Things to do
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Explore Marinarium Marine Park and Aquarium
This excursion sets off from the company’s Cabeza de Toro base for a half-day of snorkelling and marine encounters in a unique off-shore marine park. Ride in comfort on a two-deck, glass-bottomed catamaran to the marine park – a 40,000-square-metre area where you can swim with the stingrays and nurse sharks.
Pull out your camera as you cruise by the coast of Cabeza de Toro and Bávaro. When you reach what the locals call paradise, relax in the waist-deep waters of Bávaro’s natural pool with your favourite cocktail in hand.
Go parasailing for picture perfect views
Get the best views of Punta Cana from high up in the sky. Strap on a harness with a parachute and get lifted 45 metres into the air as a speedboat tows you up above the ocean. Enjoy the 12-minute ride and take photos of the white sand, turquoise waters and resorts below. Ask your WestJet Vacations representative for local recommendations.
Go underwater with Bávaro Splash by Snuba
Start by racing across the water like James Bond in a two-seat high-performance speedboat. Then, dive into the underwater world with Snuba, a patented shallow water diving system that combines elements of snorkeling and scuba. With Snuba, you breathe underwater by means of a six-metre airline connected to a standard scuba tank mounted on a raft at the water’s surface. No previous diving experience or certification is required.
Go off the beaten path in Punta Cana
Drive your own four-wheeler or buggy through the breathtaking countryside. The paths lead you across fields, through plantations of banana, coffee and yucca to tropical jungle and mangroves. Stop at a water cave for a dip and then take a swim in the crystal blue waters off Macao beach.
Take an outback safari
A half-day outback safari gives you a good taste of the country, without losing too much beach time. You’ll pass by local plantations and villages on your way to a typical Dominican home where you can enjoy some of the ultra-smooth, aromatic Dominican coffee with the residents.
Stop at a rum shack to check out local rums, cigars, vanilla and coffee – be sure to have some cash handy for purchases. You can also visit a local arts and crafts centre where you’ll learn how palm woven hats and baskets are made. For your final stop, visit a secluded beach or, depending on the tour, a sugar plantation.
Go deep-sea fishing
Try your hand at catching a white or blue marlin, barracuda or mahi-mahi. Punta Cana is regarded as one of the world’s top five areas for bill fishing, with a season that spans seven months. March through July is peak time for white marlin, while July through September is bounty time for blue marlin.
During the calmer winter months, you can catch mahi-mahi, barracuda and sailfish. Just be ready to bend your rod and catch a big one – and make sure you capture your catch on camera for bragging rights.
Discover nature at Punta Cana Ecological Park
Book a walk through the Indigenous Eyes Ecological Reserve, a 1,500 acre private forest preserve owned by the Puntacana Ecological Foundation. On this two-hour walk, you’ll explore the network of trails on the reserve that lead to 12 freshwater lagoons. There, you’ll see more than 500 species of plants, numerous reptiles and birds.
As soon as you arrive at the park, you’ll be handed a welcome cocktail. After a briefing about the Ecological Foundation and the Punta Cana Group, the walk begins through the Fruit Garden. Next, you enter the area called Ojos Indígenas and visit the first lagoons. When you arrive at the beach, take a swim or sunbathe in the warm rays. Upon your return through the lagoons, refresh in the crystal-clear waters and catch sight of the fish that call these lagoons home.
Discover marine life while scuba diving in Punta Cana
Don’t miss the underwater experiences offered in Punta Cana. If you’re spending a week or two at a beach resort and don’t yet have your diving certification, consider going for your Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) license.
Scuba diving here is a joy with the warm waters, clear visibility and abundant marine life. There are 12 dive sites at depths ranging from seven to 30 metres and there’s something for everyone, whether you’re a newbie or an expert diver.
For beginners, there’s a shallow reef known as the Aquarium with plenty of colourful coral. Some deeper sites offer caves, swim-through areas and submerged shipwrecks. There’s even an underwater museum where you can see replicas of Taíno artifacts.
