The Local Saying Is “You Can Do Anything, Or Nothing In Punta Cana And Have The Time Of Your Life Doing It!
When Christopher Columbus called the Dominican Republic “”the most beautiful land on earth,”” he did not realize that it would one day be one of the most popular holiday destinations in the Caribbean. Columbus could well have been referring to Punta Cana!
Why go to Punta Cana?
Bavaro/Punta Cana area is a top Caribbean beach paradise, but more affordable than most other Caribbean destinations. Ask anyone who’s been to Punta Cana, and they will tell you that the beaches are among the most picturesque that they’ve ever seen. Here, tall coconut palms dot much of the seashore, and the soft, white sand is inviting. What is there to do? Well, lots and lots of beautiful beaches; 35km of continuous pristine white sand.
Overview of the Area (The two town of Punta Cana and Bavaro)
At first impression, Punta Cana/Bavaro is very similar to Playa Del Carmen in the Maya Riviera area of Mexico. It is basically a midsized tourist town that is surrounded by beautiful white sand beach and many mega all-inclusive resorts that are more like cities themselves than a resorts/hotels. The area has infrastructure for mass tourism but still has the feel of a low rise small town.
The main tourist area comprise of the Bavaro (accessible to the public) to the north side of the airport and Punta Cana (gated and tourists who are not staying at one of the Punta Cana’s resort can only access with a day pass) to the south side. Whether they know it or not, most tourist that said they been to Punta Cana really spends their time in Bavaro, which is the main tourist hub. Because of the gated area, Punta Cana is more exclusive/private (often higher end) than Bavaro; however, it is far way from any town or night life. Punta Cana area is pretty much a beautiful master planned community of high-end resort and golf courses. Many tourists love this beautiful exclusive feels, and many would complaint that it lacks the culture of Dominican Republic as one will not be able to tell which country they are in once inside that gated master planned community. You will however have most of the beach to just yourself and that special person. Many movie stars find their hideaway here.
Bavaro has some of the most beautiful beaches in the area, closer to town, but lacks the privacy and exclusive feels of Punta Cana. The leaning palm trees, the softer white sand, and the gentle waves make this area the picture perfect beach. All water sports activities such as parasailing, windsurfing, and jet ski are readily available in front of you. In our opinion, we prefer the more beautiful beaches of Bavaro and the ability to easily escape from the resort to try out local food and night life in town. Perhaps a better way to put it is that Punta Cana is more for couples/adults only and Bavaro is more for the family. But honestly, there are so much white sand and aqua-blue water here that you will likely have your own choice of your favorite beaches.
Things to do
Punta Cana and Bavaro have everything to offer for every one of all ages:
- Relax – The typical day is usually filled with activities at the resort such as yoga, parasailing, windsurfing, kayaking, sailing lesson, or simply sunbathing.
- Party – Punta Cana/Bavaro has some party scene and night life, but it is much more toned down that that of Cancun or Cabo. Party boats during day or sunset are available and can be booked through hotel concierge or at any restaurants/vendors in town
- Golf – There are so many golf courses around, especially in the gated Punta Cana resort area, where the courses are right on the edge of the ocean.
- Beaches – Many tourists just stick the beach in front of their resort. However, if you have a rental car (highly recommended), then you should venture out to the numerous beaches along the 35km of continuous white sand. Driving during the day is fine, but at night is not recommended (many cars/motorcycle with no lights on the road). Also, you should know that gas in DR is very expensive.
- Excursions – Highly recommended is the Saona Island exursion. It is a must visit and is 1 hour from Punta Cana. Typical cost is about $60-70USD and $25 for transportation per person from Punta Cana. If you drive there, then ignore the $25 transportation cost. You can walk along the Bayahibe harbor at 7:30am in the morning and may be able to negotiate a $40USD deal. Beware, lower price may be lower quality.
- Eat – Escape from the resort by cab or car to sample some local food. Most of the local restaurants and night life are located in the El Cortecito waterfront area, intersection of Avenida Francia/Avenida Espana (Plaza Punta Cana/Plaza Bavaro), and the intersection of Avenida Estados Unidos/Avenida Espana (around the Texaco gas station). Our favorite which we ate 4 times during our visit is Delicias de Bavaro (at intersection of Avenida Francia/Avenida Espana), a joint filled with locals.
If you are looking for that picture perfect white sand beach, yet affordable Caribbean vacation, look no further as Punta Cana/Bavaro has beaches that rival some of the best in the Caribbean at half the cost.
7 Tips For Punta Cana Vacationers
If you are contemplating a vacation to Punta Cana, Here are 7 travel tips that will make your stay more enjoyable:
Avoid Taking A Taxi If You Can
There is nothing particularly wrong with the taxis in the Punta Cana area but the rates can be exorbitant. For a comparison, a faire that will only cost $4 -$5 in Santo Domingo (the capital city of the Dominican Republic) may cost you $20 – $40 in Punta Cana!
To avoid taxis, try to negotiate with your travel agent for an airport transfer, both coming and going, to be included in the package deal — many are and if you shop it, you should be able to find this. If you take an excursion to one of the parks or islands, be sure to ask the tour operator if the cost of the excursion includes picking you up at your resort or hotel and bringing you back — again, many do so you should be able to find this. You can also rent a car for a reasonable fee instead of a taxi. Many of the big name car rental places are there: Avis, Budget, Eurocar, National, and Prestige. If you are seriously budget minded, you can also take the bus called the guagua which covers the entire Punta Cana coast and beyond. Buses run every 15 – 30 minutes. If you need to travel to Santo Domingo, be sure to look for the Bavaro Express.
