It may be easy for a destination like the Dominican Republic to get typecast. After all, what is one of the most visited spots in the Caribbean offers exactly what the area is famous for -- balmy weather, lush beaches, a bevy of water sports and spectacular golf. But to limit a visit to the Dominican Republic to resorts, cocktails and sun worship would mean missing out on a comprehensive and eclectic travel experience, where history, culture and a wonderful array of attractions make travel here memorable. Here are a few examples:
Go Native, Leave the Beach
Leaving your fellow beachgoers behind might take some motivation, but it can offer you a chance to go native. The Tainos settled in the Dominican Republic in the seventh century and developed its original culture; these are the people Christopher Columbus encountered when he arrived in 1492. Their lifestyle was simple enough: They hunted, fished and farmed; they lived in vine huts and slept on hammocks; they carved wood to pay homage to their gods; they passed the time with dance and song. The Taino influence is alive today in the names of many towns and the cuisine, and several museums throughout the Dominican Republic – such as the Museum of Taino Art in Puerto Plata and the Museum of Dominican Man in Santo Domingo – offer a glimpse into this important past.
See Colonial, Skip the Sand
The history of colonial expansion in this part of the Caribbean is not without controversy. But from an experiential aspect, leaving the beach for the city streets of Santo Domingo, this nation's capital, is a step back in time. The sector known as the Colonial City, replete with cobblestone streets, was declared a World Heritage Site in 1990 and is a study in juxtapositions: modern buildings next to 15th century houses and new cars next to horse-drawn carriages. It's considered the oldest city in the New World and boasts its very first street, its first hospital and its first university; the Cathedral de Santa Maria la Menor, the oldest church in the Americas, features a golden façade made of coral limestone. And if you want your Christopher Columbus fix, Santo Domingo is home to the Alcazar de Colon, a palace holding Columbus family artifacts, the Ozama Fort, where he was once imprisoned, and the Faro a Colon lighthouse, which houses the explorer's remains.
Get High, Get Low
The Dominican Republic is home to both the highest and lowest elevations in the Caribbean; both can make for fascinating visits, especially for the experienced adventurer. At more than 10,000 feet, the Pico Duarte peak is part of a mountain range that cuts across the Dominican Republic from east to west. Guided tours are most prevalent when the weather is best – January through March – and five trails will get you there; the shortest, La Cienega, runs about 15 miles from the city of Santiago and reaches Duarte's zenith in about two days. If getting low is more your style, consider Lago Enriquillo, the Caribbean's largest lake and lowest elevation. Plan ahead for this trek; located 12 miles from the Haitian border, it's intermittently attended by park personnel. But getting here will reward you with a plethora of reptilian life and a rustic wooden pier that jets more than 60 feet across the lake.