There's no place quite like the Dominican Republic. That’s because its history is the result of an unlikely mixture of influences; nowhere else will you find a blending of European, African, and native Taíno Indian cultures.
These distinct cultures still drive the social identity of the people today. Every aspect of their food, music, art, sports and religion provides a unique insight into the development of their country. In a single day you can experience both ancient and modern cultures from around the globe.
Nowhere is this more evident than in their food. As a former Spanish Colony, many of its dishes carry a familiar Latin American feel. Lots of rice, beans, meat and seafood can be found in their cuisine. However, strong influences from its heritage give the meals a unique twist. Traditional Taíno dishes are still made featuring yucca, plantains, and potatoes; as well as African recipes using similar native ingredients.
The most common food on the Island is called La Bandera, or “The Flag.” It is made with meat, rice, and red beans. Making the dish distinctly Dominican, many will also serve it with friend plantains called “tostones.” As a culture that loves to eat, the meal will often continue beyond this first course. Be prepared to try boiled green plantain known as “mangú,” “pasteles en hojas,” which are wrapped turnovers cooked in banana leaves; and various casseroles, stews, and meat dishes featuring braised goat, pork and chicken rinds.
In addition to their rich culinary history, Dominicans also demonstrate their unmistakable heritage through art. The island is filled with many different types of bright and colorful artwork. Jewelry made out of amber, bone, horn and coconut husk can be found at local markets and shops, where the native Taíno influence can still be seen. In addition to jewelry, Dominican artists also use clay, porcelain, hemp, and guano to make both decorative and religious figurines.
Many of these figurines point to the religious history of the island. Its inhabitants are mostly Catholic, followed by other denominations of Christianity.
Although food and art are important parts of Dominican culture, the true life of the culture is baseball. Much more than a national pastime, baseball is a major source of national pride and identity. In fact, almost 40 percent of players in the U.S. Major League Baseball and minor leagues come from Latin America- with most of those coming from the Dominican Republic. Some of their most famous Dominican players include Pedro Martinez, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Sammy Sosa.
As the first city founded in the Americas, the Dominican Republic’s capital city of Santo Domingo boasts an incredible collection of museums, historic sites, art and music. The Colonial City, located inside Santo Domingo, is the first city of the America’s; it features the first street, hospital, university and cathedral in the Americas. It is believed that the body of Christopher Columbus still resides on this island that he landed on hundreds of years ago.
There are many historic museums and buildings that take a unique look into Dominican culture. Among them are the Alcázar de Colon (Fortress of Colon), the Reloj de Sol (the Sun Clock) and the monasterio de los Padres Dominicos (the Monastery of the Dominican Fathers).
Much of the Dominican culture can be experienced through its inspiring museums, food, and music. However, to truly understand the depth of the Dominican People, you must experience Carnival. This annual celebration of independence spans the entire country, with each city putting on their own unique version of the festival. They fill the streets with colorful masks, music, and of course, dancing. However, Carnival didn’t always look this way. It is actually the culmination of all three cultures; native Taíno, Spanish and African. Brought together, they create a swirl of energy and culture that you can’t find anywhere else. Carnival lasts throughout the month of February, climaxing on the 27th.
Other Dominican Holidays include January 26th, the day of the patriarch Juan Pablo Duarte; March 9, the day of the patriarch Francisco del Rosario Sánchez; August 16, the Restoration of the Republic; and Constitution Day on November 6.