One of my friends just got back from Punta Cana, Dominican Republic and he reminded me about how amazing Punta Cana is! Located on the eastern tip of Dominican Republic and only a short flight away from San Juan, Puerto Rico, Punta Cana has become a popular Caribbean place to travel to. When I went in 2005 it wasn’t the most popular Caribbean destination and I never dreamed about going to Dominican Republic or much less heard of it. The preferred Caribbean destinations usually are the Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Puerto Rico, Aruba, etc, so it was a nice surprise to go to an unknown country that not very many people travel to.
Punta Cana Rundown
Today you can find package deals and direct flights from major cities throughout the US because Punta Cana, as a great tourist destination, has become more wide spread. One of the huge benefits about Punta Cana is the beaches and the all-inclusive resorts. I stayed at an Iberostar hotel, on Bavaro Beach, which is about 30 minute drive from Punta Cana airport. It’s technically not even in the city of Punta Cana but most of the resorts are within 45 minutes of the city.
Like Iberostar, most of the resorts around Punta Cana are all-inclusive and people as young as 16 are allowed to drink which was perfect since I was 16 in 2005. When I went during the summer, I learned it’s very hot in Punta Cana and there can be some violent thunderstorms. Almost every late afternoon and night we heard some of the most powerful thunder I’ve ever experienced. The crescendos of noise were enough to keep you up at night as well as the sound of rain pounding the roof and windows. We had big windows because many of the rooms are duplex low rised buildings, with only one other room next to you.
And just as fast as the thunderstorms came, they also left. Days in the summer, or at least when I was there, were extremely humid and scorching hot, soaking up most of the rain from the nights. It was hard not to get burned! Most of the activities will be outside and so you’re going to need good sunscreen. My recommendation would be to go during the months of January, February, and March because the weather is cooler and the sun is less intense. There also isn’t the crowds like there would be during spring break and summer. Also it’s just not Americans who go to Punta Cana but also many Europeans including Germans, British, Russian, Spanish and French.
What’s there to Do?
So much and it may depend on what hotel you’re staying at. Iberostar had a pool with a swim up bar, clay tennis courts, life-sized chess board, and plenty of drinks and food. The beaches all around Iberostar are amazingly white, wide and large. They are like Los Angeles Beach wide and more importantly they feel uncrowded. Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of people in the resorts but because the beaches are so wide you don’t feel like people are constantly on top of you. Some of the tourist do get up early to grab chairs on the beach (smart but kind of rude) and so you may have to spend some time walking up and down the beach to get one.
Sick of laying on a beach day? I would suggest para-sailing, sailing on a catamaran, snorkeling, scuba diving, jet-skiing, etc… all of which can be found on the beaches for reasonable prices. If you’re looking to get away from the resort, it’s possible to go into the city of Punta Cana to shop for cheap souvenirs and tour around. However, the shopping isn’t very nice and the town is pretty run down.
Some people prefer to take a 3 hour bus ride to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic’s capital. Santo Domingo has an old city and some charming parts to discover so it may be worth it. To the north of Punta Cana, there is a small island called Cayo Levantando, that looks like a great place to visit or stay. It was recommended by my friend as a great place to at least experience although it’s around 2 hours to 3 hours outside of Punta Cana. It’s a secluded island where you can watch whales and relax on a small island that is only for adults. Whales only show up in the winter months though! I checked the prices for Cayo Levantando and it also doesn’t seem very expensive, while also being rated really well.
Food, Drinks, Shopping
Honestly your resort will be where you hang out for most of your time in Punta Cana. The thing is that there isn’t much to do outside of the resorts. Most of the hotels are all inclusive, so food will be included in your stay and you get a choice from several restaurants to eat. Some resorts let you walk over to other resorts to try different restaurants, food and drinks.
Beware that although some of the alcohol is free and some of it’s not. Like at Iberostar, only the selection of International Drinks were free but others were charged. All inclusive usually means that you can go to breakfast, lunch and dinner and everything will be included in the price you paid online. Also other activities on the hotel like night entertainment and any outdoor activities are also free of charge. The pool is a popular place to hang out and most of the resorts have several pools to swim in. You can even swim up to the bars and drink in the pool!
Shopping is usually only in the resorts and you can guess that many of the products are over priced. If you go into town, it’s much cheaper but you may find it’s only trinkets and knick-knacks, and perhaps not worth it.
Overall staying at an inclusive hotel has some major benefits because it’s like a cruise. You never have to worry about exchanging money unless you’re paying for outside hotel activities, there are multiple food and drink choices and you have a wonderful beach right out your hotel. It’s nice to let go for a bit and only worry about relaxing which is what all-inclusive hotels force you to do.
Here are some of the hotels to think about staying in.
- Grand Bahia Principe
- Barcelo Bavaro Beach Resort
- Iberostar Punta Cana
- Catalonia Bavaro Hotel
- Be Live Grand Punta Cana
How I feel about Punta Cana?
Personally I loved my experience and I was very surprised by how large the beach was. There are many great Caribbean beaches and Punta Cana should be considered a top Caribbean destination. I looked at some prices for some of the most expensive hotels and per night they are around $100 – $200 dollars; not bad for all an inclusive hotel with a warm Caribbean beach.
Now that Punta Cana is becoming more popular, prices seem to be coming down and flights are more affordable. If you’re thinking about going to Punta Cana, I would look on websites like groupon, expedia, and travelocity for some great deals. Remember that the summer time tends to be humid, warm and sometimes rainy. During fall you also risk hurricanes but prices may be cheaper. During the winter months and up into April may be a great time to go as it’s usually less crowded, prices are relatively good and the weather is not as oppressing.
Dominican Republic is a great country and has great culture to discover. The roads can be bumpy and the rides long but it is safe to travel throughout the country. The landscape goes from beaches to tropical forests to mountains so there is a lot of stunning beauty. There are also cities and regions outside of Punta Cana that are great for exploring.
I say you should go and try out an all-inclusive resort for yourself. It’s an easy type of vacation and really is great if you’re looking to do a bare minimum type of trip. Easy access food, drinks, fun and beautiful landscapes is why I feel Punta Cana has become a popular Caribbean city and should be considered for your next vacation.