If you ask most people for their thoughts on the Dominican Republic, they will probably mention its stunning beaches and five star hotels. Whilst the beaches are certainly a key selling point to the island (there's over 1600 km of breath-taking coastline), sadly, a lot of people don't know just how much more it has to offer. Interestingly, this country was first discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492.
Whilst imagining what it might be like to set foot on this Caribbean country, you might picture digging your toes into soft, white sand, and gazing out at the turquoise sea. However, when you actually visit, you will discover what the Dominican Republic is really about.
After doing some extensive research, I now know that the Dominican Republic is actually extremely diverse, which makes it a wonderfully varied place to explore. Being very active, I can't wait to get stuck into some inland adventures and tours.
If you venture far enough, you will come across Mountain landscapes, rivers, rapids, waterfalls, rainforests and caves. The country is twice the size of Wales, so there's lots of ground to cover.
The locals are said to be some of the friendliest and most welcoming people around the world, which is something any serious traveller always appreciates. It seems the Dominican Republic is not applauded enough for its fascinating history, water sports, rich culture, fun activities and wonderful collection of wildlife. Therefore, these things will be reflected in the activities I plan.
I don't yet know how long I will have to explore this diverse country. It seems I got a little carried away with my list of things I want to do, mainly because, after doing some research, there were too many options.
I may not get to do all of these things, as it also depends on where I end up staying. However, in an ideal world, here's all the things I would like to do on my 2016 trip to the Dominican Republic.
Spend a day in Santo Domingo
I would really love to visit the country's capital, Santo Domingo. It's a vibrant, cosmopolitan and historic city with charming cobblestone streets, Spanish Colonial architecture and restored monasteries. Who wouldn't want to visit the oldest city in the New World?
The city is a UNESCO World Heritage site and manages to blend both old and new. You can visit historic buildings or go shopping and bar hopping, depending on your priorities.
Some of the key things I plan to see in Santo Domingo include:
- The Museo del Hombre Dominicano - Here you can see a collection of Taino artefacts and delve into the island's African heritage.
- The Catedral Primada de America - One of the earliest built in the Americas and has impressive architecture.
- Alcazar de Colon - A beautiful viceregal mansion which also houses the Museo Alcazar de Diego Colon, a collection of medieval and renaissance art.
Whale Watching in Samana Bay
This has to be near the top of my list. However, if I want to witness a spectacle of nature I better get moving, as the humpback season only runs from January to March. In Samana Bay, at exactly this time of year, you can see humpback whales on the north-east coast.
Thousands of whales arrive here to breed and give birth. I imagine this would be an experience of a lifetime. Swimming amongst humpback whales, or just watching them in their natural habitat would be spectacular.
Experience a vibrant festival
It appears in the Dominican Republic there's a big festival nearly every week. The Dominicans certainly know how to party, and celebrate their traditions and culture. I would love to join in the celebrations, soak up the atmosphere and see the real
Dominican Republic during a festival
San Juan Bautista is meant to be a great festival, it's a religious festival in San Juan de la Managua in honour of John the Baptist and his African counterpart Chango.
Visit stunning waterfalls and swim in lagoons
A lot of people don't know that the Dominican Republic is home to a collection of spectacular waterfalls. I want to visit the El Limon waterfall, a 52 metre high waterfall surrounded by lush greenery, with a swimming hole at the bottom.
I can imagine nothing better than taking a refreshing dip in the bright blue waters beneath a beautiful waterfall. I also want to go on a day of adventure exploring the Damajagua waterfalls, which are also supposed to be breath-taking, and swim in the Hoyo Azul lagoon.
Face the wind and waves in Cabarete
Cabarete used to be a simple fishing and farming hamlet. It's now a water sports haven with plush hotels and plenty of restaurants and bars. Apparently, it's the best place for waves and wind, so naturally it attracts an army of surfers.
I absolutely love water sports, particularly water skiing and jet skiing, but I haven't yet had the opportunity to go surfing. Kitesurfing, boogie boarding, surfing and windsurfing are popular in this resort.
See the wildlife at Lago Enriquillo
Lago Enriquillo is an enormous saltwater lake (the size of Manhattan) surrounded by the beautiful mountains of the Sierra de Barahona. I really want to go there to see the variety of wildlife including iguanas, flamingos, crocodiles, rhinos and many different species of tropical birds. It's a birdwatcher's paradise, as it's home to 62 different species of bird.
See the Dominican Republic from the sky by zooming down a zip wire
If I feel like an adrenaline rush, I will schedule in time to zoom down 800 metres of zip wire. I may not have much time to take in the views, but I will catch glimpses of the lush mountain forests of Punta Cana in the background.
If however, I want to really appreciate the views, I might take a cable car, or better still, walk to the top of Mount Isabel de Torres (an 800 metre high mountain). There's a photo op at the top of the mountain, where I will take a photo in front of the statue of "Christ the Redeemer".
Other things on my Dominican Republic wish list
Altos de Chavon
A replica of a 16th century artisans' village and a great place to buy crafts.
A steaming, bubbling lake that was left behind after an 1880 volcanic eruption.
Uou get to visit a local school and coffee plantation and spend time in the rainforest.
I have recently got into mountain biking so I would love to hire a bike and take on the terrain in the Dominican Republic, there are plenty of mountain biking trails.
You can take a speedboat or catamaran to Saona Island, a government protected nature reserve which is part of East National Park.
After spending hours planning my 2016 trip to the Dominican Republic, I have realised it's likely to be a destination filled with many magical surprises, and that although I will clearly need some down time, and the coastline looks absolutely stunning, perhaps the beaches shouldn't be the main focus of my trip.