Revealing a growing consciousness of the country’s rich biodiversity and the need to preserve it for future generations, the Dominican Republic now oversees 18 national parks, nine natural monuments, and six scientific reserves. The first UNESCO Biosphere Reserve was established in 2009, combining three of the country’s most biodiverse national parks—Jaragua, Bahoruco, and Enriquillo—in the southwest region.
The protection of all this land was in part the result of the government stepping up to the plate after environmentalists’ warned in the 1970s that much of the DR’s forests would vanish by the 1990s if no changes were made due to illegal forestation, fires, and pollution, among other causes. Challenges and abuses have not gone away in certain national parks in the southwest, but for the most part, the country is a staunch protector of its natural resources, recognizing their vital role in ecotourism.
You will be able to explore a handful of the most diverse and unique national parks of the Dominican Republic during your visit, whether you’re headed north, south, east, or into the heart of the country. The government manages the parks and entry at each location costs a usual RD$100 (100 Dominican pesos) per person or about US$2.21.
Two of the most important parks protect the mountains and pine forests of the Cordillera Central and the most rugged landmass: Parque Nacional Armando Bermudez, founded in 1956 and home to the 3,088-meter-tall (10,128-foot) Pico Duarte, and the adjacent Parque Nacional Jose del Carmen Ramirez, founded in 1958. Many come here to hike the tallest peak of the Caribbean and check that item off a bucket list, but the parks offer plenty for birders and those who want to take in some of the most spectacular views of the DR.
The southwest region is where you’ll find the crown jewel of the DR’s parks, where the greatest numbers of endemic flora and fauna are found, including over 50 species of birds and up to 166 species of the country’s orchids, at Parque Nacional Sierra de Bahoruco. The park is a variation of dry forest becoming cloud forest and Hispaniolan pine forests at high elevations. It is one of the most fascinating parks for scientists because of its limestone subterrain. While it is currently under threat due to illegal farming and felling in the southern portion, there’s hope that the damage done is being identified and stopped before it’s too late.
On the southern tip of Pedernales, Parque Nacional Jaragua provides a habitat for the cute pink flamingo, among other species. It also encompasses mangroves, beaches, Taíno caves, and the Oviedo Lagoon.
Parque Nacional Isla Cabritos, also in the southwest and a popular excursion from Barahona province, is a tiny island within Lago Enriquillo, the largest lake in the Caribbean in which roams the largest population of American crocodiles, endemic iguanas, and over 60 bird species. While the island itself is currently closed to visitors as of publication time, Lago Enriquillo remains open and is a great choice for birders and crocodile lovers.
The east coast of the DR, off the Samaná Peninsula, is home to the mystical Parque Nacional Los Haitises with its rich variety of mangroves but also its giant rock formations jutting out of the water, best explored by boat. It is home to populations of frigates and brown boobies. Along its shores, some tucked away and others seafront, are Taíno caves with cavernous chambers filled with petroglyphs and bats.
Equally impressive on the southeastern tip of the DR below the Punta Cana region is the Parque Nacional del Este, starting in Boca de Yuma and stretching out to Bayahibe. It consists of dry, flat terrain with tropical forests and limestone bedrock. There are Taíno caves to explore on foot or underwater. The park also comprises the stunning offshore islands of Saona and Catalina and their coral reefs, supporting frigate populations, the endangered paloma coronita (white crowned pigeon), and the most important turtle-nesting site of the country at Isla Saona.
Along the northwestern coast of the country is the Parque Nacional Monte Cristi, a range of subtropical dry forest with towering cliffs rising dramatically over the Atlantic. The most impressive is El Morro, a limestone mesa towering 213 meters (700 feet) above sea level and facing a gorgeous stretch of beach. The park also counts offshore islands, including Cayos Siete Hermanos, which protect colonies of brown pelicans, great egrets, and frigate birds, coastal lagoons with mangroves, and freshwater pools. Coral reefs stretch from El Morro to Punta Rucia. It’s one of the least visited parks despite its uniqueness.
Northeast of Monte Cristi is another of my favorite protected areas, the Estero Hondo Marine Mammal Sanctuary with the largest population of manatees. You can observe them from a lookout tower or go paddleboarding on the lagoon. For even more off-the-beaten-track national parks, look into Parque Nacional Saltos de La Jalda in Miches, protecting stunning waterfalls, and Parque Aniana Vargas in Cotuí.
Just 12 miles east of Santo Domingo, adjacent to the international airport, is one of the first and smallest national parks. Parque Nacional Submarino La Caleta is a popular dive excursion from Boca Chica for its marinelife and shipwreck—though not better than the diving you’ll find off the coast of Bayahibe within the Parque Nacional del Este.
Dominicans from around the island will tell you: they love Santo Domingo at night. Whether it’s the live music, the trendy clubs, or sidewalk bistros facing lantern lit, cobblestoned plazas—there’s something magical and energizing about this city after dusk. Blame it on the romantic ballads and catchy beats of the country’s national music ringing all over its neighborhoods. Each day of the week in La Capital brings another “place to be,” so keep an eye out for the latest, including happy hour specials, by consulting www.quehacerhoy.com.do.
Get started by hitting up a colmado for some cold Presidente beers, music, and local vibes—there are some fantastic no-name ones in the Ciudad Colonial, particularly on Calle Pale Hincado, at the corner of Arzobispo Portes. Then go for a happy hour al fresco in the Ciudad Colonial or at a fancy hotel bar on the Malecón or in the Piantini District. And then go dancing.
