All Inclusive Vacations to Punta Cana
The Punta Cana destination is made up of the areas (going from south to north) of Cap Cana (Juanillo), Punta Cana, Cabeza de Toro, Bavaro, El Cortecito, Arena Gorda, Macao and Uvero Alto.
Today, the East Coast beach strip is one of the best choices for those seeking the perfect beach and R&R (rest and relaxation) vacation. Bill and Hillary Clinton in April 2001 chose Punta Cana for their first sojourn after leaving the White House. Punta Cana is that perfect place for a honeymoon – first or second.
This is a place for vegging out… miles of silky-fine white sand, deserted beaches with coconut palms. Unless you rent a car or purchase an excursion, don’t expect much sightseeing or outstanding shopping opportunities nearby.
This area is made up almost completely of large all-inclusive resorts populated mostly by couples or families. Some resorts in the area cater to sports-minded people, others are couples only. But most resorts focus on family entertainment. The exception is spring break time when groups of university students fly down from Canada and the US. The better hotels for this crowd are the larger complexes, where night time entertainment is more lively.
If you don't mind losing a day at your all-inclusive, Punta Cana can also be for explorers. If you rent a 4x4, venture out to discover a magnificent world of caves, mangroves, private beaches in the nearby Hato Mayor and El Seibo provinces. Or drive west on to Altos de Chavon, Bayahibe, and even to Saona near La Romana. These are at least two hour’s drive away.
What else is nearby
The Punta Cana area lends itself more to those looking for the type of vacation where the resort has everything and one never has to go outside the gates. Note the nearest city, Higuey, is about a 40 minute drive away. Beyond the resorts is mostly empty countryside. You can literally walk for miles along the beach without seeing anything but an occasional unfinished construction project or the next hotel.
El Cortecito, located between Punta Cana-Bavaro and Macao, is the closest thing to a little beach town in the area. Nearby is Manatee Park, a wildlife ecological/adventure site and the Ponce de Leon house is near Boca de Yuma, a choice for fresh fish lunches by the seaside. Handicraft vendors rotate offering market day at the different hotels. There are several souvenir shops located right on the different beach stretches.
The second best airport for this destination is the La Romana Airport, which is about 1-1/2 to 2 hours drive away from your hotel. If you land at Las Americas International (Santo Domingo) you will be a four hour drive and an expensive taxi ride away.
Punta Cana Express (Takeoff Destination Services) flies from Herrera International Airport (Santo Domingo) twice a day, fare is US$75 each way. Air Century offers charters.
The cheapest way to get to and from Santo Domingo is by commuter minibus. This will cost about US$8 but could take you almost a whole day as you make numerous bus changes.
Tourists arriving to Punta Cana will spend most of their vacation at their hotel. The easiest way to visit the other hotels is to take a stroll along the beach. Or take the beach taxi to El Cortecito or to the Cabeza de Toro area. To visit the Basilica in Higuey, you can take either a taxi or public bus.
Beaches. Cap Cana, Punta Cana, Cabeza de Toro, Bavaro, El Cortecito, Arena Gorda, Macao and Uvero Alto. The beach is the No. 1 attraction in the East Coast area, stretching an amazing 50 kilometers. With few exceptions, most hotels and developments only limit land access and elsewise honor Dominican law whereby beaches are public. You can freely stroll the beach strip going from one hotel's beach front to another, especially in the Cortecito, Bavaro and Cabeza de Toro areas. There are public beach entries at El Cortecito and Cabeza de Toro. Macao, to the north, is yet undeveloped, and thus is unrestricted beach access. Leave your valuables at the hotel when walking the beach, and caution should be taken in deserted beach stretches.
The array of water sports options offered right on the beach is amazing: catamaran boat rides, double-decker party boats, restaurant dining at sunset on the sea, parasailing, glass bottom boats for marine life observation, sports fishing, diving, snorkeling, flying boats, speed boats. The boat taxis can take you from one hotel to another via the beach. There is also banana boating, kayaking, windsurfing, sailing and beach volleyball.
