Before Columbus, the indigenous Taíno people were a well-organized and peaceful society living on the island. Upon “discovery,” their entire population was wiped out, but their influence on Dominican culture was not lost. Their history has come together like a puzzle put together from artifacts recovered at sites, cave drawings, and leftover cultural practices. The Taíno influence can still be heard in remnants of language that have been adopted into regular Spanish, and Dominicans still make a type of bread that has existed since Taíno days.
A visitor could easily spend a week exploring just Taíno historical sites in the Dominican Republic with some traditional beach fun along the way. But there is more to the history of the country than just the Taíno era. It encompasses Trujillo, Columbus, and many other influential moments. This itinerary is designed for travel with a rental car and can easily be tailored to fit your personal financial and scheduling needs.
Fly into Punta Cana airport and rent a car. Drive to the burgeoning tourist destination of Bayahibe and check into one of the area’s best all-inclusive resorts, the Iberostar Hacienda Dominicus. This resort maintains a beautiful beach strip for its guests to enjoy, and you can enjoy dinner within the hotel at one of its five restaurants and later learn how to merengue at the disco.
At the tour package desk next to the lobby in the hotel, reserve a ride aboard a catamaran out to beautiful Isla Saona. Once on Isla Saona, walk to the Cueva Cotubanamá, a cave where Taíno families hid out from the Spanish. Spend the day at the beach soaking in the paradise they once lived in. Buffet lunch is served on the beach for all-inclusive guests. This can also be arranged through independent boat captains at the Bayahibe point.
Just south of Bayahibe is Dominicus Americanus, where the entrance to the Parque Nacional del Este is located. Here, check out La Cueva de Berna and Cueva del Puente, caves with some easy and not-so-easy to spot Taíno drawings. Guides can be hired at the entrance to the park.
Make sure to take a bottle of water on the journey into the park; it is a hot and arid place. This is a close day trip and you don’t have to check out of your Bayahibe resort. Drive to San Rafael de Yuma and visit the Casa Ponce de León.
On your way to Santo Domingo, stop and take a guided tour at the Cueva de las Maravillas, where you’ll see some of the best examples of Taíno art in the Caribbean. Pictograms have been pristinely preserved and look as if they were drawn in recent years.
While in Santo Domingo, check out the fantastic collection of Taíno artifacts at the Museo del Hombre Dominicano at the Plaza de la Cultura. At the front desk ask for a guide or some literature in your language. This is a wonderful mid-journey education on Taíno culture and rituals.
Stroll through the Ciudad Colonial and visit some of the museums. An important piece of the native Taínos’ story and the overall Dominican tale is the period of Spanish colonialism. Have dinner at El Conuco Restaurant to get a taste of la bandera dominicana and see some traditional merengue dancers.
Take a day trip just north of San Cristóbal to the Reserva Antropológica El Pomier, the most significant collection of rock art found in the Caribbean. These finds are from not only the Taíno but the Igneri and Carib tribes as well, and are about 2,000 years old.
Take a lunch break at Pastelería Chichita and then make your way up the hill to visit El Castillo del Cerro, the one-time home of Trujillo in San Cristóbal, before heading back to Santo Domingo.
Get up early to return to Bayahibe to spend your last day soaking up the sun on Playa Bayahibe before your departure the next day. No trip to the Caribbean would be complete without a seafood dinner. Restaurante La Punta always offers the freshest of catches.
Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Dominican Republic.