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.

Boca Chica

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.

The
Reserva Antropológica de las Cuevas de las Maravillas
, www.cuevadelasmaravillas.com, is an excellent new development and well worth a detour off the main road when heading east. The huge caves are now managed by the Ministry of the Environment and access is regulated. There are walkways, steps and ramps through the caves and a discreet lighting system works on sensors. The elevator sometimes breaks down, but other than that the attraction works well and is clean and tidy with pleasant gardens planted outside. Inside the caves there are stalactites, stalagmites and Taíno cave drawings. A knowledgeable guide will accompany you on your one-hour tour and answer questions. There's a museum, shop, cafeteria, toilets and facilities for wheelchair users. Photography only by prior arrangement.

La Romana

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: '
The Links
' and '
Teeth of the Dog
'. The latter, ranked number one in the Caribbean, has seven water holes which challenge even the greatest players.

Altos de Chavón

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

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.

Isla Saona
is a picture book tropical island with palm trees and white sandy beaches, set in a protected national park. However it is also an example of mass tourism, which conflicts with its protected status. Every day some 1000 tourists are brought on catamarans, speed boats or smaller
lanchas
, for a swim, a buffet lunch with rum on the beach and departure around 1500 with a stop off at the 'swimming pool' a patch of waist-deep water on a sand bank, where more rum is served. The sea looks like rush hour when the boats come and go. If you arrange a trip independently on a
lancha
, a smaller, slower boat, the
local association of boat owners assures uniform prices.

Diving

Wear shoes when you go in the water as there is broken glass. Some of the best diving in the country is in this area, in the national park, and although local fishermen are still spearfishing, the reef is in good condition and there are plenty of fish, more in some areas than others. Dolphins are often seen from the boat, while underwater you find sharks and rays off Catalinita Island, east of Saona, reef sharks at La Parguera, west of Saona, the wreck of
St George
close to the
Dominicus
and freshwater caves inland for experienced divers.

Higüey

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

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.

Playa el Cortecito
is a little oasis, a breath of fresh air in amongst the all-inclusives, being the nearest thing to a village that you will find on this stretch of coast. There are several beach bars, restaurants, gift shops, a supermarket, watersports, internet access and tour operators here. It is a lively place and makes a welcome change from the all-inclusive life style. The focal point is the beach restaurant,
Capitán Cook
, famed for its lobster and sea food and the place to be for lunch or dinner.

Bibijagua
is more of a craft market than anything else, with restaurants and bars, just along the beach from the
Barceló
complex. The Mercado Artesanal, cleverly signed as BI²JH²O, is a large covered market on the beach where you can buy handicrafts, rum, cigars (likely to be fakes), T-shirts, paintings (copies of Haitian art) and other souvenirs; but don't buy the shell, turtles and stuffed sharks which are for sale, as they are protected by international treaties and should be impounded by customs officials on your return home.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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