Thanks to its 50 kilometres of white-sand coastline, Punta Cana holidays are up there with the Caribbean’s beachy best.
Crowning glory coastline
Punta Cana’s plonked on the Dominican Republic’s east coast, and there’s no denying its beaches are the stars of the show. Its sizeable squad of white-sand, pillow-soft numbers are all fringed by lofty, coconut-shaking palms. Not only are they sun-worshipper and swimmer-friendly, but they’re prime snorkelling territory, too – snap on some goggles to see the rainbow-coloured reefs. You’ve got plenty of spots to choose from, but chilled-out Uvero Alto and energetic Bavaro Beach are our faves. Both have a solid selection of All Inclusive resorts.
The fun doesn’t stop once you’re past the beaches’ borders. Take the hour’s drive to Anamuya Rainforest, and you’ll find a zipline course zig-zagging through the treetops. This two-kilometre extravaganza features 12 lines, including the Dominican Republic’s longest, as well as a duo of lines for side-by-side zooming. Punta Cana’s Ojos Indigenas ecological park is a magnet for nature nerds. We’re talking trails through tropical forests and a dozen clear-water lagoons.
Dozens of daytrips
You’ve got couple of culture-crammed daytrip destinations to pick from. Dating back to the 1400s, Santo Domingo’s got some serious historical credentials. It boasts sights like the UNESCO-stamped Ozama Fortress, which was built over 500 years ago. Plus, the Zona Colonial, the oldest European settlement in the Americas, is full to the brim with ancient attractions to see. Altos de Chavon’s another culture vulture-friendly place. This mock Mediterranean-style village is super popular, and has a cultural centre, an amphitheatre and a museum.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 stretch of white-sand backed by coconut palms and mangrove forests.
You could hear a pin drop on this stretch of the Dominican Republic’s coastline, it’s that away from it all. The town’s more a collection of flashy hotels than your traditional resort set-up, which means everything’s tailored for sun-seekers. And on the scenery front, tropical Caribbean countryside unravels behind the waterfront, with barely a manmade speck in sight.
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