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Discovering the hidden jewels of the Dominican Republic

by Ace Damon
Dominican Delights: The Palm Beach at Mano Juan, East National Park, Dominican Republic

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Known for its extensive all-inclusive resorts on the East Coast, the Dominican Republic is a bustling place.

But avoid the built beaches, golf courses and throbbing music, and you'll find some well-kept secrets, especially in the beautiful south, with cliffs falling into the sea, nature reserves and miles of undeveloped coastline with no soul in sight.

Here are six highly rated suggestions. . .

Dominican Delights: The Palm Beach at Mano Juan, East National Park, Dominican Republic

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Nature and Nutrition

From the capital of the Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo, is a long, rugged trip to Jaraguá National Park and Bahia de las Aguilas, on the border with Haiti.

But those who strive are rewarded with some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean along these five miles of pristine coastline. There are no sun loungers, beach bars, pedalos and reggae in Bahia de las Aguilas.

From my spot on the white sand, a short boat ride from Eco Del Mar eco lodge, it's just me and so many white butterflies that looks like a flood of snow.

WHAT TO DO: If you get away from the beach, visit the Jaraguá National Park, which is part of Bahia de las Aguilas, where there are trails to find ugly but pleasant rhino iguanas in the green, salty waters of Lake Oviedo, too. home to flamingos, parrots and pelicans.

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STAY: The Eco Del Mar dinner is a sand-in-the-sand affair with beach tables and fresh grilled langoustines. There is no wifi, so guests are reading and talking in the light of a bonfire. You can be a budget camper or a luxury glamper here, with accommodation ranging from tents to comfortable cabins, starting at £ 126 (ecodelmar.com.do)

HIDDEN TREASURE

Although only three hours from the capital, Barahona province seems like a forgotten land. The southern coastal road has the sea on one side and the mountains on the other.

Despite its supernatural vibe, this is the setting that Dominican fashion designer Oscar de la Renta chose for magazine sessions. Barahona is the only place in the world where miners larimar, a semi-precious stone the color of the ocean. Locals say larimar can cure a broken heart.

WHAT TO DO: Stop at Los Patos, the country's shortest river, where children cool off in the mountain water. It also has a beach popular with surfers because of its deep water.

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STAY: Casa Bonita is a family getaway transformed into a boutique resort tucked away in the heart of the rainforest. The beautiful 18-room hideaway has a wire where people glide through the treetops. Or opt for the infinity pool overlooking the forest and the sea from £ 191 (slh.com)

Back in nature at Eco Del Mar where dinner is a sand-on-sand affair with beach tables and freshly grilled langoustines

Back in nature at Eco Del Mar where dinner is a sand-on-sand affair with beach tables and freshly grilled langoustines

SOUTH PEARL

Travel along Barahona's pristine coastline and you'll find small beaches popular with locals but not discovered by tourists.

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WHAT TO DO: Escape the heat in a series of natural pools fed by the San Rafael River, which runs on the grounds of Villa Miriam, a private home open to the public.

STAY: Perla Del Sur is a new luxury project in the undeveloped area of ​​Barahona, which comprises a boutique hotel, villas and apartments. The hotel should open next year and the villas are already open. Funded by local families, it is a sustainable project that aims to reenergize the area and benefit the community (perladelsur.com)

COLUMBUS, MERENGUE AND BASEBALL …

  • The Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti – one island, two nations.
  • It is the most visited destination in the Caribbean; about five million a year.
  • Columbus landed in 1492, establishing the first European settlement in the Americas. His remains were housed in the capital's cathedral.
  • The country was known as Santo Domingo until the early twentieth century.
  • The national sport is baseball.
  • The Latin dance meringue is originally from the Dominican Republic.

FRUIT OF THE VINE

Azua de Compostela was founded in 1504 by Diego Velazquez de Cuellar, conqueror of Cuba. Today, however, visitors are drawn to the province of Azua by its winding coastline, overlooking the stunning beaches of Corbanito.

WHAT TO DO: Take a dip in Playa Chiquita, an open cove with gray sand and clear water that creates a secluded spot for swimming.

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STAY: Ocoa Bay is the only Caribbean vineyard found in Azua, about an hour and a half from the capital Santo Domingo, where its position between the central mountains and the sea has a perfect dry climate for growing grapes. The vineyard, managed by husband and wife Maria Claudia and Guillermo Mallarino, is already conducting wine tasting tours and experiments. There are plans to open a winery hotel and boutique villas early next year (ocoabay.com)

LIFE ON BEACH

Santo Domingo's west coast is quiet and unspoiled, backed by wildlife-filled mountains.

WHAT TO DO: This area is really animal magic. Explore the hills north of Bahia de las Calderas and meet iguanas and seabirds. Closer to the coast, expect pelicans and flamingos.

STAY: Several other new projects in the area are likely to change the sleepy landscape, including Puntarena, the idea of ​​Frank Rainieri, who founded the famous Punta Cana. The new venture will feature four hotels, beachfront condos, a golf course and nature trails. A beach club house and restaurant are now open (puntarena.com.do)

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Stop at Los Patos, the country's shortest river, where children cool off in the mountain water. It also has a beach popular with surfers because of its deep waters.

Stop at Los Patos, the country's shortest river, where children cool off in the mountain water. It also has a beach popular with surfers because of its deep waters.

ROMANTIC RUSTIC

Along the southeast coast, there is a vast expanse of sugarcane fields that provide the backdrop to some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. The Romana community was founded in the early 19th century and prospered thanks to the cultivation of sugar cane.

WHAT TO DO: Visit the fishing village of Bayahibe, founded in 1874, where the Dominican Republic's national flower, The Rose of Bayahibe, has its roots.

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STAY: Rancho Ecologico el Campeche is a delightful eco-friendly accommodation with rustic rooms set among tropical vegetation. There is an unusual feeling and the accommodation has a camping area and day and night bird watching opportunities from £ 75 (ranchocampeche.com)

TRAVEL FACTS

Iberia flies to Santo Domingo from Heathrow via Madrid, returning about £ 600, iberia.com. Tui offers seven nights in La Romana with return flights from Gatwick from £ 990 pp. For more information, visit godominicanrepublic.com.

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