But here are other activities to consider:
Safari-type excursions on four-wheel bikes, buggy rides, jeep safaris, monster trucks or helicopter rides for a privileged view. A dozen of companies offer these adventure tours that take the tourists to observe tropical wilderness, visit a countryside home where typical Dominican food lunch will be served, examine tropical crops, take a dip at a deserted beach or for a swim in a cool river.
Horseback riding is also popular in Punta Cana with the option of riding on deserted white-sand beaches, making for great photography.
Marinarium. This marine park on the sea offers snorkeling with sharks and rays.
Dolphin Island. Short boat ride takes you to the artificial island created where tourists can have a swim with trained dolphins right in the sea. The package includes a 15-minute free time with the dolphins, where these will choose their new friends.
Manati Park Bavaro. 130,000 square meter preserve with permanent exhibits of birds, reptiles, and fish. A show with parrots, dolphins and dancing horses is included in the admission fee. Free shuttle bus to and from principal hotels in the area.
Punta Cana Ecological Reserve. Short guided tour through tropical flora with an optional refreshing bath in a cool spring at the end. You will be walking through a real jungle. Located 15 minutes from Punta Cana International Airport.
Rancho Jonathan has caving excursions to Boca de Diablo, a large cave system south of Los Haitises.
Half an hour to 45 minutes away:
La Otra Banda
If you take the Saona, Catalina, Altos de Chavón, Higuey or Santo Domingo excursions, on your way west ask your guide to point out the small town of La Otra Banda, with its pretty little houses, right out of a Caribbean architecture book and perfect for picture-taking.
The city has no tourist attractions other than its Basilica, a large modern cathedral that honors the Virgen de la Altagracia, patron saint of the Dominican Republic.
If you wind up in Higüey with time to spare, take a walk down the small streets, look at the local businesses, eat the local cheese, go into a colmado (grocery shop) and buy a Presidente beer or a Coca Cola, go to the local market and buy some local fruit, change your dollars in the banks or exchange houses (next to the central park), try to communicate with the locals, have your shoes shined for 5 or 10 pesos by a small child, give the child a few sweets and your best smile. Visit the largest supermarket in Higuey and purchase Bon Marmalade, Santo Domingo coffee in a can, top of the line Brugal, Bermudez or Barcelo rum, or stop by a Bon ice cream shop for tropical sherbets.
Ponce de Leon House and Boca de Yuma
Located in San Rafael de Yuma, a detour south of the road that leads from Higuey to La Romana, the Ponce de Leon House was where the famous explorer of Florida lived with his wife and three daughters when he commanded the east of the country for the Spanish conquistadors back around 1505. He would set sail from Boca Chica to colonize Puerto Rico, and then Florida. Near the Ponce de Leon house is the fisherman's town of Boca de Yuma, for fresh fish and dancing bachata and salsa.
One to two hours away:
La Romana/Altos de Chavon
Past expansive fields of shoulder-high sugar cane, visitors will come to La Romana, a city built and maintained by the sugar mills. The incessant production of sugar fills the air with the sweet smell of molasses. But the principal attraction of the region is Altos de Chavón, a re-created 15th century Italian-Spanish village beside the mesmerizing Chavón River. At its founding in 1981, Altos de Chavón was declared “an artists’ village” by its creators who dedicated it to the service of the fine and applied arts. Its old world cobblestone streets and quaint architecture conceal charming shops, fine restaurants, intimate bars, artisans workshops, a church, a vast amphitheater, an archaeological museum, and a university specializing in design. The Parson's School of Design of New York City has a branch right here. Lovely architecture, restaurants with great views and international cuisine, and a small but superb museum. It’s adjacent to Casa de Campo, one of the most famous and expensive resorts in the Caribbean.
