Take a holiday to Punta Cana and you’ll be in one of the Caribbean’s top destinations. On your marks for luxury hotels, knockout reefs and tropical beaches that won’t disappoint.
Made up of around 30 resorts dotted over hundreds of square miles, Punta Cana is where the A-listers like to lounge. The Clintons, Beyonce and Brangelina have all been papped here, and it’s easy to see why. The 50-kilometre coastline is a thick stripe of white sand fringed by giant coconut trees. Plus, beyond the beaches, you’ll find golf courses, tropical countryside and a sprinkling of colonial cities.
The big name when it comes to resorts is Bavaro. Reached by lanes lined with mangroves and sugar plantations, it’s made up of stylish complexes, golf fairways and a handful of shopping and entertainment plazas. First prize, though, goes to its long sweep of white sand. On one side of it you’ve got a dozen or so restaurants, and on the other you’ll find an underwater blanket of coral reefs.
Sleepy Uvero Alto
For proper escapism, try Bavaro’s sleepy sister, Uvero Alto. An ultra-secluded resort, it’s got textbook Caribbean looks. The white-sand beach, which is fringed by coconut groves and thick tropical greenery, seems to go on forever. And you’ll find the region’s longest coral reef waiting just offshore.
Things to See and Do in Punta Cana
White sands and rainbow reefs
For beaches that come complete with dazzling white sands, electric blue seas and glossy green palms, Punta Cana ticks all the boxes. Plus, the sands here have that unmistakeably Caribbean laid-back vibe – especially in places like Uvero Alto and Bayahibe. If it’s an action-packed stretch you’re after, though, the beaches around Bavaro will be right up your street.
The big beach
The big name here is Bavaro Beach. Looks-wise it’s textbook Caribbean – think white sand, swishy palm trees and turquoise waters. Plus, there’s loads to keep you busy in this place. Try out watersports like parasailing and kayaking, or head beneath the surface and check out the kaleidoscopic coral reef. That said, if you’d rather relax with a stack of paperbacks, there’s plenty of room for that, too.
The secret beach
If a quieter stretch is more your scene, give Uvero Alto Beach a go. It’s a ribbon of soft sand – so no toe stubbing here – edged by skinny palms on one side and shallow, clear waters on the other. There’s a top-notch reef to drift above, while dry-land activities mostly revolve around topping up tans and snoozing under palms.
Label-lovers should drive the hour-long journey to Casa de Campo Marina in La Romana. It’s packed with designer boutiques including D&G and Gucci. You can pick up amber jewellery at Plaza Uvero Alto, a 30-minute drive from Bavaro – just head to the front row of shops. And in Bavaro itself, the Palma Real shopping village on Avenida Barceló sells Armani and Guess jeans.
Crafty types will be in their element at Altos de Chavon in La Romana, an hour from Bavaro. It looks like a Medieval European village, and it’s the hub of the Dominican Republic’s artists and craftsmen. You’ll find galleries and shops selling things like colourful tapestries and music boxes. For a brand fix, the San Juan shopping centre on Carratera Veron in Bavaro has everything from Adidas to Levi’s.
Put your haggling skills to the test and you’ll get big discounts at Bavaro Plaza. It’s full of pint-sized shops selling rainbow-bright paintings and plates. For the ultimate bargain, though, head to the colmado huts on Bayahibe Beach – you can pick up flip-flops for pesos. And at Plaza Uvero Alto, on Carretera Uvero Alto, basics like suncream are much cheaper than at the hotel shops.
Idle away an evening at one of the beaches in Punta Cana. Bayahibe has loads of palm-leaf topped bars where you can watch the sun set with a cold beer, and the locals come down here for bonfires and impromptu beach parties. In next-door Uvero Alto, sip a rum cocktail at one of the beachfront bars or head to one of the big hotels for things like live merengue music shows.
Punta Cana isn’t exactly a party-all-night kind of place, but there is a good club, Mangu, at the Occidental Flamenco Resort in Bavaro. Other hotel discos are also worth a look – as a rule, the bigger the hotel, the livelier it gets. Away from the hotels, head to Bavaro Plaza and you’ll find a clutch of bars that stay open until the small hours.
La Bandera means ‘Dominican Flag’, and it’s the country’s number-one dish. The white comes from the rice, the red from the kidney beans, and – as it’s pretty difficult to find blue food – stewed chicken or goat meat represents the final colour. It’s all served up with a generous helping of fried plantain.
The locals are pretty decadent with their breakfasts. They like to start the day with a bowl of mashed plantain topped off with fried cheese or egg – or both. You’ll sometimes find fried pork thrown in, too. This belly-busting dish started life in Africa, where it’s known as fufu.
Sancocho is eaten throughout the Spanish-speaking world, and it’s a big favourite in the Dominican Republic. This super-rich stew is made with whatever meat is available – usually chicken or pork – plus longaniza sausage and beans. Look out for Sancocho de Siete Carnes, made with seven kinds of meat.
Habichuelas con dulce
This warm, spicy mix of red beans, condensed milk and coconut is half way between a soup and a dessert. Locals often eat it around the Easter holiday, when they dunk ‘galleticas de leche’ – little biscuits engraved with a cross – into it.
Now this is a drink and a half. Local 151 rum – also known as ‘the local gasoline’ – is mixed with red wine and honey, and left to marinate with tree bark and herbs in a bottle. The end result is deep red and tastes a bit like port, and some people reckon it’s an aphrodisiac.
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One good reason to choose this glam resort on the Dominican Republic’s east coast is that it dishes up some of the country’s best hotels. These retreats lay on plenty of luxurious extras, like swim-up bars, spas and watersports. But the real treat here is one that money can’t buy – a 10-kilometre white-sand beach backed by coconut palms and mangrove forest.
This remote resort on the Dominican Republic’s northeast coast delivers a real get-away-from-it-all break. You won’t find much here, and that’s the point. The place really is all about the desert island-standard beaches, where coconut groves rub shoulders with untamed forest. Buildings can’t be taller than a palm tree, so there’s little to spoil the untouched-by-man feel.
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