A July 2003 trip
to La Romana by Jose Kevo
Quote: More travelers are finding La Romana listed on iteneraries with flight schedules, cruise ports of call, and organized tour stops. Guidebooks haven't been able to keep up with rapid growth of the DR's newest tourist boom area. These days, it's more than just a sugar town; it's something for everyone!
Elevated Clifftop Views from Altos de Chavon looking over the lush Rio de Chavon valley, Casa de Campo's newest golf course, and distant Oriental mountain range were definitely what I liked best, but take my word for it. Photos were on one of my rolls of Film which came back blank.
Take a Trip Down Memory Lane in La Romana where many local businesses functionally operate within appearances/environments from the U.S. 60's. Step further back into history along various side streets thanks to many older buildings designed in classic Spanish architectural style.
Avoid Melt Down from the heat in a surprising JUMBO sort of way where you'll also find a bit of everything and a wealth of feasting opportunities for mere pesos.
Throw Caution to the Wind and indulge in one of the DR's most basic experiences; potentially terrifying and exhilerating as described in this journal's Free Form.
Six Mega-Resorts are 25-minutes away along beautiful Dominicus and Bayahibe beaches which serves as gateway to Saona Island; the country's most popular daytrip.
Upscale Dominican, compared to nearby appearingly foresaken San Pedro de Macoris, is what you'll find in town thanks to a stronger than average former/present economic position. Basic civil engineering such as paved streets, reliable utilities, and a beautiful central plaza/square make this a perfect opportunity for discovering city life beyond the norm.
Sightseeing Opportunities are limited, but travelers staying within nearby Bayahibe resorts or just passing through can conduct any Official Business in town. Should you need to spend a night, several nicer Small Hotels are clustered along Avenida Padre Abreu
Shopping Availabilities are key; especially described in this journal's Dining Entry.
Cruise Ship Lines now list La Romana as a port destination - much to some travellers' panic. Ships drop anchor off nearby Catalina Island providing water shuttle for guests looking to come ashore; namely to Altos de Chavon.
For eastbound drivers approaching La Romana from the west, at the first major intersection/traffic light in town take a right for Highway 3. Continuing straight leads into the city and could easily get you turned around.
The Highway 3 turn-off for Altos de Chavon is not marked well, but is approximately 8 km beyond the eastern edge of town. If you come to La Romana's International Airport, you've gone too far.
For Bayahibe resort tourists using public transportation, the RD25 publico ride makes several stops coming into town. To catch a return publico, the stop is along Avenida Libertad/Highway 3 which is currently being upgraded with official bus stops.
A one-way taxi ride back to Bayahibe from nearby Jumbo was RD400.
Without your own transportation, getting to Altos de Chavon is not convenient nor was the Santo Domingo gua-gua connection from La Romana; both described in a seperate transportation entry.
Restaurant | "One-Stop EVERYTHING With a Few Surprises!"
Comparable to Wal-Mart Super-Centers, Jumbo's chain is rapidly spreading across DR and waging price wars against long-standing grocery/department stores Orenses and Iberia; both found in La Romana. In addition to credit cards readily accepted, open cash tills also revealed US$ with amount determined by daily exchange rates, change returned in RD-pesos.
Jumbo's biggest advantage is convenience of location along the town's main artery of Avenida Libertad/Highway 3. For tourists staying in Bayahibe area resorts and using public transportation, the easily found shopping complex (which always had a large percentage of foreign patrons) is just a short two-block walk for carrying purchases back to the publico stop.
In addition to full lines of department store goods, clothing and grocery, you'll also find convenience of banking, optometry, phone center, cigar shop, one-hour photo and other services including a pharmacy though I caution potential customers on the latter. Medicines are outrageously expensive in the DR which also includes vitamins, chapstick, ointment creams, and other related items sold only through the pharmacy; come prepared!
