Background

History

The colony

Although the Spanish launched much of their westward expansion from Santo Domingo, their efforts at colonizing the rest of the island were desultory. Even Santo Domingo soon declined in importance, overwhelmed by the onslaught of hurricanes and pirate attacks. Drake sacked Santo Domingo in 1586 and the rebuilding costs were more than the fledgling colony could bear. The French invaded in the 17th century from their base on Tortuga and colonized what became known as Saint Domingue in the west. The French colony, the largest sugar producer in the West Indies, soon became the most valuable tropical colony of its size in the world, while the Spanish colony was used mostly for cattle ranching and supplying ships from the Old World to the New.

By the mid-18th century, the number of Spaniards in the eastern part of the island was only about one-third of a total population of 6000. Since there was little commercial activity or population of the interior, it was easy prey for Haitian invaders fired with the fervour of their rebellion at the turn of the 19th century. Between 1801 and 1805, followers of
Toussaint L'Ouverture
and
Dessalines
plundered the Spanish territory. Sovereignty was disputed throughout the beginning of the 19th century with frequent incursions and occupations by Haitian forces. In 1822, Haiti's army took control for a further 22 years. This occupation lives on in the country's mythology as its lowest point, with the ruthless Haitians expropriating land and raising taxes. It was a very anti-Spanish and anti-white régime and many of the Spanish hierarchy left the island. Santo Domingo descended into poverty.

Independence

In February 1844 pro-Independence forces led by three men, the writer
Juan Pablo Duarte
, the lawyer
Francisco del Rosario Sánchez
and the soldier
Ramón Mella
, defeated Haitian troops in Santo Domingo. The independent nation was called the Dominican Republic, supposedly free and independent of all foreign domination. However, the new leaders were not a cohesive group and once in power they soon succumbed to infighting. Duarte was sent into exile and the country underwent yet another period of instability, including more Haitian incursions. In November 1844, the strongman,
Pedro Santana
, assumed the presidency. He wanted to make the Republic a protectorate of France, Spain or Britain, but with no luck. The other leader, or
caudillo
, at this time, Buenaventura Báez, also favoured annexation and the USA was also approached.

A Spanish colony again

In 1861, Santana finally achieved re-annexation with Spain in the first and only recolonization in the Americas. Spanish bureaucrats were incompetent, the clergy was once again dominated by reactionary Spaniards and military rule was repressive and contemptuous of the Dominicans. There was a hatred of Spain and an increasing number of guerrillas took to the hills to fight a war of attrition. Spain resented the money it had to spend on suppressing revolts and reinforcing its garrison, depleted by yellow fever.

The Restoration

The resurrection in the countryside proved successful and became known as the
War of Restoration
(la Restauración), ending in 1865 when Queen Isabella II abrogated the treaty of annexation and evacuated Spanish officials and troops. The Restoration is remembered as a great moment in Dominican history, but governments still pursued the idea of annexation as the answer to their problems. They wooed the USA, but the US Senate could not muster enough support and a vote for the proposal was defeated. However, Germany became deeply involved in the economy, with its traders and bankers supporting the tobacco crop. German warships were sent on occasion to collect debts and the USA was becoming increasingly apprehensive about Germany's motives.

US intervention

The USA intervened to prevent a European power gaining control of the country's customs on behalf of creditors. Roosevelt put the Dominican customs into receivership and under an agreement signed in 1905, the US authorities would collect import and export duties and distribute 55% to the country's creditors and 45% to the Dominican government. In 1907 a formal receivership treaty was signed, heralding the start of the USA's financial leverage in the region. Peace was not assured, however, and in 1916, when the presidency appeared to collapse in chaos, US marines were landed. During the US occupation Dominican finances improved dramatically and the country became creditworthy again, but the American occupiers were deeply resented. Guerrilla fighters were suppressed by US troops. In 1920 the new Land Registration Act dispossessed peasant farmers who had held land communally in traditional holdings known as
terrenos comuneros
, in favour of private ownership, allowing Dominican and US investors to buy up land titles and purchase huge areas on the cheap. Some of the dispossessed small scale farmers formed armed bands, known as
gavilleros
, and waged intermittent guerrilla warfare against the Guardia Nacional
and US forces. In 1924 US troops were withdrawn, although the administration of the customs remained under US control.

