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Travel & Holidays in later life


Puerto Plata, where Columbus first landedWhen Columbus went cruising in the Caribbean over 500 years ago, his favourite discovery was a very large island which he called Hispaniola. He described it as "the most beautiful country which has ever been seen by human eyes." 

Where Columbus landed in 1492 on the northern shore, at Puerto Plata, is now the focal point of the Caribbean's best-developed holiday coastline.

Close to Puerto Plata airport is Playa Dorada - Spanish for Golden Beach - the prime destination of the 2,000,000 annual visitors to the Dominican Republic. Several UK tour companies operate direct charters year-round.


Hotel and 'club' resorts are centred around an 18-hole golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones. Landscape gardeners have transformed the entire zone into a purpose-built holiday getaway. Only a few miles away is Sosua, which has more the atmosphere of a Mediterranean resort.


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No visas are needed, but a US$ 10 Tourist Card must be bought on entry. Only US banknotes are accepted, so be sure to bring them. Departure tax is US $20.

Charter flights from Britain are non-stop in 9 or 10 hours, depending on whether the arrival airport is Puerto Plata, Santo Domingo or Punta Cana. These airports serve resorts respectively on the north, south or east coast of the island. 

The best exchange rates are for US dollars, working out around 60 pesos to the . Rum costs under 2 a bottle.

Temperatures range from 73 degrees F in winter to 82 degrees in summer. Trade winds keep the air cool and fresh. Rainfall is around 60 inches a year, coming in short but heavy downpours. After daytime rains, the sun rapidly reappears and everyone soon dries out.

Health: The island is a low-risk area, and no vaccination certificates are required. There is no malaria risk in the resort areas, but mosquitoes are plentiful. Pack a deterrent! Avoid tap water.

More information: Dominican Republic Tourist Office, 18/22 Hand Court, High Holborn, London WC1V 6JF. Tel: 020 7242 7778. 

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This northern region is named the Amber Coast, which includes 75 miles of white and golden sands. There are coastal lagoons with clear fresh waters, set against a backdrop of lush green mountains. Government tourist policy has aimed at developing selected areas of the coastline, leaving the rest untouched.

Still more beaches are opening up along the southern and eastern coasts, with flights into the capital of Santo Domingo. The principal resorts are Boca Chica and Juan Dolio.

Even though Columbus came in 1492, the island has only in recent years been 'discovered' by international beach-lovers and sun-worshippers.

What to expect, apart from the usual tropical paradise of blue sea, golden sand and palm trees?

Firstly, the background culture is Spanish: Latin American music, afternoon siestas, very late nightlife, and a laid-back confidence that problems will solve themselves tomorrow.

To highlight the Spanish heritage, the tourism ministry tried to promote the country's name as Dominicana - a shortened version of its official Spanish name of la Republica Dominicana rather than the English-sounding Dominican Republic.  But the English version holds fast. 

This may cause confusion with the former British colony of Dominica, which is no relation. But that confusion already exists, with the two islands regularly receiving each other's mail.

The language and culture of the island date from the discovery of the country by Columbus, with Santo Domingo established as the oldest Spanish city in the Western Hemisphere. Spanish rule lasted for over 300 years.

As a late arrival on the tourism scene, the Dominican Republic has learned from other nations. There is a total ban on the high-rise Miami look. Developments are married into the landscape. With over ten percent of the country designated as National Parks or Scientific Reserves, there is good protection for the environment and for endangered species. 

In this third world country, tourism is welcomed with a big smile. Typically, in a land of frequent electric power failures, the tourist areas are 'spoilt' by having absolute priority in keeping the current flowing. Nobody wants to irritate the nation's biggest source of hard-currency earnings.

Most of the resorts are purpose built for an international clientele. Especially popular is the all-inclusive 'club' concept of hotel-resort operation. A high proportion of resort accommodation is available only on a full board basis, with use of sport equipment and live entertainment as part of the holiday package.

First lesson in scuba diving Even drinks can be included, though usually limited to 'national' drinks - only beer, house wine and any cocktail based on rum. Imported drinks are excluded, because of high import duties.

Most visitors come mainly for the beaches, water-sports and nightlife of the principal resorts. For the sport-minded, there's every available facility from tennis to volleyball, ping-pong and golf. The over-50s can find it's not too late to learn to scuba-dive.

But much of Dominicana's special magic lies beyond the resorts. The terrain is rugged, with alternating bands of mountain ranges, valleys and plains. More than a third of the total area lies above 1,500 ft. There are mountain retreats that are sometimes called the Alps of the Caribbean, with the highest peak soaring to 10,562 ft.

The country offers fantastic scenic diversity from cacti to rain forests, mangrove lagoons to cascading waterfalls in the mountains. Sheltered coves and river inlets were greatly favoured by pirate vessels that laid in wait for treasure-laden Spanish galleons.

The tropical vegetation itself is fascinating to visitors from other climatic zones. It's deeply interesting to see the working of big plantations of sugar, bananas, pineapples, tobacco or coffee. Wayside plants and trees are a gardener's delight in a land of lush fertility.

Whether your choice is northern coast or southern, there is potential to reach closer to the lifestyle of Dominicana. Everywhere there are friendly faces. 

Palace built by son of ColumbusMusic and dance have a big influence on Dominican life. In streets, restaurants and bars there is a permanent flow of music, recorded or live. The national dance is merengue, backed by every variation from Caribbean and Latin America.

In 1992, celebrations to mark the fifth centenary of the Columbus voyages awakened interest in Dominicana's share in that history. 

The story can best be followed in the Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo, where the Columbus family was deeply involved for at least seventy epoch-making years. Wandering through that Zone is like turning the clock back to the 1490s.

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

The Rough Guide to the Dominican Republic - This one will help you experience the island much better than if you just stay all the time in an all-inclusive resort.

"AA Essential Dominican Republic" by Lee Karen Stow - A handy pocket guide in the standard AA format, giving the Top Ten sights to see, with a star rating for the rest.

"Dominican Republic Handbook" by Sarah Cameron - If you want more background on the island's history, culture, wildlife and ecosystems, buy this one from the Footprint series.

Merengue: Dominican Music and Dominican Identity -  If you're fascinated by the traditional Merengue dance music of Dominicana, this book traces the growth of its popularity throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

Dominican Republic (Frommer's Portable Guides) - for the short-term traveller who insists on value and doesn't want to pack a full-size guidebook.


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