In the Ciudad Colonial, you’ll find a whole row of bars on Calle Hostos, which intersects with Calle El Conde, and some fancy spots a block north of the Parque Colón. For a night of seeing and being seen, dress casual chic and head to Lulú Tasting Bar (Calle Arzobispo Meriño 151, corner of Padre Billini, 6pm-3am daily), one of the trendiest lounge-like places to hang out after work hours or on weekends with a gorgeous outdoor terrace and an equally attractive interior of tables and dim lit bars filled with top liquors. The bartenders are friendly and the food here is good.
For live merengue music with bites, there’s the brand-new Jalao (Calle El Conde 103, tel. 809/689-9509, no cover), conveniently located across Parque Colón, opened by the owners of Lulu’s and Pat’e Palo. Dress appropriately for this one if you go in the evening.
For more of a chill-out bar party vibe, the popular chain Onno’s (Ciudad Colonial, Calle Hostos 57, corner of Calle El Conde, tel. 809/689-1183, 9pm-3am, drinks US$4-10) never disappoints and attracts more foreigners. The volume and the mood rise as the clock strikes twelve, like at most watering holes in the area.
La Cacibajagua (Calle Mercedes #319, corner of Sánchez, tel. 809/333-9060, Tue.-Sun., 10pm-2am) is another solid bet for a laid back and funky atmosphere, with DJs spinning rock, old school, and alternative music in a dim lit, cozy colonial building that spreads out into a courtyard. Expect a diverse, eclectic, 30-something crowd, and occasional live music.
You won’t see a sign outside, but El Sartén (Calle Hostos 153, tel. 809-686-9621, 10pm-2am, no cover) is a local dance spot and bar for the older crowd, playing Latin beats in a small space that gets crowded late at night. Most head here after Onno’s, just a couple of doors down. If you’re up for dancing in a crowded and more hip space, the small disco Bio Bar (across Falafel Restaurant, Calle Sanchez 125, tel. 829/766-8122, 11pm-3am, no cover) works for after midnight stops. The DJ spins a variety of international dance tunes while the light and smoke effects are full on. Head to the second floor and dance freely wherever you’re standing.
Parada 77 (Calle Isabela La Católica 255, one street before Plaza de España, tel. 809/221-7880, 7pm-1am Mon.-Thurs. and Sun., 7pm-3am Sat., no cover) is the preferred, casual hot spot in the Ciudad Colonial, with a twenty to thirty-something crowd dancing the night away to merengue, bachata, and salsa on a dimly lit open floor inside a colonial building. There’s a doorway to a back courtyard, as well, where you’ll find more couples twirling under the stars on a second floor. If you’re solo, don’t be afraid to ask a guy or gal to dance! Many also like to take a breather outside on the sidewalk with their drinks. This is a popular stop on Sundays after the outdoor Bonyé concert at the nearby San Francisco Ruins. Look out for any weekday live bands on the social media site.
Club Murcielago (formerly Guacara Taína, Av. Mirador del Sur 655, tel.809/533-1051, 9pm-2am Tues.-Sun., US$7) was popular in its heyday, but is now more of a tourist club, where newcomers experience the thrill of dancing inside a cavernous chamber underneath the Parque Mirador del Sur. Music ranges from merengue to contemporary genres like rap.
Jet Set (Av. Independencia 2253, tel. 809/535-4145, 9pm-3am daily, US$7) is the one nightclub that remains while others come and go like the wind—it’s been around at least 40 years. Skyline views of the city add to excellent live merengue and salsa bands during the week, including a popular live bachata night on Mondays that’s not to be missed.
Speaking of a jet-set crowd, mix and mingle with Dominican professionals and business travelers at the gorgeous Vertygo 101 (JW Marriott, Av. Winston Churchill 93, Piantini District, tel. 809/807-1717, drinks US$6-20). Bring your bathing suit if you dare, for a dip in the transparent, infinity pool while you sip on cocktails and nibble from the tasty bar bite menu. And don’t forget to stand on the glass floor terrace, where you can stare at your toes 101 feet above Avenida Winston Churchill.
East of the Ozama River, across the bridge and off the beaten path from the tourist-trail of the Malecón is another favorite among young Dominicans, Euphoria (Calle Venezuela #15, across from Burger King), on a street famous for its string of clubs and bars, most of which are ultra-local and play Dominican beats. Just say “La Venezuela” to a taxi driver and he’ll know where to go. Leave the valuables at home and go with a local if you can.
If you’re a salsa fan, the place to be is Discoteca El Águila (Av. San Vincente de Paul 20, tel. 829/578-3434, 9pm-4am Wed., 9pm-3am Fri.-Sat., 3pm-1am Sun., no cover), where you’ll see some of the country’s best salseros.
Best Barhopping Circuit in Santo Domingo
Start off in the Colonial City, where the happy hour buzz gets going at sunset—have a beer at a local colmado to warm up, and then go for some sangria at Tasca, overlooking the lit Alcázar de Colón. Afterwards, head over to Lulú Tasting Bar where the young and fabulous mingle over tapas and wine or a number of premium cocktails on an outdoor colonial terrace. From there, walk over to Doubles, a popular bar that fills up early.
Take it up a notch with a taxi ride to the Malecón and park yourself at Parada Cerveza, for some Brugal rum or Bohemia over loud merengue and the sea breeze blowing from across the avenue. Feel like a fancier vibe? Continue on with a taxi hop to the open-air Vertygo 101 Lounge & Bar, at JW Marriott, with panoramic views over the city center.
