How tiny is it: 18,704 square miles
Or, roughly: Two New Hampshires
Tiny fact: Some 83 Dominicans were on opening-day Major League Baseball rosters this year, about 10 percent of all MLB players.
Oh great, you say. The Dominican Republic. I think my aunt went on a package tour there last Easter. And you’re half-right. (Probably. I don’t know your aunt.) Millions of Americans are lured to the eastern part of the island of Hispaniola every year by cheap airfares and norovirus-rich all-you-can eat buffets. But if you’ll promise to avoid Punta Cana and other all-inclusive resorts, you’ll have a time worth remembering.
The modern-day Dominican Republic is where Europe, Africa, and the Americas have been colliding for five centuries now. You’ll see, hear, smell, and taste some of the greatest products of that mashup in its pulsating capital, Santo Domingo, whose colonial zone is home to the first European cathedral, street, and pretty much everything else this side of the Atlantic. You can feel it at games of the most exciting baseball league in the world. And you can imagine those first steps of discovery on its endless stretches of beach (all public by law, though sometimes rich people will ignore this) — best among them the lesser-known gems like Bahía de las Águilas, a desert strand beside crystalline waters near the Haitian border, best accessed by fisherman’s boat.
Above all, you’ll hear the echoes in the music of the streets — the staccato creole Spanish of its people, and the merengue, bachata, and reggaeton music shaking the ground. Unlike the explorers and invaders who came before, including your aunt, you will have only one mission: drink the rum, lose your fear, and dance.
And yet: Some people may tell you not to go. For the past few years, under the pretense of cracking down on illegal immigration, the Dominican government has been hassling the million or so people of Haitian descent living in the Dominican Republic. Activist groups have called for tourism boycotts. The choice is yours, but here is an alternative take. Many Haitian immigrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent depend on tourism to survive, and if an economic crash comes, they will be among the first to suffer. Go and learn about the place, practice your Spanish, and come home rested, invigorated, informed. – Jonathan M. Katz, Thrillist contributor