The Trujillo dictatorship

In May 1930 elections were won by the armed forces commander,
Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina
, who became president. Thus began one of the most ruthless dictatorships ever seen in the Dominican Republic. With either himself or his surrogates at the helm (Héctor Trujillo, 1947-1960, and Joaquín Balaguer, 1960-1962), Trujillo embarked on the expansion of industry and public works and the liquidation of the country's debts. Nevertheless, his methods of government denied any form of representation and included murder, torture, blackmail and corruption. For 30 years he ruled supreme, dispensing favours or punishment as he deemed appropriate. During his reign, in 1937, an estimated 10,000 Haitian immigrants were rounded up and slaughtered, prolonging the hatred between the two republics. The economy prospered with the expansion of the sugar industry and an influx of US capital, but much of the wealth ended up in the bank accounts of the Trujillos, as the General appropriated companies and land. In 1961 Trujillo was assassinated and another power vacuum was created.

The Balaguer presidencies

Joaquín Balaguer
had been part of Trujillo's government since 1930 and was nominally president at the time of the murder, although without any real power or legitimacy. He tried to hang on to the presidency, but there was violence and the military intervened. A Council of State was set up in 1962 which, with US approval and finance set the country on the path to some sort of representative democracy. The first free elections for 40 years were held on 20 December 1962 in which Balaguer was defeated by
Professor Juan Bosch
of the Partido Revolucionario Dominicano (PRD). Bosch was a left-wing intellectual who had formed the social democratic PRD in exile. The party's policies for land reform with the redistribution of the vast estates held by the Trujillo family, together with an attack on unemployment and poverty, were overwhelmingly supported by the electorate. He took office in February 1963 but after seven months he was ousted by a military coup and sent into exile. A three-man civilian junta was installed with martial law and new elections were promised, but instability ruled, with several changes of government. With civil war raging in the capital and memories of Communist Cuba still fresh, the USA dispatched 23,000 troops on 28 April 1965 to control the country. The USA supported another provisional government, but there followed several months of fighting with the loss of some 3000 lives. Finally, new elections were held in June 1966. They were won by Balaguer, returned from exile in New York. The economy was in tatters and US aid was crucial in rebuilding the country. The US peace keeping force returned home, calm descended for a while and Balaguer concentrated on imposing austerity and bolstering the country's finances. He retained power in the 1970 elections, and remained in office with the help of a secret paramilitary force known as
La Banda
, the gang, until 1978, forging closer links with the USA, but not without facing coup attempts, right-wing terrorism and left-wing guerrilla incursions.

