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  • Time to Discover the Dominican Republic
    Don Juan Beach Resort and Treasure Divers Offer Reef and Wreck Dives
    By Walt Stearns
    With underwater clarity averaging 80 feet and no detectable current, the morning dive could not have been easier. Sitting even keel at a depth of 60 feet, the MV Hickory looked like something befitting a Hollywood movie. Sent to the bottom fully intact in 1986, the 135 foot plus former treasure salvager retains most of its upper deck structure, including a towering iron mast, reaching to within three feet of the surface. The wreck has been down nearly 12 years; her steel skeleton is entirely overgrown by corals and sponges in explosive profusion and striking hues. Making a home of the Hickory's richly bejeweled wreckage are large schools of Blackbar Soldierfish, Glasseye Sweepers, squirrelfish and Sergeant Majors.

    Among the collection of wrecks (new and old) I have explored in Bermuda, Florida, The Bahamas and the Caribbean, the Hickory, on the south coast of the Dominican Republic, is certainly one of the five most colorful. But, the Hickory is not all this southern side of the Dominican Republic has to offer.

    While touring the Dominican Republic's colonial capital city of Santo Domingo, visitors can retrace the steps of those who dared to explore and begin settlement of the New World. Founded by Christopher Columbus brother, Bartholomew, at the close of the 15th century (1496), Santo Domingo was the first continuously inhabited colonial seat of the Spanish Empire for most of the 16th century. While it was the capital port for this vast new territory, the city was the site of several firsts: the first stone constructed cathedral, monastery, hospital, university and city hall in the New World.

    Situated 20 miles east (a 30 minute drive) of Santo Domingo, overlooking the white sandy beach of Boca Chica, the Don Juan Beach Resort bathes in the warm waters of the Caribbean. Four miles from the Las Americas International Airport, this comprehensive, modern, all-inclusive 225 room resort/hotel has all the makings for an exciting vacation.

    Comprising the list of choice accommodations are 24 Captain's Club Suites (elegant decor with private balcony, two queen sized beds, minibar, whirlpool bathtub, hairdryer and bathrobe); 58 Ocean View Suites (also featuring a balcony overlooking the beach and small living room with sofa bed); 80 Village Superiors (balconies overlook a courtyard garden); 40 Superiors (similar to the Village Superior); and 23 Standard rooms (slightly smaller and with no balcony). Three of these connect to Ocean View Suites. All rooms come standard with air-conditioning, queen sized beds, private baths with shower and tub, satellite TV, direct dial phone and security safe deposit box.

    The Coral Restaurant, facing the beach next to the pool, serves daily breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets, while La Caleta, also overlooking the beach, serves a la carte selections (reservations required). Daily lunchtime barbecues at the Gazebo Bar round out the choice of dining options.

    Don Juan Beach Resort's all-inclusive selection of activities, entertainment and services include shuttle bus service to both the historic colonial district of Santo Domingo and downtown shopping arcade, use of a gym offering daily aerobics and local dance classes, windsurfing, tennis, bicycles and discover diving sessions in the resort pool. Nightly live performances at the resort, sunset cruises, dancing at La Yola Club and supervised attention at the Tortuguitas Clubhouse and playground for children 3 to 13 are also available. Additional activities and excursions include sportfishing, horseback riding, golfing, waterskiing or banana/torpedo rides and watercraft rentals.

    Diving with Treasure Divers: In addition to offering diving instruction with both PADI and CMAS certification, Treasure Divers also provides access to some of the richest and most varied diving, from reefs and wrecks to freshwater caves (called sweetwater caverns) found along the Dominican Republic's south coast.

    Treasure Divers departs daily (both morning and afternoon) from the resorts private pier, running to several of the regions better sites, predominantly within La Caleta National Park. This is home to the Hickory, as well as a wreck of more recent vintage, the Capt. Alsina, resting in 90 to 100 feet. Welcome features of Treasure Divers fleet of four boats include their canvas awnings for sun protection, a rarity in the Dominican Republic. In addition to 60 aluminum 80s and 20 full sets of Scubapro BCs with power inflators, regulators with octopus and pressure gauges, Treasure Divers is one of the few operations I visited that offers dive computers for rental.

    Tuesdays, Treasure Divers offers a special full day, two tank excursion to Catalina Island, a short distance up the coast. The island features a remarkable wall site starting at 18 feet with a vertical plunge draped with sponges and Black Coral to a depth of 130 feet.

    One of the rather fascinating traits of the Dominican Republic is its geological makeup. Its entire lower coastal region is comprised of karstic rock. This ground rock is typified by highly comprehensive and intricate underground freshwater cave systems, similar to those found in North Florida and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. One of the systems near La Caleta, favored by Treasure Divers for guests seeking something entirely different, features a 300 foot long, winding network of caverns and tunnels with underwater visibility easily exceeding 200 feet. As penetration cave diving goes, this is as safe as Ive seen; a relatively comfortable and exciting dive that makes you feel as if you are deep underground although the maximum attainable depth is only 25 feet! The majority of these caverns rise above the water and have an exit out.

    For booking or more information, the Don Juan Beach Resort offices can be reached at (800) 820-1631, (809) 523-4511 or fax (809) 688-5271, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Treasure Divers office in the Don Juan Beach Resort can be reached at (809) 523-4511, fax (809) 523-4819.