Dominican Republic

Official name : Dominican Republic

Area: 48,730 square kilometers (18,810 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Pico Duarte (3,175 meters/10,417 feet)

Lowest point on land: Lake Enriquillo (46 meters/151 feet below sea level)

Hemispheres: Northern and Western

Time zone: 8 A.M. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 386 kilometers (240 miles) from east to west; 261 kilometers (162 miles) from north to south

Land boundaries: Haiti 275 kilometers (177 miles)

Coastline: 1,288 kilometers (800 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 11 kilometers (6 nautical miles)

1 LOCATION AND SIZE

The Dominican Republic is a Caribbean country that covers the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola. The Atlantic Ocean forms its northern border and the Caribbean Sea its southern coast. Haiti is along the western border of the country. With a total area of about 48,730 square kilometers (18,810 square miles), the Dominican Republic is slightly more than twice the size of New Hampshire. The nation is divided into twenty-nine provinces.

2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES

Dominican Republic has no territories or dependencies.

3 CLIMATE

The Dominican Republic has a semitropical climate tempered by the prevailing easterly winds. Temperatures range from 18° to 29°C (64° to 84°F) in the winter and from 23° to 35°C (73° to 95°F) in the summer. Temperatures are highest along the coast and much cooler in the mountains.

Annual precipitation averages about 152.5 centimeters (60 inches), but varies considerably by region, from 43 centimeters (17 inches) in the arid west to 135 centimeters (53 inches) in the east. The mountainous areas in the north have an average rainfall of about 208 centimeters (82 inches). The wet season is from June to November, with the dry season from December to May. Tropical hurricanes occur every few years and can cause great damage.

4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS

The Dominican Republic has a rugged and mountainous terrain with fertile valleys in the central and eastern areas. The Cordillera Central mountain range runs from east to west throughout the center of the country. The expansive valleys that lie to the north and south of this range have rich soils. The Dominican Republic is home to both the highest point and the lowest-elevation lake in the West Indies.

5 OCEANS AND SEAS

Seacoast and Undersea Features

The Dominican Republic borders both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. On the Atlantic coast, there is an offshore rocky ledge. This platform is highly developed in the shallow waters of the Bay of Samaná (Bahía de Samaná) and stretches westward along the northern coasts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The platform extends seaward from a width of a few hundred meters to more than 48 kilometers (30 miles) and a maximum depth of 61 meters (200 feet). In some spots, the shelf rises to form tiny islands and jagged coral reefs that lie close to the surface. These reefs represent hazards to navigation in waters east of Monte Cristi.

Sea Inlets and Straits

The Mona Passage is a 130-kilometer-wide (80-mile-wide) strait that separates the Dominican Republic from Puerto Rico. It connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Caribbean Sea.

Islands and Archipelagos

Of the numerous islands scattered off the Dominican Republic's coastline, only three are permanently inhabited. The largest, Saona Island (Isla Saona), covers an area of about 144 square kilometers (60 square miles) and is located at the southeastern tip of Hispaniola. Beata Island (Isla Beata, 52 square kilometers/ 20 square miles) lies off the Pedernales Peninsula in the extreme west.

Coastal Features

Sandy beaches and rocky escarpments (steep slopes that separate areas of different elevations) mark the northern coast. The Bay of Monte Cristi (Bahía de Monte Cristi) marks the westernmost part of the north coast. Further east, Cape Francés Viejo (Cabo Francés Viejo) projects north into the Atlantic. Southeast of Cape Francés Viejo, the Samaná Peninsula and its cape (Cabo Samaná) project eastward, forming a narrow bay of the same name.

The Caribbean coast in the south is better suited to port development, since there are fewer reefs and islets and inland access to ports is easier. The best of the natural harbors are located on rivers that meet the Caribbean at the cities of Santo Domingo, San Pedro de Macorís, and La Romana. The Pedernales Peninsula juts into the Caribbean at the west end of this coastline, with the Bay of Neiba (Bahía de Neiba) on its eastern side. Otherwise, the coast is fairly even, meeting with the north coast to form Cape Engaño at the eastern end of the island.

6 INLAND LAKES

The largest of the country's natural lakes is Lake Enriquillo in the Neiba Valley. A remnant of the strait that once occupied the area, its surface is 46 meters (151 feet) below sea level, which also makes this lake the lowest point in the country and the lowest-lying lake in the West Indies. Although Lake Enriquillo is fed by many streams from the surrounding mountains and has no outlet, the high rate of evaporation in the valley is causing its waters gradually to recede. On Isla Cabritos, a small island in the center of Lake Enriquillo, there is a national park that supports and preserves the habitat of the crocodile.

