The Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti to the west. The 388-kilometer border was established in a series of treaties leaving the Dominican shaped like an irregular triangle. The short side of the triangle is 388 kilometers long, while the two long sides form 1,575 kilometers of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Mona Passage. Cordillera Central is the highest mountain range in the Dominican Republic and in all of the West Indies. The Cordillera Central is home to the four highest peaks in the West Indies: Pico Duarte (3,098 m), La Pelona (3,094 m) and La Rucilla (3,049 m).
The mountains and valleys divide the country into the northern, central, and southwestern regions. The northern region, bordering the Atlantic Ocean, consists of the Atlantic coastal plain, the Northern Mountain Range, the Cibao Valley, and the Samaná Peninsula.
Leaving Puerto Plata in early morning for Santiago, we crossed a landscape of tree-covered mountains, sparsely populated until we arrived just before the city of 1.2 million people. The large Cibao Valley through which we travelled, is the richest area in the Dominican Republic, and provides a wide range of activities from finding fossils to white-water rafting. Most agricultural products are produced in Santiago, second largest urban centre in the country, the real commercial and industrial centre. Santiago is entrepreneurial, boasts clean streets, fine restaurants and is world-famous for its merengue.
The bus stopped at the E. Leon Jimenis Cigar Factory, largest of the 103 cigar factories in the country. Our guide, Julio, intoned over the microphone, "Welcome to the number one cigar factory in our country. For those who smoke, today, you can smoke to your heart's content; for those who don't smoke, today you have a great opportunity to start."
Leaving the cigar factory behind in an appropriate cloud of smoke, we drove for 20 minutes on the four-lane Duarte Highway to stop at a pottery factory, and then, after another 20 minutes, a short distance before Jarabacoa, we turned on a tree-shaded side road and were soon climbing up the Cordillera Central, highest mountain range in the Dominican Republic. Labelled the "Dominican Alps," the mountains were covered with majestic Royal Palms and pines, and myriad types of other trees and shrubs.
Soon, we were at a ranch, dining on tasty Dominican food. I enjoyed the sancocho soup, best that I have tasted during numerous trips to this country.
Climbing into trucks, (tour companies call them jeeps) we made our way on unpaved roads towards a nearby waterfall. Atop the trucks, the view from our vantage point was fantastic: a green-carpeted countryside gently bathed by cool breezes and dotted with trees, dominated by Royal Palms and majestic pines, spread out in all directions. It was an emerald world of enchantment.
We climbed up a mountain trail. Those young, nimble and full of energy seemed to enjoy the ascent. For me and a good number of others, it was tiring.
After 20 minutes, we looked down on the Jimanoa Falls, most picturesque and largest waterfall in the Dominican Republic. With a tree-covered mountain background, the falls were like an ankle bracelet, emphasizing the landscape's charm.
- Puerto Plata accommodation has improved greatly with rare breakdowns of electricity, air conditioning and/or the water systems.
- For affluent travellers who enjoy luxury: the VH Hotels & Resorts (including the Victoria Golf Resort & Beach, the Gran Ventana Beach Resort, and Casa Colonial Beach Resort & Spa), all hidden treasures in Playa Dorada, are the places to stay.
- Currency conversion fluctuates at around 37 pesos to a U.S. dollar; change money in banks; some have branches in the major hotels.
- Drink bottled water only, never from the tap.
- Renting small autos costs some $65 per day, fully insured. Gas costs about $5 per US gallon.
- Meals in top restaurants cost from $25 - $50; in peoples' eating places in town, $5 - $15. Brave types can try the popular street food: boiled green bananas, fried blood sausages, fried beef, fried lungs and fried yucca offered by street vendors.
- While in Puerto Plata, the thing to do is spend a whole day and evening at "Ocean World Adventure Park," for an exciting time with the creatures of the sea, and then for $65, dine amid luxury with one of the finest shows in the world.
- The top sites in Santiago are: the Tomás Morel Museum of Folkloric Art, colourful collection of carnival masks; the Santiago Museum and the Tobacco Museum; the Monument a los Heroes de la Restauracion; from its top, there are amazing views of Santiago and the surrounding area; and the Leon Jimenez Cultural Center, which is the most important tourist site in the city and offers cultural exhibits and performances and a re-created historic cigar factory.
- All prices are quoted in U.S. dollars.
Habeeb Salloum has authored numerous books, his latest: Arab Cooking On A Saskatchewan Homestead: Recipes And Recollections - winner of the Cuisine Canada and The University of Guelph's Silver Canadian Culinary Book Awards in Winnipeg in 2006. He contributes to Forever Young (Oakville), Contemporary Review (Oxford, UK), Canadian World Traveller (Quebec) and the Toronto Star.
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/
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