When you’re ready and warmed up for more music with your drinks, grab another taxi and head to the first drive-through bar in the Dominican Republic at El Trompo (Av. Tiradentes, Ensanche Naco, tel. 809/878-5827), with happy hour from 6pm-10pm. You could also end your night back in the Ciudad Colonial, where patrons are packed on small dance floors under dim lights while the salsa, son, and merengue echo out onto the cobblestoned streets, starting with Onno’s.
Then stumble down to Bio—just a couple of steps over—to dance some more. If you’re able to leave the exhilarating mood there, walk over to Parada 77 for even more dancing, some of which spills onto the sidewalk, or grab a taxi to La Cacibajagua—a hip and funky lounge set in a colonial building, with a DJ spinning old-school R&B to world beats.
West of U.S. 169, Route 66 through Tulsa follows 11th Street downtown past several neon Route 66 signs, murals, and old motor courts, including the Desert Hills (near Yale St.). An older alignment zigzags less than one mile north of 11th Street on Admiral Place, traveling west to Lewis Avenue, then south to 2nd Street—but the one-way streets make this route tricky to follow.
To take the more direct post-1932 alignment, follow 11th Street west all the way to the Arkansas River, where it turns south into Southwest Boulevard. Tulsa is fairly easy to navigate, and most sights are located less than a mile from Route 66.
Sights in Tulsa
Downtown Tulsa is encircled within a loop of freeways and highways—U.S. 244 (north), Highways 412 (north) and 75 (east), and State Route 51 (west and south). As Route 66 (11th St.) enters downtown, the road crosses Highway 75; turn north on S. Elgin Avenue to begin exploring the downtown area.
Greenwood Cultural Center
The Greenwood District in Tulsa is an area Booker T. Washington referred to as America’s “Black Wall Street.” The 35-block area was once a vibrant community with the wealthiest black neighborhoods in the south. Not only was it a hotbed of jazz and blues in the 1920s, it housed more than 300 black-owned businesses, including theaters, restaurants, hotels, and law offices.
In June 1921, one of the nation’s worst acts of racial violence broke out in the Greenwood District. The Tulsa Race Riot was instigated by a rumor about a black man assaulting a white woman—and then spun out of control. No one knew what really happened, but most people believe that a 19-year old black man tripped while exiting an elevator and grabbed a white woman’s arm to steady himself. She screamed, and he ran. As the story spread through the town, with each version getting more creative, jealousy over black economic success coupled with inflammatory false reporting led to a riot by an angry white mob. The mob set the Greenwood District on fire and prevented the firefighters from saving the buildings. After 16 hours of rioting, looting, and complete mayhem, hundreds died as Black Wall Street burned to the ground. An estimated 10,000 black people were left homeless, and the riot was responsible for wiping out nearly all of the prosperity and success the Greenwood district had achieved up to that time.
The Greenwood Cultural Center (322 N. Greenwood Ave., 918/596-1026, 9am-5pm Mon.-Fri., free) has a valuable collection of historical memorabilia and photos of the area before, during, and after the riot. Although most of Greenwood District was burned to the ground, the black community persevered and opened businesses such as The Warren Hotel (105 N. Greenwood St.), located down the street from the cultural center. The Warren Hotel was listed in the historic Negro Motorist Green Book.
John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park
Built as a space of healing and hope in response to the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park (321 N. Detroit, 918/295-5009, 8am-8pm daily, free) opened in 2010 and presents the role of African-Americans in Oklahoma. A 25-foot memorial tower depicts the history of the African-American struggle—from Africa to North America—and stands near three 16-foot granite sculptures based on actual pictures from the 1921 riot.
Woody Guthrie Center
Woody Guthrie’s progressive political views rustled the feathers of Cold War conservatives, but it can’t be denied that he composed some of the most iconic, patriotic songs of our nation; his anthems about the Dust Bowl gave a voice to so many who had lost so much. The Woody Guthrie Center (102 E. Brady St., 918/574-2710, 10am-6pm Tues.-Sun., 10am-9pm First Fridays, $8) offers a comprehensive archive of more than 10,000 photos, journals, notes, illustrations, and sketches, as well as the lyrics to “This Land is Your Land” written in Guthrie’s own hand. The 12,000-square foot facility, on a corner of the Brady District, includes exhibits, a research facility, educational programs, field trips, and songwriting sessions.
Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame
The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame (5 South Boston, 918/928-5299, $15-20), once housed in the Greenwood Cultural Center, now lives in the historic Art Deco Union Depot. They host an ongoing concert series, cultural events, and blues, gospel, and jazz performances. An on-site museum exhibits memorabilia, photographs, and historical information about greats like Chet Baker and Jimmy Rushing.
Art Deco Architecture
Born in the 1920s, Art Deco was characterized by bold geometric shapes and motifs of sharply defined chevrons (“v” shapes), terra-cotta details, stylized floral patterns, low-relief designs, strong colors, and forms inspired by Native American artwork. At the turn of the 20th century, Tulsa changed from a small frontier settlement into a boomtown when oil was discovered. It soon became the “Oil Capital of the World,” and oil barons built incredible skyscrapers and beautiful buildings. As a result, Tulsa has one of the largest concentrations of Art Deco architecture in the United States.
