Only recently discovered by American divers, the Dominican Republic has been a long-time favorite for vacationing Europeans and Canadians. The Dominican Republic offers a unique blend of culture, hospitality and diving diversity - all at very attractive prices. Located on the Caribbean's second largest island, the DR occupies two-thirds of Hispaniola. The capital city of Santo Domingo is the Western Hemisphere's oldest settlement and features more than 500 years of Spanish history and tradition.
The DR is rimmed by 1,000 miles of coastline, much of it pure white-sand beaches bordered by magnificent resorts with surprisingly low prices.
As for diving, the DR offers high-quality coral reef systems with good visibility. Thanks to an extensive underwater parks system and strict enforcement of restricted areas, visiting divers are greeted by a diverse abundance of fish life.
Most marine park areas along the south coast offer shallow- to medium-depth dive sites with healthy coral reefs and lots of fish. The country also has an active artificial reef program and has sunk a number of large, steel-hulled vessels.
Add to this program an equal number of wrecks sunk by natural causes and you have more than a dozen sunken ships that can be explored.
An entirely different type of diving can be found off the Samana Peninsula on the DR's north coast. This rocky coastline with high cliffs leads to an exciting underwater world of sheer drop-offs and pinnacles that rise from 165 feet to within 15 feet of the surface. Underwater visibility in this region can range from 100 to 150 feet. During the winter season, humpback whales can be seen and heard underwater as they migrate toward Silver Shoals. Puerto Plata on the north coast is a favorite base of operations for live-aboard dive boats that sail out to the Silver Bank to follow and photograph the whales.
Dive operators also are discovering new dive sites along the nation's undeveloped coastal regions where encounters with large animals can take place. Visitors are likely to see a nurse shark at most every dive site. Manatees are also plentiful but very shy. Snorkeling rather than scuba is the best means for approaching them.
Still another aspect of DR diving is the country's "inland sea." The island's limestone base is honeycombed with a system of freshwater caves, caverns, tunnels and underground rivers. Several dive operators are now offering freshwater cavern dives in addition to their regular menu of coral reef and shipwreck trips. The popularity of fresh water cavern diving is growing rapidly and the Dominican Republic could soon become a cave-diving mecca much like north-central Florida and Mexico's Yucatan.
With the low cost of diving and all-inclusive hotel packages, the Dominican Republic is one of the best vacation bargains in the Caribbean.