If you’re planning to visit the Caribbean Islands next, there is a good chance that you have considered the Dominican Republic, after all, it is the most sought after tourist destination in that part of the world.
The Dominican Republic (DR for short) is a small island nation located in the Caribbean island of Hispaniola in the Greater Antilles. It is the second-largest country in the Caribbean after Cuba.
While it is clear that the indigenous Taíno people had settled in the Hispaniola region in the 7th century AD, nothing of much significance is known about the ancient Dominican society.
The country’s most of the known history starts after the arrival of Christopher Columbus and the Spanish contingent in 1492. The Republic, like most other countries in the region, has had a turbulent past.
So whether its due interest or general curiosity, below are some of the less known facts about the Dominican Republic that you should know.
Some Quick Facts
25. The Dominican Republic shares the Hispaniola island with the Republic of Haiti, both of which also have an identical history.
24. Christopher Columbus landed on the island of Hispaniola on December 5, 1492, and named it La Española. Two years later, he returned and founded La Isabela (now called Puerto Plata), the first Spanish settlement in the country.
Christopher Columbus taking possession of the island
23. The city of Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, was established by Christopher Columbus’ brother Bartholomew in 1496.
22. One of the largest gold deposits in the country was discovered in the cordillera central region sometime before 1501, which kick-started the famous gold rush of the early 1500s.
21. Most of the 17th and 18th century Dominican Republic is about the power struggle between the three European colonial powers; France, Britain, and Spain.
20. The War of Jenkins’ Ear was fought between Britain and Spain from 1739 to 1748. It helped solidify the Spanish control over the region. In 1800, the United States battled against both France and Spain in the Battle of Puerto Plata Harbor, which it won.
19. The country has the 8th largest economy in the Caribbean and Latin America. Between 1992 and 2014, the Dominican Republic had one of the fastest-growing economies in the region, with an average GDP growth rate of 5.4 percent.
18. Pueblo Viejo mine, located in Sánchez Ramírez Province of the Dominican Republic, is the 8th largest gold mine in the world and the second-largest in the Americas.
17. The country is a democratic republic, in which the president is elected (who holds the highest rank in the executive branch), appoints the cabinet, and commands the army.
16. Merengue is a distinct style of music and dance, popular in South America and the Caribbeans. It was originated in the Dominican Republic. Like Merengue, the country is also responsible for popularizing bachata, a form of music (and dance) that originated in the rural Dominican Republic.
Merengue music icon Juan Guerra with Romeo Santos | Image Courtesy: Alex Cancino
15. The country has a tropical rainforest climate with an average annual rainfall of 59.1 inches.
14. The average annual temperature is 25 °C; however, it can change with elevation. Near the sea level, the temperature averages 28 °C, while at higher elevations, it is 18 °C. The lowest recorded is around 0 °C. Occasional snowfall occurs on Pico Duarte, the highest mountain summit in the country.
13. The Dominican Republic is located over an area of 48,442 km2, making it the second-largest country in the Caribbean after Cuba.
12. The longest and most prominent river in the country is Yaque del Norte (298 km). However, the longest river in the entire Hispaniola island is Artibonito, most of which flows in Haiti.
11. The Santo Domingo Metro is the most extensive rapid transit system in that region of the world, both by length (31 km) and the total number of stations.
10. Dominican Republic’s Most Popular Sports Is Baseball
Baseball is perhaps the most popular sports in the Dominican Republic as opposed to most other countries in the Caribbean. The local baseball league has six teams and is played for four months in a year.
The country has the second-highest number of players in Major League Baseball (MLB) after the United States. Some of the most popular MLB players are either nationals or have Dominican heritage.
Pedro Martínez, Juan Marichal, and Vladimir Guerrero are three Dominican-born players inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
9. DR Has The Tenth Largest Military In The Americas
Counter-terrorism Unit Commandos of the Dominican Republic
With a standing army of more than 55,000 individuals, the Dominican Republic has the 10th largest military in the Americas and the largest in the Caribbean.
About 50% of the force is deployed in non-military affairs, such as providing security for high profile personnel and infrastructure. The country has two operational air force and two major naval bases.
