A Traveler’s Guide to Punta Cana
With new hotels and attractions galore, the Dominican Republic’s legendary playground offers nothing but positive vibes.
As the colder weather once again digs its mean heels into the Northeast, dreams of escaping to a tropical paradise soon follow. The islands of the Caribbean beckon, almost tauntingly, with the difficult question of which one to visit. Perhaps the ritzy glamor of St. Bart’s, or maybe the pristine natural splendors of Dominica? Why not a place that offers a bit of everything: Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic?
While it may not be the best-kept secret it once was, Punta Cana remains one of the most convenient (nonstop flights!) and luxurious ways to experience the Caribbean. And with several new attractions, restaurants, and hotels, it’s the right time to finally see what all of the fuss is about.
Adventure is found literally everywhere at Scape Park: The expansive natural playground in the exclusive Cap Cana area uses the existing landscape in imaginative (and non-invasive) ways to delight thrill seekers. Here, you can horseback ride along the beach, zipline through the jungle canopy, and swim in the crystal-clear waters of cenotes. The park’s most unique attraction, the Iguabonita Cave Expedition, takes visitors on an exhilarating hike along a scenic cliffside trail and then down into a vast labyrinth of underground tunnels.
If you’re looking for slightly more-relaxed vibes, head for Juanillo Beach, also in Cap Cana. It’s less crowded than the popular Bávaro Beach, but just as lovely, with aquatic offerings such as paddleboarding, surfing, and kayaking. Similarly serene, Isla Saona is a protected nature preserve reached only by boat. Stroll the quiet beaches or visit one of the island’s two fishing villages, Mano Juan, which is also a haven for local artisans.
Speaking of local, the native Taino culture is well worth learning about while exploring the island. The Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park & Reserve offers a captivating look at the land that the Taino people once inhabited peacefully until that Columbus guy arrived. The 1,500-acre reserve features more than 500 species of plants, 12 freshwater lagoons, and an underground river.
Looking for an off-the-beaten-path excursion? Check out Altos de Chavón, a quirky (albeit meticulous) replica of a 16th-century Mediterranean village, about an hour’s drive from Punta Cana. Conceived by Dominican architect Jose Antonio Caro and Italian designer Roberto Coppa in the early 1980s, the little town is now part of the Casa de Campo resort and features an archaeological museum, a 5,000-seat Greek-style amphitheater (where Sinatra once sang), and the impressive St. Stanislaus Church.
Drinking in the atmosphere (and cocktails) at La Yola restaurant is a must. The island institution serves up authentic Dominican seafood and Mediterranean cuisine in an elegant setting overlooking the Punta Cana Resort & Club marina. Enjoy appetizers like grouper ceviche before diving into shrimp sautéed in coconut sauce. Another favorite spot is Jellyfish: The beachfront locale is almost as alluring as the menu, which includes lobster and the signature Jellyfish steak (served with a red-wine-and-balsamic reduction, not actual jellyfish). If you’re still feeling frisky after dark, enjoy a nightcap at Imagine, a club that’s built into an honest-to-goodness cave.
The new Blue Mall boasts an array of high-end international boutiques and gourmet dining establishments, plus activities for the kids. For more-local fare, the Plaza Bibijagua near Bávaro Beach features stalls selling handcrafted goods, as well as classic island staples: coffee, rum, and cigars.
One of the newest resorts in the DR is the all-inclusive Dreams Flora Resort & Spa, tucked away on a palm-studded beach in the Cabeza de Toro section of town. The 520-room property boasts 13 bars and lounges, five pools, an on-site water park, a spa, and eight dining options. Falcon’s Resort by Melia, meanwhile, is a newly rebranded property that just underwent a $150 million renovation. The five-star, all-inclusive getaway is focused on “resortainment”—which means that all guests receive gratis passes to the new Katmandu Park located across the street.
Several carriers offer nonstop service from Logan to Punta Cana International Airport (PUJ), including JetBlue, Delta, and American Airlines. You’ll be touching down in paradise in four hours.
First published in the print edition of the November 2023 issue with the headline, “Punta Cana.”
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