As part of the Caribbean the Dominican Republic has the North Atlantic Ocean lying to its north and the Caribbean Sea to its south. It's situated on the island of Hispaniola and occupies the eastern two-thirds of the island while Haiti occupies the western third.
After attaining independence in 1844 the Dominican Republic endured many years of largely non-representative rule until Joaquin Balaguer became president in 1966 holding office until 1996. Today regular elections are held and the Dominican Republic now has an impressive and fast growing economy with tourism playing a major role.
For the adventure tourist this Caribbean country offers a diverse countryside comprising tropical rainforests, arid desert expanses, alpine ranges and steamy mangrove swamps. It's a playground for trekkers, mountain bike enthusiasts and water-sport junkies.
The northern and eastern coasts are dotted with many luxurious resorts however the Dominican Republic has much more to offer than this. There is the wonderful Caribbean music and dance, exotic foods and drink, popular local baseball games, and the remarkable colonial architecture found in the capital Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial. There are also sugar plantations, small quaint villages and wonderful mountain retreats to explore and enjoy in Jarabacoa and Constanza. If you're looking for a hassle free holiday that's big on relaxation then the Dominican Republic is the place to be!
Dominicans are kind and peaceful people. Attempts at speaking Spanish are a good sign of respect for the local people. Be polite, show respect, and do your best to speak the language, and you will be treated with kindness.
Avoid talking about Haiti. Although relations have improved, many Dominicans, particularly of the older generations, harbor resentment towards Haitians. Santo Domingo was invaded and occupied by Haiti for a good part of the 19th century, and the Dominican Republic actually fought its first war of independence against Haiti, not Spain, after which the Dominican Republic faced several other invasions from its neighbor.
In the 20th century, Trujillo's dictatorship massacred tens of thousands of Haitians in the 1930's, which fueled into the resentment between both nations. Nowadays, about a million Haitians live in the Dominican Republic, most of them illegally. Some Dominicans' opinions towards illegal immigrants from Haiti are similar to some Americans' attitudes towards Mexican illegal immigrants, with the major difference that, unlike the US, the Dominican Republic is a small and poor country by world standards. Gang wars can erupt along the border, so stay cautious and be sensitive.
Still, the issues remain very complex and Dominicans often find their position to be misunderstood by foreigners. For example, Dominican Republic was the first country to come to Haiti's aid in the 2010 Haitian earthquake and has made impressive efforts to help its neighbor during this crisis. This shows that despite their historical, linguistic, religious, cultural and racial differences, Haitians and Dominicans still consider each other to be brotherly, yet proudly independent, nations.
When staying at the luxury resorts or really any place in the Dominican Republic, it is advisable to tip for most services. The Dominican Republic is still a fairly poor country and tipping the people who serve you helps them be treated well.
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