upon our arrival, the first thing we noted was the incredible amount of ongoing development. The economy in this area of the country is booming due to the more recent interest from tourists.
On our first visit to this area, we stayed at the Grand Palladium Punta Cana Resort and Spa. Located directly on a one-kilometre stretch of Bavaro Beach, this resort offers every type of room and service one could possibly think of to accommodate everything from two adults looking for peace and solitude to groups of extended famliies and friends. Many of the large, comfortable rooms offer baths with jacuzzi tubs. We chose this resort because we were travelling with a group of 6 couples, with varying interests and means. Some of our companions were so impressed they returned for a second time around!
|Playa Bavaro, Punta Cana|
|Jr. Suite, Majestic Colonial, Playa Bavaro|
The adjacent sister resort, the Majestic Elegance, has a very similar layout but features a more contemporary architectural style and is a few years newer. The rooms are, without doubt, some of the best we have every had the privilege to stay in! Our 700 sq.ft. junior suite sported a king bed, open concept bath with double jacuzzi, small sofa, chairs, coffee table, desk and armoire. And did I mention the 900 sq.ft. deck, sporting a 4-man jacuzzi? While we have paid considerably more to stay in chic resorts, such as Sandals, Secrets, Dreams, Karisma and Palace lines, the Majestic was BY FAR, the best bang for the buck! The food was also pretty darn good but be warned, the seafood restaurant offers not a single item on its menu that isn't 'of the sea'. As I'm not an 'of the sea' kind of girl, this forced our small group to break up for a few meals so as not to leave me eating by my lonesome.
|Our Jr. Suite Deck, beacfront|
Or perhaps the all-inclusive resort vacation isn't your bag. I admit, it is no longer mine either. Though often the best answer for groups travelling from various parts of the country/world, I have come to enjoy vacation rentals. Many offer the same perks that an all-inclusive resort and depending on your lifestyle, you may actually find it less expensive. There are plenty of options available on vacation rental sites. Do your homework and read the reviews. Personally, I look for accommodation that is well situated in close proximity to the beach, restaurants, and other amenities because we have no desire to rent a vehicle. If you haven't been to the DR, you should know that the drivers are c-r-a-z-y! we have seen busses force mopeds off the road in peak traffic; we have seen a family of 5 being transported on a single moped. And no, they weren't wearing helmuts.
Have I convinced you yet? The moral of this story is, if you are looking for a great destination,check into DR. If you are looking for a cost-effective yet elegant all-inclusive resort, I recommend the Majestic. The Colonial is, as the name implies, colonial style and a wee bit older than the Elegance, therefore a wee bit cheaper. If AIs aren't your thing, perhaps a nice vacation rental is. Your call, either way, I'm pretty darn confident that you will find a little piece of heaven in the Dominican Republic! Have fun!