I'd been in the village about a week when going on a shopping run with my boy which included my first trip to Jumbo. Arriving around lunchtime provided what could be one of the biggest bonuses for coming here. As part of grocery, there's a Full-Line Deli with a wide variety of excellent locally prepared specialties which can be eaten in an upstairs dining courtyard overlooking the store.
Items are priced/sold by the pound; rice, beans, a meat selection, and a vegetable selection with drinks for two never costs more than $5. Along the outer hallway opposite the deli are separate counters selling pizza, sandwiches, ice creams, and another dessert counter with Dominican sweets including custards/flans for less than a dollar making this entire experience what I highly recommend as La Romana's best dining option.
We'd been sitting at a table over lunch during that first visit when realizing two hours had passed, and we were in for a scolding from Mami after being gone so long. We hurriedly finished the shopping and when preparing to exit the store, were all but walloped by the immense heat which swallowed us once stepping beyond the electronic doors.
From that point, I realized Jumbo was more than just about shopping and dining; the place was a God-sent haven! During the remainder of my stay, we calculated excuses for coming back many times to enjoy quality time without interruptions. Wandering the aisles, often acting like fools, was pretense for absorbing air-conditioning; a revitalization ritual that even had us contemplating test-sleeping one of the sofas, beds or recliners.
However you justify it, Jumbo is the place to come -- for everything!
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on November 21, 2003
Along Highway 3, Avenida De Libertad
La Romana, Dominican Republic
Attraction | "Beyond Alluring Postcards of Altos de Chavon"
Built on property owned by nearby Casa de Campo, the country's most exclusive resort community, admission is free; open to the public though signs and security guards quickly remind you if you've ventured anywhere off-limits. Getting here is also regulated described in a separate entry.
Tucked away inside the various buildings are classrooms for the Altos de Chavon School of Design with courses in fashion, graphic arts, interior design, and fine arts/illustration with links to Disney, Parsons and some of the world's most prestigious names of creativity. Other forms of artisans are in first-floor shops either painting, carving, making jewelry, though promoted interactiveness was lacing.
In addition to wandering the cobblestone streets, there's an impressive gallery displaying students' and famous Dominican artists' pricey works; credit cards readily accepted! For low-brows, there's also shops with upscale tourist junk you'll find cheaper from beach vendors.
Centrally located is Museum of Archaeology containing an impressive collection of pre-Columbian findings detailing early civilization development on Hispaniola. There was quite the build-up of first inhabitants, Taino tribes, and Spanish arrival, but emphasis terminates when African slaves enter history. The museum isn't large, but I recommend breaking it down into at least a pair of visits simply for cooling off in the air-conditioning!
Travelers rave about passing through the facilities' overall showcase of artistic displays and designs - likely due to it potentially being the closest dose of reality they relate to during their DR vacations compared to stark contrasts of environments waiting beyond.
The Spanish-styled village is enough to warrant impressive attention if you've never been to Andalucia or Barcelona's Poble Espanyol; which features a recreated community with architectural designs from all of Spain's regions. Well-tended gardens were recommended by nearby locals dreamily speaking of their I remember when visit like we speak about our last vacation half-way around the world.
Even with playing the role of "dutiful tourist", it was a stretch filling two hours of being here. Waiting for my return ride, I parked on a shaded bench in one of the garden areas. Pulling out the brochure, I began to read how this specific site was selected to further inspire artists with enchanted views of the Caribbean. Huh?
With still plenty of time to kill, I made a quick skirt back through the property desperately seeking the "inspiration " part I'd obviously missed or overlooked. It wasn't there; in the last 20+-years, trees and other forms of vegetation had grown tall enough to block any ground-level vistas of the inspiring sea. No wonder after all these years I'd never before bothered to make the costly 20-minute ride from my impoverished coastal village; nor will I likely again.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on November 21, 2003
Altos de Chavon
La Romana, Dominican Republic
Attraction | "Making the Most of Your Altos Efforts"
Planning/Timing Your ArrivalOrganized excursions are usually during the daytime -- expect to have your motivation for enjoyment further usurped traipsing around under the intense Caribbean sun. From nearby Bayahibe, you can book a visit to Altos de Chavon for RD1000 on a speedboat ride over the sea and up the lush valley of Rio de Chavon where scenes from Bridge Over the River Quai were filmed. Be advised upon arrival, travelers must hike up a very steep path to get to the complex. Return is by van/bus.
