The Dominican Republic’s new Coral Highway connects the country’s East Coast to Santo Domingo, home to La Catedral Primada de America // © 2012 Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism
In the last couple of years, we’ve seen a tremendous amount of tourism development on the Dominican Republic’s East Coast, especially in Punta Cana and Cap Cana. A number of new initiatives throughout the D.R., especially a new highway linking Santo Domingo and Punta Cana, are poised to stimulate tourism in the entire country.
The Coral Highway officially opened last August. The highway stretches from the beach destinations of Punta Cana, La Romana and Bayahibe and ends in Santo Domingo, opening up the historic colonial city to visitors. The 43.5-mile highway allows visitors from Punta Cana to reach Santo Domingo in just two hours. Prior to the highway, the trip took four hours, an amount of time that many tourists were not prepared to spend on the road in order to visit the capital.
The amount of tourists traveling to Santo Domingo from the East Coast after the opening of the Coral Highway increased by 50 percent in the latter half of August, which represents nearly 2,000 more visitors.
The historic city of Santo Domingo has been an underutilized aspect of the Dominican Republic’s tourism appeal. The city has the potential to play the same role San Juan does in Puerto Rico, or Havana does in Cuba. The trick is to make it easy for visitors to shop, dine and enjoy Caribbean nightlife in the capital. A much-needed project is underway to develop Santo Domingo tourism by improving public spaces and sidewalks, integrating community development tourism, modernizing museums and restoring homes.
Fine-Tuning the Tourism Product
The Barcelo Rum Company has opened the Barcelo Rum Historical Center at its rum aging and warehousing installations in San Pedro de Macoris. The center showcases the history of rum-making in the Dominican Republic. Visitors can tour the facilities, sample different varieties of rum and purchase rum products. The center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Viva Wyndham Dominicus Resort in Bayahibe added the Caribbean’s first beachfront trapeze school. At no extra charge, hotel staff can teach participants how to hang upside-down while flying 25 feet above the ground, among other circus-like tricks.
The world’s largest hand-rolled cigar factory, Tabacalera de Garcia, opened a storefront in La Romana in September. La Flor Dominicana Cigar Factory is the world’s largest cigar shop, carrying an extensive selection of premium Dominican cigars at attractive prices. More than 300 blends are manufactured each day, 50 of which are the world’s most sought-after cigars. La Flor also includes an on-site museum.
Two resorts on separate sides of the country have initiated green practices in a big way: Puntacana Resort & Club in Punta Cana transformed its building’s facade with a vertical plant cover it calls the Green Wall. The first of its kind in the Dominican Republic, the wall improves air quality and reduces the indoor temperature by 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The wall has 12 different plant species and a system that allows for vertical vegetation growth through plastic panels and a drip irrigation and water harvesting system. Casa Bonita Tropical Lodge in Barahona is another eco-friendly property. An electricity-producing hydro-plant supplies the boutique hotel with 30 percent of its energy, the organic garden produces fresh products and innovative cuisine and its Tanama Eco Spa offers all-encompassing natural experiences. Eco-conscious guests can also participate in local sustainability initiatives.
The Religious Routes tourism project was recently inaugurated in La Vega. The project aims to unite and promote Dominican Republic’s pilgrimage and religious tourism. It includes two museums located in a Victorian house and a religious complex called “Holy Hill,” which is a traditional Dominican pilgrimage stop. The route starts at the museums, then continues to the Marian Way Mysteries and finishes at the Light of the World Monument, a cross-shaped sculpture that is near the Church of Santo Cerro.