La Romana, a resort area on the Dominican Republic east coast, boasts several family-friendly hotels with programs for kids and tweens.
Casa de Campo & Excel Villas have supervised children's programs, an equestrian center, the private Minitas beach, a tennis center and a clubhouse for teens.
Viva Wyndham Dominicus Beach has a free Kid's Club and Junior Club with tennis, painting, archery, windsurfing, kayaking, volleyball, sandcastle-making, water games and talent shows, geared to various ages. The Kids' Club at Viva Wyndham Dominicus Palace, for children ages four to 12, offers arts and crafts, swimming and a beach Olympics.
Oasis Canoa has nightly shows in an open-air theater. Children, four to 12 years old, can join the Coral's Kidz Club, which offers a menu for children, watersports, swimming, mini-golf, archery, beach volleyball and basketball.
The Explorer's Club at Sunscape Casa del Mar Resort has supervised science, nature and exploration programs for children aged three to 12. Activities include an ocean trampoline, sandcastle competitions, arts and crafts, movies on the beach and a weekly beach campout.
Parque Nacional del Este (National Park of the East) offers hiking and more than 300 species of birds, endangered loggerhead sea turtles, bottlenose dolphins, manatees and a large coral reef.
Families can explore more than 100 cave systems in the Parque Nacional del Este. Some of the cave walls have paintings and etchings made by Taino Indians, 500 to 5,000 years ago.
The Tainos were the earliest inhabitants of the island of Hispaniola, where the Dominican Republic is located. Christopher Columbus named them taino meaning "good" or "noble" after he met them on his first trip to the New World in 1492.
Taino history goes back more than 3,600 years. Archeological excavations show that the Tainos were harvesters, fishermen and farmers. Visitors to La Romana can book guided tours to archeological dig sites. Altos de Chavon Regional Museum of Archaeology has more than 3,000 Tainos artifacts.
Tourists can explore more than four miles of underground caves on trips offered by La Romana tour operators. Also popular, are horseback rides to the Cueva de las Maravillas (Cave of Marvels). Visitors follow a 780-foot trail, 25 feet underground, to see 500-year-old pictographs, stalagmites, stalactites and a subterranean pool.
On scuba diving and snorkeling tours, families explore the shipwreck parks of Bayahibe, Divers and snorkelers see shipwrecks, including the submerged Norwegian cargo ship, St. George, and an underwater archaeological museum. Caballo Blanco Reef has nine 18th-century cannons and several 16th-century Spanish artifacts, including anchors.
In La Romana, Tropical Tours offers a Family Day in Santo Domingo excursion. The tour includes the Trampolin Children's Museum, the National Zoo and the National Aquarium. Tropical Tours also runs an Off-Road ATV Adventure, which visits sugarcane fields, a ranch in Gato for fresh fruit and the Chavon River for swimming.
Visitors can tour Casa de Ponce de Leon, the home of Ponce de Lein, who arrived in 1494. The Spanish explorer lived in this two-story stone building, between 1502 and 1508, while he governed the Higuey region for Spain. The 500-year-old home is now a museum, in the country near San Rafael del Yuma.
Isla Saona, an island off the coast of La Romana, has lagoons, wildlife and beaches for family fun. The artist village of Altos de Chavon is also a popular day trip. Resembling a medieval town, it has restaurants, shops, a gallery and an archaeological museum. Altos de Chavon's 5,000-seat outdoor amphitheater is the location for concerts and festival performances.
La Romana Festivals
Popular festivals include Carnival. Held before lent, it features parades where participants wear masks and costumes. Visitors to Vive Bayahibe can join a large street party with performers and artists. Musicians play Dominican Republic music like perico ripiaos, trios, bachata and palos.
Shopping for gems
Arts and crafts shops in La Romana sell baskets and embroidery as well as crafts made from wood, horns, snail shells, pottery and ceramics. Shoppers find replicas of traditional sailboats from Bayahibe, a nearby city, at Boats Guaba. Each scale-model takes 10 to 12 hours to create.
Jewelry in La Romana often includes amber, the Dominican Republic national gemstone. Local amber comes in blue, red and black colors, which are unique in the world. Also found only in the Dominican Republic, is the deep blue, green and turquoise larimar gemstone.
Dominican Republic food
Food is a highlight of any trip. Besides international cuisine, La Romana restaurants serve local Dominican Republic cuisine such as pescado con coco (fish cooked in coconut milk), casaba (thin, circular cassava bread), catibias (meat-stuffed fritters) and yaniqueques (fried crispy round breads).