The Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola, between the Caribbean Sea and North Atlantic Ocean, with Haiti to the west. Although known for its pristine beaches, all-inclusive resorts and golfing, it has a varied terrain including rainforest, savannah and highlands, and Pico Duarte – the Caribbean’s tallest mountain. It has Spanish colonial history dating back 500 years. Merengue and bachata are the nation’s most beloved music and dance.
The Taino were the indigenous inhabitants of Hispaniola prior to the arrival of the Europeans. Christopher Columbus explored and claimed the island on his first voyage in 1492 and it became a springboard for Spanish conquest of the Caribbean. In 1697, Spain recognized French dominion over the western third of the island, which in 1804 became Haiti. The remainder of the island, by then known as Santo Domingo, sought to gain its own independence in 1821, but was conquered and ruled by the Haitians for 22 years; it finally attained independence as the Dominican Republic in 1844.
The Dominican Republic is the largest economy in the Caribbean. Tourism accounts for more than $1 billion in annual earnings. It is a large exporter of sugarcane, cacao and coffee and is rumored to be the largest exporter of cigars worldwide. In recent years the service sector has become the country’s largest employer due to growth in telecommunications, tourism, and free trade zones. The economy is highly dependent upon the US, the destination for approximately 50 to 75% of all exports. The country suffers from marked income inequality; 40% of the population is at the poverty line and an average Dominican earns just $140 USD per month. High unemployment and underemployment remains a significant long-term challenge.
Capital: Santo Domingo, Pop. 2.8 million
Currency: Dominican Peso
Population: Approximately 10.4 million
Official language: Spanish
Ethnic groups: Mixed 73%, White 16%, Black 11%
Religion: Roman Catholic 95%, Other 5%