The PRD boycotted elections in 1970 and 1974, but the declining popularity of Balaguer led it to challenge him in 1978. A PRD President was returned:
Antonio Guzmán
, a wealthy landowner and former minister in Juan Bosch's brief government, whose chief aims were to reduce army power and eliminate corruption. His election was achieved after the intervention of President Carter of the USA, who prevented a military takeover when it became clear that the PRD was winning. Guzmán's successor,
Dr Salvador Jorge Blanco
, also of the PRD, presided over severe economic difficulties which led to rioting in 1984 in which 60 people died. The party split over the handling of the economy, helping Joaquín Balaguer to win a narrow majority in the 1986 elections giving him a fifth presidential term. The 1990 elections were contested by two octogenarians, Dr Balaguer (83) and Dr Juan Bosch (80), now of the Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (PLD). Dr Balaguer won a sixth term of office by a narrow majority, which was subjected to a verification process after Dr Bosch alleged fraud had taken place in the capital. The May 1994 elections had the same outcome, after Balaguer had decided late in the campaign to stand for re-election. His chief opponent was
José Francisco Peña Gómez
of the PRD, who was subjected to blatantly racist campaign abuse because of his dark skin and alleged Haitian ancestry. First results gave Balaguer the narrowest of victories. Peña Gómez, supported by many outside observers, claimed that fraud had taken place and the election was reviewed by a revision committee appointed by the Junta Central Electoral (JCE). The committee found irregularities, but its findings were ignored by the Junta which awarded victory to Balaguer. To defuse the crisis, Balaguer signed a pact with Peña Gómez allowing for new elections in November 1995; Congress rejected this date, putting the new election back six months to 16 May 1996. The PRD selected Peña Gómez again while the PLD chose
Leonel Fernández
as its candidate, to replace Juan Bosch who had retired. Within the PRSC, jockeying for the candidacy was beset by scandals and power struggles, exacerbated by the absence of an appointment by Balaguer himself. Peña Gómez won the first round but in the second round, Balaguer gave his support to Fernández, in an effort to keep Peña from the presidency, and he won 51% of the vote.

The Fernández administration

President Leonel Fernández was sworn in on 16 August 1996 and appointed a cabinet largely from his own party, after a cooling of relations with Dr Balaguer. His comparative youth signalled a breath of fresh air despite the continuing influence of the old
caudillos
. He pledged to fight poverty, modernize the economy and fight corruption. In 1997 relations with the PRSC deteriorated rapidly because of investigations into land purchase scandals involving members of the previous administration. Land which was in national parks or in protected areas of special scientific interest, or expropriated under the agrarian reform programme for distribution to small farmers, was found to have been allocated to PRSC officials and sold on for profit, mostly for tourism development. There was also a shake up in the top ranks of the military and police, with some linked to drugs offences, others to unsolved murders and disappearances
.

José Francisco Peña Gómez died of cancer in May 1998. Six days later, his party, the PRD, won a landslide victory in the mid-term congressional and municipal elections.

Change in the new millennium

Presidential elections in 2000 were keenly fought between the 93-year-old Balaguer for the PRSC, Danilo Medina for the ruling PLD and
Hipólito Mejía
for the PRD. The government was credited with achieving economic growth, but it was perceived that the benefits had not been widely enough distributed and corruption within the administration was alleged. Despite his age, blindness and other infirmities, Balaguer was seen as an influential power broker and a force to be reckoned with. Mejía won 49.87% of the vote, Balaguer 24.6% and Medina 24.9%. As no one achieved the 50% required for an outright win, a second round was technically necessary, but after both other candidates visited Balaguer, both he and Medina pulled out of the race, leaving Mejía the victor. Joaquín Balaguer died in 2002.

Mejía's presidency soon became deeply unpopular and was beset by financial scandals, economic decline, the collapse of the peso and rising inflation, while it was also perceived as deeply corrupt. Inevitably he lost the 2004 elections to former president Leonel Fernández (PLD), who set about restoring the country's economic health. This involved an agreement with the IMF, restructuring the foreign debt and reforming public finances, which soon resulted in an appreciation of the peso and very low inflation.

Government

The Dominican Republic is a representative democracy, with legislative power resting in a bicameral Congress: a 30-seat Senate and a 149-seat Chamber of Deputies. Senators and deputies are elected for a four-year term, as is the President.


Economy

The largest foreign exchange earner is tourism, with annual receipts exceeding US$2 bn. The industry generates 20% of gdp and employs about 5% of the labour force, 50,000 in direct jobs and 110,000 indirectly. The number of hotel rooms is around 55,000, compared with 11,400 in 1987, and more than any other Caribbean country. Nearly half of hotel rooms are sold on an all-inclusive basis.

