With a dual-purpose name, San Juan (named for Saint John the Baptist) de la Maguana (named for a Taíno tribe) honors both of its heritages. This is an old town, simply referred to as San Juan, that was founded in the 1500s by the Spanish in what was an area populated by the indigenous Taíno around the time of the Spanish invasion.
San Juan de la Maguana was home to Cacique Enriquillo and his wife. The Battle of Santomé occurred here between Haitian and Dominican armies on December 22, 1855, sealing Dominican independence. This is also the birthplace of Colonel Francisco Alberto Caamaño Deño, in 1928 who was the hero of the Constitutional Revolution in April 1965.
San Juan is a pleasant town that has added much to Dominican history but has only one historical semi-tourist sight to show for it. It does, however, have some interesting festivals that are fun to see if you’re in the area while they are happening. The rest of the year, life in San Juan seems to move slowly, like the heat across the desert.
El Corral de los Indios (free) is 10–15 minutes outside of San Juan de la Maguana (about seven kilometers), with an unfortunate name more befitting of a place to keep animals. A more appropriate name for an ancient Taíno site thought to be a gathering point for games and rituals would be the Plaza Ceremonial Indígena. Archaeologists believe that at one time, there was a circle of rocks surrounding the field; only a few rocks are left, including one large one in the center.
In 2005, a government official was making an assessment in order to restore it for tourist purposes. To get to El Corral de los Indios, follow Calle Independencia westbound to Avenida Anacaona and turn north onto Juan Herrera. Good signage will point you to the field.
Adjacent to the Hotel Gallery and Restaurant La Galeria del Espia, Espia Café Bar (Calle Independencia 7, tel. 809/557-5069, 8 p.m.–until people leave) is a lively and popular bar that has karaoke and dancing. It is an informal bar and a lot of fun.
La Fiesta del Espírito Santo, held around the first Sunday of June, is a procession from the town of El Batey to San Juan. This religious celebration includes carrying a religious icon to drums and chanting. It is a showcase of the Haitian and remaining Taíno influences in the culture of this region. The festival culminates in the plaza of San Juan for another full day.
On June 24, Día de San Juan, the town honors its patron saint, John the Baptist, ending a two-week celebration. Two weeks earlier food stands set up, dancing and music in the streets begins, and the festival balloons until the final blowout on the 24th, when a live band plays at the archway entrance to town.
Hotel Gallery (Calle Independencia 5 and Monsenor Merino, tel. 809/557-1007 or 809/557-2317, US$25 d) has good service, and even though the 12 rooms are small and boxy, they are clean and have air-conditioning, which is a huge plus in this hot region. Rooms come in single, double, or triple. Suites are available that are more like a double room with a king-size bed and a full bed, along with a small refrigerator. In addition to air-conditioning, all have phone, TV, and a private bathroom. The restaurant serves good Dominican and Mexican food, and room service is available. This is a good value; it’s owned by the same proprietors as the adjacent Restaurant La Galeria del Espia and the Espia Café Bar.
Hotel Maguana (Calle Independencia 72, tel. 809/557-2244, US$30 d) has been a mainstay of San Juan since 1947. The rooms are spacious and clean with comfortable beds, but you won’t always get a window, so be sure to ask for it, otherwise it can get a bit stuffy. All rooms have a private hot-water bath. The Trujillo suite is by far the most roomy, but don’t expect the luxury that he would’ve demanded. Those days are gone.
Restaurant La Galeria del Espia (Calle Independencia, tel. 809/557-2704, 1:30–4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.–3 a.m., US$4–7), directly adjacent to the Hotel Gallery, is owned by a Dominican and his Mexican wife and serves authentic dishes from each country, like chivo guisado and enchiladas. It has a nice atmosphere, clean with wonderful service and a big drink menu and wine list. The odd hours speak to how late-going the adjacent Espia Café Bar can run.
Driving into San Juan de la Maguana on the Carretera Sánchez, it changes into two one-way streets, Calle Independencia (westbound traffic) and Calle 16 de Agosto (eastbound traffic). These are the main drags, and most commercial necessities and hotels are on or very near these streets.
Caribe Tours (Calle Dr. Cabral 29, tel. 809/557-4520) has buses for Santo Domingo  (US$6.75) leaving at 6:45 a.m., 10 a.m., 1:45 p.m., and 5:15 p.m. from its depot which is near the Hotel Maguana. The Santo Domingo trip takes 2 hours. For a bus to Barahona , you’ll need to take one to Ázua  (US$2.25) (which takes one hour) and transfer there. Caribe Tours has buses leaving Santo Domingo 6:30 a.m., 10:15 a.m., 2 p.m., and 10 p.m.
To catch a guagua bound for Santo Domingo, head toward the Parque Central on the Calle Independencia. These minibuses leave and arrive three blocks east of the main archway into town on the eastern side. They depart for Santo Domingo every 20 minutes 4 a.m.–6 p.m.
Taxis and motoconchos can be found hanging around at the Parque Central.