Nov
28

The Dominican Republic: An island of contrasts

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Want a holiday that packs a wallop like a souped-up retro car? Perhaps one set to a meringue beat? This sort of scene may bring to mind Cuba, but another place that’s similarly vibrant, sunny and loud is the Dominican Republic. Not to be confused with the small Caribbean island of Dominica, population 73,000, the Dominican Republic is the second largest nation in the Caribbean, with around 10 million people living there.

The DR in a nutshell 

When Christopher Columbus first spotted this large island in 1492, he named it Hispaniola. French pirates and buccaneers later set up camp, before there was a French colony in the 17th century, with sugar cane successes, and plenty of ships passing in the hot trade winds. The Dominican Republic is diverse, lush and teeming with different ecosystems; from high alpine and mangrove swamps, to savannah, desert and sandy beaches. It’s not only the land that’s diverse, the island is now split into independent parts: Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Crossing the island, one meets African-looking folks who speak French and dress to party at all hours; on other parts of the island, bodegas are pumping out tapas and meringue music.

Day-time adventures 

There are plenty of both natural and man-made diversions. The ecology of the island means that exploration calls like a whisper on the Caribbean wind, if only to follow in the footsteps of many other curious explorers in history. Day-time exploring can include traversing through savannah, towards the windswept coastline where whales can be spotted during certain times of year. Another excellent day trip is climbing the peak of Pico Duarte, the highest peak in the Caribbean at 3,175m.

After siesta time 

When the sun gets horizontal in the sky and energy levels begin to waver, it’s time to chow down on some fortifying tapas and sangria in a bodega. Or perhaps it’s worth gambling with the local poison of choice – rum and cigars. Not exactly healthy, but then some things simply aren’t healthy that feel good. The national and personal motto of everybody in the Dominican Republic seems to be “Fiesta mi amigo”. So don’t be afraid to gulp down some pungent, fiery liquids that could kill a small horse.

Quirky local haunts 

Countless beach huts and bars will be frequented by the tourists, who fling themselves into the feel-good vibes of the local scenery. But those in the know will dig a little deeper and go where the locals party. A new phenomenon that is flourishing on the island is car wash parties. It may sound ludicrous, but it’s nothing like the silly 1970s movie of the same name, starring Richard Prior among others. Car washes in the Dominican Republic come complete with a bar, plenty of amber ale of different kinds flowing freely and people milling around, partying together while washing and buffing their treasured vehicles. Each car wash will feature music that’s played at a decibel range heard from outer space. It’s not for everyone, but for travellers wanting a unique and quirky experience that’s completely indigenous to the area, this is it. Older people may want to bring the ear plugs; younger ones will want to bring along wads of cash for the reveries, which could easily rival the parties of nearby Cuba. Turn up at around 9pm but don’t expect the party to really kick off until after 1am. Getting a rental car specifically for the purpose is advisable – a designated driver for the evening is also a canny idea.

Holidays to the Dominican Republic, through Holiday Hypermarket or other travel companies, can be as quiet and tranquil as any other island hideaway, or you could pretend that you’re in the thick of a carnival in Rio. It’s really all down to where you choose to hang your hat.

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