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La Romana (Casa de Campo) Overview
La Romana ranks as the Dominican Republic's youngest, smallest and most wealthy province. The Dominican Republic lies on the eastern side of Hispaniola, an island it shares with Haiti. The D.R., as it's known, stretches over two-thirds of the island and is about the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined. It also claims the West Indies' highest mountain peak -- rising some 10,415 feet from the Cibao Valley. Christopher Columbus founded the first permanent European settlement in the D.R. in 1493.
The 7,000-acre resort village of Casa de Campo, which is like a town itself, is located in La Romana and features lots for cruise passengers to do and see. It's definitely the main draw during a day in port. Most of the more interesting options (particularly golf, tennis, skeet-shooting and horseback-riding) are available only through ship excursions, and a limited range of activities exist for independent-minded visitors. In addition, some ships don't even call on this port until mid-afternoon or later, which limits outdoor activities.
With a couple of exceptions, passengers who want to venture out on their own are limited to exploring the area's nouvelle villages, such as The Marina (which is meant to replicate Portofino) and the more charming Altos de Chavon (which was designed to resemble an old Spanish town). Both have a handful of restaurants and shops, which are pricey and designed to appeal more to Europeans than to Americans.
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Other Eastern Caribbean Cruise Ports:
Freeport • Grand Turk • Jost Van Dyke • La Romana (Casa de Campo) • Labadee • Nassau • Princess Cays • San Juan • Santo Domingo • St. Croix • St. John (U.S.V.I.) • St. Maarten • St. Martin • St. Thomas • Tortola • Virgin Gorda
While you're in town, be sure to try some Mama Juana. Made by combining red wine, rum and honey with the fermented roots of the Mama Juana tree, it gives off a strong red wine taste with a spicy cinnamon finish. If you're not a wine aficionado, go for Barcelo or Brugal local rum with Coca-Cola, or Presidente beer, which is super refreshing when the weather gets unbearably hot. (You'll also want to pick up some sugar cane juice, which is locally made and a great hangover remedy.)
The Dominican Republic is known for Larimar, a cloudy, pale-blue stone that is only mined on the island of Hispaniola. It's difficult to fake, so chances are good that you'll be snagging the real thing, but don't be afraid to bargain; sellers are used to it, and they often jack up prices with the expectation that haggling will occur. Amber and black coral are also popular, but they're easier to fabricate.
If jewelry isn't your thing, consider Dominican-made cigars and items made from coconut, and natural cocoa or chocolate, but avoid purchasing woven palm hats. They're considered live plants, and they'll be confiscated when you return to your ship.
Dominicans speak Spanish as their primary language. Some, particularly those who work in tourism areas, speak English. That said, communication can be a problem, so either carry a pocket dictionary, or bone up on basic phrases like hola (hello), buenos dias (good day), por favor (please), gracias (thank you), cuanto cuesta? (how much does it cost?) and donde esta el bano? (where is the bathroom?).
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The official currency is the Dominican Republic Peso (check www.xe.com for current exchange rates), but it is rarely a problem to use American dollars. ATMs are available throughout La Romana and inside Casa de Campo; they will dispense money in pesos.
Where You're Docked
There is, technically, no "cruise terminal"; instead, ships dock at an informal facility -- one dock on either side of a small river that's between the sugar cane town of La Romana and the chi-chi resort village of Casa de Campo. There are no services (unless you count a Coke machine).
Casa de Campo is the main event, but you'll have to take a cab or shuttle bus to get there. There are really no facilities in the immediate vicinity of the dock.
By Shuttle: Major attractions -- in particular, Casa de Campo -- are not accessible on foot. Cruise lines often organize shuttle transportation from the ship to the resort; typically, shuttles take travelers on a 15-minute ride to either the Marina or Altos de Chavon sections. The shuttles run every 30 minutes.
By Taxi: Taxis line up at the dock. To travel the 6-kilometer distance to Casa de Campo, plan to negotiate cab fare before you get in; haggling is OK.
Renting a Car: Travelers must take a taxi or shuttle to Casa de Campo's main area, where there is a National Car Rental agency. However, we don't recommend this option unless you know where you're going. Traffic can be a headache, and all signs are in Spanish.
Watch Out For
The Dominican Republic has a reputation for crime. Always be aware of your surroundings, stay in groups, and don't venture to out-of-the-way places when not on an organized tour or with a reputable guide. As a general rule, leave all jewelry and valuables onboard in your cabin safe, and carry only as much cash as you think you'll need. We recommend a money belt to keep your cash and room key safe while you're ashore.
Also be sure to pack bug spray; you won't have much of a problem outdoors, but you might use some restroom facilities (particularly if you're headed to the beach) without air-conditioning, making them perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes -- and they're vicious.
Altos de Chavon: This cliff-top village, adjacent to Casa de Campo, serves as the resort's cultural hub. It overlooks the Chavon River and offers museums, lush foliage and stunning views. Although it was constructed in 1976, it's designed to look like an ancient Mediterranean village. Worth visiting are the Church of St. Stanislaus and the 5,000-seat Grecian amphitheater. (If you're overnighting in La Romana, you may want to check out the performance schedules.) Museums contained within Altos de Chavon include the Museum of Archeology (open Tuesday to Sunday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.) and Altos de Chavon Art Gallery (Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.). This is also the main area for shoppers, featuring a handful of boutiques and art galleries. One of the best for high-quality craft souvenirs is LaTienda which, inexplicably, doesn't accept credit cards. (There are no ATMs in the village. Consider yourself warned!)