7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS

The rivers of the Dominican Republic are mostly shallow and subject to wide seasonal change in flow. Consequently, they are of little use for transportation.

The North Yaque River (Yaque del Norte) is the country's longest river. It begins in the Cibao Valley and flows north for 280 kilometers (170 miles), emptying into the Atlantic Ocean near Monte Cristi. The Yuna River also begins near the Cibao Valley and runs northeastward into the Bay of Samaná. A large marshland area extends inland from the delta of the Yuna River. There is also an area of salt marshes along the rivers south of Monte Cristi Bay.

Two main rivers flow from the San Juan Valley. The Artibonito River (Río Artibonito) flows westward across the border and becomes the principal watercourse of Haiti. The South Yaque (Yaque del Sur) flows into the Caribbean at the Bay of Neiba.

8 DESERTS

There are no desert regions in the Dominican Republic.

9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN

The largest of the lowland regions is the Caribbean Coastal Plain; the plain covers more than 2,849 square kilometers (1,100 square miles). It is composed principally of a limestone platform formed by corals and alluvial deposits. Inland, the soil is highly fertile, but the soil to the west of Santo Domingo is derived from acid clays and is not suited to agriculture. The Caribbean Coastal Plain is the center of the country's cattle-raising and sugar industries.

The country's other lowlands consist of long valleys that extend northwest from origins close to the Caribbean Sea to lowlands in Haiti. The fertile soils of these flood plains and terraces are suitable for intensive agriculture, and the shallower soils provide good pasture. The most extensive of the valleys, the Cibao, is the breadbasket (center of grain cultivation and harvest) of the country.

The Cordillera Oriental is a narrow band of hills that stretches from the Cordillera Central through the eastern portion of the country to the Atlantic coast and the shore of the Bay of Samaná. The western third of the range permits fairly easy access from the capital city to the interior lowlands. The remainder is more rugged. Elevations are generally less than 305 meters (1,000 feet).

10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES

The principal mountain system is the Cordillera Central, which rises in the east near Santo Domingo and veers northwestward into Haiti, where it is called the Massif du Nord. The Cordillera Central divides the country into two parts. Its ridges crest between 1,524 and 2,438 meters (5,000 and 8,000 feet), but there are individual peaks with considerably greater heights. The highest peak in the country, Pico Duarte, is found in this range. Pico Duarte has an elevation of 3,175 meters (10,417 feet) and is the highest peak in the West Indies.

The two ranges that lie to the south of the Cordillera Central, the Sierra de Neiba and the Sierra de Baoruco, begin as escarpments flanking Neiba Bay and continue northwest-ward into Haiti. Elevations range between 914 and 1,219 meters (3,000 and 4,000 feet), but some peaks are as high as 1,828 meters (6,000 feet). The eastern part of the Sierra de Neiba is separated from the remainder of the range by the South Yaque and is known as the Sierra de Martin Garcfa. The Sierra de Baoruco is an extension of the southern mountain ranges of Haiti. North of the Cordillera Central lies the Cordillera Septentrional, a mountain range characterized by extremely steep slopes and deeply etched valleys.

11 CANYONS AND CAVES

The Cabarete Caves are now part of the El Choco National Park near the city of Cabarete. These limestone caves were the homes of the earliest Dominican Republic natives.

The Three Eyes of Water (Los Tres Ojos de Agua) is a series of caves located near Santo Domingo. The caves are named for the three lagoons that were created by the underground rivers that run through the caves. There are many stalactites and stalagmites throughout the caves, as well as lush tropical vegetation surrounding the lagoons.

DID YOU KNOW?

The West Indies is the chain of islands that extends from the south coast of Florida to the eastern coastline of Venezuela. The chain forms a northern boundary for the Caribbean Sea. Visited by Christopher Columbus in 1492, they were named by him in the mistaken belief that he had reached the Asian coast on his journey to discover a westward route to India.

12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS

There are no major plateau regions in the Dominican Republic.

13 MAN-MADE FEATURES

A dam on the North Yaque River at Tavera creates a reservoir and provides irrigation for the central Cibao Valley.

14 FURTHER READING

Books

Bell, Ian. The Dominican Republic. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1980.

Furlong, Kate A. Dominican Republic . Edina, MN: Abdo Publications, 2000.

Landau, Elaine. Dominican Republic . New York: Children's Press, 2000.

Periodicals

Lannom, Gloria. "The Jewel of the Dominican Republic." Faces: People, Places, and Cultures, February 1999, Vol. 15, Issue 6, 14.

Web Sites

The Embassy of the Dominican Republic in the United States. http://www.domrep.org (accessed March 2003).

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