With its coral reefs, verdant mountains and spectacular waterfalls, it's easy to see why the Dominican Republic has recorded a steady increase in the number of annual visitors. This modern nation makes up half of Hispaniola, an island historically named Quisqueya or 'mother of all lands' by the indigenous Taíno inhabitants, and has some of the most diverse geography in the world.
The capital, Santo Domingo, is often referred to as the oldest city in the New World. It was founded in 1496 by Bartholomew Columbus, whose better-known brother Christopher landed on Hispaniola in 1492. The city's rich history is visibly evident throughout the cobbled streets of Zona Colonial, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There, amidst the distinctly European architecture, you'll find the earliest still-existing European fortress in the New World, La Fortaleza Ozama.
Bachata and merengue music provide the city's rhythmic backdrop, flooding the streets from corner shops where locals meet and socialise. Try your hand at the accompanying Latin-inspired bachata dance at one of Santo Domingo's many nightclubs, such as El Sartén, a small bar firmly off the beaten track that provides a truly authentic Dominican experience.
Dominican cuisine, known as comida criolla, is influenced by African, Taíno and Spanish roots. Traditional dishes include the mouthwatering sancocho, a hearty meat and vegetable stew served with fresh avocado and lime, and la bandera, rice and beans served with grilled chicken. Native fruit is plentiful and varied; some of the most popular varieties are mangos, bananas and limoncillos, sweet green fruits with juicy flesh and disproportionately large pits at the centre.
Seafood is another highlight of Dominican menus, and should have been caught fresh that day. Sea bass, red snapper and parrot fish are served roasted with lemon or with a slightly spicy, tomato-based criolla sauce, while shrimp, lobster and crab are grilled to bring out their natural flavours. Las Palmas in Bayahibe is particularly known for its lobster, served simply with grilled potatoes and ice-cold fruit juice.
Escape the more crowded beaches by driving to the Samaná Peninsula, where the white-sand shores are liberally dotted with palm trees. Playa Rincón is consistently named one of the Caribbean’s most beautiful beaches, a notable accolade against stiff competition. It's difficult to reach thanks to the cliffs of Cape Cabrón, but once there you'll find four kilometres of unspoiled golden sand stretching along the palm-fringed bay, which plays host to the annual migration of humpback whales.
Inland, the island’s lush rainforest shelters several waterfalls. Cascada el Limón, on the Samaná Peninsula, towers 120 feet over a turquoise pool. Guided horseback tours leave regularly from Samaná. A short distance from Puerto Plata you'll find the majestic Damajagua Falls, a series of 27 connected waterfalls and limestone pools that you can climb up, swim down and jump off.
The Dominican Republic's luxury travel and home market is growing quickly, thanks to the recent development of several boutique resorts and high-end villas. With property shops already operating in Santo Domingo and Punta Cana and a new branch coming soon to Puerto Plata, Engel & Völkers have the necessary local expertise to aid you in your search for a Caribbean investment.