About Punta Cana beaches
Boasting a series of wide white beaches that stretch nearly uninterrupted for 56km (35 miles), Punta Cana has a well-deserved reputation as one of the most affordable destinations in the Caribbean, as well as one of its friendliest, thanks to the Dominican Republic’s lively, Spanish-influenced culture and music. More recent projects, including the in-progress Cap Cana development with its Jack Nicklaus golf courses, are targeting a better-heeled visitor.
All 56km (35miles) of Punta Cana’s sugar white sand beaches are accented with coco palms and turquoise waves. They are perhaps the prettiest in the Dominican Republic. Most are attached to hotels and well-populated with tourists, who enjoy stretching on a sun lounger or taking part in watersports such as parasailing, windsurfing, jet-skiing or deep-sea fishing. Farther afield are more isolated stretches, where you may be one of only a few holidaymakers.
Beyond the beach:
Golfers can choose from five courses, with green fees surprisingly low. Or experience the famous Dominican hospitality with a 4-wheel drive tour of the countryside; day-long excursions usually include a drive through the jungle, a break for swimming at a deserted stretch of beach, a typical lunch (beans, rice, plantains and chicken) at a Dominican home, and visits to caves and sugar-cane fields.
Most stretches of beach around Punta Cana are perfect for kids, with mild surf for splashing. Children will especially enjoy the dolphin, sea lion and parrot shows at Manati Park Bavaro (Carretera Manati) (www.manatipark.com), a theme park that also includes a replica of a native Taino village.
The small city of Higuey, about 45 minutes inland by car, has few true tourist attractions, other than its starkly modern cathedral, the Basilica, but it’s a great place to sample real Dominican life: view the offerings at a colmado (a small grocery); buy peeled pineapple and mango slices from vendors; swig an icy Presidente beer. On the way there, look for photo ops at La Otra Banda, a tiny village of traditional clapboard houses, painted in vivid tropical colours. It is also worth the long, long bus ride to Santa Domingo just to stroll the streets of the Zona Colonial where such notables as Ponce de León, Cortés and Columbus once walked.
Make the two-hour drive to Altos de Chavon, an artists’ complex built on bluffs overlooking the Chavon River to resemble a 16th-century Italian village. Shops nestled on the cobblestone streets sell fine art, handcrafted jewellery, and stylish clothing; enjoy homemade pasta and imported antipasto at the romantic La Piazzetta, where the chef hails from Northern Italy.