La Romana holidays are like a postcard brought to life. Think palm-backed beaches and deserted tropical islands, with a sprinkling of flashy hotels on the side.
Bevy of Blue Flags
If you see a flag waving in La Romana, chances are it’ll be blue. Strips of lily-white sand are standard practice for this stretch of the Dominican Republic’s coastline, and eight of them have been welcomed with open arms to the Blue Flag club. Thatched parasols and beach bars keep sunbathers company, and the electric blue waters pip hotel pools to first place in the swimming rankings.
Put La Romana’s tropical good looks on hold for a minute, and its swanky hotel scene’s more than happy to grab the limelight. Huge pool-and-restaurant-heavy resorts peek through the palms in peaceful Bayahibe, and San Pedro de Macoris is flanked by village-sized complexes. The spaces in between are coloured in by tree-covered countryside and bigger-is-better golf courses.
Boat trips from La Romana crank the seclusion dial right to the max, with a couple of people-free islands to explore just off the coast. A drone’s-eye view of Isla Catalina shows a barely scratched surface, and beaches that don’t know the meaning of busy. Strap on a snorkel or some scuba gear, and you’ll be faced with top-drawer underwater scenery. Saona Island, meanwhile, got its name from Christopher Columbus, who stumbled on it during his voyage to the Americas, and named it after the Italian port of Savona. The whole place is a protected nature reserve, and grabbed five minutes of fame when a Bounty chocolate bar advert was shot here.
Fishing villages aren’t uncommon in this neck of the woods, but among them you’ll find a place that looks like it’s been plucked from European soil. Altos de Chavon is a like-for-like copy of a Mediterranean village, with everything from cobbled streets to trattoria-style restaurants to complete the look. The two most attention-grabbing sights are the stone St Stanislaus Church and a five-thousand-seater Roman-inspired amphitheatre, where the likes of Frank Sinatra and the Pet Shop Boys have performed.
Things to See and Do in La Romana
If you like your beaches to come complete with turquoise waters, shady palms and sands whiter than a dentist’s grin, La Romana is your place. On the south coast of the Dominican Republic, it serves up beaches that range from loud ‘n’ lively to pin-drop peaceful.
The big beach
The prime patch of sand is Playa Las Minitas. You’ll have to pay an entrance fee to lay your towel out on the talc-white sands, as the beach is part of the posh Casa de Campo resort. But it’s worth it to mingle with the moneyed yacht set who like to hang out here. There are loads of watersports to try your hand at, too, like kayaking, windsurfing and scuba diving.
The secret beach
For a beach with an altogether slower pace, try Bayahibe Beach. It’s a long bay with pillowy-soft white sands and calm waters that kids love. There are a few beach bars and cafés, but the focus is firmly on chilling out. That said, there are a handful of dive shops when you fancy a break from your sunlounger.
La Romana’s daily market is a hotch-potch of cut-price stalls, where you’ll find everything from jars of spices to rainbow-bright paintings. For an even better bargain, though, wander along Bayahibe Beach to the calmoda huts – they sell sarongs and flip-flops for peanuts. And in Santo Domingo, Avenida Mella and El Conde are packed with cheap ‘n’ cheerful shops selling things like jewellery and pottery.
If you like your arts and crafts, La Romana’s Altos de Chavon will keep you busy for hours. It looks like a Medieval European village, and the cobbled streets are crammed with workshops where the Dom Rep’s best artists and craftsmen work. In Bayahibe, head to the rum shops on Carretera a Bayahibe for tasty tipples by brands like Brugal and Barcelo. Or grab a bottle of 151 – AKA the local firewater.
If you fancy giving your wallet a workout, mooch around the boutiques at La Romana’s Casa de Campo marina. It’s home to the likes of Gucci and D&G. In Santo Domingo, mahogany rocking chairs are the biggie. Head to El Conde and Avenida Mella, where you can buy them newly made – they come in flatpacks so you can cart them home.
Nights out in Bayahibe are all about the beach. Park yourself at a palm-topped beach bar for sunset views over a cold beer and a plate of seafood. You’ll find plenty of locals who are happy to have a chinwag and a game of dominos. In La Romana, meanwhile, the big hotels put on cabaret shows where sequinned glamourpusses belt out tunes. Or grab a glass of champagne in a cocktail bar at Casa de Campo marina.
For a concentrated hit of nightlife, make your way to La Romana’s downtown area, where salsa bars and merengue joints jostle for space in the streets. In Santo Domingo, follow the clubbing tribe to Avenida Mirador del Sur or the Malecón, for wall-to-wall clubs blaring out merengue and dance beats. And in Bavaro, a 50-minute drive from Bayahibe, the clubs tick off everything from Latino tunes to Euro hits.
La Bandera means ‘Dominican Flag’, and it’s the country’s number-one dish. The white comes from the rice, the red from the kidney beans, and – as it’s pretty difficult to find blue food – stewed chicken or goat meat represents the final colour. It’s all served up with a generous helping of fried plantain.
The locals are pretty decadent with their breakfasts. They like to start the day with a bowl of mashed plantain topped off with fried cheese or egg – or both. You’ll sometimes find fried pork thrown in, too. This belly-busting dish started life in Africa, where it’s known as fufu.
Sancocho is eaten throughout the Spanish-speaking world, and it’s a big favourite in the Dominican Republic. This super-rich stew is made with whatever meat is available – usually chicken or pork – plus longaniza sausage and beans. Look out for Sancocho de Siete Carnes, made with 7 kinds of meat.
Dulce du Leche
If you fancy indulging, dip your spoon into this creamy, caramel-like dessert. It’s made by heating sweetened milk with cinnamon, and you’ll often find a few bits of coconut in it. You can also get firm versions, which are served in slices and have a fudge-like texture.
Now this is a drink and a half. Local 151 rum – also known as ‘the local gasoline’ – is mixed with red wine and honey, and left to marinate with tree bark and herbs in a bottle. The end result is deep red and tastes a bit like port, and some people reckon it’s an aphrodisiac.
Places To Stay In La Romana View all places to stay »
Set on the Dominican Republic’s southeast coast, Bayahibe used to be a small fishing village. And it still is. The hotels may have moved in but, at heart, this place is all about a little piece of laidback Caribbean living. And with its tropical charm and powder-soft sandy beaches, it’s one of the island’s top getaway spots.
San Pedro de Macoris
Set on the Dominican Republic’s south-east coast, San Pedro de Macoris is famous for its major league baseball players. But this diddy litte port town isn’t just a Babe Ruth kind of place. It packs in plenty of Caribbean flavour and comes with a 6-kilometre stretch of sugar-white beaches, too.
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