Go snorkeling with the Caribbean Festival Snorkel Cruise
Let your hair down and boogie on this festive catamaran boat trip. The excursion includes a stop at a shallow coral reef full of tropical fish for some awesome snorkelling. Onboard, the open bar and Caribbean rhythms will have you dancing in no time.
Next, you’ll head to Stingray Bay aquarium for some up-close-and-personal encounters with the nurse sharks and stingrays. The stingrays are harmless, so go ahead and let the handlers massage your back with the soft underbelly of these gentle marine creatures.
Once you’re back on the catamaran, quench your thirst with a Cuba Libre or try the herbal tasting local mamajuana, reportedly an aphrodisiac. Let loose and learn the merengue, the national dance of the Dominican Republic, as the boat heads back to the dock.
Zoom along on a Segway tour
Get motoring on a Segway (a self-propelled marvel of engineering that’s essentially like a stand-up scooter) on this 90-minute tour. You can visit the area around the Punta Cana Resort, Tortuga Bay, famous golf course La Cana, the beach, or stop for a swim at the Ecological Reserve.
If you pick just one item to bring back from Punta Cana, make sure it’s larimar. This semi-precious gemstone is unique to the Dominican and comes in many shades of blue. Deep blue is considered to be the best quality.
Dominican Miguel Mendez is credited with rediscovering larimar in 1974 when he found a brilliant blue stone lying on the beach near the Barahona River and traced it back to the source. Mendez named his discovery after his daughter Larissa and mar, the Spanish word for “sea”.
Early inhabitants of Punta Cana used this gem in jewelry and believed it had extraordinary healing powers. The volcanic stone is found in mines about 10 km southwest of the city of Barahona, in the southwestern region of the Dominican Republic.
The Dominican Republic is the world’s premium source of amber. The variety of colours and density surpass all other sources of this gem. Amber, a fossil resin, is only one of a few substances considered a gem that is not a mineral.
Amber is formed when tree sap dries up and hardens – anywhere from 25 to 40 million years ago. Due to the year-round warm climate of the Dominican, the amber found here also has a higher concentration of fossils and insects than anywhere else in the world.
Amber from the Dominican Republic is highly sought-after by collectors and scientists alike. If you’re buying amber products such as jewelry, make sure to buy from a reputable source such as Harrison’s Jewellery and Museo de Ambar y Larimar in Palma Real Shopping Village.
Just about every resort in Punta Cana has a selection of gift shops, souvenir stores and boutiques. But prices do tend to be higher at the resorts than at the beach stalls and local markets. If you’re up for a little shopping adventure, visit one of several local shopping centres located outside of the resorts.
Palma Real Shopping Village (Bávaro)
You’ll find plenty of upscale international boutiques here, such as Armani and Swarovski stores. Better yet, buy local treasures such as larimar and amber at Harrison’s Jewellery and the Museo de Ambar y Larimar. You can get fine cigars at Cig’s Aficionados and a good selection of wine at La Enotech.
San Juan Shopping Centre
This swanky multi-store complex opened in December 2010. It is anchored by the enormous Pola Supermarket, which is a great place to see what locals buy. Pick up a deal on terrific Dominican coffee here.
Plaza Las Brisas (Bávaro)
Locals and travellers in-the-know go to this charming, smaller shopping mall tucked in one corner of La Reyna Dominicana – the best spot in Punta Cana for buying made-on-premises jewelry and cigars.
The owners, Swiss-born Susan Zwahlen and German native Thomas Mehuch are more than happy to teach you about Dominican amber, larimar and cigars. In fact, their cigars are made from five different types of well-aged Dominican tobacco.
If you don’t find exactly what you’re looking for among their well-stocked jewelry collection, have a piece handcrafted in just one to three days, according to your individual taste. They’ll even deliver it to your hotel when it’s ready!
Plaza Artesanal Bibijagua
At the largest beach handicraft centre in Punta Cana, there are rows of stalls selling T-shirts, inexpensive jewelry, Haitian paintings, wood carvings, sarongs and the like.
