Punta Cana & Bavaro
Why choose 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.
Port of Entry/How to get there
The best airport to land at is the Punta Cana International Airport, a 10 to 40 minute drive from East Coast hotels. This airport offers scheduled service from
United States: American Airlines (New York, Miami), United (Chicago), US Airways (Philadelphia and Charlotte, NC), Continental (Newark).
Canada: Air Canada (Calgary, London, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg) and Air Transat (Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg).
Caribbean: American Eagle (San Juan, Puerto Rico).
Europe: Martinair (Amsterdam), Holland Exel (Amsterdam and Brussels), Air France (Paris), Air Plus Comet, Iberworld and Air Pullmantur (Madrid), Condor (Frankfurt), LTU (Dusseldorf and Munich), Aerofly and Lauda Italy (Milan), Lauda Austria (Viena).
Latin America: Avianca (Bogota), Aeropostal (Caracas), Lanchile (Miami and Santiago de Chile). There is additional charter service from: Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh and St. Louis; Hamilton, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Quebec, Toronto, Windsor, Winnipeg; Brussels, Lisbon, Manchester, Moscow and Zurich; Buenos Aires.
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 Chavуn, 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 Higьey 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 Chavуn, a re-created 15th century Italian-Spanish village beside the mesmerizing Chavуn River. At its founding in 1981, Altos de Chavуn 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 Caсo 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.
Plantaciуn Tropical. A memorable side trip north from San Pedro de Macorнs 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.
For a listing of Punta Cana hotels, see our Hotel Directory