Punta Cana  and Bavaro


 

Twenty-five years ago, the east coast was little more than a lonely stretch of beach and scrub-brush. Today, that diamond in the rough has been polished into a glittering gem; unquestionably the Caribbean's most popular and fastest growing tourist destination. The area embraced by Macao and Punta Cana, including Bávaro, now is home to more than 30 large tourist complexes with over 13,000 rooms. For 35 kilometers, along secluded stretches of pearl white sand, the East Coast is a beach-lover's paradise. The brilliant sands of Bávaro, Arena Gorda, Cortecito, Cabeza de Toro, Macao and Punta Cana beckon to travelers from all corners of the globe. Over 70 charter and regular flights arrive weekly at Punta Cana's international airport from a dozen European cities as well as Canada, the United States and South America.  One of the most popular nearby attractions here is Manatí Park Bávaro, comprising a 130,000 square meter preserve with permanent exhibits of live animals, birds, reptiles and fish, as well as remarkable performing dolphins, entertaining sea lions, and talkative parrots. . The beach is the big attraction in this area. For those with energy left over, area resorts' entertainment staffs present variety shows. The Tropicalíssimo show at the Barceló Bávaro Casino is the leading Caribbean and Latin music extravaganza. Naturally, there are also several casinos for gaming enthusiasts and hotel discos for the night owls

Santo Domingo


A great place to begin your explorations is the nation's capital, Santo Domingo, an enchanting city uniting modern sophistication, old world charm, and Latin charisma. This throbbing metropolis seduces you with superb dining, vibrant night life, and fashionable shopping. It is the first European city in the Western Hemisphere, and a large part of its rich colonial heritage is preserved in a unique enclave beside the Ozama River called the "Colonial City." It's an extraordinary city-scape of sixteenth century dwellings, imposing late medieval palaces and fortresses, set amidst a refreshingly non-geometric street-grid. Santo Domingo can boast the Western Hemisphere's first cathedral, its first monastery, its first hospital, its first university, and its first court of law. Recognizing Santo Domingo as the cradle of European civilization in the New World, UNESCO has declared the Colonial City a world heritage site. The cobblestone streets and centuries-old façades of the Colonial City house scores of picturesque cafés and bars, small hotels and well-established restaurants. In the expansive plaza framed by the Palace of Columbus, the Casas Reales Museum and the quaint 17th century sundial, the sidewalk cafés come alive after dusk as an intimate, informal rendezvous for locals and visitors alike.

Seated there, as daylight fades, and the darkened sky fills with stars, you can watch the monumental Columbus Lighthouse as it "turns on." This vast mausoleum on the Eastern shore of the Ozama River - which houses the mortal remains of the Great Discoverer and is well worth a visit - beams a towering light in the form of a cross into the night sky.  Beyond its handsomely preserved colonial past, Santo Domingo's cultural and artistic vitality is showcased in its vibrant theaters and concert halls and its galleries galore.

Come for a vacation and go back with a new look. Santo Domingo's beauty salons are tops in the world; its gyms and spas are right up there with the best, too. Stop by the high-tech Salon Daisy, or visit Body Shop, Gold's Gym, Virginia Spa or many others for body pampering.  For those interested in shopping, Santo Domingo is a joy. It seems like every international trademark is represented, as well as terrific products manufactured locally. While it's true that overcoats and ear-muffs are in short supply, beautiful tropical apparel and swim-wear is available everywhere, as is marvelous Dominican jewelry made of amber, larimar and bone. And when you're looking for the ideal souvenir for family and friends, don't forget that richly-flavored Dominican cigars, silken-smooth Dominican rum, and deeply satisfying Dominican coffee are real bargains.