Among items to buy here are affordable cigars and mamajuana – a local drink made by soaking rum, red wine and honey in a bottle with tree bark and herbs. This beverage is rumoured to be an aphrodisiac and is also said to have medicinal properties. The taste varies depending on the types of roots and barks used and who made it.
Acentos Bistro (European, $$-$$$)
This tiny spot is Punta Cana’s best-kept secret and the locals like to keep it that way – as do the celebrities living in the area. Tucked in a corner of the upscale Puntacana Village near the airport, Acentos features mural wall paintings that transport you to Mediterranean Europe.
Chef Miguel Roques, formerly with Mitre in Cap Cana, combines strong flavours with creamy gentle ones. Customers love his spinach au gratin, a richly satisfying dish of spinach, chorizo and onions topped with melted gruyere.
If you’re adventurous, order his inventive, crispy baby octopus salad. Fresh-caught chillo, a type of red snapper, is served on a delicious yucca mash full of roasted garlic and parmesan.
And don’t forget to save room for the decadent chocolate fondant – dark chocolate cake topped with vanilla praline ice cream and caramel sauce.
Jellyfish (Seafood, $$-$$$$)
This elegant yet casual restaurant sits right at the east end of the Playa Bávaro beach. It’s two storeys high, semi-circular in shape and the interior is composed of light coral stone, pale wood, bamboo and pale cloth.
Sit in the breezy, partially open main restaurant or under white tents on the beach. Start with the signature Jellyfish cocktail, a combination of rum, various liqueurs and passion fruit juice.
The complimentary fresh-baked bread with olive oil and parmesan is delicious, but resist filling up on it. Fish and seafood freshly caught by local fishermen is this restaurant’s specialty. If you want something light, get the warm langoustine salad with perfectly cooked crustaceans atop fresh, crunchy greens.
The seafood soup spiced to your taste is another winner. There’s also a children’s menu, so feel free to bring the whole family. Free transportation is offered to your hotel with reservations.
Noah (Fusion, $$)
Tranquil and modern at the same time, this Asian and Dominican fusion restaurant feels zen-like in atmosphere. Located in the Plaza Acdelco, close to the San Juan Shopping complex, Noah is a draw for locals pre- and post-shopping trips, business people and those looking for a night of great food and music.
The Puerto Plata-born Dominican chef is a master with dishes inspired by tradition such as Cerdo Noah, a pulled pork dish on mashed sweet potato with black bean cream. The chillo features whole red snapper filled with crab meat. Pizzas from the wood-fired oven are also a tasty option at a bargain price. There are even sushi and nori rolls on this broad menu.
Noah offers live music twice a month in the evening, so call ahead if you’re interested.
La Nonna Pizzeria(Pizza, $)
Hankering for a pizza in a nice atmosphere? La Nonna Pizzeria is set in the middle of Plaza Brisas. It serves savoury, crunchy crust pizzas piping hot from wood-burning pizza ovens. The open-air restaurant’s high ceiling roof, ceramic tile floors and dark wood furniture give it a cozy but family-friendly feel. Have a Presidente Cerveza with your pizza – the iconic local beer.
Il Cappuccino (Italian, $$-$$$)
The first Il Cappuccino location has become one of the most famous restaurants in Santo Domingo. Owner Ferruccio Scandola later opened a second location in Bávaro and a third in Cap Cana. The Bávaro location is beyond a doubt the best place for Italian food in Punta Cana. It’s not on the beach so it draws more locals than travellers.
There’s an outdoor patio here and air-conditioned white tablecloth service indoors. All bread, pastas and gelatos are made in house. Love pasta? You’ll want to try the seafood fettuccine or tortellini stuffed with spinach and ricotta. Cappuccino also does a perfect Florentine-style steak, sliced over peppery fresh arugula.
The wine list is also all-Italian, with many excellent options. And don’t leave without trying the tiramisu or a gelato.
