Punta Cana, Dominican Republic - Has It All
I traveled to the Dominican Republic in April 2014 with no real expectations, just excitement to celebrate life. I'd heard from several people how amazing DR is. They raved about the vibe, the beaches and the overall high quality, relaxing experience for an affordable cost. These are a few of my fav-or-ite things!
There are several different visitor-friendly areas that are hubs for hotels & resorts in Dominican Republic. The top being Puerto Plata which is on the Atlantic Ocean side (north coast) of the island, Santo Domingo area - the capital which is on the Caribbean Sea side (south coast) of the island and Punta Cana which is located sort of equal distance between the two on the east coast of the island (the meeting point of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean sea.) Each area has it's pros and it's cons of course. Punta Cana is by far the most quiet and secluded of these three areas and because I was seeking a quiet, relaxed vacation with a romantic vibe, it was perfect.
From the time I landed I realized that DR was no novice to the tourism game. The Punta Cana airport is basically set up to look like jumbo huts, automatically putting you in vacation mode. However, before i could even get settled in the island vibe, I was being pushed to pay a $10 entry tax - something that I had never seen before and no one would explain why or even what we needed to do to pay. Before we could even get outside, we were then bombarded by men who were trying to get us to buy into everything from Timeshare presentations to day massages. Annoying. Luckily being from NYC I'm used to hagglers and can spot a hustle a mile away so I navigated my way out of all these conversations and made my way to the taxis.
Quickly brushing that off, we took a taxi to our hotel which was jaw dropping. Truly beautiful and masterfully designed, we stayed at the Westin Punta Cana resort which was only a few months old at the time. The open foyer allowed the ocean breeze to greet you upon arrival and also give you a glimpse of the immaculate pool and connected beach.
Everything felt super clean, perfectly manicured and luxe, from the white umbrellas lining the beach to the grand lawn to our room. A regular guest at Westin hotels, the Punta Cana was the best I've seen to date.
There were a ton of activities to choose from, from a rainforest tour, a bus tour of the island, snorkeling, scuba diving, cave visits, private boat excursions and even visits to local Dominican schools and residential areas to get an idea of how the locals give with the opportunity to donate.
We decided on a 4-hour boat ride that was inclusive of drinks, a visit to a natural pool miles from the shore, snorkeling in the middle of the ocean and more. We set this up through our hotel concierge. The ride itself allowed us to relax, see more of the beautifully colored DR waters and other parts of the island. This was roughly $150 per person and was well worth it as it was the perfect half day getaway.
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We spent a lot of time in the fantastic infinity pool and swimming pool. It's how I like to start my day on island vacations. There is a gazebo nearby that you can relax on in a beach chair, looking out to the endless blues and watch flying fish swim by.
The waitstaff at the hotel pulled out all the stops. They were extremely accommodating, more than usual. They even went as far as sending up a surprise Dominican cake and hand written Happy Birthday card to our room for the birthday girl.
But let's talk about the most accommodating thing a hotel has ever done for me in my history of travel. The hostess sat down with us after one of our meals and checked in to see if we needed anything or had any suggestions on what they could do to improve the hotel. We told her honestly everything had been perfect other than the food. Particularly because the Westin isn't all-inclusive, I felt like the food should have been more satisfying - as I have been thoroughly pleased at other Westin hotels' restaurant dining options. Also, although I know hotels have to cater to guests from around the world and their tastes so they try to keep their foods sort of generic, I was disappointed to not see ANY Dominican food in the menu at any of the restaurants and there wasn't at least the option to hire a runner to deliver food from an authentic Dominican restaurant.
The hostess took note, spoke to her supervisor and the next morning found us laying out in the Infinity pool and asked us if we would be interested in a specially made Dominican dinner for two. Of course we were excited and elated at the gesture, but had no clue what the magnitude of what was about to happen.
That night, we showed up to our dinner reservation and were showed to our exclusive candle-lit dinner table on the beachside of the restaurant that was left to only us. We were then presented with about 15 different Dominican dishes including concon, rice and beans, avacado salad, curry mahi-mahi, empanadas, steak, platanos and mofongo! We were so impressed and full and satiated and in love with DR and the Westin Punta Cana resort at this point. It left the sweetest taste on my tongue, literally. I would gladly return.
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QUICK CHEAT SHEET: DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Food you must have: mofongo, coconut stew prepared food, rice and beans, Avacado salad, fried plantains
Drink you must have: Mamajuana
Highlight: The people. Everyone was super nice to us everywhere
What I Missed: Partying at Club Mengu. I would stay here again but would probably add a few days in a different region on my next trip OR rent a car to get around.
Notes: if you want excitement, Punta Cana is not the right area to visit. And it's not really affordable to get to other major towns in DR (we were quoted $50 each way to and from the club area which is also where you could also get local foods.) But for relaxing and being pampered, this was great!
Length of stay: 5 days, 4 nights & perfect
Words and images by Rondel Holder