There are six main agricultural regions: the north, the Cibao valley in the north central area, Constanza and Tiero, the east, the San Juan valley, and the south. Cibao is the most fertile and largest region, while the eastern region is the main sugar-producing area. Sugar was traditionally the main crop and times of prosperity have nearly always been related to high world sugar prices, but diversification out of sugar cane, the conversion of some cane lands into tourist resorts, the expulsion of Haitian cutters and a slump in productivity led to lower volume and value of sugar production. Traditional products grown for export include sugar, coffee, cocoa and tobacco, but they now account of only a third of total exports. Non-traditional products have been gaining in importance. These include fruit and vegetables, plants and cut flowers, marine products, processed foods, cigars and other agroindustrial products. Growth of the cigar industry has put the Dominican Republic in competition with Cuba, with sales of around US$400 million a year.

Since 1975 gold and silver mining has been of considerable importance. Large gold, silver and zinc deposits have been found near the Pueblo Viejo mine, where the oxide ores were running out, and a major gold and silver deposit has been discovered in the Haitian border area, which could mean a joint operation to establish an open cast mine. The country also produces ferronickel, which has overtaken sugar as the major commodity export earner. Reserves are estimated at 10% of total world deposits.

Despite the tourist economy roughly half the population lives in poverty, with a third lacking secure employment. Two thirds of the people live in urban areas and many depend on the informal economy to survive. Remittances from relatives in the USA are the life blood of many families. Inequalities in income are glaring, with the poorest 20% receiving less than 5% of the national income. The rich live in luxury villas driving large cars and the oligarchy continues to dominate the economy as it has since colonial times. From sugar cane and coffee, the powerful families (among them Bermúdez, Barceló and Jiménez) have moved into tourism and export manufacturing.

Geography

The western part of the Dominican Republic is dominated by four mountain ranges which run roughly northwest to southeast. The most impressive is the Cordillera Central, which rises to twin peaks of La Pelona and Pico Duarte, and at 3082 m and 3087 m are the highest mountains in the Caribbean. The eastern half of the country is flatter, bar the hills of the Cordillera Oriental which run roughly parallel to the northeast coast. There is a tropical limestone landscape in part of the Cordillera Oriental, to the south of Sabana de la Mar. The northern boundary of the Caribbean plate lies just north of Hispaniola. The whole island is an active seismic zone, and there have been eight major earthquakes since 1751, the most recent in 1953. The island is moving slowly east, while Cuba and the Bahamas are moving to the west; what is now Hispaniola was attached to southeastern Cuba around 20 million years ago.

CultureLiterature

As with all facets of Dominican culture, the US occupation of 1916 to 1924 proved a turning-point in the search for authentic forms of expression. But no sooner had a radical generation of nationalist writers begun to find their voice to protest against the imposition of North American values than the long period of the Trujillo dictatorship was under way. For 30 years the régime tolerated no criticism whatsoever, stamping on any literary originality and encouraging only absurd paeans of praise to 'the Benefactor'. Two of the 20th century's most prominent Dominican writers chose exile. The opposition leader, Juan Bosch, wrote polemics against Trujillo, historical studies and, most readable, two collections of short stories that revealed a formidable grasp of narrative technique. Probably the greatest of the country's poets, Pedro Mir, also lived and wrote abroad until the late 1960s, producing Hay un país en el mundo (There's a Country in the World, 1949), an epic poem that tells of an imaginary but recognizable country's history of suffering and exploitation. In 1978, Mir published Cuando amaban las tierras comuneras (When They Loved the Communal Lands), a powerful fictional critique of the US occupation and its expropriation of traditional communal land. The conservative Joaquín Balaguer who remained on the island, wrote poetry, historical fiction and a biography of Juan Pablo Duarte. With the assassination of Trujillo in 1961, the exiles were able to return and politically committed writing was again allowed. Authors such as Manuel del Cabral wrote incisively about the social turmoil of the 1960s in books like La Isla ofendida (1965), while Freddy Prestol Castillo's El Masacre se pasa a pie (1973) was a damning account of the 1937 massacre of Haitians ordered by Trujillo.

