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Along the south coast of the Dominican Republic, going from east to west you will find the sugar town of La Romana, followed by the university town of San Pedro de Macorís, and shortly afterwards the tourist and expatriate town of Juan Dolio. The driving distance from La Romana to Juan Dolio is around one and a half hours, and from San Pedro to Juan Dolio it is only a 15 minutes drive.

Description

La Romana is the seventh largest city in the Dominican Republic with a population of around 130,000. The city is the provincial capital of the province of the same name. The city of La Romana is linked to the sugar industry, as a large sugar mill was built in the early 1900s and when sugar came to the area, many Dominicans and freed slaves from British Caribbean islands flooded into La Romana for work. The latter are known as cocolos and all have British names such as Williams and Jones.

In addition to sugar, La Romana is home to the largest exclusive tourist resorts in the Dominican Republic, such as Casa de Campo and its famous golf course. Next door is the tourist fishing village of Bayahibe with arguably the best scuba diving in the country and the departure point for the famous Saona island.

La Romana also has a cruise terminal, and boats for Catalina Island, home to an underwater marine park, leave from there.

In addition to sugar, La Romana is famous for its cigars, and the Tabacalera de Garcia factory is currently one of the largest cigar factories in the world, with three world-famous brands produced there: Montecristo, H. Upmann, and Romeo and Juliet.

Driving west on the Coral Highway for an hour, you will reach the city of San Pedro de Macorís, which is again the capital of the province of the same name. Around the same size as La Romana, it is home to the Central del Este University and one of the biggest Dominican baseball teams, Las Estrellas.

San Pedro experienced a significant wave of migration in the late 19th century from Cubans who were fleeing their country's War of Independence. They brought their extensive sugar cane farming knowledge along with them and contributed to making the sugar industry the most important economic activity in the area.

Many Europeans also settled in the city, making it a very cosmopolitan urban centre in the early 20th Century. Most of the industry centres around the port, the sugar mill, and the Industrial Free Zone.

Driving another 15 minutes towards the west is the tourist town of Juan Dolio. Once a sleepy fishing village, it became a major tourism centre and housed five or six all-inclusive hotels all along a beautiful sandy beach on the Caribbean Sea. However, in the years after 2003, the hotels closed and were replaced by tall apartment blocks all along the ocean with the view of becoming the Miami South Beach of the Caribbean. It has the main advantage of being only 20 minutes to the country’s main airport, Las Americas, and only 40 minutes from the capital Santo Domingo. Next door is the still unspoiled fishing village of Guayacanes.

Juan Dolio is very quiet during the week but during weekends the Dominicans arrive in their droves from the capital to take up residence in their beach-facing condos.

What about expats?

Neither the centre of La Romana or San Pedro have many expats, apart from those who are studying at the University in San Pedro or working in the Free Zones in both cities. However, both have many expats living close by, in Bayahibe close to La Romana, as well as the exclusive Cap Cana resort, and in Juan Dolio near San Pedro. Given the proximity of the cities to these expat areas, it is easy to find shopping opportunities and carry out any official business with the government offices, banks, etc.

Bayahibe is a charming quiet village and several expats who live here are either retired or are involved with the tourism business and consist mainly of Italians and Germans. Juan Dolio, on the other hand, has several North American snowbirds or those who live there full-time. The numbers of expats decreased dramatically when the hotels closed and those expats who had businesses related to tourism left. However, more expats are now returning and buying the beachfront condos.

Accommodation types

There is a range of accommodation available in La Romana and Bayahibe, the latter mainly offering gated communities such as Dominicus and of course the million-dollar homes in Casa de Campo. Few people live in La Romana or San Pedro themselves.

In Juan Dolio there are either the beach-front condos, of which there are more than a dozen to choose from and more being built all of the time, or there are two gated communities built around golf courses – Metro Country Club and Guavaberry. Both have a range of detached homes, as well as some small apartment blocks.

A two bedroom apartment in Juan Dolio right on the beach costs around US$200,000 and the homes in Metro or Guavaberry are upwards of that price, depending on their size.

Cost of living

The cost of living is reasonable in this area but although there are big supermarkets such as Jumbo, they do not have the same range of imported products as can be found in other areas with more tourists and expats. Electricity is served by the National Grid and where some areas have 24/7 power, such as Juan Dolio, others experience daily outages so you need to have a generator or an inverter. Fruits and vegetables tend to be cheaper here as there are large markets in the centre of La Romana and San Pedro and fish is in plentiful supply.

Leisure activities

While the range of leisure activities is maybe less than in the major tourist hubs, there is still plenty to do.

In La Romana area there are excellent golf courses, day trips to the islands of Saona and Catalina, and excellent diving and snorkelling, not only at Catalina, but also in Bayhibe along with deep sea fishing.

Casa de Campo is home to a lovely yacht harbour and fabulous shops and also houses Altos de Chavón which is a replica of a 16th-century Mediterranean village and has art galleries, restaurants, and an amphitheatre which plays host to international performing artists.

On the road between La Romana and San Pedro is the world famous Cave of Wonders which is 82 feet below ground and has an 800-foot trail to see over 400 Taino Indian paintings and engravings.

You can also catch a baseball game in San Pedro, play golf at Metro Country Club or Guavaberry, and enjoy a whole range of water sports in Juan Dolio.

Restaurants

While there are not as many restaurants in this area as the north or east of the country, Casa de Campo and Altos de Chavon have some nice restaurants and there are also a few in La Romana itself, along with various Dominican restaurants.

San Pedro has no restaurants which cater to expats but in Juan Dolio and Guayacanes there are a plethora, including Italian, German, and other international ones. Many of the restaurants double as bars and lounges, with live music one night a week. In Guayacanes, Deli Swiss, La Playa, Salitre, Playa El Pescador, Sca Club, St. Tropez Caribe, El Manguilito, and Cococane Beach are the most popular restaurants and they fill up at weekends with not only expats but also local Dominicans. In Juan Dolio, the most popular restaurants are El Sueño, El Mesón Español, Bistro Marianna, Sal Marina, El Concón, Café del Sol, Paladar, and La Brisa.

Transport

There is an international airport in La Romana, but it does not operate many flights compared to other airports in the country, and many only operate in the high season, from November to April. Las Americas airport to the west of Juan Dolio has flights from all over the world and is easily accessible. Those going to La Romana area can also go through the Punta Cana International Airport.

Within the cities, there are local buses, guaguas, and also motorcycle taxis known as motoconchos. There are less long-distance coaches as the local taxi drivers are very heavily unionized, and to date have prevented the major coach companies from operating in the area, but there is a regular bus service from La Romana to San Pedro and on to the capital, Santo Domingo.

 Useful links:

Go Dominican Republic - La Romana
Go Dominican Republic - Juan Dolio 
Juan Dolio Real Estate

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