This piece is by the Travelin’ Cousins, a little blog about the travel adventures of a couple of cousins.
by Elisa Valentino
January 4, 2019
Ten Things You Should Know About the Historic, Tropical and Vibrant Dominican Republic
With all the world traveling I have done through the years as a travel blogger, this past Christmas vacation was my very first visit to the Dominican Republic and to say I loved it would be an understatement! Only three hours from New York, it is a tropical Caribbean island filled with intoxicating sandy beaches, luxury vacation resorts, fascinating history, and a spirited and passionate culture of people that makes visitors fall in love with this Hispaniola island nation.
Geographically joined with Haiti to the west, the D.R. has had its share of turbulent times in the past, but has grown into a country with a thriving economy. Today it ranks number one as the most visited island in the Caribbean and a popular destination for family vacays as well as weddings and honeymoons. Maybe that is because of its stunning and scenic beaches or perhaps, that visitors can enjoy the beautiful coral reefs while scuba diving or the island’s lush landscape for hiking, biking and horseback riding.
I actually chose to visit the D.R. based on my own personal prerequisites. First, it was one of the last remaining Caribbean islands I had yet to visit, with a flight that was direct and only a little over three hours. Since me and my girls were planning to spend less than a week to our chosen destination, I was seeking an island relatively close to New York. The D.R. fit the bill! My daughters, who have been all over this country, as well as Europe, had never been to the Caribbean. At 12 and 14 and stressed from their rigorous school studies, I thought a nice tropical vacay would do them (and their mom!) some good.
So, off we went, to spend a portion of our holiday vacation in the delightful D.R., which, would include both Christmas Eve and Day. A stickler for researching details and important facts about my destinations beforehand, I will admit, I was so eager to just get away and relax, I didn’t do any prior investigation. Knowing there was a gorgeous beach was enough information for me. However, once I had arrived, my education about the D.R. was a series of lessons from both first-hand experience, as well as the knowledge I would garner from natives and some light reading.
The rich culture of the D.R. has made its way to our country, and specifically to the Bronx, for which Dominicans comprise a large part of its population, imparting their native culture, customs and amiable way of life! As for the history and specific nuances of this special island, I hope you will enjoy the factual tidbits I’ve assembled below.
1. The D.R. is the largest economy in the Caribbean and Central American Region
With a thriving economy built on the export of sugar, coffee, and tobacco, the flourishing industries of mining and agriculture and the expansion of tourism, it is the largest economy in the Caribbean and Central American region, and the tenth-largest economy in Latin America.
2. It is the first permanent European settlement in the Americas
February 27, 1844, is the official independence day of the D.R., however, prior to this Christopher Columbus visited the island on December 5, 1492, and later founded it, naming it Hispaniola, making The Dominican Republic the site of the first permanent European settlement in the Americas.
3. The Colonial City of Santo Domingo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
One of 1073 UNESCO World Heritage Sites around the world, the city of Santo Domingo is the capital of the Dominican Republic and one of the Caribbean’s oldest cities. The “Zona Colonial” is Santo Domingo’s historic center, with its cobblestone streets and buildings dating back to the 1500’s. The Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, dedicated to St. Mary of the Incarnation was built in 1512 and completed in 1540, making it the first cathedral built in the New World.
4. The island’s former name was Santo Domingo
In 1804, the western third of the island was separated as a new entity and the new country of Haiti was born. The remaining portion of the island, at that time, was known as Santo Domingo, for which Haiti ruled over until 1844, at which time the area became independent and was named the Dominican Republic.
5. The Dominican Republic is the only country in the world to produce a rare blue variety of the silicate mineral pectolite, called Larimar.
During my visit, I had an opportunity to chat with one of the managers of the hotel, who told me the story of the stone indigenous to the D.R., called Larimar. A very beautiful stone, its color changes from white, light-blue, green-blue to deep blue. (Guess what I bought for myself as a souvenir – you guessed it – a lovely Larimar bracelet and earrings!)
What is also interesting is the way in which this stone got its name. The story goes, that Miguel Méndez and a Peace Corps volunteer by the name of Norman Rilling rediscovered Larimar in 1974 (which was originally discovered by Father Miguel Domingo Fuertes Loren of the Barahona Parish in the early 20th Century) on a beach at the foot of the Bahoruco Mountain Range, the coastal province of Barahona. Natives believed that the stone came from the sea, and they called the gem Blue Stone. Miguel took his young daughter’s name Larissa and the Spanish word for sea (mar) and formed Larimar, to suggest the colors of the Caribbean Sea where it was found.
6. The Dominican flag is the only country’s flag featuring the bible
Founding father Juan Pablo Duarte designed the Dominican flag, which was adopted on March 21, 1908 making it the only one in the world to have the image of the holy bible in it. The bible is open to the Gospel of John chapter 8, verse 32, which reads: “And the truth shall make you free”.
The flag is also comprised of three colors: red, white and blue, with each color representing something different. The white of the cross in the center represents salvation, the red rectangles represent the blood of the heroes who fought for the independence, and the blue rectangles stand for liberty.
7. The second-largest number of Major League Baseball players are from the Dominican Republic
Second only to the United States, the D.R. sends more players to MLB than any other country in the world, with two Dominicans, Juan Marichal and Pedro Martínez, inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
8. Dominican Oscar de la Renta is one of the best-known fashion designers of the 21st century.
Born in Santo Domingo, Oscar de la Renta has designed clothing for celebrities and prominent women including Jacqueline Kennedy, Nancy Reagan, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, Anna Wintour, Oprah Winfrey, Sandra Bullock, Emma Watson, Victoria Beckham, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jennifer Lawrence, Rihanna, and many more.
The D.R. is credited with creating the merengue style of music which is a fast-paced, rhythmic dance music. A blend of a European Waltz, African rhythms, Mazurka from Poland and Cotillion which is originally a French country dance, the merengue is now popular throughout Latin American and the world and the national dance of the Dominican Republic.
10. The Dominican people are Amazingly Warm, Friendly and Vibrant
To me, perhaps the biggest impression that was left on me and my girls, after spending nearly a week in the D.R. was the friendliness, warmth and vibrant nature of the Dominican people! With their amazing sense of humor, talkative way, love of music and kindness, it is no wonder this island is a place people are flocking to more and more.
We had the joy of celebrating Christmas Eve on the island and in a country that is predominantly Catholic, the observance of this holiday is quite reverent. A beautiful nativity re-enactment was performed on the stage at our resort, which we were comfortably able to view from our suite balcony. A lovely site to behold, being Catholic myself.
As far as music goes, it was never ending! From the moment we woke up till 10:30 each night, festive and lively Spanish music was heard throughout our resort. Everyone we had the pleasure of encountering from the moment we arrived in Santiago Airport and throughout our stay was engaging, upbeat and down to earth. I assure you that I will be returning to the D.R. soon enough!
Elisa is co-founder of Travelin’ Cousinstravel blog, A native New Yorker, Fordham graduate, and world traveler, she is passionate about The Bronx as a travel destination for locals and tourists.
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