8. Most Of the Dominican Republic Population is Spanish
About 98 percent of the population in the Dominican Republic speaks Spanish or a local variant known as Dominican Spanish. The next largest spoken language is French, slightly more than 1 percent of Dominicans have French as their first language. It is followed by English, Arabic, and then Italian.
The educational system in the country is influenced by the Spanish model, though French and English are mandatory in all schools. In English proficiency rankings, the Dominican Republic comes 2nd in central and South America.
7. Its Power Sector Is One of the Worst
The Dominican Republic suffers regular and prolonged blackouts due to the overall inefficiency of power distribution companies and poor management by the government. A large section of the transmission systems and power grids in the country are highly outdated, which causes frequent overloads and power losses.
Most of the electricity usage in the country is not billed. About 2 million Dominican households have no functional electricity meters, and they usually pay a fixed amount for the services.
The Dominican Republic’s relative slowdown of economic growth is primarily attributed to the weak power sector.
6. The Country Has Become An Important Node For Organized Crimes
Over the past few decades, the Dominican Republic has become a major gateway for illegal drugs. According to the local and international authorities, the country is used by the Colombian drug cartels to smuggle illicit drugs into the United States and in Europe.
Under the Bush administration, the United States classified the Dominican Republic as one of the four major countries in the Caribbean responsible for transporting drugs into the States, which was about 8 percent in 2004.
With illegal drug trading comes the problem of money-laundering, used by the same drug cartels.
5. A Large Percentage Of Nation’s GDP Comes From Tourism
Punta Cana resort in the Dominican Republic | Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
The Dominican Republic, as we established earlier, is the most visited tourist destination in the Caribbean. It is perhaps one of the most important economic sectors of the country, which accounts for about 11.6 percent of its total GDP.
Each year, more than six million tourists arrive here due to its diverse geography. The country features the largest lake in the Caribbean (Lake Enriquillo) as well as the tallest mountain peak (Pico Duarte).
4. The Country Is Considerably Richer Than Its Neighbor Haiti
The Dominican Republic shares its border with Haiti, the most populous country in the Caribbean. By comparison, Haiti is far poor and less developed than its neighbor. In fact, it is the least developed nation in the entire Western Hemisphere.
About 80 percent of the population in Haiti was poor, while more than 50 percent were living in acute poverty in 2003. The country’s estimated per capita GDP (PPP) in 2017 was $1,819, compared to Dominican Republic’s $16,900.
Due to the socio-economic and political turmoil, thousands of Haitians migrate to the Dominican Republic every year. According to an estimate, about 800,000 Haitians live in the Dominican Republic.
3. The Worst Banking Fraud In The Country Occurred In 2003
The Banco International (Baninter) was the second-largest private commercial bank in the Dominican Republic until the BANINTER crisis unfolded in 2003. The crisis, which wiped out about US$2.2 billion, was so overwhelming to the Dominican economy that it almost crippled it.
The country incurred 30 percent annual inflation while the central bank was forced to depreciate Dominican Peso, which led to the near-collapse of other large banks.
The crisis was triggered by a large scale fraud scheme engineered by the top brass of Banco International including Ramón Báez Figueroa, the grandson of former Dominican president Ramón Báez Machado.
2. The Americas’ Oldest Cathedral Is Located There
Alcázar de Colón
The country’s most notable historical places reside in Santo Domingo. That includes Catedral Santa María La Menor, the Alcázar de Colón, and the Museo de las Casas Reales, which happens to be the first cathedral, castle, and monastery in the entire Americas’ respectively.
The Columbus Alcazar (Alcázar de Colón), is the first-ever castle built in the New World. It was completed in 1510 by Diego Columbus, Christopher’s eldest son, who lived there for a brief period.
1. A Large Number Of Dominicans Lives In the United States
Years of political instability in the country following the assassination of dictator Rafael Trujillo in 1961 led to widespread civil war. The unrest ended after the United States intervened. To make things better, the U.S also allowed the Dominicans to acquire American visas much easier than before.
According to a Pew Research Center analysis, about 2.1 million people of Dominican origin lived in the United States in 2017. Dominicans constitutes about 4 percent of the total Hispanic population living in the U.S. Since the dawn of the 21st century, people of Dominican-origin in the States have increased 159 percent from 797,000 to 2.1 million.