Dominican Republic: Weddings in Paradise
by Paris Permenter & John Bigley

Into every life, a little rain must fall, and sometimes it falls on your wedding day. Such was the case for Jennifer and Marcos Ortiz, whose spring wedding at the Dominican Republic's Casa de Campo was blessed by some April showers. "Spring at Casa de Campo is beautiful," recalls Jennifer. "However, it is in the tropics and occasionally it rains -- which it did throughout our ceremony but that didn't dampen our spirits."

The wedding of the couple took place at the Church of St. Stanislaus, which lies at the heart of Altos de Chavon, a replica 16th century Mediterranean village located near the resort. Tucked high on the cliffs overlooking the Chavon River, the site has witnessed the union of many lucky couples.

"It was a dream come true," says Jennifer. And an unexpected fairytale flourish added even more charm to the occasion. "As a surprise, the priest himself even sang during the service which made it even more special."

The church and the surrounding village of Altos de Chavon have been the setting for many unique weddings, from modest beachside ceremonies to flamboyant African and Moroccan themed affairs at the resort's Safari Club, where couples can exchange vows beneath a thatched roof amid handmade African furniture and ornamental masks. Others choose to spend the day the medieval village, where wedding guests can stroll along cobblestone streets, sit beside cool fountains, and enjoy the Spanish architecture that recalls a simpler time. If the village seems like a movie set come to life, it is; the charming community was constructed by local artisans under the direction of the Italian cinematographer Roberto Copa just over two decades ago.

After the ceremony, newlyweds and their guests can enjoy all the amenities of this sprawling resort which lies on the south side of the Dominican Republic, about 75 minutes east of Santo Domingo. Even couples that bring along a sizable wedding party find plenty of privacy with over 7,000 acres for sharing quiet walks, an equestrian center for romantic horseback rides among sugar cane fields, and Minitas Beach, a private beach where you can snorkel hand-in-hand. If the two of you would like to learn a new sport together, try golf lessons at one of the two courses or tennis at the resort known as the "Wimbledon of the Caribbean." And when it's time to jet off to your new life together, there's even an international airport right at the resort.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

Casa de Campo is unique in the Dominican Republic, and indeed in the Caribbean, but the island is filled with one-of-a-kind destinations, no matter what your interests. Here days can be spent under a tall coconut tree and nights enjoyed to the rhythm of lapping waves, as the moon rises over a silver sea or you can choose to participate in a full menu of sporting activities.

Whether your idea of a romantic getaway brings to mind a fiesta or a siesta, the Dominican Republic delivers. Year around warm weather makes possible the sybaritic delights for which the island is known. Whether the two of you want to slip out of bed for a midnight dip in a private plunge pool or jog side by side on a sandy beach as the first rays of light illuminate the sky, you'll find that temperatures are just right. Even during the winter months, the only goosebumps you'll experience are ones your lover delightfully produces.

The Dominican Republic, also known as the DR, is located on the island of Hispaniola, the second largest Caribbean island (only Cuba is larger). Shared with the nation of Haiti, Hispaniola is a land of rugged mountains, palm-lined beaches, and two diverse cultures. Haitians speak French; Dominicans, Spanish. And while life has become a struggle for Haitians, Dominican Republic days are far more carefree, with plenty of time to dance to the throbbing sounds of merengue and to enjoy a glass of "Dominicana gasolina," the moniker for locally produced rum served at picturesque beach bars around the island.

PLAYA DORADA

Many of the Dominican Republic's resorts are found on the north coast in a region nicknamed the Amber Coast for its deposits of the ancient sap turned to stone. Amber is fashioned into jewelry; you and your honey will have a great time selecting the perfect amber ring, bracelet, or pendant at stores throughout the area. Some of the more interesting amber pieces contain tiny plants or insects (like the mosquito a la Jurassic Park).

The vacation capital of the Amber Coast is the community of Playa Dorada. The setting itself sets the stage for the promise of romance. Here the two of you can steal a kiss in the gentle Atlantic surf, cuddle on beaches lined with majestic palms, or take a sunset sail to mark the end of another perfect day and the start of another night filled with promise.

