Overview

Located about 100 mi/160 km east of Santo Domingo, Punta Cana and its neighbor, Bavaro, are ground zero in the ongoing all-inclusive resort explosion under way in the Dominican Republic (affectionately known as just "DR"). They're located along a beautiful 30-mi/48-km stretch of white-sand beach lined with coconut palms that was once nicknamed the Costa del Coco for marketing purposes; the Dominican Tourist Board, however, no longer favors the moniker. This lovely strip of shore looks like it was taken straight off a travel poster and has perhaps the finest (and certainly the longest and whitest) beaches and most beautiful turquoise and jade seas in the country.

Most hotels concentrate in Bavaro, although the entire coast has become known as Punta Cana, which is really a separate and somewhat more exclusive area about 10 mi/16 km south of Bavaro. In the communities just inland from Bavaro, unregulated development has stolen all charm away from the sands and seas.

The largest complex is the Barcelo Bavaro, with more than 1,800 rooms between its two hotels, its own casino, two discos, a theater, a dozen dining options and an 18-hole golf course. The Bavaro hotels are closer together than those in Punta Cana, allowing for more movement between properties. Hotel development continues to make public beach access more difficult year by year, although several narrow access lanes lie hidden between the resorts.

Although more development is moving into the area, the resorts of Punta Cana have so far retained the relaxed atmosphere most visitors expect from a Caribbean vacation spot. Much of the ongoing development is centered on Cap Cana, south of Punta Cana proper; and at Macao and neighboring Uvero Alto, about a 40-minute drive north of Bavaro.

Geography

Located in the province of La Altagracia on the eastern-most tip of the country, the Punta Cana area's most distinct feature is the sandy white beachfront known as the Coconut Coast that runs from Punta Cana through Bavaro and up to Playa Macao in Uvero Alto. The warm Caribbean Sea harbors one of the longest coral reefs (19 mi/31 km) in the world, and the area also enjoys year-round sun and a warm climate.

Tourists enjoy the cave rappelling outside La Romana and day trips to the various islands such as Isla Saona and Isla Catalina.

History

A secluded stretch of jungle inhabited only by a handful of fishermen, this coastline on the Dominican Republic's east coast was virtually forgotten until American businessman and lawyer Theodore Kheel stumbled upon the 30-mi-/48-km-long area when a photographer presented him with aerial photographs of the area at a convention in Miami in 1969.

Kheel decided to build a resort complex like no other. At the time, the chunk of beachfront was inaccessible. There were no roads and no airport, so the resort dream proved difficult, but the entrepreneur-investor trail blazed ahead with other partners, including Dominican local Frank Rainieri, creating what is now known as the Puntacana Resort & Club, which opened in 1971. This resort spearheaded the future development for the region.

Sightseeing

Although Punta Cana's claim to fame is its beaches, more tour operators are popping up with various excursions that involve beach activities such as ATVs, Segways, horseback riding or island excursions to nearby Isla Saona. Check with your hotel activities desk or concierge about booking a tour.

Four theme parks—the Marinarium, Dolphin Island Park, Manati Park and Animal Adventure Park—offer plenty of thrilling options, such as swimming with dolphins, sea lion shows and crocodile exhibits.

Santo Domingo, the country's capital, can be seen as a day trip.

Nightlife

Caribbean nights kick into high gear at the numerous all-inclusive properties, which offer cabaret-style shows, discos and lounges for cigar-toting patrons who like to end the day with a nightcap. Check with the hotel concierge for closing times at local venues outside the hotels.

Dining

The array of cuisines available at the all-inclusive resorts is astounding, with the upscale properties offering a la carte menus that deserve applause.

Outside the resorts, the dining scene is still in its infancy, with typical Dominican roadside food stalls lining the thoroughfare. But there are also increasing numbers of entrepreneurs ready to serve up fresh seafood or traditional Dominican fare, which is heavy on rice and beans. Dominicans also enjoy spicy pork sausage (longaniza), mashed green plantains (mangu) and fish with coconut sauce (pescado con coco).

El Presidente is the local beer of choice.

Be aware that many restaurants have Spanish-only menus.

In restaurants, breakfast is generally served 10 am-noon, lunch noon-2 pm and dinner 7-10 or 11 pm, though most restaurants stay open throughout the day.

Expect to pay within these guidelines for a meal for one, not including drinks, tax or tip: $ = less than US$10; $$ = US$10-$25; $$$ = US$26-$40; $$$$ = more than US$40.

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