Daytime visitors will also find none of the dozen or so upscale, fine-dining restaurants open, nor the posh bar and disco known for being a hot spot attracting a mixed crowd of locals and visiting celebrities -- all dressed to the nines.
If you're looking for a more happening scene and have flexibility in your transportation, consider making your visit later of an evening. Expect to pay more for taxi fares the later time gets.
Dining OpportunitiesAs mentioned, there are no less than a dozen restaurants open of an evening serving European, American and local dishes in polished settings. Menu boards are placed out front to help you determine where and what you'd like to eat. With the current devaluing of the peso coupled with prices which haven't risen, expect your evening to be much more reasonable; $10-$15 per person.
Those visiting in the day can choose from several smaller specialty shops including Le Balanger Panderia; a French pastry and sandwich eatery located next to the Batey's Handicraft shop. Sandwiches with a choice of one side were RD50/RD 75. They also serve a variety of fruit juices, smoothies, and specialty coffees.
If you're looking only to snack or pick-up any kind of bottled water or beverages, there's a large general store/colmado located on the northeast corner of the plaza area just across from the grand circular fountain and amphitheater.
STARS Under the StarsEntertainment as a form of art is also on the agenda thanks to a 5000-seat open-air amphitheater which strays from the Andalucian theme with Greek/Roman-influenced columns scattered about the hillside which serves as back-drop. The unlikely duo of Frank Sinatra and Santana were the first to perform here and have since been followed by some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry. Drama and Dance performances are also part of the randomly scheduled events.
Restroom FacilitiesThe amphitheater is open for exploring which includes restrooms along the upper corridor. The only others are just off the path leading to the golf course/swimming pool. While they're closest to the entrance, use these only in case of emergency since they appeared filthy and abandoned.
La Romana, Dominican Republic
Attraction | "Advisory Suggestions for Local Transportation"
Taking a publico to the turn-off and walking isn't a choice unless you're up for about a 3 km one-way jaunt in the blazing sun. Negotiating a taxi is the only other option for arriving; somewhat confusing since you might find yourself in a beat-up publico van allowed to double for private hire.
From Bayahibe, a driver I knew cut me a deal of RD350 for the one-way trip. I chipped in RD50 as tip. The round-trip cost of RD800/$23 was most I paid for anything during my entire stay! Also consider paying a driver extra to stay and wait. Taxis for departing won't be available; drivers in the parking lot paid to wait for others.
I asked my driver to come back in four hours though I'd seen enough in two. Perhaps because of acquaintance he returned on time, but that's not something you should normally expect or count on.
La Romana's Westbound Gua-Gua ConnectionFor travelers using public transportation to reach Juan Dolio, San Pedro de Macoris, Boca Chica or Santo Domingo, go to the northwest corner of La Romana's central plaza where shuttle buses connect you to the western terminal for RD15. The experience had always been effortless until this last trip and trying it the first time with luggage. I was traveling with a friend; me heading to Boca Chica and he to Santo Domingo. When the shuttle arrived at the main station, passengers immediately rushed off the bus for catching the westbound local or express buses ready to depart. Retrieving our baggage from under the bus amid the chaos, porters immediately rushed in grabbing, confused what belonged to whom, and were attempting to race off to the different departing buses.
What ensued got ugly playing tug-of-war with our bags; shouting in Spanish they had our things mixed up, and I was not the one going to Santo Domingo! To say things quickly erupted intensely is an understatement. I was accused of thinking they were stealing our things when they were only trying to do their jobs, our mixed-up bags were tossed off the express bus, and a supervisor appeared just in time to defuse the entire situation under a cloud of dust after the bus sped off! More and more travelers are using DR's public transportation system, but how does one prepare oneself for this kind of potential experience, especially if you don't speak the language? Just be aware that it can happen and expect any sanity for dealing with the panicked situation to go out the window!
