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White sand beaches and turquoise water come to mind when thinking of the Dominican Republic, a country which lies on the Caribbean Sea. Dominican Republic hotels offer all that and much more. Visitors to this tropical paradise will discover a growing sense of pride in the island's natural environment. The country boasts 16 national parks and 67 protected areas that preserve landscapes of towering mountains, dense rain-forest and coasts teeming with marine life. For those whose holiday plans are all about the beach, Punta Cana is the place to be. Renowned Dominican Republic hotels lie along Bávaro Beach, which has been named the best in the Caribbean. Wide stretches of soft sand and breakers that roll gently up to shore offer relaxed swimming and sunbathing, perhaps with a glass of local rum in hand. With an abundance of natural beauty, Dominican Republic also has fascinating cities. Its capital, Santo Domingo, is a contrast of modern skyscrapers and historic buildings dating back to the days of Christopher Columbus.

Punta Cana and its hotels

Punta Cana, a spacious resort area at the island's eastern tip, caters to visitors who want their days packed with fun at the beach and on the water. For a look under the waves, Seaquarium offers an unusual experience. Another fun tour features a glass-bottom catamaran sailing to the Marinarium where divers get close to sting rays, nurse sharks, and hundreds of fish in acres of crystal clear waters. For sheer variety, a boat trip across the bay to Samaná is hard to beat. Samaná is a peninsula that juts into the ocean and is washed by the Atlantic on its north-eastern shore. It's a sparsely populated land where travellers take in lush forests, towering mountains, and a spectacular waterfall. Some tours go out to Bacardi Island with its sweeping views of undeveloped shoreline. For land-based excitement, there are zip-lining, ATV, and horseback tours. To find all the thrills in one place, head for Bávaro Adventure Park. Patrons create their own package from activities such as bungee-jumping, rope climbing on a pirate ship, simulated flying, and zorbing, which means rolling downhill inside a cushioned plastic ball.

More sedate pastimes include walking through the butterfly gardens of this 4,500-metres-squared park. Anyone not exhausted by the end of the day will enjoy the nightlife. Mangu Disco has music, dancing and variety shows. Imagine Punta Cana is a club inside a cave; Coco Bongo features breath-taking trapeze artists and gymnasts, plus recreations of famous movie scenes.

Visit Santo Domingo

The oldest European city in the Americas, Santo Domingo is the site of Catedral Primada de America, the New World's first cathedral and a must-see in Zona Colonial, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Dominican Republic hotels in the city's modern financial district serve business guests with amenities such as Wi-Fi and conference rooms. To relax, guests can stroll through the city's fascinating historic landmarks. Fortaleza Ozama, the first New World military structure, stands at the confluence of the Ozama River and the Caribbean. It's a reminder of the country's history of occupation and struggle for independence. The Museo Alcázar de Colón is the beautifully restored home of Columbus' son and houses the family's more fabulous belongings. Along Calle el Conde, shoppers find amber, wood carvings, ceramics and paintings in the traditional markets. Not to be missed is the Museo de las Casas Reales, with colonial treasures and artefacts from the Taino people, the original inhabitants of Hispaniola.