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Source: Travel Pulse

Traveling to the Dominican Republic was always on my bucket list, especially after a close friend attended a wedding here a few years back and raved about it. So, when a recent opportunity presented itself, I jumped on it. And I’m delighted I did.

Located on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic is only two hours south of Miami. The island is widely known for idyllic beaches, iconic sights, history, adventure, golf and ecotourism, but this Caribbean escape is also renowned for the beloved and rhythmic Merengue dance and its talented baseball players. The tantalizing cuisine is amazing. Its people are some of the friendliest you’ll find anywhere. Bottom line, the Dominican Republic is full of delightful regions and unexpected surprises.

Discovering Cap Cana

Though Punta Cana on the eastern side of the island is a popular and busy tourist destination, we found its Sanctuary Cap Cana Resort & Spa mesmerizingly laid-back.

The adults-only, all-inclusive resort hideaway located in a gated community inside Punta Cana provides the ultimate in luxury and relaxation. Resembling a colonial Spanish town clinging to an oceanside cliff, the resort even boasts a castle surrounded by a moat. Suites and villas all feature balconies or terraces. Guests have access to a private sugar white-sand beach, six tropical pools, a myriad of dining options and one of our favorite features, the privacy of an off-the-beaten-path island paradise.

For those seeking more adventure, Scape Park at Cap Cana is a spectacular adrenaline-packed eco-park that offers snorkeling, ziplining, ancient caverns and underwater caves with free transportation from most area hotels.

When all was said and done, the Dominican Republic proved to be an unexpected treasure filled with one amazing surprise after another. From its historic capital city to its breathtaking beaches, unforgettable cuisine and friendly engaging people, there’s no doubt this is one destination begging to be discovered and rediscovered time and again. After all, who doesn’t wish for “just another day in paradise?”

Discovering Santo Domingo

Without a doubt, the heartbeat of the Dominican Republic is its capital. Santo Domingo was the first European settlement of the Americas and is now a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s here that the ancient and the modern blend together beautifully.

Santo Domingo literally oozes history from its pores, especially in the Colonial Zone, where Spain firmly established its Caribbean foothold in the New World. Narrow, well-preserved and easily walkable cobblestone streets are surrounded by rows of ancient walls. Today, a myriad of restaurants, tobacco shops, boutiques and art galleries abound in this bustling center.

One of the most popular spots of the old city is Parque Colon, the pedestrian-only central square where families and friends gather. As the sun sets, magic sets over the city. In the twilight, it becomes even more alive with street performances the locals love and dance to.

Five miles from the city center lies one of the most visited tourist attractions on the island—Parque Nacional Los Tres Ojos, 3 Eyes National Park. The ancient geological-formed caverns contain four lakes, including one that was discovered after the name came about, fed by an underground river. Surrounded by majestic stalactites and stalagmites, the cold clear tourmaline waters of the lagoons are reached by a series of 692 steps. The farthest cave is accessed by a small hand-pulled ferry raft. Is it worth the climb? You bet it is.

There’s no better way to learn about local cuisine than a cooking class surrounded by history, culture and island-grown produce and meat products. Hodelpa Nicolas de Ovando is a tropically-porticoed boutique property dating back to 1502. Chefs here prepare traditional island cuisine where guests can participate and then dine on the fabulous offerings at a sit-down lunch on its picturesque patio.

Ever make your own chocolate from bean to bar? Well, you can at Choco Museo. Chocolate, derived from the cacao bean, was one of the great inventions of Native American cultures. With step-by-step guidance from an expert chocolatier, workshop participants not only learn the process, but they also leave with their own chocolate bar containing their favorite ingredients. It’s quite amazing!

Dining in Santo Domingo

Cuisine in the Dominican Republic is so delectable, each of our dining experiences proved unforgettable.

One of the first greenhouse-type restaurants in the Caribbean, Buche Perico offers Latin, Caribbean-inspired cuisine with charming patio seating surrounded by vine-covered vertical gardens and even a waterfall. Sangria is a house specialty and like the food here, it’s amazing.

For a dining experience with amazing views and sleek European flare, Pat’e Palo European Brasserie not only serves up tantalizing dishes, but you also can’t beat the vibrant atmosphere it brings to the Plaza España. Known as the “First Tavern of the Americas,” the restaurant, established by a Dutch captain, dates back to 1505.

Go where the locals eat and you’ll find great food. And that’s what Lulú Tasting Bar, a stylish Colonial Zone tapas bar, offers. With the perfect outdoor atmosphere to unwind with cigars and cocktails and nibble on incredible bites, we couldn’t decide what dishes we loved best. Everything here from ceviche and goat-cheese empanadas to grilled octopus, Peruvian-style lamb and shrimp curry was outstanding. With an impressive wine collection to complement the entrees, this was one great foodie experience.

Exploring La Romana

After a mere two-hour picturesque drive from Santa Domingo, we arrived in the stunning resort and residential community of Casa de Campo in La Romana. The tropical playground has it all—7,000-acres of magnificent white sand beaches, an expansive marina, tennis and polo facilities and the best golf in the Caribbean.

Awe-inspiring Altos de Chavón is a re-creation of a 16th-century medieval Mediterranean village nestled above the picturesque Chavón River in the heart of the Dominican countryside. With its cobbled streets and buildings constructed of coral and terracotta stone, this “City of Artists,” with its charming boutiques and galleries, is not only amazing, but it’s also become the renowned cultural center of the region. It even sports a spectacular 4,000-seat Roman amphitheater that attracts a myriad of top world entertainers.

Lunch at the magnificent Minitas Beach Club & Restaurant is a must-do. The eatery is perched over the white sands of the picturesque tropical beach fronting the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea. Not only are the views incredible, but so is the food. One of the restaurant’s signature cocktails is the delightful Mojito with a secret ingredient twist of prosecco.

The Beach Club features Spanish tapas for sharing along with a host of other offerings. Seafood, however, is the star of the show and their Grilled Seafood Platter with local fish, lobster, scallops, octopus and calamari is simply divine.