The Marina: This is another "neighborhood" within Casa de Campo, and it's built to remind one of Italy's Portofino. (Alas, it comes across as rather soulless.) The crescent-shaped plaza fronts a marina that's chock-full of quite extravagant yachts. Numerous sidewalk cafes and shops sell everything from luxury housewares to teeny-tiny bikinis.
Teeth of the Dog: Playing 18 holes on the Teeth of the Dog golf course is a must for any serious golfer; Pete Dye designed it, and it's ranked 43rd in the top 100 golf courses worldwide by Golf Magazine. Expect to pay somewhere around $200 for a day's outing, which includes clubs and transportation. (Daily tee times from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. and noon to 2 p.m.)
Been There, Done That
Cueva de las Maravillas (Wonder Cave): Take a taxi to this underground wonderland, located about 30 minutes outside La Romana. It's affordable to enter, and you'll get a tour with an English-speaking guide. You'll also get a bit of Taino Indian history along the way as you learn about their cave drawings and day-to-day living. (La Romana Road, San Pedro de Macoris; 809-390-8180; Tuesday to Sunday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
Santo Domingo: Pay a visit to the Dominican Republic's capital city, about a 90-minute drive from La Romana and Casa de Campo. Check out the Zona Colonial (Colonial Zone), Christopher Columbus tomb and lighthouse, and the limestone cave of Los Tres Ojos (The Three Eyes). Some cruise lines offer city highlights tours, but you'll probably score a better deal with a private excursion. We did one with Prospero Guillermo Rodriguez, also known as "Chino" (call 809-518-1309 or 809-973-0272), and had a personalized tour of the highlights we wanted to see. It included transportation to and from, as well as recommendations for lunch and the best places to get reasonably priced souvenirs.
Other Casa de Campo Offerings: The resort's polo grounds host matches between international competitors November through March. You can also try your hand at activities like horseback-riding, skeet-shooting, golf and tennis.
Bayahibe Beach: Bayahibe Beach, a 10-minute taxi ride from La Romana, is a public beach where you'll find water sports, restaurants and shops.
Isla Saona (Saona Island): Accessible only by boat from Bayahibe Beach, this island is part of the Parque Nacional del Este or the East National Park. Located off the southeastern tip of the Dominican Republic, Saona offers beautiful wildlife and pristine beaches that are ideal for swimming and snorkeling.
Boca Chica: Located in the town of Boca Chica, about a 60-minute drive from La Romana, this beach is great for swimming, grabbing a bite to eat and mingling with locals. There are food stalls, upscale restaurants and shaded tables for dining. Water sports equipment also is available for rent. Be careful with your valuables while you're swimming, however.
Juan Dolio: About 30 minutes' drive from La Romana, Juan Dolio is a simple beach that's great if you'd like a bit more peace and quiet than what Boca Chica has to offer. Within walking distance of Juan Dolio is Playa Guayacanes, which offers a similar ambience.
Authentic Dominican food is generally locally grown and produced. You'll find there's an emphasis on chicken and freshly caught fish, rice and beans, and fruits like coconuts and plantains. Many residents operate stands that offer homemade items like bread and empanadas. Drinks native to the area include fresh fruit juices, Dominican coffee and hot chocolate, Kola Real soda and -- for those looking for a bit of an alcoholic kick -- Mama Juana, Presidente beer and local rum. There also seems to be a surplus of Italian fare in the DR.
La Cacita: This little place, located in the town of La Romana (and not to be confused with La Casita, located inside Casa de Campo), offers friendly service by English-speaking waiters and delicious Italian fare, including caprese salad, chicken croquettes, fettuccine carbonara, angus skirt steak and several dessert options. (57 Calle Francisco Richiez; 809-556-5932; open Wednesday to Monday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.)
Lago Grill: Grab a bite here, at Teeth of the Dog golf course in Casa de Campo. This restaurant offers more casual fare that's great for those just coming in off the links. (Open noon to 3 p.m. daily.)
The Marina: This area of Casa de Campo offers the most selection, featuring Italian pizzerias, fish restaurants and coffee bars, all open throughout the day.
Staying in Touch
Wi-Fi is available in many areas throughout Casa de Campo, including Altos de Chavon and The Marina. For a more complete list of places where you can get connected, visit Casa de Campo Living, an online newsletter for the resort.
Whether you book on your own or through your cruise line, here are our choices for the best shore excursions:
Best for Animal-Lovers: Try horseback-riding at Casa de Campo. Guests generally ride for about two hours.
Best for Beach Bums: Laze in the sun during a Bayahibe Beach break. This is one of the few non-Casa de Campo-related excursions, and it's near the town of La Romana. At the beach, you'll find snack shacks and water sports rentals for reasonable prices.
Best for History Buffs: If your cruise line offers it, take a Santo Domingo highlights tour. You'll see the ancient buildings of the Colonial Zone, as well as Christopher Columbus' tomb. This tour generally takes all day, as the roundtrip from La Romana is about 90 minutes each way. If your line doesn't offer it, you can make plans with a private guide, but keep in mind that the excursion will be lengthy, and if you don't get back to your ship in time, it won't wait for you.
For More Information
On the Web:
Official Tourism Website of the Dominican Republic
Casa de Campo Website
Cruise Critic Message Boards: Dominican Republic
IndependentTraveler.com: Caribbean Travel Guide
--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief; updated by Ashley Kosciolek, Associate Editor