Downtown Tulsa is a great place for a concentrated collection of some of the most stunning examples of Art Deco architecture in the United States. The Philtower and Philcade buildings, the Tulsa Club, the Atlas Life building, the Public Service Company of Oklahoma, and the Boston Avenue Methodist Church are a great start.
For a list of almost 40 Art Deco buildings throughout Tulsa, visit the Tulsa Preservation Commission (175 East 2nd St., Ste. 570, 918/576-5687). The Tulsa Historical Society (2445 S. Peoria Ave., 918/712-9484, 10am-4pm Tues.-Sat., $5) provides Art Deco walking tours.
Tulsa Art Deco Museum
Tulsa Art Deco Museum (511 S. Boston Ave., 918/804-2669, 8am-6pm Mon.-Fri., 11am-6pm Sat.) is a small but informative museum about the design and era of Art Deco culture. A collection of artifacts such as jewelry, advertising artwork, silverware, and clothing show how pervasive the style was and how it became a part of everyday life. The museum is located in the lobby of the gorgeous Philcade Building; a gift shop and docent-led tours are available upon request.
Creek Nation Council Oak Park
Tulsa was created as part of the Indian Removal Act (the Trail of Tears). In the 1830s, Choctaw, Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Chickasaw, Cheyenne, Comanche, Apache, Seminole, and other tribes were relocated to this region after being forced to surrender their land east of the Mississippi River to the federal government. Their new land eventually became the state of Oklahoma.
Located south of the Highway 64/51/75 interchange and near the Arkansas River is Creek Council Oak Park (1750 S. Cheyenne Ave.), where a large burr oak tree marks the traditional ceremonial ground chosen by the Lochapoka clan of the Creek Indians. After being forced off their land in 1836, and losing 161 members on the horrific Trail of Tears, 469 tribe members arrived on this hill overlooking the Arkansas River. They named this place Tulasi (Tulsa is derived from the Lochapoka word tulasi, which means “old town”). The Tulsa-Lochapoka gathered here for ceremonies until 1896. The park is often referred to as Tulsa’s first City Hall, and commemorative tribal ceremonies are held each year.
Philbrook Museum of Art
The Philbrook Museum of Art (2727 S. Rockford Rd., 918/749-7941, 10am-5pm Tues.-Sun., 10am-8pm Thurs., $9) was a 72-room mansion built during Tulsa’s gilded age, when oil barons had more money than they knew what to do with. Built in 1926, the mansion was designed to look like an Italian villa. Today, the property is surrounded by 23 acres of beautifully manicured gardens and houses collections of art from all over the world. To get there from E. 11th Street (Route 66), turn left (south) on S. Peoria Avenue and drive 1.5 miles. Turn left (east) on E. 27th Place; the Philbrook will be one block straight ahead.
At the entrance of the Tulsa Expo Center is a 76-foot tall, 22-ton statue of an oil worker standing over a (real) oil derrick. The Golden Driller (4145 E. 21st St., 918/596-2100, free) was built in 1966 as a monument for petroleum industry workers at a time when Oklahoma was considered the oil capital of the world. The Golden Driller was built to withstand 200-mph tornadoes; although he has been vandalized and assaulted by shotgun blasts, the city patches him up and slaps on a new paint job. It’s a Tulsa icon that is built to last.
To get there from E. 11th Street (Route 66), turn left (south) on S. Sandusky Avenue. In one mile, turn right (west) on E. 21st Street. Take an immediate right into the Tulsa Expo Center parking lot. The Golden Driller is in the front of the Expo Center.
The Gilcrease Museum (1400 N. Gilcrease Museum Rd., 888/655-2278, 10am-5pm Tues.-Sun., 10am-8pm Thurs., $9) sits on 460 acres with 23 themed gardens and features more than 10,000 paintings, prints, drawing, and sculptures by 400 artists from colonial times to the present. They also have an unparalleled collection of Native American artifacts, historical manuscripts, and art.
To get there from E. 11th Street (Route 66), turn right (north) on S. Denver Avenue and drive one mile. Turn left (west) on W. Edison Street. Drive one mile to N. Gilcrease Museum Road and turn right (north). The museum will be on the left.
Cyrus Avery Plaza
As Southwest Boulevard crosses the Arkansas River leaving downtown, larger-than-life bronze sculptures, flags from the eight Route 66 states, and a huge Route 66 sign hang over the Mother Road at Cyrus Avery Plaza (Southwest Blvd. and Riverside Dr., dawn-dusk daily, free), which pays homage to the man considered by many to be the “Father of Route 66.” A sculpture by Robert Summers depicts Avery climbing out of his Model T to help a farmer in a horse-drawn carriage coming west from Tulsa’s oil fields; Avery’s wife, daughter, and cat are also in the car. The sculpture is about 60 feet long and 15 feet high and weighs nearly 20,000 pounds. Free parking is available near the pedestrian bridge that crosses 11th Street.
Route 66 Village
Train enthusiasts will appreciate Route 66 Village (3770 Southwest Blvd., 918/609-0405, dawn-dusk daily, free), home to a restored Frisco 4500 steam engine that carried passengers from St. Louis through Tulsa to Oklahoma City from 1940 to 1947. A business lounge car was built in 1929 with six rooms, a kitchen, and a lounge area. Also on-site is an oil tank car built in 1917 and a 154-foot tall oil derrick, currently the largest in North America.
