All visitors traveling to or from Punta Cana will pass through Higuey, Dominican Republic, a large, vibrant and ungainly town, officially called Salvaleon de Higuey. It was founded in 1502 by Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon, although historic sites are relatively few.
However, the city is renowned as the republic's most important pilgrimage destination: every 21 January, tens of thousands of Catholics pour into town to worship at the Basilica de la Altagracia. Rising over the heart of the city, this remarkable piece of contemporary architecture was inaugurated in 1972 and is well worth the visit to marvel at its unconventional design and glorious interior. The arching bell tower contains 45 bronze bells. Many visitors climb the stairs of the sanctuary to touch a case containing an icon of the Virgen de la Altagracia, patron saint of the Dominican Republic.
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