How To Find The Whitest Beach
The most coveted beaches in the Dominican Republic seem to be the powdery white beaches — the whiter the better in my people’s book. Tourists love the beauty of these beaches and also how the silky fine sand feels between their toes. However, not all “Punta Cana” beaches are white.
What tourists often don’t realize is that what has now become known as the “Punta Cana” coast of the Dominican Republic runs for about 38-39 miles. This is the entire east coast of the Dominican Republic. The color of the sand varies significantly along this stretch. In general, the further south you go, the whiter the sand. The Punta Cana coast is shaped like an arrowhead pointing to the east. Where the arrow comes to a point is called El Macao. To the north of this point, the white sands start to turn more golden in color. This can be very pretty as well but if you are a true aficionado of pure white sand, you’ll probably want to look for a resort south of El Macao or find a resort on the southeast coast.
How To Get Through Customs More Easily
First, let me tell you some good news. Getting through customs at the Punta Cana Airport is much easier than the Santo Domingo Airport or other Caribbean Airports such as Cancun. With that said, however, there are some simple things you can do to lessen the chance you’ll have any kind of hassle going through customs.
As soon as you arrive in Punta Cana, you’ll need to get a “tourist card” which costs only $10 and you can get them at the airport before you go through customs. However, there can be a line for these so if you want to speed things up, try to get this included in your package deal so you will have a tourist card handed to you before you get off the plane. The customs agents can be a little picky about anything that could be construed as a “sharp object.” Items such as knitting needles and umbrellas can be considered “sharp objects” and can hold you up and may even be confiscated. Be sure to put these types of items in your checked luggage to avoid issues. Also, make sure all your prescription medications are clearly labeled. There is a strict no tolerance for drugs in the Dominican Republic so you don’t want to give the customs agents any reason for concern. Another big “no-no: both coming in and going out is anything derived from plant material or animal parts. This can include hats made out of coconut fibers, shells, fruit, wood carvings, etc… These items will be confiscated and can make going through customs more lengthy than it need be. There are exceptions such as amber jewelry containing insect parts. The real concern is the spreading of insects and microorganisms across the border.
Stand Your Ground On Public Beaches
Officially, all beaches in the Dominican Republic are public. However, many of the resorts like to put up signs and patrol the beaches in front of their resorts as if they had a private beach.
When you are walking the beach, just know that you allowed to walk any of the beach and you should politely hold your ground should someone approach you and indicate otherwise. Just let them know you only intend to pass through.
Tipping Expectations & Giving Gifts To the Locals
It is expected that you will tip waiters and waitresses. 5-10% is considered the norm. Bartenders are often tipped $1 per round, sometimes more if the drinks are more complicated to make. Hotel maids are often tipped $2 – $5 per day and airport porters $1 per bag. It is also expected that you will tip tour guides as well. Guides usually get $5 for half day excursions and $5 – $10 for full day excursions.
It is also becoming increasingly popular to leave gifts for the locals. Candy, toys, and school supplies for kids is very popular. Books, make-up, and costume jewelry are commonly left. It is best that you check with the tour guides you go out with and the hotel staff to determine what might be most appropriate and most needed items to bring along as gifts. Remember this is a country that is a “third world” country with an emerging economy and there are many needs.
Find A Resort That Matches Your Needs
Different resorts cater to different needs. Some resorts cater to families with children. Others are “adult only” and cater to those couples who are looking for a romantic getaway without children under foot. Many resorts in the Punta Cana area follow the European customs. Some Americans like this but some don’t. If you don’t, be sure to find a resort that caters more to the American customs.
You may want to get a complete list of all activities offered at the resorts you are considering as this will often help make your decision on which one to choose much easier. Some resorts offer better activities for the kids — some are supervised and some are not. Some offer sailing, surfing, wind-surfing, dancing, scuba, and other very desirable classes. Some have activities such as horse-back riding and dune buggies that others do not. Some resorts are better designed for the handicapped and others with special needs.
How To Take Punta Cana Excursions
Most resort vacation packages include some opportunities to take excursions away from the resort. Most are very simple such a boat ride out to a reef for snorkeling or to take a catamaran cruise to an island. However, the hotel tours are almost never the way to have the best adventure outside your resort. Local fishermen and other locals also often offer to take tourists out on their boats. These can really be hit or miss, more often miss unfortunately. You should also be aware that these locals are almost never licensed or bonded so if something were to happen, you’d be stuck.
You will have a much richer and memorable experience if you take Punta Cana excursions with an experience tour operators who specialize in providing excursions. Your excursion will also be much safer. The excursions that get the highest acclaim are those that offer eco-adventures where you really get to explore nature and culture in depth with people who truly care and have a deep knowledge and appreciation for the wildlife and people of the area. Take at least one of these types of excursions and compare them to what the resorts have to offer and the difference will become obvious to you.
Overall, Punta Cana is an opportunity to a great and satisfying experience for any traveler,there are a host of activities you can enjoy with some of them at no cost to you. The key to a satisfying Punta Cana holiday experience is in your ability to make an informed decision in picking any one Punta Cana excursion that will best thrill you. Enjoy your vacation!
Visit the Caribbean destinations category to learn more about best Caribbean islands to visit!