Brady Arts District
The Brady Arts District is the oldest section in Tulsa, with red-brick buildings and an urban garden. This walkable neighborhood is a vibrant hotspot for artists, craftspeople, and merchants, with restaurants, nightclubs, galleries, and a popular food truck court. The Art Crawl occurs the first Friday of every month with live music, chocolate-making, and glass-blowing demonstrations.
Admiral Twin Drive-In
The Admiral Twin Drive-in (7355 E. Easton St., 918/392-9959, opens at dusk, $7) is located on the pre-1930s alignment of Route 66. This classic drive-in from the early 1950s shows blockbuster films on two nine-story screens. Two tickets, popcorn, and a drink will run you less than $20—a better deal than most indoor movie theaters. Your car must have FM radio to hear the movie. Get there early, as this place is popular.
For documentaries, foreign films, or an indie flick, Circle Cinema (10 S. Lewis Ave., 918/592-3456, office 918/585-3405, $6.50-9.50) is the place. This is the oldest historic movie theater in Tulsa: The theater opened in 1928, when the price of a ticket was only a dime, and a nickel would buy an orange juice and a funnel-shaped cup of peanuts.
At the southeastern tip of the Dominican Republic and accessible on foot from Bayahibe or via a short drive from La Romana town, the magnificent Parque Nacional del Este (9am-5pm daily, entry fee US$2.20) has been a protected nature reserve since 1975 and is the crown jewel of the southeastern coast.
Approximately 790 square kilometers (305 square miles) of the reserve encompass both land and sea. On land there is a subtropical rainforest and a dry forest that can be explored via a 2-kilometer (1.24-mile) trail known as the Sendero del Padre Nuestro. It will take you to Taíno caves with pictographs and the springs around which they once lived. The sea portion of the park includes the popular offshore islands of Saona, Catalina, and Catalinita, as well as the natural pool area of La Palmilla. There are over 400 caves within the park. The most well-known is Cueva del Puente, easily hiked on foot.
The park is home to at least 539 species of flowers. It also makes a great birding excursion. It is home to 144 types of birds, including unique ones such as the brown pelican, the red-footed boobie, the barn owl, and the Hispaniolan parrot. A large frigate bird colony convenes at Bahia de las Calderas, a bay on the southern coast of the park.
You can also expect to see sea turtles on Saona Island. This is the most important nesting site in the country, and nesting season lasts from March through November and attracts hawksbill, green, and leatherback species. Spotted and bottlenose dolphins roam the seas surrounding the islands, as well as the rare humpback whale and manatees. On dry land, the endangered rhinoceros iguana range up to 1 meter (4.5 feet) in length and as heavy as 9 kilograms (20 pounds).
Caving in Parque Nacional del Este
With well over 400 caves, the park is a spelunker’s dream. But even for the casual explorer, many are easily hiked on foot, such as the well-known Cueva del Puente. The underground wet Cueva de Chicho is filled with a crystal clear manantial or freshwater spring, around which you can spot over 20 original Taíno petroglyphs. Open Water and Advanced Divers can indulge in 9-meter (30-foot) to over 30-meter (100-foot) waters filled with the larger Caribbean critters, along with stalactite and stalagmite formations. Contact Scubafun (Calle Principal 28, Bayahibe, tel. 809/833-0003, single-tank dive, US$84pp.) for more information; they specialize in cave diving in this area.
Getting There and Around
To tour the various areas of the park, whether the trail or the islands, you must be accompanied by a licensed guide. The park’s own guides are available at both park entrances (from either the Boca de Yuma side or from Bayahibe). Note that camping is not permitted. The best way to tour the sea portion of the park is to hop on a boat excursion with one of the tour companies in Bayahibe. If you have time, or you’re a cave diver, throw in the Padre Nuestro Trail.
If you’re arriving by car, you’ll use the western entrance to the park, in Bayahibe. You can reach the entrance by taxi or on foot from downtown Bayahibe also. If you’re coming from the east (Punta Cana), the entrance is at Boca de Yuma, and will need to be reached by car.
The Dominican Republic population is a diverse mix of various ethnicities: Taíno, African, and European. This melting pot of cultures and backgrounds makes for a fascinating destination with various influences showing up in cuisine to music, dance, and religious ceremonies. The majority of the population is considered criollo or a mix of African and Spanish, but there are also many Dominican Haitians, as well as those of a more Spanish descent (usually in the upper echelons economically). Perhaps it’s this multi-continental blend that makes Dominicans such a warm, hospitable people with a zest for life I haven’t seen anywhere else.
Dominicans believe in courtesy, hospitality, and kindness to strangers. The more you travel into the countryside, the more evidence of this you’ll see. Folks will welcome you into their homes. I was once desperate for a bathroom while driving in the hills of Constanza and stopped at a Dominican home to ask if I could use their toilet and their answer was, of course! Life for Dominicans is about making the most of every day, no matter how little you have and giving thanks to God. It’s about smiling, enjoying, dancing the days and nights away, and loving with all they have—they are die-hard romantics. You’ll always hear music playing and people laughing or joking around.
And if you think Parisians have perfected the art of sidewalk people watching, then you need to come to the Dominican Republic. Sitting on the corner and watching the world go by with a cup of rum or a Presidente is the number one activity (which many criticize as laziness, but you have to appreciate their ability to be “in the now”), perhaps followed closely by playing dominoes.