Curiously, the dictatorship itself, although stifling literary creativity for three decades, has inspired some of the country's most interesting recent writing. One of the country's most successful writers, Julia Alvarez, situates her
In the Time of the Butterflies
(1994) around the political assassination of the three Mirabal sisters by Trujillo's henchmen.
The brutal methods and bizarre megalomania of the dictator have also caught the imagination of foreign writers, notably the Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa, whose
La Fiesta del chivo
(The Feast of the Goat) was published in 2000 to great critical acclaim. Dramatizing the worst excesses of the Trujillo period and the build-up to the dictator's assassination, the novel caused unease and controversy in Santo Domingo, where memories are long. Alvarez, together with Junot Díaz, typifies the new generation of Dominican writers, who have been as much shaped by their experience of life in the USA as in their parents' homeland. Both write in English as easily as in Spanish, and Díaz in particular has mastered the tough street-wise vernacular of young Dominicanyorks, the distinctive community of migrant Dominicans in New York and other US cities. His collection of short stories,
Drown
(1996) received rapturous reviews for its unsentimental and sometimes shocking portrayal of alienation and cultural displacement in the Dominican diaspora. Julia Alvarez has also written about the tensions and contradictions experienced by those with double lives.
How the García Girls Lost Their Accents
(1991), looks at a Dominican family in New York and their relationship with
la isla
.

Music and dance

The most popular dance is the merengue, which dominates the musical life of the Dominican Republic and has spread across the water with migrants to colonize New York as well. Merengue is believed to have developed in the mid-19th century as a local version of European dances for couples, such as
contredanse
. An Afro-Caribbean flavour was added with lively rhythms and lyrics to reflect social commentary. It was the music of the people, from cane-cutters to dock workers, but, with regional variants it survived as a sort of folk music. There would be four musicians, playing the
cuatro
, similar to a guitar, the
güira
, a cylindrical scraper of African origin but akin to the Indian gourd scraped with a forked stick, the
tambora
, a double-headed drum using male goatskin played with the hand on one head and female goatskin played with a stick on the other, and the
marimba
, a wooden box with plucked metal keys. Despite the regional variations, the merengue of the Cibao Valley around Santiago developed most strongly and became known as the
merengue típico
. In the 1920s, it was played with an accordion, introduced by the Germans, a
güira
,
tambora
and
marimba
, with the accordion being the most important. Over the years, other instruments have been added, such as the saxophone, horn or electric bass guitar. A merengue would have a short introduction,
paseo
, then move into the song, or merengue, followed by a call and response section, the
jaleo
. Although similar to some Cuban or other Latin music and dance, the steps of the merengue have always been simpler, with a basic two-step pattern, but at a fast tempo with a suggestive hip movement.

The other main music style you will find in the Dominican Republic is bachata, which also emerged from the peasant and shanty town dwellers. It was music for the soul, for the poor and downtrodden, the dispossessed farmers who were forced off the land in the 1960s and flooded into the urban slums with their guitar-based
canciones de amargue
, songs of bitterness. The traditional group had one or two guitars, maracas, bongo and
marimba
, with a solo male singer, who sang songs based on the Cuban
son
, Mexican
ranchera
, merengue and boleros. The songs expressed the frustrations of the newly-urban male, a
macho
without a cause, who was often unemployed and often dependent on a woman for his income. The sudden rise in popularity of bachata was principally due to Juan Luis Guerra, who experimented with the romantic, sentimental genre and sensitively created a poetry which appealed to everyone, particularly women. Most bachata songs are similar to boleros, with the guitar, the rhythm and the sentimentality, but faster than usual and with one singer rather than three.