 


Boca Chica, Juan Dolio and  La Romana


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Boca Chica  : long stretches of white sandy shore link the Dominican Republic's Caribbean Sea-bordering towns when driving East from Santo Domingo and past its Las Americas International Airport, the nation's main port of entry. Major highway construction works will soon reduce time to reach Boca Chica from Santo Domingo. Still, today Boca Chica is barely a 30 minute drive from the capital city's historical, gastronomy, shopping and night life attractions. Once a picturesque fishing village, Boca Chica today offers first class beach hotel accommodations. Visitors can enjoy the excellent water sports with the opportunity to scuba dive at nearby La Caleta Underwater National Park at the Hickory wreck, considered by SkinDiver magazine as one of the best five dive sites in the Caribbean. Boca Chica draws international travelers in large numbers who (especially on weekends) mingle with the locals in what must be described as a classical tropical beach setting of swaying palms, lustrous sun and an inviting picture-perfect aqua bay. In fact, Boca Chica's beach is the largest reef-protected lagoon in the Caribbean and sun-seeking swimmers enjoy the protected waters, as they dart back and forth seeking a frosty glass of beer from one of the casual restaurants, bars, and cafes owned mainly by Europeans

Juan Dolio : Further east along the coast are the adjacent beach towns of Juan Dolio and Guayacanes. More tranquil and residential than busy Boca Chica, they allure with a lovely, if less energetic, setting. Take time off from beach going and hotel water sports programs to play a round of golf at the very well kept Los Marlins 18-hole golf course. Juan Dolio has just the right amount of night life for a leisurely Caribbean vacation. Those seeking more action can head for the area's casinos. The Coral Costa Caribe Casino features a big bar and band section, and offers free shuttle transportation from all area hotels. A reputation for excellent cuisine has also taken hold here and sophisticated palates can choose from a variety of fine restaurants and cafés, ranging from informal to casually elegant; and with noteworthy wine cellars. There is even a pizzeria with its giant satellite dish so that tourists don't have to miss seeing that important soccer, baseball, basketball or hockey game . Juan Dolio will especially benefit from the completion of the hotel and restaurant four-lane boulevard the government is turning the old highway into, while building a parallel express highway. Once completed by mid 2000, Juan Dolio will be a mere 1/2 hour drive from the nightlife of Santo Domingo and 15 minutes from Boca Chica, thus offering tourists a three-for-the-price-of-one destination. 

La Romana : Driving east from San Pedro, past expansive fields of shoulder-high sugar cane, visitors will come to La Romana, a city built and maintained by the sugar mills. The incessant production of sugar fills the air with the sweet smell of molasses. But the principal attraction of the region is Altos de Chavón, a re-created 16th century Italian village beside the mesmerizing Chavón River. At its founding in 1981, Altos de Chavón was declared "an artists' village" by its creators who dedicated it to the service of the fine and applied arts. Its other-worldly cobblestone streets and quaint architecture conceal charming shops, fine restaurants, intimate bars, artisans workshops, a church, a vast amphitheater, an archaeological museum, and a university specializing in design

Puerto Plata, Sosua and Cabarete


 

The North Coast is the center of a third of the nation's hotel rooms, or more than 17,000. At the heart of this region, the city of Puerto Plata curves around the base of towering Mt. Isabel de Torres, whose pinnacle can be reached by an electrified sky lift system called the teleférico. A manicured botanical garden dominated by a cruciform statue of Christ - a scaled-down version of the one in Rio de Janeiro - crowns its summit. More adventurous types can reach the summit on foot.   The charm of Puerto Plata, the largest city on the North Coast, is enhanced by the extent and variety of its Victorian architecture, unrivaled by any other Dominican city. Stylistically, the gingerbread motifs, wooden 'lace' filigree, and pastel colors of its houses and public buildings convey the romantic aura of an earlier time, but functionally they house a tourist-oriented city's businesses, offices, shops, bars, restaurants and clubs. History is also preserved here in the imposing San Felipe Fort, built by the Spaniards in the 16th century as protection against seaborne invaders. The fort, which was used as a prison until the 1960's, now houses a fine museum that documents its interesting history. Visitors strolling the city's picturesque streets will also want to take time to see Puerto Plata's extraordinary Amber Museum, the Brugal rum factory (yes, with free samples!), and stroll the length of the Malecón, the lively seaside boulevard. 