Family is the core of Dominican life. At any chance they get, Dominicans will tell you it’s all about la familia (and they show grave concern if you say you don’t have children or a spouse). On the weekends, especially Sunday, it’s on full display with everyone flocking to the beach or the river, cooking together, playing, and enjoying their time off. Nothing is ever done “solo”—that’s just a foreign concept. Sticking together, through thick or thin, is second nature for Dominicans. The mother is the central glue that keeps the unit together. Her children worship her, and she would do anything for them.
While Dominicans are all about sharing their plate of food or drinks, watching their neighbors’ kids, or running to the aid of a friend who calls in need, it’s not all roses all the time—there are issues of race and class, and many upper-class folks don’t mix with anyone who isn’t in their circle, as judged according to their family’s history and wealth. That’s true of most of the once-colonized Caribbean.
Dominicans are often criticized for being too focused on race and color. They call people by their skin color, for instance, and it is considered completely normal here. While it isn’t usually intended in a discriminatory manner, it can be surprising and even offensive to foreigners, especially from the United States. If you’re darker skinned, you’ll hear folks calling out to you with “negro” or “morena,” and if you’re lighter skinned, “rubio.” And there are a dozen other words for all the shades in between. Many Dominicans, however, recognize the beauty in their mixed heritage and will invite you to do the same.
Things You Might Not Know about Dominicans
Dominicans have their own way of interacting and doing things, some of which might surprise you and others that will make you chuckle.
They often calls others “mi amor” (my love) or “cariño” (darling).
Dominican time is real—ahorita might translate into “right now” but it could mean tomorrow or some point in the future.
Whenever entering a public space, Dominicans greet everyone with “saludos” or “buen día,” whether it’s a bus, a taxi, a restaurant, or a clinic. Not to do so would be considered rude.
Sunday is the noisiest day of the week and the biggest for partying and drinking. It’s also family day.
Dominicans often use facial expressions in lieu of words—they will move their lips forward to point to a place, or wag their index finger to say no.
Whatsapp is king—phone credits cost money, so most Dominicans use their smartphones with Wi-Fi.
It’s never loud enough—big speakers are popular, in the shops, at home, or even placed in the back of the car.
Dominicans love their beaches as much as you do. And they have legal access to all of them because all beaches are public.
Superstition runs deep—certain things you do or don’t do can cause bad luck, including opening the fridge while ironing, putting your purse on the floor, or not saying “God bless you” to a newborn.
Carnaval celebrations and festivals are a cornerstone of Dominican culture; it’s hard to find a month in the year where there isn’t something to celebrate.
Fiestas patronales or patron saint festivals are held at various times of the year in various towns, and are a great expression of the modern side of the DR’s Latino culture–from foods to live music, drumming, and all-night partying. These parties last a little over a week (known as the novena or nine days prior to the actual patron saint day). Barahona’s are held in January, for instance, while Constanza’s take place in September.
In San Pedro de Macorís, the first day of the year kicks off with the Guloya Festival when Afro-Dominican revelers–descendants of late 19th-century migrants from British-speaking Caribbean islands–dressed in vibrant Junkanoo-like costumes dance their way through the streets, to various drums and flutes. The Guloyas’ dance is classified by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Patrimony of Humanity.
An absolute cultural treat is a visit to the DR during this most festive month of the year: Carnaval celebrations take place in major towns and cities across the island every Sunday afternoon of the month, including Santo Domingo (east and west), Santiago, La Vega, Bonao, Río San Juan, La Romana, Punta Cana, and Puerto Plata.
Each of these regions has their local carnival personality and traditional devil costumes–such as the Lechones in Santiago or the Taimáscaros of Puerto Plata–as well as comparsas and Dominican folklore characters. You could literally hop around the country all month and experience the carnival revelry every Sunday. The season culminates at the end of the month, sometimes the first Sunday of March, with a big national parade on Santo Domingo’s Malecón featuring the winning carnival groups from each region competing for the grand prize while entertaining spectators.
Santo Domingo’s Ciudad Colonial is where Easter Semana Santa parades take place–often on Good Friday–including a national evening mass at the Cathedral on Easter Saturday. Semana Santa is a celebrated time for Christians around the country, although these days it’s also a reason for Dominicans to skip the cities, head to the beach, and party. It’s a good time to be in Santo Domingo if you want to see the religious processions and a special Easter Saturday evening mass at the cathedral.
Easter Week in Cabral displays the DR’s surviving syncretic religion and African traditions with the Cimarrón Festival, when the cachuas come out with whips and devilish multicolor masks with horns, impersonating the colonial master as well as the abused slave.
Glimpse the Dominican Republic’s Afro-Caribbean pulse at various festivals and ceremonies around the country. Samaná’s annual, outdoor summer harvest festivals, hosted by the local church, is where African American descendants continue their ancestors’ 19th-century celebrations of thanks for crops, rain, and earth with the beat of drums, chanting, and traditional foods like johnnycakes, ginger beer, and coconut rice.
Puerto Plata’s annual cultural festival is a great time offering folk music, traditional African tribal dances, salsa, and merengue. There are also many crafts exhibits by local artists.
The Merengue Festival or Festival del Merengue y Ritmos Caribeños takes over Santo Domingo’s Malecón at Plaza Juan Barón park, with over 30 or artists performing all night over a weekend-long fest of all things Dominican.
Puerto Plata hosts the annual Festival del Merengue–usually at the end of the month–with a range of the best of Dominican artists.
Cattle festivals are a more authentic expression of the DR’s still dominating agricultural and countryside spirit, when cowboys and their families descend on the town and festivities include horseback riding for all ages and games with plenty of music. Puerto Plata’s Feria Ganadera El Cupey is a great example.
