The Dominican Republic has long been popular as a vacation destination with high-end accommodations, modern infrastructure (including eight international airports) and long sultry stretches of beach that promise—and deliver—a plethora of sun-soaked activities enjoyable for all ages.
What remains a bit of a mystery is that this magical island, discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492 and rich with history, also offers numerous venues that deliver flexible and interesting event space options in the meeting-popular cities of Santo Domingo, Punta Cana and Puerto Plata.
“Dominican Republic’s unique features extend far beyond the beaches we are known for, helping to create the ideal location for any event,” said Magaly Toribio, marketing advisor for the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism.
“In addition to the country’s rich culture and 16th century architecture, Santo Domingo offers incredible gastronomy, coupled with the luxury amenities in Punta Cana, providing our country with a unique mix of attractions, consistently proven ideal for all groups," she added.
Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic’s capital, is best known for its preserved central historical neighborhood, Ciudad Colonial (Colonial City), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Known as one of the Caribbean’s oldest cities, Santa Domingo also boasts more restaurants than any other city in the Caribbean, adding to its vibrant nightlife.
Other well-maintained historic sites open to visitors include the Monastery of San Francisco, built in 1508; the Basilica Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor, the oldest cathedral in the Americas, built in the mid-16th century; and the University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, founded as a seminary for monks of the Dominican Order in 1518, later to become the first university in the New World in 1538.
In the heart of Santo Domingo, Casas del XVI offers an utterly charming new hotel concept by combining a group of restored colonial homes from the 16th century into a single luxury boutique hotel. With tiled roofs and original vaulted brick archways, individual homes have been restored and updated with modern conveniences, such as complimentary Wi-Fi.
Antique furniture blends with a distinctive collection of art from local and international artists and taken together, Casas provides a glorious and breathtaking backdrop for events. The Casa de los Mapas boasts indoor and outdoor dining for up to 130 for cocktails, or 70 for a sit-down dinner, and the Casa del Disenador’s dining room accommodates 60 for cocktails and 15 to 25 for dinner.
Another historic gem is the 97-room Hodelpa Nicolas de Ovando hotel. Built in 1502 and located in the heart of the colonial quarter, it is also listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The hotel includes three houses with gorgeous patios and the original home of the town’s founder and the first Spanish governor, Nicolas de Ovando.
The hotel offers seven meeting rooms for events, including the Salon Restaurante for up to 56 and the Patio Bartolome de la Casas for up to 250, among others.
For something truly unique, El Meson de la Cava, which opened in 1967, is located in a natural limestone cavern that once sheltered Taino Indians. During the construction of the restaurant the caves revealed artifacts, including the weapons guerrillas used during the occupation of 1930. Today, these artifacts are on exhibit for visitors. The Cave’s Terrace of the Inn, an outdoor space lush with exotic and tropical vegetation, is a remarkable venue to host events of up to 180 guests.
Another Santo Domingo highlight is the Dr. Rafael M. Moscoso National Botanical Garden, which visitors can experience on foot or by tram. Founded in 1976 and named for the famed Dominican botanist, the gardens span more than 400 acres of vegetation and flowers, including 300 types of orchids.
The gardens remain a perfect spot to view native birds (some very rare) and there’s also a traditional Japanese garden on-property that should stir the creative juices of event planners.
“The garden, which has been used in commercials and films, has several rooms, outdoor areas and gazebos that are wonderful for meeting events for 50 to 2,500 people,” said Karen Jhonson Castillo, business and planning executive, IVI DMC2 Dominican Republic, based in Punta Cana.
The ultra-luxurious Casa de Campo Resort & Villas (in the La Romana area) tennis center gardens is popular for private dinners and receptions, and the hotel’s private Minitas Beach hosts groups of up to 600 people who can sip cocktails while waves crash to the shore at their feet.
Casa de Campo’s Altos de Chavon, the resort’s own 16th century replica of a Mediterranean village, has several remarkable venues, including the Chavon Terrace, La Piazzetta Restaurant and Chavon Plaza. Active studios for artists of every medium—from pottery to weaving and silk screening—line the cobblestone streets alongside shops and boutiques showcasing their unique creations.
Other sites include an archaeological museum offering a glimpse into the history of the area, the St. Stanislaus Church, a 5,000-seat amphitheater with sweeping views of the Chavon River and the Caribbean Sea.
Punta Cana is widely known for its stunning beaches, upscale hotels, breathtaking golf courses and a variety of water-sports options.
For Ramon Rijo, regional managing director of Punta Cana’s IVI DMC2 Dominican Republic, it’s not too difficult to plan meeting events in the area because they are spoiled for choice.
“I am proud of being Dominican and not only because we are a friendly, fun and hard-working people, but because we also have amazing beaches, modern hotel infrastructure, convention centers and spectacular venues that surpass the expectations of our visitors and lend themselves to meetings and events,” Rijo said. “We are the island in the middle of the Caribbean that has it all.”
Like Santo Domingo, there are plenty of historical sites to visit in Punta Cana, including the Casa Ponce de Leon, just outside the city near Boca de Yuma. Once a working farm and sugar plantation, the building now houses period furniture and a suit of armor once worn by the explorer.
The Basilica Nuestra Senora de La Altagracia, located in Higuey near Punta Cana, is a Catholic cathedral with stained glass windows to commemorate the orange grove where a vision of Virgin Mary was witnessed; locals still make the yearly pilgrimage on Jan. 21.
Some of the area’s best-known hotels have interesting venues of their own for events, including the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana. Its Fillmore Ballroom, with 37,500 square feet of space, can hold close to 4,000 guests and has hosted some of the most elaborate events in the Caribbean, including concerts starring Andrea Bocelli and Enrique Iglesias.
The hotel’s Oro Night Club, modeled to rival Las Vegas and Miami nightclubs, is considered one of the hottest in the Dominican Republic and accommodates 60 for dinner and 200 for a reception. Oro offers more than 14,000 square feet of space across two levels and features elaborate lighting that includes an LED wall with more than 300 individual LED screens.
At the Iberostar Grand Hotel Bavaro Punta Cana, an all-inclusive hotel catering to meeting groups, the Grand Bavaro’s sailing ship in the lagoon can accommodate up to 190 guests for cocktails. The pool area accommodates up to 200 and up to 250 can be accommodated for spectacular beach events.
Between the Atlantic Ocean and the majestic mountain range of the Pico Isabel de Torres (Mount Isabel) is Puerto Plata. The 16th century Fortaleza San Felipe, which houses Museo de la Fortaleza San Felipe, is one of the top attractions, as is the 4,000-seat seaside Puerto Plata Amphitheater near the fort.
The 22,200-square-foot Amphitheater, available for corporate events, includes a 3,300-square-foot stage and boasts sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean and the country’s north coast.
The Brugal Rum Distillery, which produces about a million and a half liters of white and dark rum per year, offers free tours and a fun place to buy some liquid souvenirs.
Puerto Plata is also home to the Amber Museum, widely considered a superb example of Neoclassical architecture. Visitors can view pieces taken from the amber mines in the northern mountains and explore an extensive collection of Dominican amber, reputed to be the most transparent in the world.
Don’t miss the gift shop that sells genuine Dominican amber jewelry.
And finally, a must-see while in Puerto Plata is the Teleferico, the only cable car in the Caribbean, which takes visitors to the top of Mount Isabel (2,555 feet above sea level) for a panoramic view of the city.
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