El Pulpo Cojo (Spanish, $$-$$$)
You may notice the huge, bright octopus figure as soon as you enter this Spanish-style seafood restaurant whose name means “the octopus with a severed tentacle.”
The menu has some Spanish specialties, as well as standard seafood, chicken and meat dishes. Paella is always on the menu, but you can special-order suckling pig, lamb shoulder and even pig’s foot with almond sauce. This is a great spot for lunch or an afternoon round. It’s entirely open air and right on the beach.
Sasha (French, $$)
Sasha is a quaint French restaurant in Plaza Brisas that’s clean with white and violet tablecloths. Chef and owner Michael Couprie, who hails from Paris, named this restaurant after his daughter.
His specialty is surf and turf – think beef with lobster tail. Be Parisian in spirit and order the snails in Cognac cream or the frog’s legs in garlic and parsley as appetizers. Couprie can also help pick a good French wine to accompany your feast.
Capitán Cook (Seafood, $$-$$$)
Capitán Cook is on the beach at El Cortecito. It is a favourite spot for travellers seeking a change from all-inclusive resort meals. Fresh-from-the-ocean fish is grilled in front of you in the outdoor kitchen.
Capitán Cook is famous for its lobster, but really anything from the sea is good here. Order a pitcher of the fresh fruit red wine sangria to quench your thirst.
Eat under thatch-roofed gazebos on the sand, or in the main dining area surrounding the bar. No walls impede your view of the water and beach scene close by. During the day, you can reserve transportation from your hotel to the restaurant by boat.
El Burén (Caribbean, $)
This small and colourful roadside restaurant is the place for truly authentic Dominican cuisine. Lambi (conch) and shrimp are prepared to your taste. A typical meal known as the Dominican flag (because of its colours), features rice and beans, a green salad and a meat. Mofongo is mashed fried green plantains filled with stewed beef, chicken or pork.
Golf and spa
Doctor Fish Ocean Spa ($$$)
For a truly adventurous (not to mention unusual) experience, book yourself in for a floating spa excursion at the Doctor Fish Ocean Spa. There’s nothing else like it in the Caribbean or perhaps the world.
This three-hour experience begins with a relatively tame series of treatments. You might begin with the foot detox, a special ionic water footbath that’s supposed to draw out toxins from the body. Then you move to a massage chair for a relaxing back, neck and scalp rub. This is followed by 15 minutes on a vibrating massage bed.
You’ll feel completely relaxed and ready for the next phase – a gentle 20-minute Pilates and yoga session on deck. Afterward, the boat makes a stop in a natural shallow pool where you can float about on air mattresses while you’re served refreshments by a waiter.
From here, the “weird factor” turns up a notch. Your next stop is at the offshore aquarium in Stingray Bay, where you’ll be “massaged” by stingrays whose stingers have been removed. The attendants gently rub the belly of these harmless creatures across your back, or your legs if you don’t want to get in the water.
Finally, the main event – the Doctor Fish pedicure – conducted by a tank full of little fish! Place your feet carefully in a mini aquarium full of tiny red garra rufa fish, nicknamed nibble fish or doctor fish. These freshwater creatures are native to the rivers of Turkey and parts of the Middle East. Don’t worry though, they only nibble away your dead skin and stay away from living skin. They also have no teeth, so it’s a ticklish rather than painful experience and your feet will end up expertly exfoliated. Then, it’s drinks, fruit and light sandwiches on the boat as you head back along the coast to the docks.
Flavio Acuña Natural Center ($$)
This small spa in the Los Corales area of Bávaro is a good alternative to the big resort spas if you’re looking for a good massage or facial at about half the price of the deluxe spas. Get a nice anti-stress massage and facial here – just be prepared to speak a little Spanish.
Beach Spa at Bibijagua ($)
In front of the handicraft stalls of Bibijagua on the beach is an open-air roof pavilion where you can get your hair braided or enjoy a massage. There’s no air-conditioning here, but the prices are affordable. It’s also convenient for a last-minute walk-in.