The biggest concert in the country, Festival Presidente, is an all-out party till the wee hours of the morning at the Olympic Stadium, where the beer flows and Dominican fans dance in the aisles, screaming out lyrics under the stars and occasional fireworks. The event takes place every two years over three nights, from around 6pm to 3am.
The annual Dominican Republic Jazz Festival attracts local Dominican as well as international artists with incredible jazz performances across various cities over the course of five days. From Santiago to Sosúa, Puerto Plata city and Cabarete–on the beach–it’s a nice time out. Book you rooms in advance as hotels sell out quickly.
Colonial Fest is a celebration of arts, crafts, cuisine, and all things Dominican, and takes place in Santo Domingo’s Colonial Zone. Nights are filled with outdoor concerts on Plaza de España or at Parque Colón. They can be late in posting schedules, so don’t miss out on rooms while waiting on that.
In November, an annual Merengue Típico Festival takes place in the heart of Guananico. It’s an authentic insight into Dominican culture.
New Year’s Eve (December 31) is just as big in the DR as other countries: Dominicans take to the streets and celebrate on the Malecón and in local bars with all-night music and dancing.
Nightlife and entertainment in Lahaina is fun and varied, from cultural events to live music and mingling to late-night dive bars. Many events are also free, and several are family-friendly.
For a heavy heaping of Hawaiian cuteness, the free keiki hula shows at the Lahaina Cannery Mall (1221 Honoapi‘ilani Hwy., by Safeway) take place at 1pm Saturday-Sunday on the center stage.
Magic Dinner Theater
At Warren and Annabelle’s (900 Front St., 808/667-6244, 5pm and 7:30pm Mon.-Sat., $64-104), any skepticism you might have had about attending a magic show in Maui will immediately be erased. Much more than a simple sleight-of-hand show, this enchanting evening revolves around the legend of Annabelle, a ghost whose swanky parlor you have the pleasure of dining in for the evening. After making your way through a secret entrance, you are welcomed into a plush lounge where the sound of piano keys accompanies the clink of oversize wine glasses.
The high level of service starts when you enter, and the refined waitstaff zip about with the air of a caffeinated butler. Settling into an overstuffed chair, guests can relax with some beverages from the bar and dine on gourmet pupus. Once dinner is through, it’s on to the intimate 78-seat theater, and be warned, if you sit in the front row, you’ll end up becoming a part of the show. Two parts magic and three parts comedy, this show will leave you laughing. Rates are $64 for the show only, but do yourself a favor and spend the extra $40 for the cocktails and appetizers package. Due to Maui County liquor laws, this show is only for ages 21 or older. The 7:30pm show is added during busier times of the year. Reservations are strongly recommended.
‘Ulalena and Maui Theatre
‘Ulalena (878 Front St., 808/856-7900, 6:30pm Mon.-Fri., $60-80) is a captivating and sophisticated show that details the history of the Hawaiian Islands through chant, dance, and visual effects in the 680-seat Maui Theatre. Performed without words, it utilizes over 100 different instruments played live. The most expensive tickets allow you to spend 20 minutes with the cast. If you’re a fan of musicals or have an interest in Hawaiian history, this isn’t an evening to be missed. A new show called Kahiko O Lahaina opened at the Maui Theatre, featuring the fascinating history of Lahaina.
Also at the Maui Theatre, Elvis fans will think they’ve died and gone to Graceland when they see a performance of Burn’n Love (878 Front St., 808/856-7900, 7:30pm Mon.-Tues. and Thurs.-Fri., $60-85) by the talented Darren Lee, a longtime Elvis impersonator so convincing you’d swear you were looking at The King.
Friday night is Art Night in Lahaina. In keeping with Lahaina’s status as the cultural center of Maui, three dozen galleries open their doors 7pm-10pm, throw out the welcome mat, set out food and drink, provide entertainment, and usually host a well-known artist or two for this weekly party. Take your time to stroll Front Street from one gallery to the next. Stop and chat with shopkeepers, munch the goodies, sip the wine, look at the pieces on display, corner the featured artist for a comment on his or her work, and soak in the music of the strolling musicians. People dress up, but don’t be afraid to come dressed casually.
Bars and Live Music
Rooted in the grog-shop days of its boisterous port-town past, Lahaina is Maui’s nightlife capital—unless you want to go dancing. Most places close by 11pm, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find live music.
For free, family-friendly live music in a historic outdoor setting, the Lahaina Restoration Foundation hosts a Hawaiian Music Series (6pm-7:30pm last Thurs. of every month) on the lawn of the Baldwin House (Dickenson St. and Front St.) in the center of town. Musical artists vary from month to month, but most sessions involve live music and kanikapila storytelling. Seating is limited at this popular event, and attendees are encouraged to bring a blanket or beach chair to enjoy the show.
The family-friendly Friday Town Party (6pm-9pm 2nd Fri. of every month) is held between the Baldwin House and Wharf Cinema Center. Part of the Maui Fridays series, the free event features everything from live music and keiki competitions to silent auctions and dance performances. Various bars and restaurants feature live music, and most restaurants offer specials valid that night only.
One of the best spots for live entertainment in Lahaina is Fleetwood’s (744 Front St., 808/669-6425), a two-story bar and restaurant that offers the only rooftop perch in Lahaina. This bar was opened by legendary rock musician Mick Fleetwood, and Mick himself has been known to jump in with the band for some impromptu percussion. Live music is offered most frequently on the rooftop bar, beginning around 7pm.