Los Haitises National Park. Several hotels offer excursions to Los Haitises National Park, a sanctuary for nature lovers and those interested in natural history. The underground rivers flow through caves replete with pre-Columbian drawings and petroglyphs, silent testimony to the Indian population who dwelled there peacefully for centuries before the arrival of the Europeans. Be sure to visit the Cueva de la Linea (Ferrocarril) and the Cueva de las Arenas. The boat trip to get to these caves that are off San Lorenzo Bay will take you through the largest system of mangroves in the Caribbean. Another option to visit and a place to have lunch in the area is the Paraiso Caño Hondo river center, a short drive from the National Park Los Haitises departure point.
If you are renting a car, and consider yourself an explorer, head south from Sabana de la Mar (Los Haitises) to Miches. Discover the white sand and little frequented but very lovely Playa Miches or the further south Playa Esmeralda. Avoid Playa Esmeralda if you are not driving a four wheel vehicle as if it has rained the night before there may form a puddle in the sand road that 4 x 2 vehicles cannot pass. Note that if you are staying in Punta Cana this will be a whole day trip. This really is a trip for those who book a stay in one of the small hotels in Sabana de la Mar.
Boat trip to Isla Catalina, an environmental reserve located just offshore from La Romana with a coral reef perfect for diving or snorkeling and a nice beach.
Isla Saona, a larger island off the coast of La Altagracia province. It has a quiet fishing village with friendly locals who now cater to thousands of day trippers. You can go by catamaran, big tourist boat or small motor boat. The boats generally leave from Bayahibe. If you are lucky, dolphins will swim along with you. Some excursions use speed boats that take tourists to visit the village of Mano Juan and Palmilla beach with its white sands. This is the most-booked trip of tourists visiting Punta Cana but if you plan on returning to the DR, consider leaving it for a time when you stay in one of the La Romana hotels when you will be about a half hour boat trip away, instead of the almost three hours it will take to get there from Punta Cana.
Plantación Tropical. A memorable side trip north from San Pedro de Macorís to Hato Mayor will reward the entire family with one of the largest horticultural centers in the Caribbean. Tropical Plantation displays scores of exotic species -- bromeliads, anthuriums, orchids and others along challenging labyrinthine paths. Complementing their intense colors, fragrance and beauty is an aviary with the island's native birds and a vast butterfly enclosure. It is an entertaining cross between a botanical garden, an amusement park and a working plant nursery that will captivate all for an entire morning or afternoon.
Also in Hato Mayor, adventure lovers may book an underground excursion to the Rancho Capote and its Cueva Fun Fun, that is the longest underground cave in the Caribbean. This is a shallow cave running seven kilometers. Experience the darkness down under, the giant corridors, the cave art, and the magic whisper of the subterranean rivers. This thrilling excursion begins with a ride on horseback, then a walk through the jungle and the cave, and ends with a well-deserved lunch. The owners of the ranch are one of the country's leading orange growers so expect delicious fresh orange juice with lunch.
Three and a half hours away:
If you don't think you will ever make it back to the Dominican Republic, then definitely take the Santo Domingo city tour, in spite of the distance. With a population of three million in its environs, Santo Domingo is the first city in the New World settled by the Europeans, and boasts a charming colonial zone and some of the best nightlife and dining in the Caribbean.
There are about 20,000 hotel rooms in East Coast hotels.
Not all are created equal. They may offer similar-sounding all inclusive plans, but there are major variations. When booking your hotel, check out what is included in the plan. Note that many hotels will not include premium liquors in their price package. Some offer better sports packages than others. Some have better plans for the family while others cater to couples. Some are smaller operations, others are large and better options for those seeking to mingle with lots of people. This is important especially regarding night life entertainment for those who will not be traveling as a couple. If rest and relaxation are important to you, request a room away from the night show area or the pool area where some hotels keep their guests energized with what many may otherwise feel is too loud music.
Dining outside the hotel
Punta Cana is resort territory. Tourists staying at resorts that are partnered with other hotels can enjoy more dining options at the sister properties than those staying at independent hotels. Of course, this will depend on your hotel plan. Either way, the hotels will feature an ample variety of food, with options to dine at the a la carte restaurants that may or not be included in your plan.
