The Dominican Republic is located in the West Indies. It takes up the eastern two thirds of Hispaniola (which it shares with Haiti, to the east). It is the second largest country in the West Indies (after Cuba). The Dominican Republic is a mountainous zone which is home to the Caribbean’s highest peak (Pico Duarte).
The Dominican Republic is a famed tourist destination, largely because of its wonderful weather – the average temperature is around 25ºC all year round, so much so that the locals are said to enjoy an ‘endless summer’. There is a slight variation between the summer and winter seasons; during the winter, the coast experiences highs of 28ºC and lows of 20ºC, while in the highest mountain peaks, the temperature can sometimes drop to below zero. The summer is warm and toasty, with temperatures of between 22ºC and 31ºC. The high humidity levels can sometimes make the weather seem hotter than it is.
The Dominican Republic is famed above all for Punta Cana, a town boasting beaches with powdery white sands and pristine turquoise water. Punta Cana is home to luxurious resorts, world-class golf courses and an array of fantastic restaurants, making it a top choice for tourists after some rest and relaxation. Equally well known is Santo Domingo, with its rich history, wealth of cultural offerings and stunning Spanish colonial architecture. Eastern National Park is a beautiful reserve with one of the Caribbean’s largest marine parks, with an impressive coral reef system. Playa Dorada is another popular beach destination, while Samaná Bay is an oasis for marine animals, including humpback whales.
The Dominican Republic was originally inhabited by the Native American Tainos. Christopher Columbus landed on the island in 1492, claiming the island for Spain soon after. The arrival of the Europeans lead to the demise of large numbers of Tainos, owing to disease and to continuous clashes with the settlers. In 1510, the first shipment of Africans arrived to the island. In the late 16th century, Francis Drake attacked Santo Domingo, claiming a large ransom from the governor. In 1697, the Treaty of Ryswick handed the present Dominican Republic to Spain; the latter ceded the area to France, retaking it again in 1808 after a revolt by Spanish Creoles. In 1822, the Haitian Republic, which included Santo Domingo, came into existence. In 1844, Santo Domingo obtained its independence from Haiti and became known as the Dominican Republic.
The Dominican Republic is home to 16 national parks, six scientific reserves and a total of 67 protected areas. The variety in ecosystems gives rise to many habitats for a plethora of plant and animal species. The subtropical forest contains royal palms, West Indian cedar and Hispaniolan mahogany. The coastline, meanwhile, houses a plethora of white, red and button mangroves. A little higher, in the mountain forests, pines, palms and ferns dominate. Animal life is also rich; endemic land mammals include the solenodon (a cute rat-like animal) and the hutia (another little rodent). Marine mammals include the West Indian manatee (which is endangered) and humpback whales. Beautiful birds such as owls, pigeons and the Hispaniolan woodpecker also abound.
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