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31km (19 miles) E of Santo Domingo

This is the Santo Domingo Riviera, dubbed "Playa St. Tropez" by the more fanciful. A favorite stamping ground for the French and Canadians, it also draws massive hordes of city dwellers on weekends.

Lying only a 5-minute drive east of Las Américas International Airport, it grew as a port in the 1930s because of a sugar mill. It wasn't until the 1960s during the Trujillo era that it began to develop as a beach resort, when wealthy Dominicans came here to build vacation villas. A decline came about in the 1970s with the rise of such competitive resorts as Puerto Plata and Punta Cana.

The sands are wide and golden, opening onto a shallow lagoon protected by a reef. Meaning "little mouth," Boca Chica Beach is shaped like a bay, and is often called "the largest natural swimming pool" in the West Indies. This mirrorlike body of water has no crashing surf, so it's ideal for a swim and is a special favorite with families with young children.

In recent years the beach has become known for prostitution of both young boys and young girls, with tourists flying in from all over the world to form sexual liaisons. Every now and then the so-called "tourist police" have a major roundup of these hookers and hustlers, but they seem to appear on the streets and at the beach the next day.

In back of the beach is a winding, rather narrow street filled with small shops whose vendors hawk souvenirs, along with bars (both hooker and otherwise) and lots of seafood eateries. This street is closed to traffic at night, when tables and chairs spill out of the cafes and restaurants and the atmosphere becomes quite festive.