The eastern half of the island of Hispaniola (shared with Haiti), the Dominican Republic has sat at the crossroads of history and nature since Christopher Columbus set up shop on his way through to the new world. Offshore, shipwrecks dominate the underwater scene with pinnacles a close second. The Dominican Republic is a hotbed for all-inclusive resorts, but don't limit yourself to the confines of the resort because there's a heady mix of cultural and natural offerings that few Caribbean islands can rival. Diving here is done by region and each region offers its unique taste of undersea adventure. And, when the whales come down from their northern feeding grounds to give birth, the Silver Bank off the Dominican Republic becomes a nursery and one of he world's top places to encounter these majestic creatures in the ocean.
On the south coast, La Romana offers the diversity of a nearby city with the adventure of diving top sites such as Catalina Island, Bayahibe and Saona Island, in the National Park of the East. These sites are hot spots for the bigger marine life such as turtles, grouper and large shoals of schooling fish.
On the far eastern tip of the island, Punta Cana offers a plethora of shallow dives, the famed La Cueva reef, as well as the vibrant wreck of the Monica. It can get quite blowy in the winter.
Close to Puerto Plata on the remote northern coast of the Dominica Republic, Playa Dorado is all-inclusive central. The 45-meter/148-foot ex-cargo boat the Zingara tops the list here, but don't miss 5-Rocks and especially Airport Wall, perhaps the most unspoiled of the region's dives.
When to go:
June through September provide the best diving months. There is rain and Atlantic currents during October through May.
Marine Life Season:
Humpback whales migrate past here to breed in the months of February and March.
When to Get the Best Deals:
August to October.
What to Pack:
3/2 mm wetsuit, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, sturdy shoes that can get wet for hiking, light jacket for evening cool in winter, DAN card.
Seasonal averages: 25°C/77°F in winter and 29°C/84°F in summer.
Seasonal averages: 27°C/82°F in winter and 30°C/86°F in summer.
Dominican Peso. US Dollar and credit cards are widely accepted.
Valid passport; check with local immigration office for visa requirements.
Included in your airfare.
What to Eat:
Spanish dishes with Caribbean Creole flair is one way to describe Dominican Republic food. A popular meal is La Bandera (the flag) that includes stewed meat over white rice with beans, fried green plantains and salad. Sancocho (stew) is different in each region influenced by what is available locally - chicken, beef, pork, potatoes, pumpkin, plantain, yams, rice, various vegetables, etc. Try the flan (custard) for dessert served with coconut or sweet tropical fruit sauces.
What to Drink:
The native drink of the Dominican Republic is mamajuana a concoction of rum aged in a bottle with tree bark and herbs. Although traditionally crafted for personal consumption, now mamajuana is available in many bars.The three well-known, quality rums are Brugal, Bermudez, and Barcelo. Presidente is the only local Dominican Republic beer, which is brewed in Santo Domingo. .
Visit Old Town in Santo Domingo, including the Columbus House built by Christopher Columbus' son; trek the Los Tres Ojos National Park; whitewater rafting; ATV in Punta Cana; take Jungle Safari Tour;
Customs and Culture:
The interesting blend of European, African and native Taíno Indian cultures shows in every aspect of Dominican Republic's food, music and art.
Merengue Festival in October in Puerta Plata; Santo Domingo Carnival in February; Latin Music Festival in June.
Electricity and Internet:
110V/60Hz; Internet available at most resorts.
Drink the water?
Bottled water recommended.
Spanish is the official language, but English is widely spoken, along with French, German and Italian in tourist areas.
Amazing Marine Life
Weighing in at as much as 1350 kilograms/three thousand pounds, these gentle mammals look something like a cross between a walrus and a pug dog. They are curious and gregarious by nature, often surfacing near boats and docks, especially in Samana Bay.
This enormous baleen whale, growing up to 15 meters/50 feet in length, feeds on small plankton, and migrates past the Dominican Republic in February and March to breed in the warm waters of the Silver Bank.
In the puffer family, these small spiky fish looks quite impressive on camera.
This elongated silvery fish looks remarkably like a swimming flute.
Spotted Snake Eel:
Small, but unique, eel with wonderful spotted and mottled markings.
Covered in spots and seen on almost every dive, they usually hang out on a nook and just watch life on the reef.
A busy denizen of the reef, this purple-spotted almost see-through shrimp mans cleaning stations throughout the reef.
Common throughout the Caribbean, it's almost impossible to find without the expert eyes of a good guide.
A smaller relative of the eagle ray (and the shark), these rays often hang out on sandy bottoms, but can also be seen swimming around the reefs. Keep your distance from its venomous barbed tail.
Top Dive Spots
Located in the calm bay of a protected marine park, you can find beds of sea grass alongside the coral reefs. Look for sea fans, arrowhead crabs, green anemones, pedersen shrimp, fire worms, sea cucumbers, hermit crabs, lobsters, eagle rays, manatees, and turtles, as well as whales, sharks, and dolphins.
The reef meets the deep on this wall dive. While checking out the reef life, such as purple sea fans and hard corals, watch for large pelagic fish, including grouper, hammerhead sharks, black-tip reef sharks, large rays, and whales.
Open ocean where humpback whales come to calve in February and March.
This sunken tugboat shelters yellow goatfish, corals, and a variety of other marine life. The boat itself is covered in small hard corals, and its instruments are still visible, making this site a favorite for underwater photographers.
Cabarete's Three Rocks:
A shallow reef with clear visibility, this spot hosts sergeant majors, snappers, parrotfish, and trumpetfish, as well as the occasional scorpionfish.
Saona Island, La Romana:
The wreck of the St. Georges barge in this protected marine sanctuary shelters a number of endangered reef species. Watch the deeper water for sightings of turtles, whales, sharks, and other large pelagic swimmers.
Las Ballenas, Las Terrenas:
The name "las ballenas" translates to "the whales;" Humpback whales can be seen (and/or heard) from this site in season. The network of grottos, caverns, and canyons also shelter an array of reef life, such as lobsters, moray eels, and king crabs. Watch for Bermuda chub and other schooling fish.
This protected bay offers a variety of dive experiences, from walls to wrecks, all teeming with marine life. Look for hard and soft corals, sponges, manta rays, whales, nurse sharks, and whale sharks.
Puerto Plata's Luperon Bay:
An excellent spot for a multi-dive day, this site includes both the Luperon Wall and the Luperon Caves. Look for elephant ear corals, sponges, large sea fans, barracuda, groupers, and snappers.
This site is swept by Atlantic currents, which makes diving inadvisable in winter months (December through February), but the flow brings in a variety of marine life for viewing by divers. Look for corals, sponges, nurse sharks, stingrays, eagle rays, and a wide array of brilliant species of reef fish.