Tourism became a strong growth industry in the 1980s and is playing a major role in the country’s development. The number of tourist arrivals is steadily increasing. The major development areas are in the north, in Puerto Plata, and along the eastern coast at Punta Cana and Bávaro, and in the south at Bayahibe. There are some 50,000 hotel beds, up from 34,000 in 1996. After an absence of some years, Caribbean cruise ships are again calling at ports in the Dominican Republic.
In 2016, Dominican Republic reached an impressive 6.4 percent increase in overall tourism, up from 5.8 percent in 2015. This resulted in a total of 6.1 million tourists, a number that exceeds the original projection by 100,000. The United States remains the largest source market for Dominican tourism with 2.1 million visitors in 2016, and Canada following with 772,000. British nationals remain significant to the tourism of DR with 165,000 visitors in 2016.
After Christopher Columbus’s arrival on the island in 1492, Santo Domingo became the site of the first cathedral, hospital, customs house and university in the Americas. This colonial town, founded in 1498, was laid out on a grid pattern that became the model for almost all town planners in the New World.
Bordering the Ozama River, the area boasts cobblestone streets and an impressive group of buildings dating back to the 16th century. The palaces have been converted into fascinating museums, but many of the area’s oldest structures are now quaint bars, cafés, and small hotels and restaurants.
The Dominican Republic boasts 74 protected areas, including parks, reserves, sanctuaries and natural monuments. These extend over 12,000 square km, or 25% of the country’s territory.
There are 14 national parks, 3 of which are submarine. There are also 9 scientific reserves and a marine sanctuary.
Lake Enriquillo National Park
Lake Enriquillo is 34 miles (89 km) long and 5 miles (13 km) wide. It is extremely high in salinity, with a salt concentration of 40 to 90 parts per million. Very little vegetation can live at such high salt levels, with the exception of green algae.
Known as one of the natural wonders of the West Indies, this wetland eco-region occurs in and around Lake Enriquillo in the Dominican Republic and Lake Etang Saumatre in Haiti.
Since the last ice age, sea levels have fallen and exposed the land that used to be a channel separating Haiti from the Dominican Republic. Pieces of coral and seashell provide evidence of its prior submergence under the sea.
In the summertime the area supports large flocks of magnificent, salmon-red greater flamingos, which comb the shorelines for brine shrimp and other crustaceans, molluscs, insects, and small fish.
The Dominican Republic is one of the premier golf destinations in the Caribbean. Thanks to the tropical climate golfers are able to play all year round. The Dominican Republic offers plenty of choices, whether for pros or those interested in learning.
The majority of the golf courses are found along the coast in the country’s burgeoning resorts, each with its own distinct identity, and carefully designed with the coastline and other natural elements incorporated into the design. Golf is one of the Dominican Republic’s top attractions.
Merengue is the most popular dance and the favourite type of music in the Dominican Republic. It is played everywhere, and even young children know how to dance merengue steps. The music is often performed by three-person, roaming bands called perico ripiao using three instruments: a small drum called a tambora, an accordion-like instrument called a melodeon, and a percussion instrument originally used by the Tainos called a güira.
Modern merengue emerged after the First World War, when the music was played by pianos, strings, clarinets and saxophones. In the 1970s, Johnny Ventura and other musicians developed a new sound with electronic instruments. Dance steps became faster and less formal. Nowadays, merengue incorporates other musical forms such as salsa and jazz. Juan Luis Guerra is the most internationally renowned merengue performer.
Arts & Crafts
Hand-crafted jewellery is made with amber and larimar. Many people consider Dominican amber the most beautiful in the world. It may contain flashes of green, red, orange, blue and purple. Larimar is a stone found only in the Dominican Republic. Its colours vary from deep sky blue to blue-green.
Christopher Columbus was one of the first writers, along with Friar Bartolome de Las Casas, appointed “Protector of the Indians”. Another author that had a great influence on Dominican literature was the poet Felix Maria del Monte, known as the father of Dominican literature due to his patriotic literary writings.
The Dominican Carnival is one of the most colourful traditions and happiest celebrations of the Dominican Republic. Almost everyone participates in one way or another in the festivities, dancing and celebrating on the streets.
The main celebrations occur at the end of February, especially the last weekend of the month when Carnival celebrations coincide with festivities to commemorate Dominican Independence Day. However, different regions celebrate their Carnival at different times which means the Carnival is extended throughout the entire month and sometimes even well into March.
One of the main Carnival traditions involves the attire and costumes worn by those who celebrate it; a varied hybrid from region to region that mixes elements of African tradition and European styled fabrics.
The most popular costume, known as the diablo cojuelo, consists of a brightly coloured layered suit covered with small mirrors and bells and worn with a devil mask, usually with many horns and teeth. The Dominican Carnival has had a great tradition since its beginnings during colonial times, when the citizens of Santo Domingo would dress up on the eve of Christian Lent in order to celebrate their religious beliefs.
Although costumes and music were around since the 16th century, the Carnival became even more popular after the patriotic victory of February 27, 1844, the day when the Dominican Republic gained its independence.