Punta Cana

Located about 160 km east of Santo Domingo, Punta Cana and its neighbor, Bavaro, are ground zero in the Dominican Republic's all-inclusive resort explosion. 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. 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.

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 recent 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.

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 ATV, Segway, horseback riding or island excursions to nearby Isla Saona. Check with your hotel activities desk or concierge about booking a tour. Isla Saona is a popular spot accessible by a power-boat ride that rips through the whitewater waves for a temporary snorkeling pit-stop before disembarking on the paradise isle. Plunk the beach blanket under your choice of palm tree and splash in this piscine natural (natural pool). Various tour operators provide lunch and drinks. The island itself is inhabited by iguanas and some 300 villagers.

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.

Puerto Plata

Mount Isabel de Torres forms the dramatic backdrop for the town of Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, where it is the most important north-coast city and resort. A large statue of Christ stands on the mountain with arms stretched out into the clouds, resembling the statue that overlooks Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

With an impressive natural setting, Puerto Plata has rebounded as a key resort destination after losing some of its luster in the late 1990s. The beaches have been enhanced, with millions of tons of new sand. Much work has been done to make the old city attractive to tourists, encouraging them to venture out from their all-inclusive complexes outside town at Playa Dorada. In the past, many travelers tended to stay on the resort properties, because trips to outside restaurants or other attractions added to the cost of their vacations.

Now, the resorts are working with local businesses to provide affordable options for shopping (especially for amber), sightseeing and dining. Several good restaurants line the Malecon (seaside boulevard), and others are located near the attractive downtown park area, though some longtime restaurants have closed, unable to lure diners away from the all-inclusive (and prepaid) buffets. Nonetheless, guided adventure excursions have blossomed, taking advantage of the rugged Cordillera Septentrional mountains, beautiful beaches and nearby wilderness regions.

Puerto Plata also is blessed with an abundance of beautiful Victorian architecture, though much of it is in need of maintenance. The aged appearance gives the place an authentic look that is undeniably quaint and warm. We think you'll find Puerto Plata an interesting mix—one worth experiencing.

The primary attraction of Puerto Plata is the town's historic core. You'll find most of the city's best Victorian buildings lining the narrow streets around the town square, Parque Central, with a Victorian bandstand at its heart. They date from the time when European merchants made their fortunes in Puerto Plata with the export of tobacco and cocoa. Many of these wooden houses have been renovated into shops and restaurants. On the park's south side, the Catedral San Felipe has been restored.

It's that eclectic mix of styles that makes the old town of Puerto Plata such a nice place to wander through.


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