About 2 million of the Dominican Republic's 8 million people live in the sprawling city of Santo Domingo. This lively capital of the Caribbean's second-largest country is the oldest European-settled city in the Americas. Recently installed antique-styled street lamps enhance the capital's restoration of Spanish Colonial buildings. These include the palace of Christopher Columbus' son, Diego. The elder Columbus "discovered" what became the DR on December 5, 1492. He named the island Hispaniola, meaning Little Spain. Hispaniola' capital, Santo Domingo, then became the nerve center for the burgeoning Spanish Empire in the Western Hemisphere. In addition to the sightseeing within Santo Domingo, check out the nearby Columbus Lighthouse and Boca Chica Beach.
Among DR superlatives is Pico Duarte, rising to 10,417 feet and the highest peak in the Caribbean area.
The DR's touristic north shore is billed as the Amber Coast. That's because some of the world's finest amber is found here. You can check out the best in 50-million-year-old amber by visiting the amber museums in Santo Domingo and Puerto Plata. In addition to amber, however, there is larimar, or Dominican turquoise, a semi-precious stone mined in the southwestern DR. The Amber Coast has far more than amber of Jurassic Park fame. The shores of the DR north coast are lined with some of the Caribbean's finest resorts. Most are located in and around Puerto Plata and Sosua. Cabarete is known for its fun-loving windsurfing and kitesurfing crowd.
The Dominican Republic teems with all-inclusives and other charming vacation venues, made all the more enchanting because of the DR's designer genius Oscar de la Renta. This high-fashion mogul called the shots for much of the interior glamour and chic of DR resorts. De la Renta isn't the only celebrity with a penchant for many miles of powdery white sand, near-perfect weather, and lots and lots of vacation fun and games. Other celebrities who have DR vacation homes include Mikhail Baryshnikov and Julio Iglesias. For the rest of us, there is a wide world of pleasure at the many DR all-inclusive treasures.
These include Barcelo, with first-class service and entertainment; Club Med, with buffets galore, musical revues, golf and water sports; Iberola Bavaro, Spanish-owned, eco-friendly and one of the most posh resorts in the Caribbean and Sol Melia, another Spanish hotel chain. Other all inclusives are Viva for simple fun; Breezes, a great spot for families and kids to frolic in a setting straight out of an old-time Hollywood musical and Bahia Principe which is to open the first part of a huge all-inclusive resort in 2004. South of Punta Cana is the site of a planned mega-resort with the largest marina in the Caribbean.
Despite the country's economic woes and all-too-frequent political disasters, music and a generally festive attitude defines the Dominican Republic. The merengue, with its lively and hypnotic beat, is the DR's special gift to the world of dancing. The dance features a certain stiffness of the leg. That's because, they say, a soldier-hero with a bad leg couldn't quite handle Latin dance moves. No problem. The rest of the dancers simply adopted their hero's way of dancing as if one of his or her legs was incapacitated. In any case, merengue is the country's national passion, much as the tango is the way to go in Argentina.