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Dominican Republic - Overview

Capital: Santo Domingo

Population: 9,927,000 (2010 est.)

Languages: Spanish

Religions: Roman Catholic 75%

Currency: Dominican peso (DOP)

Timezone: GMT -4

The Dominican Republic is situated in the northern part of the Caribbean and is part of an island called Hispaniola. It takes up roughly two thirds of the island with the other third being Haiti. The country's area is 48,730 km²- around twice the size of Wales - making it the second largest country in the Caribbean after Cuba, lying between latitudes 17° and 20°N, and longitudes 68° and 72°W. The northern coast lies on the Atlantic Ocean and the south on the Caribbean. The capital, Santo Domingo, is situated in the middle of the southern coast. To the north is the United States, to the east is Puerto Rico, west Cuba and south is the Caribbean Sea all the way to the coast of Venezuela.

The Dominican Republic is not a typical tropical Caribbean island in the same way as the former British, French and Dutch islands. Its very size means that it is consists of much more than purely beaches, even though there are over 1600 kilometres of coastline. The interior of the country is very diverse with mountain ranges, fertile plains, deserts, and rain forests. The highest mountain range in the Dominican Republic - indeed, in the whole of the Caribbean - is the Cordillera Central which has the four highest peaks in the Caribbean, the highest of which is Pico Duarte (3,098 metres/10,164 feet). The area around Pico Duarte is known as Dominican Switzerland, with rolling green hills, a thriving agriculture industry and temperatures significantly cooler than the rest of the country. In the west of the country is the lowest point in the Caribbean, Lake Enriquillo, which is a salt water lake, home to iguanas amongst other wild life, and which lies below sea level. The centre of the country has fertile valleys, especially the Cibao region, which are the centre of the country’s agriculture, in particular rice, bananas, coffee and cocoa. The beaches are spectacular all around the island. In the north and the east one can enjoy mile upon mile of pure white sand, whereas in the south west, the beaches tend to be made up of small pebbles, with the mountains there descending directly into the ocean. The drive from the Barahona in the south west to Pedernales, on the border with Haiti, is said to be the most scenic drive in the whole of the Caribbean.

The proximity to Haiti, one of the poorest nations in the world, brings with it particular issues for the Dominican Republic. The population of the Dominican Republic is estimated at around 10 million but of these it is impossible to determine how many are Haitian, who have entered the country both legally and illegally. The border between the two countries runs in an almost straight line from north to south, and is in a mountainous area. Although there are three official border crossings at Dajabon in the north and Jimani and Pedernales in the south, it is relatively easy to simply walk across the border anywhere in between. In addition, after the earthquake, many Haitians came into the Dominican Republic on humanitarian grounds. Estimates on the number of Haitians in the country range from one to two million. Whilst many Haitians work, especially in construction projects, the fact that up to 20% of the country have a different nationality, culture and speak a different language, brings with it special problems for the Dominican Republic, specifically in the areas of health care and education. The Dominican Republic is a former Spanish colony and so the official language is Spanish. The official language of Haiti is Creole, which has its roots in French.

The Dominican Republic is divided into 31 provinces and each province has its own capital city. Whilst the country is governed from the capital, Santo Domingo, each province is then divided into municipalities and each one of these has its own mayor and local government, who are in the main responsible for the local infrastructure. The currency is the Dominican peso, although US dollars are accepted in the tourist areas, and the time zone is 4 hours behind GMT. The time does not change in summer nor winter.

This guide was compiled with the help of Lindsay de Feliz, a British expat blogger living in the Dominican Republic. Visit her blog at yoursaucepans.blogspot.com.

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