If you sometimes feel the need to escape to a tropical paradise, Punta Cana may draw you in and never let you go. This beautiful stretch of coastline in the Dominican Republic is blessed with fantastic beaches like Cortecito and Bavaro, wonderful golf courses, and a sun-soaked tropical climate.
Stretch out underneath palm trees as your family head off to snorkel with rays. Sip cocktails mixed to perfection with Caribbean rum and tropical fruits as the sun dips beneath the horizon. Head into the hills to canoe or raft in the spectacular Dominican Alps, or take the road to Santo Domingo to see the oldest European city in the western hemisphere.
Or just take it easy. That's the beauty of Punta Cana. You can have an active vacation or just sunbathe all week long. Whatever you plan to do, it's one of the Caribbean's finest destinations.
North of Punta Cana, the coastline of the Dominican Republic is pure white sand fringed with palm trees for as far as the eye can see. Beaches like Bavaro are some of the best places to relax and soak up the sun's rays as you perfect your tan.
If you've ever wanted to try water-skiing, jet skiing, wakeboarding, snorkeling, diving, or parasailing - heading to Punta Cana is a must. There is no shortage of expert companies offering exciting watersports adventures at a fraction of the amount it would cost in the USA.
Punta Cana may not be famous for its hedonistic lifestyle, but if you want to kick back with a few margaritas or a rum punch or two, bars like Soles and Mares offer an idyllic beachfront place to do so. After that, why not dance the night away at clubs like ORO, which is usually busy until daybreak.
Eastern Dominican Republic is a relatively new golfing hotspot, but it has rapidly acquired great courses like Iberostar and Corales. Play elite-level courses at prices that are lower than your local public course, in the tropical sunshine.
Punta Cana would be nothing without its beautiful climate. Outside hurricane season, the resorts are bathed in solid sunshine and temperatures hardly ever dip below 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Originally, Playa Bavaro wasn't meant to take center stage in Punta Cana. It actually started out as a residential zone for workers in the main resort. But as people discovered this gorgeous stretch of beach, everything changed. These days, it's Punta Cana's most popular area, complete with picture-perfect palm trees, soft white sand, beach bars and safe swimming thanks to the offshore reef. Add in the Dominican sun and you really do have an idyllic stretch of coastline.
Some of Punta Cana's friendliest and most popular locals never leave the sea. The coastline around the resort is a gathering spot for dolphins and a cottage industry has developed to allow visitors to (safely) get to know them. The best place to do so is Dolphin Island Park, where expert guides will take you out to swim with the locals without causing any distress to these charismatic creatures. And, if that's not your scene, there are even opportunities to snorkel with sharks: a totally different kettle of fish.
Located around 30 miles north of Punta Cana, Macao Beach is a world away from the high rises of the main resort. Much less developed (although work is ongoing on a new resort), Macao Beach caters for water sports fans who need a little room to express themselves, such as wind surfers and surfers. Unlike beaches further south, Macao enjoys some genuine waves, so testing your boarding skills is definitely on the agenda if that's your passion. If not, simply relax. The sun's out and Macao Beach is gorgeous.
Golf has arrived in Punta Cana in a big way in recent years, and White Sands stands head and shoulders above other courses in the area. Situated a mile or so inland from Bavaro, White Sands only features a 9-hole layout but packs plenty of challenges and fun into its 3,485 yards. Rental carts mean that you won't need to work up a sweat lugging your bag around and there's club rental too, while an on-site restaurant is the perfect place to fill up between rounds.
Better known among vacationers as the "Blue Hole", Hoyo Azul is a natural sink-hole around 15 miles south of the resort itself. Getting there isn't easy though, which is why expert guides are available to take you to the location. As you hike, you'll pass ancient Taino stone carvings before the forest opens up to reveal an incredible sight. You can swim in the lagoon, explore the attached cave system or (if you are feeling daring) descend a 100-meter-long zip line through the forest canopy. Whatever you choose, it's bound to be a memorable excursion.
Punta Cana's best weather tends to be in late spring, around March to May, when you can expect warm temperatures (over 70 degrees every day), little rain, and there's no risk of hurricanes. Tropical storms are a possibility any time from June to December, while peak season is around January to April - when crowds from the north hit the beaches looking for a little winter sun.