Playa Dorada : A few miles east of the city lies the ocean side complex of Playa Dorada, grouping together 14 resorts, each with its own style, appearance and attractions. Uniquely, they share a golden strip of sandy shore, numerous sports facilities, and a shopping plaza. This extraordinary complex also features an 18-hole Robert Trent Jones championship golf course. Playa Dorada's collection of first rate resorts clustered in their holiday-oriented enclave creates a marvelous synergy of choice. Visitors from a dozen nations mingle here as they stroll beneath the stars among literally dozens of restaurants, snack bars, night clubs, casinos and discos. It's very hard not to make new friends in Playa Dorada. 

Sosúa :  For a fun-seeking family, the Columbus Aquapark, located along the highway between Playa Dorada and Sosúa, rivals the watery diversions awaiting visitors along the North Coast. Arguably, the Caribbean's finest attraction of its kind, the Columbus Aquapark has quickly established itself as a favorite with kids of all ages for a day-long outing. A little further east lies the charming village of Sosúa, with its totally unpretentious, relaxed atmosphere. Many would contend that Sosúa's crescent-shaped beach hugged by a sheltering cove bracketed by Los Charamicos to the West and El Batey to the East is the country's most applauded beach. Settled by Jewish refugees from Europe more than a half century ago, Sosúa has remained popular with European visitors, and its untrafficked streets are punctuated with casual European-style open air restaurants, bars, and cafes

Cabarete The Amber Coast's windsurfing Mecca is Cabarete, just a 15-minute drive east from Sosúa. This windsurfer's paradise is situated on a strip of land between a bay and a lagoon. The prestigious Professional Windsurfing Association World Cup competitions have been held here, and an annual Cabarete Race Week brings the best of amateur competitors from around the world. Besides windsurfing, Cabarete offers body boarding, tennis, golf, mountain biking and horseback riding and serves as a point of departure for numerous eco-tours.

Samana and Las Terrenas


The most prominent geographic feature of the Dominican North Coast is the Samaná Peninsula. Its separation from the bulging eastern end of the country creates the magical bay of Samaná, which each winter attracts whale-watchers from around the world to observe the fantastic conclave of thousands of humpbacks. At the peninsula's midpoint lies the city of Samaná, which claims an unusual history and, as a result, an unusual characteristic. It was settled by two shiploads of freed American slaves around 1824 and, to this day, many residents speak English as a first language. Further along the peninsula, tropical vegetation surrounds a turquoise bay, dotted with tiny islets. The last of these is the jewel-like Cayo Levantado, and a trip there by boat makes a wonderful one-day excursion. Las Galeras and Playa Rincón are dream beaches both close to the city of Samaná. Like these, innumerable smaller sandy coves await discovery along the way. Much of the Samaná Peninsula remains wild and scantily populated. Hardy visitors can penetrate unexplored patches of tropical jungle, and bathe in bubbling, unpolluted rivers   Off the beaten track, Las Terrenas, a pretty beach town complete with swaying palms and clear blue waters, has been popularized by French and German nationals as a retirement haven. Over the years they have developed many small inns and restaurants with a distinctively European flair. 

On the mainland, but easily reached by a short boat ride from the coast of Samaná, lies Los Haitises National Park, a marvelous sanctuary for nature lovers and those interested in natural history. The underground rivers flow through caves replete with pre-Columbian petroglyphs, silent testimony to the Indian population who dwelled there peacefully for centuries before the arrival of the Europeans. "Elupina I" is the name of the 300-passenger ferry that is scheduled to make the crossing from Sabana de la Mar, making it possible for adventurous Punta Cana and La Romana tourists to see Samaná.  .

 

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