Cap Cana Golf Courses
The lush fairways and pulse-quickening greens of Punta Espada Golf Club lie at the heart of Cap Cana resort, an oasis of sun-splashed luxury perched on the Dominican Republic's northeastern coast.
This playable, impeccably conditioned course features generous landing areas and slick, subtle putts. It was designed by Jack Nicklaus and rewards the occasional go-for-broke gamble shot as much as it does sensible shots.
The ocean winds and crashing surf may distract you, particularly on holes like the daunting par 3 12th – one of eight holes that skirt the ocean. But the awesome beauty of the scenery makes it well worth the few extra balls.
The Golden Bear Lodge and Spa overlooks the newly built, parkland-style Las Iguanas course, another Nicklaus design. The layout boasts multiple tee boxes and an attentive, family-friendly design that remains a good challenge for even the experienced player.
The Champions Tour hosts the Cap Cana Championship here every March, when the course is stretched to its maximum length, nearly 7,400 yards. As of May 2011, green fees were around US$275, including cart, caddy and access to the practice course.
Roco Ki Golf Club
This Nick Faldo design boasts two of the most unforgettable closing holes on the island. There’s the cliff-top par 3 17th, which demands a precise tee shot to a tiny outcrop of volcanic rock, and the fearsome, 508-yard par 5 18th, where howling winds conspire to make par an exceptional score.
The course measures 7,152 yards from the back tees, but features four sets of tee boxes to accommodate all ranges of ability. The Westin Roco Ki Golf and Beach Resort also has all the modern amenities of resort life on the island, plus vast expanses of white, sandy beaches to work on your tan after the round.
As of May 2011, green fees here were US$275, including cart and full access to the Roco Ki Beach Club. Caddies are mandatory here and cost US$25 per twosome. Pro line Callaway club rentals are US$60.
Dolphin Explorer (all ages)
Grab the kids and spend half a day at this beachfront animal park on a stretch of Cabeza de Toro beach. You’ll get to interact with tropical birds with the help of expert handlers, watch a sea lion show and view tigers prowling in their cages. Most exciting of all is playing with the marine animals.
The family who likes to explore can also take part in several thrilling adventures. Play with the cute fur seals and snorkel in the huge water playground with sharks and stingrays. Then, feed the nurse sharks and stingrays. There’s also an educational component, but it’s subtle.
Manatí Park (all ages)
This theme park in Bávaro is one of the pioneers in the area. Enjoy a full day of family entertainment and education. The beautiful gardens full of orchids and tropical plants showcase the fauna and flora of the Dominican Republic.
Discover a world of iguanas, flamingos, tropical birds, snakes, sea lions and dolphins. Watch nine different shows and buy crafts in the shops. Check out the antics of the parrots, watch the leaping, playful dolphins, be awed by the complex moves of the horses doing equestrian exercises or enjoy a Taíno dance show all in one place.
The Taíno Village reconstructs life as it was for early settlers in the Dominican Republic. In the museum, you’ll see early Dominican art and artifacts. You can purchase statue and painting reproductions made on the spot by craftsmen using the same materials and techniques as yesteryear.
Zip Line Adventures (tweens and teens)
The Dominican’s first Zip Line Tour takes you flying across the length of the Taíno Anamuya Mountain range and over the magnificent Anamuya pond. Less than an hour away from most Punta Cana hotels, the 11 platforms and 10 ziplines offer plenty of exhilaration. The longest cable is a thrilling 250 metres.
Supertobo Water Slide (age 3-9)
Youngsters will scream with joy on this giant slide just north of the Bibijagua arts and crafts plaza in Bávaro. For US$5, your children get three slides. It’s also close to Jellyfish Restaurant, a great place for a bite to eat.
Explorer Club at Dreams Punta Cana (age 3 and up)
Many Punta Cana resorts offer kids clubs on premises. Dreams Punta Cana (which often gets the vote for most family-friendly Caribbean resort) has an Explorer’s Club for those ages three to 12.