Outside of the resorts, dining establishments can be found in the Bavaro commercial areas, in Cabeza de Toro, El Cortecito and Punta Cana shopping mall, as well as at the Punta Cana Resort & Club's La Yola and Cocoloba restaurants (reservations required).
Nightlife outside the hotel
Most hotels will feature staff-produced evening shows, with guests having the option to dance until the wee hours in the hotel discos. Nightlife will be slightly livelier at the larger hotel clusters. Bavaro Beach Resort disco is, for instance, the main dance bar among the five large Barcelo Bavaro hotels. The disco opens at 11pm and usually becomes packed after midnight.
With this exception, nightlife at most resorts has been described as "fairly dull" if you are looking for a party atmosphere. Most discos are small and won't attract more than 40-70 people in the evenings, mostly couples. The discos will play current dance music so you can bring your own CDs, gather a group of people and turn a small hotel disco into your own personal party.
The only big show in town is Tropicalissimo, staged at the Barcelo Bavaro Casino in the style of the old Tropicana of Cuba.
Areito disco caters to Ocean Resorts and is open to the public, as is the Mangu Discotehque at the Occidental Flamenco Hotel with its giant screen for following important spectator sports events.
Punta Cana's shopping center, opposite the airport, features the country's newest world-class bowling alley. On site is also the Maran‡ disco-lounge-bar.
Major beach party live entertainment is provided on full moon nights at the Jelly Fish Restaurant on Bavaro Beach.
Most guests do not mind the lack of nightlife as they retire early, exhausted from a day at the beach. Regardless, there are bars in Plaza Bavaro (near Barcelo and Melia hotels) or in the Punta Cana shopping center where you can meet the locals, mostly people who work in the area. The atmosphere at these places should be lively but don't expect too much. If you will be staying in the area of Iberostar or Riu hotels, Disco Pachá is the place. They charge admission for those not staying at Riu hotels.
There are four casinos in the area: Riu Palace, Barcelo Bavaro Casino, Paradisus Casino, the Catalonia Casino and the newest and largest Bavaro Princess casino.
Places to shop
Bavaro Plaza is the largest shopping area in Punta Cana, albeit some items are higher priced. Punta Cana shopping mall. Each hotel features stores where arts and crafts can be purchased and handicraft vendors rotate at the hotels bringing their wares from the creators right to the tourist.
There are five golf courses in operation the area, and another slated for opening in 2005: El Golf de Bavaro 18 holes par 72 (Barcelo hotels), Cocotal 27 holes par 72 (Melia hotels), Punta Cana Golf (Club Med, Punta Cana Resort & Club, Cabeza de Toro Golf (Catalonia Resort), White Sands Golf (Blue Ocean resort), Punta Espada Golf opening first 9 holes summer 2005 (Cap Cana).
Punta Cana features the longest coral reef in the whole island - about 30 kilometers long.
Snorkeling is so-so from shore, decent out at select areas near the reef. Snorkeling excursions take groups out to The Aquarium (east of Club Med) and towards the reef off El Cortecito beach or to the area near the Riu Taino hotel.
Diving is good, not great, because right off shore from the Punta Cana side the water is riddled with barrier reefs. The area though is most appropriate for beginning divers. It is a great place to learn since the waters, even far out, are so shallow. Excursions will take you to discover a shipwreck and lots of nice coral formations, channels and tunnels. Not a large variety of fish, due to the spear fishermen you pass on the way out. Water temp 75 F.
If you are serious about scuba diving, but still want to vacation in the Punta Cana area you may participate in dive excursions to Catalina and Saona islands, a two hour drive away. These dives are attractive to both beginners and advanced scuba divers.
In this region, big game fishing is good and annual tournaments draw international participants in the summer. You can look forward to catching blue marlin, barracuda, and dorado among others. Best fishing is in the summer. Arrangements can be made at hotel front desks or at Cabeza de Toro beach area.
Windsurfing and parasailing
At the point where the Caribbean and Atlantic Oceans meet, the winds are powerful so this is a good area for windsurfing and parasailing.
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