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    johnthomson
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    For those dreaming of a Caribbean adventure and yearning to experience a laid back and more relaxed lifestyle, consider visiting the Dominican Republic, an island paradise in the heart of the Caribbean. Swaying palm trees in tropical sunshine, the glittering azure waters of the Caribbean Sea, white sandy beaches and the rhythmic beat of the merengue hanging on the balmy breeze, this is the ideal spot to unwind and escape the pressures of life in the fast lane.

    The Dominican Republic shares its border with Haiti on the Tropic of Cancer, and with the Atlantic Ocean to the north and the Caribbean Sea to the south, this little piece of heaven attracts visitors from far and wide and I was immediately enchanted. Towering mountain ranges, including the Antilles, verdant valleys, deep lagoons, tranquil lakes, majestic rivers, a tropical climate and over 1,000 miles of pristine beaches ensures that travellers are captivated by the island’s outstanding beauty, a remarkable culture and a rich and colourful history.

    dom rep cathedralCatedral Santa Maria de la Encarnacion, Santo Domingo
    On the 5th December 1492, when Christopher Columbus dropped anchor he described today’s Dominican Republic as ‘a beautiful island paradise with high forested mountains and large river valleys’ and he named the island Hispaniola. At that time he would have been greeted by the Taino Indians, a peaceful people with a simple lifestyle consisting of hunting, fishing and cultivating maize, yucca, sweet potato, pineapple, chilli, peanuts and tobacco. Since then, a combination of Spanish, French, Haitian and Taino Indian influences has created an intriguing culture, evident in the local cuisine, music, dance, art and religion, which is predominantly Catholic.

    Santo Domingo is the oldest city in the New World and was recognized in 1990 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is a vibrant capital where the frenzy of modern life and the tranquillity of traditional life are reflected in the ancient cobble stoned streets. Traditional 15th century houses and the clip clop of the horse drawn carriages pass along slowly whilst luxury cars whizz by the contemporary buildings.

    dom rep lighthouseThe Columbus Lighthouse projects beams of light which form the shape of a crucifix
    Santo Domingo’s Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor, built between 1512 and 1540, is the oldest cathedral in Latin America. The stunning façade features a coral limestone with tinges of gold shimmering in the Caribbean sunshine. Francis Drake used the property as his operational base when he captured the city in 1586 and it was once the resting place of Christopher Columbus prior to his remains being moved to a monument built in his honour.

    The Columbus Lighthouse, a museum and mausoleum for Columbus was constructed in 1986 and inaugurated in 1992 in celebration of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America in 1492. The building is shaped in the style of a crucifix representing the Christianization of the Americas and it projects beams of light which also form the shape of a crucifix.

    Another popular site to visit is the Alcazar de Colon, a palace built in the 16th century by Diego Columbus, son of Christopher. Be sure to take this opportunity to view an extensive variety of fascinating objects that once belonged to the most famous and admired navigator of the oceans. For explorers keen to know more about the culture of the Dominican Republic, visit the Museum of the Dominican Family, housed in an imposing Colonial mansion and built in 1503, it features the only Gothic window throughout Latin America and an array of exhibits depicting Dominican life during the 1800s.

    dom rep golf courseThe Dominican Republic has many outstanding golf courses, all with lush green fairways and stunning coastlines
    I wandered around the Colonial area of the city and was easily persuaded by the aromatic aromas of Dominican coffee to pause for a snack. El Conuco, located on Calle Casimior de Moya is popular with locals and those ‘in the know’. The menu featured ‘La Bandera’, the tasty local dish of meat, rice and red beans and ‘Pesteles en Hojas’, which are wrapped turnovers cooked in banana leaves. I ordered a slice of Casabe, a cake that the Taino Indians made using yucca. It’s delicious, and simply must be accompanied by an afternoon tipple of local rum.

    For bargain hunters, there is flea market every Sunday and the stalls are crammed with all manner of trinkets and local produce. Be sure to purchase some Cocoa, which is one of the main agricultural exports and for those who indulge in a cigar or two, Dominican cigars are exported to the USA and compete on the same level as Cuban cigars in the European market so purchase a box or two. Browse around the local craft shops where you will find Dominican amber and Larimar gemstones and some impressive pieces of local art.

    dom rep casa de campoCasa de Campo offers five-star accommodation set in 7000 acres of stunning scenery
    For the weary traveller seeking the ideal spot to stay, consider Casa de Campo, which is located in La Romana, one hour by road from the capital. This is the place for those who love sporting activity and space. The Casa de Campo resort is set in 7,000 acres of stunning scenery and you can keep in shape on 13 tennis courts, three polo playing fields, and a 245-acre shooting facility and if you fancy a round of golf, there are three championship golf courses designed by Pete Dye.

    In fact, the Dominican Republic has no shortage of outstanding courses, all with lush green fairways and stunning coastlines. Nine of the courses were recognised in Golf Week Magazine’s top 50 selections for the Caribbean and Latin America and they attract a number of high profile individuals including Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush.

    The Casa de Campo resort offers five-star hotel accommodations, but if you really want to treat yourself contemplate on renting a villa. Choose from a three to five bedroom classic villa or an exclusive three to six bedroom property or a three to seven bedroom oceanfront villa right on the water’s edge. Each villa features lush gardens and an outdoor lounge area with a swimming pool and of course all the amenities demanded by the discerning guests.

    Take a stroll along the 400 berth marina and make your way to the piazza where you will find more than 70 restaurants and an extensive number of shops and bars and as you relax under the Caribbean sky with a carpet of stars twinkling in the sky, clink your wine glass and celebrate the spice of life that is the Dominican Republic.

    Images supplied with the kind permission of the Dominican Republic Vacations Ministry of Tourism.

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