Unlike the other Dominican Republic cities, La Romana has always been a commercial town. From oil to sugar, livestock to tourism, the city has successfully juggled several industries and flourished into a modern resort destination surrounded by white sand beaches, overgrown jungles, and fringed by the Chavón River.
A convenient hub for travellers to go from all-inclusive resorts and straight into the tropical paradise of nearby islands or walked down the cobbled streets of its medieval village, Altos de Chavon, La Romana is the gateway to many of Dominican Republic’s top attractions along the southern coast. Here’s our list of the best 5 things to do in La Romana.
1. Visit Altos de Chavón
A cultural centre high above the Chavón River, Altos de Chavón is a perfect replica of a 16th-century Mediterranean village, complete with cobbled streets, limestone buildings, a traditional church and a 5,000-seat Roman amphitheatre that doubles as a concert venue for Grammy Award-winning artists like Shakira, Sting, and Elton John.
Designed by Italian architect, Roberta Copa, the village echoes similar European colonial architecture found in Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo. Within the red terracotta-roofed houses are venues for art galleries, museum, artisan workshops, and restaurants.
Since its construction in the 1980s, Altos de Chavon has grown to be an artistic hub for designs schools, educational programs, and serves as a romantic destination for weddings and outdoor concerts.
2. A riverboat cruise on Chavón River
Just east of La Romana’s modern cityscape, the Chavón river snakes through dry tropical jungles swarmed with freshwater wildlife. The sweeping verdurous landscape has lent itself to Hollywood movies like Apocalypse Now and Rambo 3.
Despite the visceral portrayal of the river on-screen, a boat cruise on this idyllic river will feel more like a laidback detour from Dominican Republic’s bustling resort towns than venturing into the heart of darkness.
Most riverboats can sail down the channel to Altos de Chavon for a walking tour, while others include visits to Punta Cana and Bayahibe, with plenty of photo opportunities on the river and knocking back a few cocktails along the way.
3. Chocolates & Cigars
The Dominican Republic is responsible for two guilty pleasures that pair exceptionally well with slow music, cognac, and lying down on the beach: chocolates and cigars.
As if both of these things don’t already give travellers a free pass to a totally decadent beach vacation, La Romana offers a few locations where you can see the production process of these two important exports.
In Altos de Chavon, among the many confectioneries, you’ll find the Chocolate Museum providing a detailed look and how cocoa is processed and packaged into store-bought chocolates.
In the city, there are a few cigar factories offering tours, and some even let you roll your own. Even for non-smokers, the visit can prove interesting in shedding light on the organic process of producing authentic Dominican cigars that are often overshadowed by their Cuban counterparts.
4. Excursion to Isla Catalina
A sandy white dot just south of La Romana’s coast, Isla Catalina is a peaceful tropical island lapped by turquoise waters and surrounded by soft, sugar-white beaches.
The island is a natural park and wildlife preservation site, and it’s comparably less developed than nearby resort destinations. Beyond the arching palm trees, you’ll find a tropical refuge brimming with indigenous wildlife, marine species, and untouched coral reefs, making it a popular destination for snorkelers, scuba divers, and those looking for catamaran excursions from La Romana.
Offshore, scuba divers can explore Captain William Kidd’s sunken pirate ship, the Quedagh Merchant, which was only discovered at the bottom of the ocean in 2007.
5. Relax at Bayahibe
A traditional Dominican Republic fishing village turned into a traveller’s favourite, this burgeoning resort town just east of La Romana is layered in local flairs, beachfront attractions, and unspoiled tropical nature.
With a small but highly walkable town filled with Caribbean-style townhouses, produce markets, pastel-coloured cabins alongside whimsical street art, the town is a scenic stopover from a day of lounging on its Blue Flag Certified public beach and excursions to nearby islands and natural parks.
While at the Bayahibe, check out its local arts and crafts stalls, oceanside restaurants with freshly caught seafood, and dive into its vibrant nightlife at the many open-air bars.