If you’re looking to dance with a young crowd of locals, Lulu’s Lahaina Surf Club (1221 Honoapi‘ilani Hwy., 808/661-0808, until 2am) is the town’s only dance club, located in the Lahaina Cannery Mall. There is usually a $5 cover Saturday night. Other nights of the week sporadically feature live music. While the dance floor is large and there are a couple of pool tables in the back, the mall location detracts from the vintage Lahaina experience. Another problem here is fights.
Both Cool Cat Café (658 Front. St., 808/667-0908) and Kimo’s (845 Front St., 808/661-4811) provide live music during the dinner hour seven nights a week. There isn’t an official dance floor, so the atmosphere is relegated to drinks and mingling.
For karaoke, the most happening place in Lahaina for late-night sake and singing is Kobe (136 Dickenson St., 808/667-5555, until 1am), a steak house, from 9:30pm Friday-Saturday.
If you’re a night owl, Lahaina has a couple of watering holes that stay open until 2am. On Front Street, Spanky’s Riptide (505 Front St., 808/667-2337) in the 505 shopping center on the far southern end is a good place to grab a cheap goblet of PBR, play pool, and engage in conversation with a colorful cast of characters.
For a truly local experience, the legendary dive bar Sly Mongoose (1036 Limahana Place, 808/661-8097) is in the Lahaina industrial park on the inland side of the highway, where visitors don’t go. This is a no-nonsense dive where the beer is cold, the drinks are cheap, and the patrons are regular. This bar isn’t within walking distance from Front Street, so you’ll have to take a cab.
To say that the surf spots on Moloka‘i are empty would be a lie, but a crowded day by Moloka‘i standards would be considered almost empty in Maui. If there are more than three people, maybe four, just go somewhere else. With a little walking (or a high clearance vehicle), it’s still possible to find spots where there’s a good chance you’ll have the waves all to yourself. Since finding surf spots like this is such a rarity in Hawaii, however, it’s not surprising that Moloka‘i locals can be protective of their surf breaks, so following basic surf etiquette here can go a long way.
Remote and empty, West Moloka‘i is best in winter when the swells that send waves to O‘ahu come crashing onto this coast. The difference is that there aren’t 200 people vying for the same wave, and traffic on the highway is nonexistent. While the quality isn’t as good as O‘ahu’s, the surf in western Moloka‘i can be heavy, and only experienced surfers should paddle out on big-wave days.
The best-known and consequently most crowded spot on this end of the island is Sheraton’s at Kepuhi Beach, named after the defunct resort that fronts the beach. Access is sandy and easy, but be wary of occasional shallow boulders while paddling out. The wave is on the left side of the beach, and on better days can be an A-frame that holds to 10 feet. Sheraton’s is a decent spot for intermediate surfers if it’s small, and only for experts if it’s pumping.
If Sheraton’s is too big, drive south to Dixie Maru where a right point break wraps into the bay at sizes half of Sheraton’s. If Dixie’s is crowded, meaning more than three people, or if you’re up for a little adventure, a goat trail leads back into the kiawe trees and to Kaunala Beach, where another right break bends in toward the shore. The takeoff can be a little difficult since you sit off the rocks, but it’s a fun wave to get a few turns in when Sheraton’s is all closed out.
On the southern end of the island, the beaches around Hale O Lono harbor are able to pick up swells any time of year and can often be heavy in winter. The wind can be fierce in the afternoon, and the murky conditions conjure fears of toothy predators, but there’s a 95 percent chance you’ll have the waves to yourself. If the wind is down, the waves are up, and the water is clear, the beaches off Hale O Lono can offer some of the most adventurous surf on Moloka‘i. Follow the dirt road from Maunaloa town straight downhill to the shore, seven miles later. A 4WD vehicle is recommended.
Since Kaunakakai faces directly south, the best waves are from May through September. Despite the fact that the area boasts miles of shoreline, the majority is blocked by the fringing reef, which makes paddling out virtually impossible. Nevertheless, locals still flock to Kaunakakai Wharf during the big swells of summer. Expect a long paddle, since you have to get out past the reef to get to the waves, but the long paddle is rewarded by Moloka‘i’s best summer wave. Expect a very local crowd, as well as lots of “spongers” (bodyboarders).
The only place for beginners to surf in East Moloka‘i is Waialua Beach, where gentle rollers provide enough push to practice getting up on two feet. While the waves can be fun, it can be shallow at low tide. More advanced surfers can ride waves at Halawa, which can be powerful and barreling on the largest swells of winter. If a group of locals paddles out, head back to shore.
If you don’t bring a board on the ferry from Maui (airlines only allow boards up to six feet), the best place to rent is at Beach Break (2130 Maunaloa Hwy., 808/567-6091, 10am-4pm Mon.-Sat.) at the Holomua Junction, between Kaunakakai and the airport. They have the largest selection on the island, and the owner, Zack, can provide info on where you should and shouldn’t paddle out. Rent longboards ($30 per day, $150 per week), shortboards ($24 per day, $120 per week), a full range of boogie boards, beach gear, stand-up paddleboard equipment, and accessories. Check out the surf art, shot right here on Moloka‘i.
In central Kaunakakai, rent Soft Top surfboards ($25 per day, $100 per week) from Moloka‘i Ocean Tours (40 Ala Malama Ave., Suite 107, 808/553-3290 or 808/298-3055).