East of Santo Domingo
The eastern end of the island is generally flatter and drier than the rest, although the hills of the Cordillera Oriental are attractive and provide some great views. Cattle and sugar cane are the predominant agricultural products and this is definitely cowboy country. However, much of the sugar land has been turned over to more prosperous activities such as tourism, the Casa de Campo development being a prime example. The main beach resorts are Boca Chica, Juan Dolio, Casa de Campo, Punta Cana and Bávaro, but there are several other smaller and more intimate places to stay.
About 25 km east of Santo Domingo is the beach town of Boca Chica, the principal resort for the capital. Its days of being a quiet fishing village are long gone. It is set on a reef-protected shallow lagoon, with a wide sweep of white sand and the water is perfect for families. Tourist development has been intensive and there are many hotels, aparthotels and restaurants of different standards with lots of bars and nightlife. All-inclusive resorts, of which there are several, are best booked as a package if you want a good deal. Vendors line the main road, selling mostly Haitian paintings of poor quality but they are colourful. The main street is closed to traffic at night and the restaurants move their tables on to the road.Juan Dolio
Guayacanes, Embassy and Juan Dolio beaches, east of Boca Chica, are also popular, especially at weekends when they can be littered and plagued with hawkers (much cleaner and very quiet out of season). The whole area is being developed in a long ribbon of holiday homes, hotels and resorts, and the new highway has improved access.
East of San Pedro de Macorís is La Romana. The town is dominated by its sugar factory, which can be seen all along the coast. There are still railways here which carry sugar to the Central La Romana and the trains' horns can be heard through the night. The town is very spread out, mostly on the west bank of the Río Dulce, which reaches the sea here. The Río Chavón area east of La Romana and Casa de Campo is a protected zone to safeguard a large area of red and black mangroves.Isla Catalina
Off La Romana is Monumento Natural Isla Catalina (also called Serena Cay). Although inland the southeast part of the island is dry, flat and monotonous, the beaches have fine white sand. The reef provides protected bathing and excellent diving. Cruise ships also call, disgorging some 100,000 passengers in a winter season. The island is under the permanent supervision of the Dominican Navy and the Ministry of Tourism. All works that may affect the vegetation have been prohibited.Casa de Campo
Just east of La Romana on the road to Higüey you pass the entrance to Casa de Campo. This is the premier tourist centre in the Republic. The resort was built in 1974 by Charles Bluhdorn, the founder of Gulf & Western, which originally grew sugar cane on the land. After he died the Cuban-American family Fanjul bought it and opened it to paying guests in the 1980s. It is kept isolated from the rest of the country behind strict security. Covering 7000 acres, it is vast, exclusive, with miles of luxury villas surrounded by beautifully tended gardens full of bougainvillea and coleus of all colours. It has won numerous awards and accolades from travel and specialist sporting magazines. A Marina and Yacht Club with Customs on site is at the mouth of the Río Chavón, from where you can take boat trips up the river.
Sport is the key to the resort's success. There are lots of activities on offer and they are all done professionally and with no expense spared. The tennis club has 13 courts where you can have lessons with a pro or knock up with a ballboy; the club is busy from early in the morning to late at night. The riding school has some 150 horses for polo, showjumping, trail riding, or whatever you want to do. The polo is of a particularly high standard and international matches are held here. For those with a keen eye, there is a world-class Sporting Clays facility developed by the British marksman, Michael Rose, with trap, skeet and sporting clays. Above all, however, guests come here for the golf. There are two world-class 18-hole courses designed by Pete Dye: '
Altos de Chavón is an international artists' village in mock-Italian style built by an Italian cinematographer, in a spectacular hilltop setting above the gorge through which flows the Río Chavón. Students from all over the world come to the art school, but the village is now a major tourist attraction and is linked to Casa de Campo. There are several restaurants of a variety of nationalities, expensive shops and a disco. The Church of St Stanislaus, finished in 1979 and consecrated by Pope John Paul II, contains the ashes of Poland's patron saint and statue from Krakow. An amphitheatre for open-air concerts seating 5500 was inaugurated with a show by Frank Sinatra (many international stars have performed there, from Julio Iglesias to Gloria Estefan and the best Dominican performers). There is also an excellent little Museo Arqueológico Regional, with explanations in Spanish and English and lots of information about the Taínos.
Bayahibe is a fishing village (about 25 km east of La Romana) on a small bay in a region of dry tropical forest and cactus on the edge of the Parque Nacional del Este, a great place to stay, with excursions, diving, budget lodgings and cafés. Recent archaeological discoveries have shown that there were groups of hunter-gatherers living in the Bayahibe area around 2000BC and that later immigrants arriving around 1500BC used pottery, made weights for their fishing nets and tools from conch and coral to grate foods. Its proximity to the park and offshore islands has made it popular with divers and it is considered it the best dive destination in the country. Small wooden houses and church of the village are on a point between the little bay and an excellent, 1½ km curving white-sand beach fringed with palms. There are lots of rooms and cabañas to rent and several bars and restaurants for low-budget travellers but all-inclusive resorts now dominate the area. Plenty of fishing and pleasure boats are moored in the bay and it is from here that boats depart for Isla Saona.
The main town in the far east of the island is the modern, dusty and concrete Higüey. The Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia (patroness of the Republic) can be seen for miles away. It is a very impressive modern building, to which every year there is a pilgrimage on 21 January; the statue of the Virgin and a silver crown are in a glass case on the altar and are paraded through the streets at the end of the fiesta. According to legend, the Virgin appeared in 1691 in an orange tree to a sick girl. Oranges are conveniently in season in January and huge piles of them are sold on the streets, while statues made of orange wood are also in demand. The Basilica was started by Trujillo in 1954, but finished by Balaguer in 1972. The architects were French, the stained glass is French. The Italian bronze doors (1988) portray the history of the Dominican Republic.
Punta Cana, on the coast due east from Higüey, has some beautiful beaches, good diving, excellent golf courses and an international airport. The area is not particularly pretty, the land is flat and the vegetation is mostly scrub and cactus, except for the palm trees along the beach. For many years there were only two resorts. The Club Med opened in 1981, followed by the Punta Cana Beach Resort in 1988 and a golf course runs between them. Now there is a construction boom, with several new hotels or villa developments with marinas , golf courses and other facilities. There is even a championship bowling alley in the residential area, with 18 lanes, billiards, internet and cafeteria. Independent visitors find it difficult to find a public beach as the hotels will not allow non-residents through their property.Bávaro
Continuing round the coast, there are many other beaches with white sand and reef-sheltered water. The area now known as Bávaro was once a series of fishing villages, but they have disappeared under the weight of hotels which contrast with the shacks still hanging on in places. All the hotels are usually booked from abroad as package holidays and most of them are all-inclusive, run by international companies such as Barceló, Sol Meliá, Occidental (Allegro), Fiesta (Palladium) or Riü.
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