Full service resorts where honeymooners feel not just welcomed but worshipped fulfill any need and provide memories you'll cherish throughout your life together. Many of these resorts are all-inclusive so the two of you can indulge every pleasure--from wine to windsurfing lessons--without an eye on the budget.

It's hard to tear yourself away from the perfection of the beaches of Playa Dorada, but save time for a tour of nearby Puerto Plata. Founded at the request of Christopher Columbus, this city is rich with history and romance.

One of the city's first buildings was the Fortaleza San Felipe, which still stands guard over the city and the harbor. Built by the Spaniards to protect the city from pirates, today the historic port makes the perfect spot for a honeymoon portrait to capture the memory of your unforgettable trip.

But save some film for the most picturesque spot on the north coast: Pico Isabel de Torres, one of the highest points in the Dominican Republic. A dome-shaped fortress is topped with a statue of Christ similar to one that overlooks Rio de Janeiro. From this lofty spot, couples peer through a gentle mist down to Puerto Plata, the city named for its "silver port." A look at the lush mountain, contrasting with the pale coastline, makes it easy to see why Christopher Columbus wrote Queen Isabella, "This is the most beautiful land that human eyes have seen."

SOUTHEAST COAST

Although much of the Dominican Republic's early beach development was along the north shore in Puerto Plata, today an increasingly popular hot spot is the southeastern coastline.

In addition to resorts like Casa de Campo, the southeast coast tempts honeymooners with numerous romantic resorts down miles of beaches the color of toasted coconut. Each has its own unique atmosphere so the two of you can find just the perfect hideaway to suit your desires.

If you and your lover are scuba divers, then make your destination Boca Chica. Once a quiet fishing village, today this beachside community is home to major tourist complexes, thanks to its location on the largest reef-protected lagoon in the Caribbean. You and your dive buddy will float among fish as colorful as gumdrops in a candy store window at La Caleta Underwater National Park, considered one of the best in the region. And if the two of you don't yet scuba but would like to learn together, now's the chance. Many hotels offer resort courses; after a lesson and some practice in the pool, you and your mate can share your virgin dive offshore that afternoon.

And when it's time to soak up some sun, you will mingle with a crowd from around the world along these beaches. Most local restaurants are owned by Europeans, giving Boca Chica a delightfully international atmosphere.

East of Boca Chica lies Juan Dolio, a quieter beach community. Here tourism is still in its early days and tranquility is one of the town's assets. Couples can stake out their piece of paradise for the day like Robinson Crusoe and his Girl Friday and discover tropical utopia one blissful grain of sand at a time.

After a day of luxuriating along a pristine stretch of beach, don a backless sundress to show off your sun-kissed shoulders at the exciting Coral Costa Caribe Casino. Here you can try your hand with Lady Luck or just watch the action; the casino pulsates with activity all through the evening hours. At the end of the evening, the two of you can walk out on a moonlit beach and gaze up at the endless blanket of stars that decorate the Caribbean night sky; the same stars that once guided explorers to the region now serve as a pathfinder for lovers.

PUNTA CANA

The easternmost tip of Hispaniola is home to Punta Cana (pronounced Poontah Cah-na). This area, once isolated by dense jungle and accessible only by helicopter or boat, is one of the crown jewels of the Dominican Republic. This coastal region is home to many of the island's all-inclusive resorts and luxury properties where you can work out the kinks of your flight with pampering massages for two or an energetic visit to a state-of-the-art fitness center.

Punta Cana also offers a full menu of ecotourism delights. When you're ready for a day away from the beaches, consider a safari tour of the surrounding countryside, a chance to see the fields often silent except for the song of a colorful bananaquit as it flits through the trees.

Punta Cana also boasts of the island's (and some say the Caribbean's) top beaches, perfect places for you and yours to stretch out on the crushed coral sand and listen to the gentle lap of waves. The two of you can also act out your Jacques Cousteau fantasies with a snorkel trip. With just a few minutes of quick instruction, you're ready to slip into the clear waters and take a peek at the marine world just offshore.

