A Caribbean Escape Three Hours from New York
The tops of the palms wave cheerily in the breeze like giant green feather dusters against a soft blue, cloudless sky. I’m bobbing contentedly in the warm turquoise waters looking back at the beach, its silky white sands speckled with tiny seashells.
Despite it being mid-summer I’m the only one swimming in this small cove…the only one enjoying this flawless slice of beach this morning. I’m near the town of Bayahibe on the southeastern coast of the Dominican Republic, at a stretch of beach known as Dominicus.
This is in the province of La Romana—a popular tourism destination. I’ve learned, though, that there are the tourist resort areas of La Romana and then there are places like this—that buzz with activity on weekends and holidays when the locals come to play, yet are nearly deserted mid-week.
A small fishing village of brightly-painted, Caribbean-style wooden buildings, Bayahibe itself is laidback, with a rustic charm of its own. It’s the embarkation point for tourists going off to explore nearby Saona Island and the Dominican Republic’s best scubadiving sites, located just offshore.
The grand-daddy of Dominican tourist resorts, of course, is just up the coast…the venerable Casa de Campo. Developed in 1975 by Gulf+Western—one of the last American mega-conglomerates that owned the local sugar fields and production facilities—Casa de Campo is still the premiere destination in the Caribbean today.
Casa de Campo has a storied history all its own. Famous golf-course designer Pete Dye was brought in to build a golf course. Some 300 machete-wielding locals carved out the famous coast-hugging Teeth of the Dog golf course by hand. An international airport was opened near the town of La Romana (capital of the province) to offer access for CEOs from around the world who came to vacation at the corporate retreat.
Things took off from there. The cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue was shot here in 1971. Not long after, a polo club was introduced by Indian Prince Maharajah Jabar Singh—one of the best polo players in the world. And an elite tennis club was added. High in the hills above the Chavón River that cuts through the property, Altos de Chavón was built, patterned after a tiny Italian village. A giant Grecian-style outdoor amphitheater was inaugurated with a televised performance by Frank Sinatra.
In 1980, a group of private investors purchased the property, opened the resort to the public…and took things to an even higher level, if that’s possible. Fashion and interior designer (and native Dominican) Oscar de la Renta was brought in to design the overall ambience of the resort. A 400-berth, Portofino-style marina, with shops, restaurants, and more was built to accommodate giant yachts and to host sport-fishing and sailing championships.
For those who never want to leave this paradise, Casa de Campo offers a residential component that is one of the world’s most elite. Condos are tucked discreetly into wooded areas near Altos de Chavón and at the marina. And scattered throughout the complex are more than 1,700 private villas.
These are villas of the luxurious variety—some are modern colonial in style, some are Asian-influenced, others are sleekly contemporary. But all have the air of moneyed grandeur. And prices reflect that—from $500,000 for a two-bedroom at the marina up to $24 million or more for the most magnificent beachside mansion. It’s no wonder this enclave is referred to as “the Hamptons of the Caribbean.”
Still, if you’re looking for a vacation away from it all, Casa de Campo is an excellent choice. Many of the super-luxurious private villas can be rented for a week or a month. Or you can stay at the hotel, as I did. Either way, you’ll quickly understand the resort’s appeal. A private paradise it is, and I would gladly return, any time, anyhow.
Luckily, that’s not difficult. International flights to La Romana are easy enough, and even easier are flights to the international airport at Santo Domingo, just 90 minutes away. And despite the super-star setting, accommodation at the hotel is very affordable. (By the way, each hotel room comes with use of a private golf cart that you can use to whizz past those magnificent villas to the beach club, the golf course, or to Altos de Chavón… sweet.)
Make no mistake, though, Casa de Campo is the exception and not the rule when it comes to real estate offerings in the Dominican Republic. Prices elsewhere on the island, and even on this popular southern coast, are quite affordable.
On this trip, I had a chance to look at the popular beachside community of Juan Dolio, 45 minutes west of La Romana and about two hours from Santo Domingo. This proximity makes it a well-established weekend getaway for those looking to escape the big-city stress and spend some downtime on the beach. It’s also a quick-and-easy hop from the States. Santo Domingo is little more than a three-hour flight from New York and a two-hour flight from Miami.
The big news in Juan Dolio is that Hollywood has come knocking. Construction has begun on Pinewood Indomina Studios’ new 35-acre, state-of the art film and television facility. This will be the largest and most up-to-date production studio in Latin America and will bring thousands of jobs and business opportunities to the area.
If you’d like to hobnob with the stars, you’re in luck. Local real estate is affordable. In the three-tower Marbella project right on the beach, a 1,345-square-foot, ground-floor two-bedroom/two-bathroom condo is selling for $230,000. This condo has tile floors and granite countertops, and a large terrace perfect for dining. There’s also a superb view of the beach and ocean. The beach here is wide and sandy, lined by swaying palms, and condo amenities include a swimming pool and on-site restaurant.
A free golf membership to the Metro Country Club is part of the deal, and all the amenities you need are close by, including restaurants and small grocery stores, an international school, and a medical clinic with English-speaking doctors.
There may be money to be made here, too. I’m told this property will rent long-term, unfurnished, for $1,500 a month and furnished for $1,900 to $2,000 a month. Or put it on the vacation-property market at $200 to $300 a day.
A bit farther east, in another high-rise project called Attabey, a 1,560-square-foot, two-bedroom/two-bathroom apartment on the fourth floor is selling for $278,000. There are gorgeous ocean views from the master bedroom, and the guestroom has an ocean-view balcony to capture a cooling sea breeze. Price: $278,000.
Go up three floors to the seventh floor, and a same-sized condo with an even more expansive view of the Caribbean can be had for $287,000. This project is right on the water’s edge, although the shoreline is rocky here—but the views can’t be beat. All the properties I saw are in the newer part of Juan Dolio, traveling east along the beach from the more established section of town. This newer area is where the film studio is being built, along with one of the biggest shopping malls in the Caribbean.
Later that night, after viewing these properties, I sat on the balcony of my hotel room, sipping Dominican rum and watching the soft Caribbean moonlight play across water and the fine white sands. Another perfect moment…
Editor’s Note: This article was taken from a past issue of International Living’s monthly magazine. To get full access to all past and future articles and to receive the magazine in the mail or online each month, simply click on the below button to subscribe to International Living magazine at the special introductory price of $49. You will get instant access to the current issue of the magazine as well 10 years of back issues. As an added bonus, we will also send you a FREE report – How to Retire in Paradise on $30 a Day. (You can cancel your subscription at any time.)