There is a merengue festival in the last week of July and the first week of August, held on the Malecón in Santo Domingo. Puerto Plata holds its merengue festival in the first week of October and Sosúa has one the last week of September. Salsa is also very popular in dance halls and discos (every town, however small, has a discoteca).

People

African slaves began to arrive in Santo Domingo from the 1530s. Although the proportion of slaves in the colony never matched that of Saint-Domingue, blacks nevertheless formed an important part of the colonial population. As the indigenous Taíno inhabitants were exterminated within half a century of European colonization, African slaves and their descendants became the largest non-European group. From the mixing of Africans and Europeans emerged the mulatto population to which the majority of Dominicans nowadays belong. Successive governments tried to attract non-African settlers, especially after Independence, when fears of Haitian territorial ambitions were at their highest and the 'whitening' of the population was deemed desirable. Some Canarian and Italian migrants took up the offer of government-assisted relocation schemes, while an important community from the Middle East, mostly Syrians but known generically as
turcos
, arrived to establish businesses. Another group of immigrants, known as
cocolos
, left the English-speaking Caribbean islands of Tortola, Anguilla and St Kitts to work in the Republic's sugar plantations. Their descendants still live around San Pedro de Macorís. Under Trujillo, there was even an attempt to settle Japanese farmers near the border with Haiti, presumably as a deterrent to would-be smugglers and rustlers. This racial policy is no longer on the agenda, but it shows how the country's leaders have traditionally viewed the nation as white, Hispanic and Christian.

Conventional demographic surveys suggest that about 15% of Dominicans are white, 15% black and 65% mixed-race or mulatto (the rest being of Middle Eastern or other origins). The island's indigenous Taíno population was effectively extinct only 50 years after the arrival of the first European colonists. However, recent research into DNA in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico has shown that claims of Taíno ancestry are not fanciful and that much of the population does indeed carry Amerindian genes passed down by enslaved Taína women.

Afro-Caribbean religious beliefs have significant numbers of followers in the Dominican Republic. Mixing reconstructed Taíno rituals, Catholic saints and African divinities, believers worship archetypal lúas or gods, such as Anaísa, the goddess of love (based loosely on Santa Ana) or the Barón del Cementario (equivalent to the Christian San Elías), the guardian of the graveyard. Ceremonies involve music, dancing, trances and spirit possession, and often take place at what are thought to be holy Taíno sites or during rural village fiestas. Other well-known venues for
vodú dominicana
are the mostly black, inner-city barrios of Villa Mella and the western mountain town of San Juan de la Maguana. A connected phenomenon is the widespread Dominican interest in
brujería
or witchcraft.
Brujos
are thought to have supernatural powers, both benevolent and malevolent, and are consulted by a wide cross-section of people in search of cures for broken hearts, financial problems and the difficulties caused by
mal de ojo
(the evil eye). Market place stalls and so-called
botánicas
(shops selling religious paraphernalia of all sorts) testify to the country's fascination with spiritual and supernatural forces.

Flora and fauna

The Dominican Republic offers luxuriant vegetation and exotic wildlife, combining a variety of habitats within a limited area. It is possible to move between the coastal reefs and beaches through thorn scrub and plantation into rainforest within a matter of miles.

Varied plant life is found within several tropical zones, from the arid tropical forest found in the west, where scrub and cactus predominate, to the subtropical forest on the slopes of the mountains and in the valleys and the mountain forests in the highlands where pine trees predominate. There is no primary rainforest left, but there are large areas of secondary forest which have suffered from only a limited amount of selective felling. There are many palm trees, including the royal palm (
Roystonea regia
) and the coconut palm (
Cocos nucifera
), as well as other tropical species such as Hispaniolan mahogany (
Swietenia mahogoni
), West Indian cedar (
Cedrela odorata
) and American muskwood (
Guarea guidonia
). The most common pine tree is the Creole pine (
Pinus occidentalis
). The national plant is the
caoba
(mahogany). Along parts of the coast there are red (
Rhizophora mangle
), white (
Laguncularia racemosa
) and button (
Conocarpus erectus
) mangroves which provide a habitat for migrating birds and the manatee as well as fish, shrimp, mosquitoes and other insects. You can see large flocks of sea birds including the frigate bird and the tropic bird with its streamer-like tail feathers.

