There’s a lot more to the Dominican Republic than powder-white beaches, swaying palm trees and turquoise waters, though these all undeniably add to its allure. Situated on the eastern half of the island Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic is the most geographically diverse island in the Caribbean. It boasts tropical rainforests, mangroves, waterfalls, savannahs, and just about everything in between. It’s no wonder that the Dominican Republic is the Caribbean’s most-visited island. Here are a few interesting facts about the Dominican Republic we bet you haven’t heard before.
Interesting Facts about the Dominican Republic
1. Christopher Columbus was its first European visitor
Christopher Colombus arrived in the Dominican Republic in 1492. He named the island ‘La Isla Española’. This later became Anglicized as Hispaniola.
A year later, Santo Domingo had become the first European settlement in the New World.
2. It’s home to a new kind of boa constrictor
In 2020, experts discovered a new species of boa. The last boa discovery was nearly 135 years ago. The snake, which is tiny, has large eyes, a square snout and a zig-zag pattern on its scales. It’s known as the Hispaniolan Vine Boa or Chilabothrus ampelopsis, if you want to get technical.
3. The United States once invaded it
The USA invaded the Dominican Republic in 1965 to forestall a communist dictatorship during a period of political unrest. President Lyndon B Johnson was concerned that the country could become ‘another Cuba’. The US sent 22,000 troops to the island to install a conservative, non-military government.
4. It’s home to the oldest cathedral in the western hemisphere
The Catedral Primada de América is the oldest cathedral in the western hemisphere. Diego Columbus, the son of Christopher Columbus, laid its first stone in 1514. Pope Julius II commissioned the cathedral in 1504 and it was consecrated in 1541. Francis Drake used the cathedral as his headquarters and saved it from destruction when he captured the city in 1586.
Christopher Columbus had been buried in the Monasterio de la Cartuja in a monastery near Seville, but in 1537 his daughter-in-law moved his remains to the Catedral Primada de America. Some say Columbus had wanted to be buried in the new world. But 250 years later when France took Hispaniola (DR and Haiti), Spain sent the bones to Havana. They stayed there for a century until the Spanish-American War in 1898. They finally ended up in Seville. Most also say the bones got mixed up along the way.
5. The Dominican Republic is one of the world’s best places to see humpback whales
The Dominican Republic consistently makes into the ‘world’s best whale-watching destinations’ lists and has the largest whale-watching industry in the Caribbean. Samaná, in the northeast, is the best place to spot them. The North Atlantic humpback whales migrate there between January and March. The bay’s sanctuaries cover a total area of 32,913 km², making them the most extensive conservation area of the Dominican Republic.
6. It’s home to the highest mountain in the Caribbean
Duarte Peak (formerly Mount Loma Tina or Trujillo Peak) soars 3,175m (10,417ft) above sea level. The mountain range takes its name from Juan Pablo Duarte, one of the founding fathers of the Dominican Republic. Dominicans renamed the range from Pico Trujillo, the dictator. The best time to hike it is between December and March.
The Dominican Republic is also home to the largest lake in the Caribbean – Lago Enriquillo. The waters continue to rise too; in the past decade, they’ve risen by 11.2m (37ft), taking 40,000 acres of land at the same time.
7. You can roll uphill on the ‘Gravity Hill’
Polo Magnético, or Gravity Hill, is located in Cabral. Just before you turn off for nearby Polo, you might be lucky enough to encounter a mirage. If you put your car in neutral and let go of the break, your car will get pulled uphill. It’s a clever optical illusion caused by the slope’s shape and its relation to the surrounding landscape.