Having our things forever lost was of imminent concern over theft, and I quickly expressed this with an apology and handshake to the young porter before we left on the local line with our luggage.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on November 21, 2003
Taking Local Transportation
Around Altos de Chavon and the City
La Romana, Dominican Republic
Without the motoconcho (motorcycle taxi), Dominican life would all but come to a stand still! Most travel guidebooks warn that these should only be used for transportation as a last resort due to the danger levels of riding helmetless behind what's often perceived as reckless drivers. These advisories are obviously derived from more fact than fiction, but to never risk testing fate by going for a spin is denying yourself part of the Dominican experience.
Call it forbidden fascination! Growing up, my father was a State patrolman. Based on the number of motorcycle accidents he'd encountered, he made sure we knew and had seen all the gory details in hopes of squelching any desires to go for a ride; little alone ever owning one. His methods worked, but neither of us ever counted on my life eventually evolving in DR.
I'll never forget that late afternoon shopping run in La Romana years ago when approaching rains and other circumstances beyond our control prompted Junior to hail us a couple of motoconchos for getting to the publico stop ASAP! He hated these things; even more so after a brother had recently been killed while riding a motorcycle along the open road.
Everything my Dad had ever drilled in my head came rushing back as I apprehensively straddled the seat and began fumbling/shifting packages to free a hand for some means of holding on. No such luck; the driver quickly racing off almost as fast as my lifelong embedded doubts and fears fled to be replaced by an exhilaration that turned fixation. Since the initiation, local friends are somewhat perplexed by my always wanting to ride the motoconchos; something like an excited little kid at the carnival.
In a smaller city like La Romana, using motoconchos is a great introductory environment though I still confess cowardice towards the bustling, chaotic traffic of Santo Domingo. The convenience of getting anywhere around town for RD10 has became more than just transportation or excitement. And if you're brave or adventurous enough, it won't really matter where you go as main and side streets reveal aspects of Dominican life hidden to the majority of travelers. Without jeopardizing your safety holding on, definitely have your camera out; auto-focus is more suitable than manual.
Taking a spin around the southern, central area of town is a great way to begin even if you're already familiar with these areas from walking or passing using public transportation. Make a couple of loops around the beautiful central square plaza, which is the hub of La Romana activity, before heading north along the plaza street, which parallels the old church. This feeds you right into the heart of the lively open-air market where a multitude of smells prevail to accompany the visionary experience.
Navigating further afield through the busy streets in a deep-seated manner, you'll be surrounded by other cyclists out and about perhaps loaded down with three passengers, a mother with her children. Despite close proximity, you can read lips for the random, inaudible greetings but there needs no interpreting of the smiles which warm you quicker than the Caribbean sun.
For the most part, island life is about being laid-back where nothing is hurried. Keep reminding yourself of this when approaching a busy intersection; especially when your traffic light is red! Motoconchos will pass right through the narrow lanes of traffic to cluster in front. An impatient driver revs his engine setting off a concerted fanfare from the others. The light turns green . . . and everyone is off with a vengeance but there's nothing to fear. Within a block, the exhaust fumes have subsided, the cycles have raced ahead and dispersed back to the outside of lanes, and traffic flow resumes to the slower pace - just as your beating heart will, too!
Here's additional tips for helping travelers maximize the motoconcho experience while minimizing risks:
Tell the driver where you want to go and ask, por diez pesos / for 10 pesos? If wanting to go to the baseball stadium, basketball arena, or souvenir-related shop complexes on the western outskirts of town, expect to pay at least RD20 one-way. For the latter, consider offering the driver extra to wait while you shop since motoconchos back into town aren't as frequent.
And no matter what your reason for daring or caring to experience a Dominican motoconcho, be prepared for the ride of your life!