There is some confusion over which is the national bird. Some have it as the
sigua palmera
or palm chat (
Dulus dominicus
), an olive brown bird in the thrush family with bold streaks of white and brown on its underparts. It usually makes its nest high up in a palm tree in a communal structure with passages to the eggs in an inner chamber. Others name the
cotica
or Hispaniolan parrot (
Amazona ventralis
), which is green, very talkative and a popular pet although it is protected. Among other birds that can be seen are the
periquito
or Hispaniolan parakeet (
Aratinga chloroptera
), which is also green but with some red feathers, the
guaraguao
or red-tailed hawk (
Buteo jamaicensis
), and todies, known locally as
barrancolí
, which behave rather like fly catchers but nest in burrows. There are several hummingbirds (
zumbador
) throughout the country, including the Hispaniolan emerald (
Chlorostilbon swainsonii
), the Antillian mango (
Anthracothorax dominicus
) and the tiny Vervain hummingbird (
Mellisuga minima
). The Hispaniolan trogon (
Temnotrogon roseigaster
) is worth looking out for, with its green upper parts, grey breast, red underbelly and long tail streaked with white. It is known locally as a
papagayo
, or
cotorrita de sierra
, and although it is found chiefly in the mountains, it is also seen in mangroves. The Hispaniolan woodpecker, the
carpintero
(
Melanerpes striatus
) is found only on Hispaniola.

Indigenous mammals are few. There are two, rare and endangered species, however, which you are unlikely to see in the wild. They are both nocturnal. The
jutía
, or hutia (
Plagiodontia aedium
), is a small rodent which lives in caves and tree trunks. The
solenodonte
, or solenodon (
Solenodon pardoxus
), is an insectivore with a long nose, round ears and long tail, with the appearance of a large rat, which grows to about 30 cm and can weigh 1 kg. Similarly in peril is the
manatí
, sea cow or manatee (
Trichechus manatus
), which lives in mangroves and seagrass beds. The Taíno used to eat the manatee, which are slow moving and therefore easy prey, as did the pirates who hid in the waterways where they live. There are also lots of bats, many of which live in the plentiful caves found around the island.

There are two species of iguana found in the Dominican Republic, the rhinoceros iguana (
Cyclura cornuta
) and the Ricord iguana (
Cyclura ricordi
), both found in the hot, dry area in and around Lake Enriquillo where the terrain is rocky and cactus, scrub and thorn bushes such as acacia grow. They are best seen at the hottest time of the day as they disappear when it gets cool. In this area you can also find the American crocodile (
Crocodylus acutus
), one of the largest wild crocodile populations in the world.

National parks

The government has adopted six generic categories for environmental protection: areas for scientific research, national parks, natural monuments, sanctuaries, protected areas and wildernesses. The total number of protected areas (including panoramic routes, recreational areas and ecological corridors) is about 70. All are under the control of the Dirección Nacional de Parques (DNP). Armando Bermúdez and José del Carmen Ramírez National Parks, both containing pine forests and mountains in the Cordillera Central, are the only remaining areas of extensive forest in the Republic; since the arrival of Columbus, two-thirds of the virgin forest has been destroyed. The Reservas Científicas include lakes, patches of forest and the Banco de la Plata, to which humpback whales migrate yearly from the Arctic for the birth of their young. It lies some 140 km north of Puerto Plata but there is a proposal to include it in a Biosphere Reserve which would stretch as far as Los Haitises. The reserve protects fish, coral and several species of sea turtles as well as the whales. It is a rather dangerous area for shipping, with depths changing from 20 m to 1800 m giving the wildlife added protection.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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