Sugary sands, bright blue seas and plenty of sultry merengue – holidays to La Romana put a Latino twist on the Caribbean.
The locals in La Romana say their beaches are the prettiest in the Dominican Republic. And that’s quite a claim in a country famed for its tropical tableau of sand and sea. But they’ve got a point. One glance at this south-east coast and you’ll see exactly where they’re coming from. Expect long sweeps of sand, glossy palms and bath-warm waters.
In terms of where to unfurl your beach towel, Bayahibe steals the spotlight. This peaceful fishing village is fringed by resort hotels, but still oozes old-time charm thanks to its pastel-painted fishermen’s huts, rickety beach bars, and palm-shaded rum shops.
La Romana and Santo Domingo
La Romana town itself offers up miniature haciendas, cigar shops and noisy street markets – not to mention a plush, restaurant-packed marina. Just along the coast, meanwhile, is the Dominican Republic’s star turn – its capital, Santo Domingo. First settled by Christopher Columbus, its 16th-century old quarter is like a pop-up history book, with cobbled streets, ornate Spanish churches and café-lined plazas.
Things to See and Do in La Romana
Like the rest of the Dominican Republic, La Romana is an expert when it comes to beaches. Stereotypical Caribbean white sands are backed by ribbons of palms, and the warm sea waters give way to colourful reefs teeming with shoals of fish. Snorkelling is big business in this part of the country, and snorkel trips will take you to the best spots.
The big beach
If you like your beaches buzzing, make a beeline for Playa Las Minitas. It’s part of the luxe enclave of Casa de Campo, in between Bayahibe and La Romana town, which means you’ll find loads of watersports, top-class restaurants, and swanky extras like beachside massages.
The secret beach
For something a bit more laid-back, head for Bayahibe Beach, where the tempo is turned down a good few notches. You won’t find much besides a sprinkling of beach bars and cafés serving cheap lunches and ice-cold drinks, and a few scuba shops, where you can hire gear to explore the nearby reefs and dive sites.
Flex your credit card in Casa de Campo marina. You’ll find everything from Italian clothing and one-of-a-kind artworks, to beautiful jewellery and fine linens. Calle Conde and Avenida Mella in Santo Domingo are lined with jewellery shops, ceramics galleries and antiques cubbyholes. Mahogany rocking chairs are big business here – they usually come flat-packed so you can get them home easily.
For handicrafts, make for the town of Altos de Chavron, whose cobbled streets are flanked with weavers’ workshops, silk-screen studios, pottery shops and jewellery stores. Dominican rum and cigars are just as good as their Cuban counterparts, and cheaper, too. Pick up bottles of Barcelo and Brugal on Carretera a Bayahibe, and browse for hand-rolled cigars in the speciality shops around La Romana’s Parque Central.
If you’ve not got many pesos to spend, head for one of the daily markets. La Romana’s Mercado Municipal is a local affair, with piles of colourful spices and exotic fruits. In Santo Domingo’s Mercado Modelo, you’ll find vendors touting paintings, sandals and sunhats. For cheap and cheerful beachwear, stroll along Bayahibe Beach to the calmoda huts.
Evening entertainment in La Romana town centres around the big hotels, with glitzy cabarets and live shows setting the scene. Casinos are ten-a-penny in these parts, too. The hotels deal out most of them, although you’ll also find a few independent establishments. Low-key evenings in Bayahibe, meanwhile, are all about the beach – rustic sand-side bars are perfect for watching the sun set with an ice-cold beer.
Downtown La Romana is packed with salsa bars, cocktail lounges and merengue clubs, while in Bavaro you’ll find discos drumming up Latino, American and Euro beats in the main plazas. If you’re in Santo Domingo, meanwhile, head to Avenida Mirador del Sur or the Malecón for the best clubs.
Rather than ham-and-cheese sandwiches, the number one lunch dish here is la bandera. It’s a hunger-busting rice, bean and meat concoction that matches the colours of the national flag. You’ll often find a big serving of fried plantain on the side.
This Spanish-inspired stew makes an appearance on most menus in La Romana. It’s a rich mixture made with meat, chunky vegetables and broth. Sancocho cruzado, or ‘7 meats sancocho’, is also a big hit – it usually includes chicken, pork and beef, as well as other more exotic creatures.
Forget cereal or beans on toast – when it comes to breakfast, the Dominicans like to start off their day with this top button-popping dish. The main ingredient is boiled plantain, which is then mashed and topped with onions, oil, fried cheese and eggs.
Tres leches cake
This super-sweet dessert is made with sponge cake that’s been soaked in 3 different kinds of milk – whole, evaporated and condensed. Thanks to lots of little air bubbles, the sponge stays wet but doesn’t go mushy – the texture is a bit like tiramisu. You can have it plain, or topped with thick cream and fruit.
This local firewater comes with a bit of a kick, and is supposedly an aphrodisiac. Dark rum is mixed with honey and red wine, and left to soak in a bottle with tree bark, twigs, herbs and spices. It’s got a port-like taste, and is usually served in a shot glass as a post-dinner tipple. If you’re feeling brave, try one made with the local 151-proof rum.
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