I discovered the beautiful Altos de Chavón east of La Romana, Dominican Republic back in 2001 when I made my first trip to that particular region and then again in 2008. All my life, whenever I visit DR, I always go to the place where I grew up, the capital of Santo Domingo. I never ventured out to the countless resorts that now dot this country. I simply go home to visit my aunt and uncle (he passed back in 2008) and cousins. But it was while visiting a friend in La Romana that I was given a tour of not only the city but of this beautiful 16th century Mediterranean village just outside Casa de Campo resort.
What’s truly unique about Altos de Chavón is the fact that the entire place was not built in the 16th century but back in the late 70’s and completed in the mid-80’s! It was the brainchild of former Paramount Pictures set designer, Roberto Copa and Charles Bludhorn, then chairman of Gulf+Western. Using stones from a recent construction project, they had the idea to built this little village completely from scratch, stone by stone.
In the day, Altos de Chavón looks beautiful but at night as the sun sets, the narrow cobble-stoned streets are lit up by the many lanterns that line the narrow “streets”. I’ve been here twice and on those daytime visits, the place was not crowded at all. There are many tours offered by nearby resorts to Altos de Chavón but the crowds still remain small.
Near the center of Altos de Chavón you’ll find St. Stanislaus Church, the wide plaza and nearby water fountain. Back in 2001, I stumbled upon workers setting up the place for a posh corporate event (I believe it was for Kodak). There are many weddings held here and I can only imagine that this place is made to look even more beautiful for such an event.
Pope John Paul II visited this church back in ’79 and he brought some of the ashes of the patron saint of Poland to the church and left it there.
You can visit Altos de Chavón for a fee (over $20 I think) and get to visit the various shops, museums and bars/restaurants. Also located here is a Dominican art school affiliated with New York City’s Parsons School of Design. Many of the students get to display many of their artwork and crafts in the village. Many locals also have set up shop selling their paintings and other novelties.
One of the main features of Altos de Chavón is its large stone amphitheater which seats over 5,000. In 2001 I visited this place twice. Once in the day and then once at night. I was invited by another friend who had an extra ticket to see Duran Duran. Duran Duran in the Dominican Republic?! I didn’t want to pass up that opportunity so I tagged along with him and his girlfriend. That night Duran Duran played a great concert amid screaming fans. Surprisingly enough, the audience was comprised not only of my fellow countrymen but there were a lot of American and European concert goers as well.
The only blight on the whole experience was the occasional interruption by a male fan blatantly rushing Simon Le Bon on the stage, only to be removed very quickly by security. This happened about three times.
Other notable performers at Altos de Chavón have been Juan Luis Guerra (my favorite Dominican artist – listen to his music if you can), Frank Sinatra, Santana, Julio Iglesias, Alphaville, Erasure, Pet Shop Boys and even Alicia Keys.
This ends of the tour of Altos de Chavón, folks. In a few days I’ll post some pictures of my visit to the excellent Regional Museum of Archaeology (El Museo Arqueológico Regional) located within Altos de Chavón. If you’re ever in the Dominican Republic visiting the area of La Romana, make sure to drop by and spend a lazy afternoon drinking some Brugal rum or Presidente beer while hanging out with the locals and admiring some art.