Landlubbers also find plenty of diversion as well. Wrap your arms around the waist of your new spouse and jump aboard a waverunnner or enjoy the best view of the coastline with a leisurely sail. Feel the wind in your hair with an afternoon of horseback riding, the perfect way to enjoy the tropical tradewinds and feel part of the Dominican landscape.

SANTO DOMINGO

Although the capital city of the Dominican Republic is often overshadowed by the island's spectacular beach destinations, the city of Santo Domingo is a favorite with many couples who are in search of sophistication as well as a rich cultural atmosphere. Founded by Christopher Columbus's brother, Santo Domingo brims with Old World charm and reminders that this was the first European city in the Western Hemisphere. It also has a long history as a honeymoon haven -- Columbus's son, Diego Columbus, first brought his new bride here half a millennium ago.

Many of the historic sights remain favorite places for couples to soak up the Spanish atmosphere. Stroll hand-in-hand along Calle Las Damas, the oldest street in the New World, where the mantilla-wearing ladies of the Spanish court once paraded in their finery. As you walk in their footsteps along the cobblestone streets of this historic district, it's easy to fantasize about love in the 15th century--and throughout the ages.

For all its Old World charm, however, Santo Domingo also pulsates with plenty of New World vitality, from vibrant casinos to sizzling discos. For many honeymooners, nightlife means merengue (pronounced mare-rhen-gay). Enjoyed in carnivals, fiestas, dance halls, and anywhere there's a gathering, the sensuous national dance proves that the heat of the Dominican Republic day can be surpassed by the passion of the night. Its pulsating rhythms provide the perfect excuse to dance the night away and create an evening the two of you will never forget.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC AT A GLANCE

Where to Eat: Nicknamed the "breadbasket of the Caribbean," the DR tempts travelers with a full menu. Sample deep sea grouper, Dominican beef, moro (rice and beans), locrio (rice with meat, fish or seafood), asapao (a thick soup with rice, meat and seafood), and sancocho, the national dish made with seven different meats and plenty of spice. The two of you can also dine on fine French cuisine at top restaurants like Altos de Chavon's Casa del Rio or L'Ecrevisse, half an hour east of Santo Domingo.

Shop 'Til You Both Drop: You'll find plenty of chances to bring home unique honeymoon souvenirs from the DR; the best buy is amber. Amber prices vary from $3 US for small earrings to $200 US for a mosquito encased in amber to several hundred dollars for large, chunky necklaces or amber set in gold. The color of the amber affects the price as well. Generally the pale blonde amber is the least expensive. Other popular souvenirs are Brugal rum, Dominican cigars, merengue cassette tapes, and larimar, a blue stone similar to turquoise.

Currency: One US dollar with worth approximately 16 Dominican Republic pesos at press time. Prices are marked with dollar signs followed by the letters "RD" such as $12.50 RD. Do not exchange more dollars than you will spend while in the Dominican Republic. Upon departure, you may only convert 30% of your pesos back to dollars with proper receipts.

Weather Watch: Dominican Republic's high season is mid-December through mid-April, when the weather is ideal but demand -- and price -- is at a peak.

Tourism Contact: Call the Dominican Republic tourism desk at 888-374-6361 for general questions. For specific information on planning a Dominican Republic honeymoon, call 800-723-6138 and ask for a copy of the "Dominican Republic Vacation Planner."

WHEN YOU MARRY THERE

Weddings in the Dominican Republic are easy to arrange, thanks to local laws. Most larger hotels and resorts have on-site wedding coordinators to help with every detail from paperwork to photography; coordinators need at least 15 days notice (but prefer at least three months to work out all the special details.)

Fees: US$60-$100, depending on the judge

Applications and/or Documents Required: Bring along original copies of the following (and be sure pack these in your hand luggage, never in your checked bags): passport, original birth certificate, single status affidavit in Spanish, divorce act in Spanish (if applicable). The Dominican Republic consulate nearest your hometown can prepare the single status or divorce act papers; call 888-374-6361 for the location of your nearest consulate.

Waiting Period: There is no waiting period or minimum stay.

Witnesses: You will need two witnesses. If you provide witnesses, they will each need to bring their passport. Hotels can also provide witnesses.

Blood Test: No blood test is required.