Punta Cana International Airport is served by a wide range of carriers, including airlines like Jet Blue, United and American Airlines, so finding a suitable flight shouldn't be hard. The airport itself is located just outside the city of Punta Cana. If you need to get to resort hotels on the coast, check to see whether shuttle buses are provided (most major hotels will offer transportation from the airport).
Some people choose to fly into other airports in the Dominican Republic, rent a car and drive onwards to Punta Cana. In fact, staying in Santo Domingo and driving eastwards is a relatively hassle-free option, thanks to the recently built highway from La Romana to Punta Cana, which links up to the road to Santo Domingo.
Those arriving at Santo Domingo can also catch buses to Punta Cana. Expreso Bavaro covers the distance between the capital and the country's premier beach resort in just 3 hours 30 minutes.
Visitors to Punta Cana have an embarrassment of riches to choose from when selecting their accommodation. The town is surrounded by tropical resorts with spas, golf courses, private beaches, gyms, and pools. Some of the best include the 5-star Gran Bahia Principe and the massive Be Live Grand Punta Cana. However, there are more intimate options too, such as the Punta Cana Guesthouse, which is very handy as a place to stay for a couple of days after you touch down. For a full-on resort experience, the Hard Rock Resort and Casino is the best place to stay, with 13 pools and a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course.
Bavaro – One of the most popular tourist areas in Punta Cana, Bavaro is centered around a tropical lagoon, which is a popular spot for watersports and swimming. It's home to some of the area's leading resorts, including the Now Larimar, as well as some of the best golf courses, such as Cocotal and White Sands. Basically, it has everything a beach, a golf fan, or both, could need.
Uvero Alto – Uvero Alto is located a few miles north of Bavaro and Punta Cana city, and its major attraction is the beach. Unlike beaches to the south, Uvero Alto tends to remain less busy and more relaxed, even at the peak of tourist season. Fringed by palms and safe to swim, it's the perfect family vacation destination.
El Cortecito – Bavaro's southern neighbor offers a longer, sandier beach (though both districts are great beach destinations). It's also slightly livelier, being home to great cocktail bars like Soles Chill Out Bar, Mares, and La Playita. If you want to relax on the beach and sip some margaritas, this is the place to be.
Taxis and rental cars are probably preferable to using the local public transit, but if you want to save money and experience an authentic Dominican experience, taking one of the Guaguas (minibuses) that ply the coastal roads is a great option. Fares are low (from Bavaro to Cortecito costs are just RD$15), and they offer a quick way to hop from beach to beach.
Taxis are plentiful in the Punta Cana area, but they aren't the cheapest option. For example, fares from the airport to local hotels can reach RD$500-1000, much higher than Guaguas or rental cars.
Renting a car is easy in Punta Cana, with major companies like Avis and Europcar represented at the airport. Prices are low as well, at around RD$700 per day (much cheaper than taxis). However, be aware that native drivers in the Dominican Republic can be aggressive, and the nation has a high accident rate. Many regular visitors tend to avoid renting a car for these reasons, preferring to pay the extra cost for taxis as required.
Punta Cana doesn't have huge shopping malls, but each resort area will have a strip of souvenir stores on the oceanfront, and these stores can be a fascinating place to explore. For example, if you are in Bavaro, don't miss Celine La Perla Dominicana - an old-style artisan cigar store. There are also small shopping plazas like San Juan Shopping Center and Palma Real Shopping Village (which mixes upscale boutiques like Swarovski and Harrison's Fine Jewelry with western restaurants like the Hard Rock Cafe).
Most of the resorts near Punta Cana include supermarkets that are pitched at locals and self-catering tourists. Bavaro has the most including Super Lama Bavaro and BAM Market, but every resort will be close to a grocery store. Prices are much cheaper than in the US. Expect to pay RD$190 for a gallon of milk and RD$380 for a good bottle of wine.
If you pick your hotel wisely, eating in Punta Cana can be a culinary adventure, with skilled chefs from all over the world. There are also some great independent restaurants. Head to the Capitan Cook in Cortecito for the best lobster in town, the Jellyfish Beach Restaurant for seafood and cocktails or Mathilda for traditional Dominican dishes like arroz blanco and plantain mash. Expect to pay around RD$400 or less for an excellent meal.