BOCA CHICA, 25km east of Santo Domingo, curves along a small bay protected by shoals, with wonderfully transparent Caribbean water lapping at a long line of beach shacks serving excellent food. It used to be one of the island’s prime swimming spots, but the town that surrounds it has unfortunately become so crowded with freelance guides, sex workers and persistent touts that it’s impossible to walk more than a few feet without being accosted by some enterprising individual hell-bent on attaching themselves to you for the duration of your stay.

On weekends the beach is jam-packed with thousands of day-tripping city-dwellers swimming in the sea and dancing to a cacophony of car stereos – which does make for an unforgettable beach party scene. At night, after the Dominicans leave, it devolves into little more than a gringo brothel. Sitting on the beach is the main attraction and the waters are low and calm enough to walk out to the bird-inhabited mangrove island La Matica just off shore. If you tire of swimming and sunbathing, you could opt for a more rigorous activity like scuba diving. Regular trips are led by Caribbean Divers at Duarte 28 (t 854-3483, w; US$30–65), a PADI- and PDIC-certified outfit. Dives head out to La Caleta Submarine National Park, a protected nearby coral reef at the bottom of which lie two sunken ships: the Hickory, once a treasure-hunting ship that salvaged two Spanish shipwrecks but now home to thousands of tropical sea creatures; and a bizarre-looking vehicle called “The UFO”, which is touted on the tour as being potentially extraterrestrial, but in fact is an old oil rig. Other diving excursions go to the waters off Bayahibe, Isla Catalina and a cave dive near Santo Domingo; they also do deep-sea fishing excursions and watersports such as sailing, surfing and snorkelling.

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