The southern shores of Dominican Republic reflect the rhythms of the Caribbean where fishermen get up with the sun to cast nets over the calm waters in the slanting light. Fishing villages line the coast from Santo Domingo to Bayahibe, two hours away in the southeast, and their time-honored traditions imbue the area with a strong sense of community. About a 1/2 hour west of Bayahibe, the city of La Romana is the commercial and cultural hub of the region, anchored by the modern La Romana International Airport. The beauty of the Caribbean Coast for groups is its central location with convenient access to so many different types of island experiences. Planners can combine in one program: the spectacular beaches of Bayahibe, the best golf in the Caribbean, two beautiful offshore islands for Robinson Crusoe-type escapes, and the cultural wonders of Santo Domingo’s Colonial Zone. BAYAHIBE & THE ISLANDS
Early every morning of the week, dozens of 16-foot fishing scows filled with visitors depart the quiet harbor in Bayahibe, on the northern outskirts of the protected El Parque Nacional del Este. Everyone is heading out en masse to sea for a 45-minute ride to postcard-perfect Saona Island. On the way there, the boat drivers will head into the natural sanctuary to explore the hundreds of species of exotic flora, birdsand fish who thrive here in this protected habitat. The peninsula is also known for its more than 400 caves and ancient cave paintings by the pre-Columbian Taino natives. From there, the group motors back out to sea until Saona appears on the horizon. Imagine the ideal beach with blistering white sand and tangled palm trees listing over Tiffany blue water. That’s Saona, a stunning atoll with enough space for 300 pax to snorkel in the surf without feeling cramped. There’s also a little community with bright pink and yellow wooden homes lining the beach displaying vibrant Haitian art for sale. Be sure to pack a few additional boats with fresh seafood to barbecue on the beach, with enough Presidente beer, Dominican cigars and rum to go around. The ride back is special too. In the late afternoon, the water is as flat as a glass tabletop. The boats stop midway for a swim in the clear shallow water and there’s not a single person without a blissful smile stamped on his or her face. For scuba divers, Catalina Island is a small coral-rimmed island just 1.5 miles offshore from La Romana, which is well known in diver circles for two incredible dives ranked among the top 10 in the Caribbean. “The Wall” extends from 15-140 feet in depth, while “The Aquarium” is teeming with colorful species like toad fish, sea horses, and the highly sought after lion fish. Santo Domingo With a population of more than two million people, the capital city of Santo Domingo sits at the mouth of the Ozama River where it empties into the Caribbean Sea. Due to its strategic location and protected harbor, this is the very birthplace of the Americas where Christopher Columbus and his family members established the first European city in the New World. Today, the bulk of international conferences in the city take place in and around the malecón—a broad esplanade skirting the sea. The major business hotels all front the long boulevard with panoramic views of the dark blue water, providing a welcome respite from typical big city congestion with open skies and light tropical tradewinds. Numerous large group venues around the city can accommodate groups up to 1,500 people, while an interesting array of historic settings and cultured hotels imbue any gala with colorful drama. Las Americas International Airport is the gateway into the capital city, located on the eastern outskirts about 30 minutes from the business district.