The Dominican Republic is more than just a nation that shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. Look deeper and you’ll see a nation on the rise. Already the top tourist destination in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic is striving to achieve greater things and build a stronger economy.

When you hear Americans discuss their favourite Caribbean destination in 2015 or listen to Europeans share memories from their latest holiday on the beach, you might be surprised to learn that the usual suspects, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Maarten, and St. Lucia, aren’t necessarily the destinations being discussed. The Dominican Republic is a rising power in the jam-packed tourism industry of the Caribbean. With beautiful beaches and welcoming communities, take a stroll through the Dominican to learn just what it is that’s attracting travellers from North America and Europe.

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Beach in front of the Iberostar/ Coral Marien Hotels, Puerto Plata.
PHOTO: Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism

The Dominican Republic at a Glance

The Dominican Republic plays a major role in both the history of the Caribbean region and its future as a tourist hotspot. Occupying more than half of the island of Hispaniola with its neighbour Haiti, the Dominican Republic is the second-largest nation in the Caribbean, behind only Cuba in terms of total area and population. Its national capital of Santo Domingo is home to one million inhabitants

The native Taino people, who have contributed so much to the Creole culture of island nations throughout the region, have called Hispaniola home since the 7th century AD. In fact, it was in the Dominican Republic on December 5th, 1492 that Christopher Columbus first set foot in the Western Hemisphere.

Today the Dominican Republic has become the most visited destination in the Caribbean. The people of the Dominican Republic are far from slouches too, boasting the ninth largest economy in all of Latin America, and the largest economy in the Caribbean and Central America region. An economy that once ran on the power of agriculture and revenue from mining is now dominated by services, which is indicative of the nation’s rise as a tourist hot spot.

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Columbus Statue and Cathedral, Parque Colon, Santo Domingo

Rapid Growth

Powered by year-round warm temperatures, a diverse local geographical base, and some of the finest golf courses in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic has been breaking air-arrival records on a regular basis in recent years. For the month of October 2014, the island welcomed a total of 323,488 tourists. That was an increase of 14% from October 2013. By October of 2014, a total of 4.2 million visitors had travelled to the Dominican Republic, marking a 9.7% increase compared to the same period for 2013.

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Ancient village Altos de Chavon – Colonial town reconstructed in Dominican Republic. Casa de Campo, La Romana, Ponderosa-style,

It All Starts in Punta Cana

Santo Domingo may be the capital of the nation, but Punta Cana is the heartbeat of tourism in the Dominican Republic. It is far and away the top pick for the vast majority of visitors. The city is situated on the eastern tip of the island of Hispaniola, and is packed with resorts, world-class golf courses, and countless sandy beaches. It’s not just the beaches that attract visitors to Punta Cana though.

The area is best enjoyed from the cool waters of Hoyo Azul Lagoon, or while zipping through Scape Park on a zipline or dune buggy tour. Just north of Punta Cana is the quiet fishing village of El Macao, where the public beach offers some of the best surfing on the island.

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Colorful villas in a beach resort

Eastern National Park

For the history buffs, the Dominican Republic even has a little something for you on your holiday. Eastern National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is a prime habitat for countless species of plants and animals that call the island home. There are over 112 different species of birds alone that can be found on the island. The reserve is also home to the largest marine park in the Caribbean, which boasts an immense coral reef system. Here you will find four species of sea turtle, manatees, bottlenose dolphins, and a wealth of diversity in the local tropical fish populations.

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Salto Jimenoa (Uno waterfall, Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic)

Jaragua National Park

Slip down to the southwestern coast of the Dominican Republic and you can visit the remote Bahia de Las Aguilas, which is one of the most magnificent beaches in the country. A six-mile beach with powder-soft sand, it is found within the protected confines of Jaragua National Park and is most easily accessed not by road, but by boat from the small village of La Cueva. If you’re looking for miles of unspoiled and undeveloped beach, this is your destination.

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Tropical Beach Resort: Punta Cana

Head Inland

With miles and miles of coastlines, it is easy to forget that the beauty of the Dominican Republic can be found inland as well as along the coasts. To that end, you should consider visiting Lake Enriquillo and Jarabacoa. The former is the largest saltwater lake in the Antilles and the lowest point on the island of Hispaniola. Here reside iguanas and flamingos, and even the largest wild reserve of American Crocodiles in the region.

Jarabacoa is an eco-tourism spot that is garnering more attention with each passing month. It is located in the Central Mountains of the Dominican Republic and features pine forests, rivers, and waterfalls, as well as the highest peaks in all of the Caribbean. If you are looking for more inviting outdoor activities, you can enjoy mountain biking, hiking, and rock climbing in the comfort of the region’s more hospitable alpine climate.

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Restaurants in the Plaza Espana at dusk, Santo Domingo.
PHOTO: Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism

Building for the Future

The Dominican Republic may already hold the crown as the top destination in the Caribbean, but that does not mean the local populace is ready to rest on its laurels. In 2014, a new terminal was opened at Punta Cana International Airport to accommodate as many as 6,500 more passengers on a daily basis, and more than two million additional travellers annually. In 2015 a new Carnival Cruise Lines port at Amber Cove opened near the resort area of Puerto Plata at a cost of $65 million.

More than 5.1 million tourists visited the Dominican Republic in the whole of 2014, with 40% of those individuals travelling from the United States. A new highway between Santo Domingo and Punta Cana cuts the drive time between the two cities from four hours to two, opening up more of the country to the millions dying to learn more about this tropical destination.

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Monument of Independence, Santiago, Dominican Republic

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