EXCLUSIVE | Top picks: Best of the Dominican Republic
In Santo Domingo, the Renaissance Jaragua Hotel & Casino (367 George Washington Ave., Santo Domingo; 809-221-2222; from $84) is the biggest name in the city and is impressively situated on the Malecon, the waterfront. The hotel's casino, show bar and nightclub pulse with life and are popular with guests and locals (a fun way to see how the straight set parties in the Dominican Republic).
Nine-room Art Deco B&B Casa New Yorker (102 Calle Canela, Santo Domingo; 809-689 3017; www.casanewyorker.com; $60) is a charming boutique option with WiFi and a rooftop sundeck. In La Romana, gay-friendly all-inclusive resort Casa de Campo (La Romana; 800-877-3643; www.casadecampo.com.do; from $124) offers 300 rooms and 150 villa homes across 7,000 acres of pristine coastline. Golf, go horseback riding, swim, sail, book some pampering in the spa or shop in the replica 16th-century Mediterranean village.
For authentic Creole cuisine in an elegant atmosphere, try La Canasta, located in the Hotel Melia Santo Domingo (Avenida George Washington 365, Santo Domingo; 809-221-6666). Try sancocho, a stew with a variety of meats and yucca, or mondongo, which is tripe cooked with tomatoes and peppers.
Tuck into some of the finest food available in the Caribbean at Lina Restaurant (Barcelo Gran Hotel Lina, Santo Domingo; 809-563-5000; www.barcelo.com; $9-$36), a modern Spanish-influenced room that still carries the name of its founding star chef, Lina Aguado. Dine on the very freshest seafood in the Dominican Republic on the elegant terrace at El Pescador (Casa de Campo, La Romana; 809-523-3333; $24-$54).
Santo Domingo is the only place where you'll find much that is gay-specific. It's best to take a taxi when visiting places the first time around, as they may be difficult to find. Jay-Dee's (10 Jos? Reyes, Santo Domingo; 809-333-6905), owned by an expat from Philadelphia, attracts locals and visitors with wet T-shirt competitions, drag shows and strippers.
In the Colonial Zone, Aire (313 Mercedes, Santo Domingo; 809-689-4163) is a gorgeous dance club in a restored mansion, with an open-air area full of palms and lush foliage. Sashay along after midnight to see Santo Domingo's (gay and straight) sleek and stylish at play.
Puerto Plata, on the north coast, has some beautiful beaches and resorts but little gay life. Sticking closer to Santo Domingo, Boca Chica Beach, near the airport, and La Matica Beach, are popular gay sunspots. Amber jewelry is one of the hottest-selling items in the Dominican Republic -- you can find it at various stores and hotel gift shops. For a true market experience, visit El Mercado Modelo along Avenida Mella, which features an array of goods ranging from fruits and vegetables to souvenirs and mahogany housewares.