Drop your children off in the morning and pick them up later on for a worry-free day. Daily programs include sandcastle competitions, arts and crafts, pirate ship slides and more based on science, nature and exploration. Teens have their own area with batting cages, a mechanical bull ride and a climbing wall.
Most of the all-inclusive resorts in Punta Cana have their own shows and discos. A number offer night passes that include access to the restaurants, shows and discos. Drinks and food are included in the cost of the pass.
Mangú Disco Bar (Grand Flamingo, Punta Cana) (Dance Club, $-$$)
The Mangú, located on the Grand Flamingo resort property in Punta Cana, has been considered the hottest disco bar around since it opened in 2001.
International and national DJs keep this two-level place hopping. Upstairs, you can dance to techno and house music. Downstairs, the music is mostly disco and top 40 hits. Grab a drink at any of the five bars and dance the night away. There’s also a snack bar if you need to refuel.
Soles Chill Out Bar (Beach bar, $)
This beachside bar is a good place to get a meal from breakfast until late night. It is a favourite hangout for locals and nearby condo owners and serves fries, burgers, or the traditional Dominican fish with coconut sauce.
Order a caipirinha (a fresh lime-and-rum drink) and enjoy the scene. During the evenings and weekends, there is often a DJ spinning tunes on the beach. On weekends, Soles’ beach parties often carry on into the wee hours of the morning.
El Photo Bar (Music venue, $)
El Photobar (also known as La Casa de Piedra) is a lively spot in El Cortecito, next door to Capitán Cook. It is known by locals as the best spot in Punta Cana to hear live music, DJ sets and dance. On live music nights, you’ll hear talented Dominican musicians performing classical Spanish guitar, rock, blues or jazz in an intimate environment.
Tropicalissimo (Barcelo Bávaro Casino Hotel, Baváro) (Dance club, $$)
For a musical extravaganza in the style of the old Tropicana of Cuba, head to the Tropicalissimo at the Barceló Bávaro Casino Hotel. Sit in air-conditioned comfort, sip your favourite drink and watch the showgirls and guys perform.
Bamboo Bar & Restaurant (Los Corales) (Beach bar, $-$$)
This beachside bar and eatery in Los Corales is a good place to meet local residents and grab a late meal or drink by the sea. It’s famous for its curry chicken and the bread is baked fresh daily. Be sure to order one of their signature piña coladas served in a pineapple. This spot is open daily until midnight.
Areito (Caribe Club Princess Hotel) (Dance club, $)
Located inside the Caribe Club Princess Hotel resort, Areito draws both locals and hotel guests. Its name in Taíno means “dance of the gods,” and you can see giant pre-Columbian Taíno sculptures and other Indian artifacts displayed throughout the club. Choose a dance floor in one of two areas. Merengue, salsa and bachata music is featured in one spot; international music in the other.
Pacha (Riu) (Dance Club, $)
Inside the entrance to the Riu hotel complex, this disco presents live shows twice a week featuring merengue and bachata bands of the Caribbean. When the DJs spin, you’ll also have a chance to dance to rock, pop, salsa and sometimes even hip-hop.
Ride a catamaran or speedboat to Soana Island
Soana Island is part of the National Park of the East. A full-day trip to this 115-square-kilometre island is the most popular excursion with visitors to Punta Cana. Start with a bus ride to Bayahibe, which typically takes several hours, depending on your hotel’s location.
Bayahibe is a former fishing village now bustling with development located at the gateway to the park. Hop on a catamaran or speedboat to an island that’s straight out of The Blue Lagoon. Your first stop should be for a cocktail at a shallow lagoon enclosed by a sandbar filled with starfish. On the island, there’s plenty to eat and drink while you chill out, play beach games or explore the incredible landscape.
Active vacationers might even want to take an introductory merengue dancing class on the beach. The return trip is filled with music and unlimited beverages, providing ample opportunity for you to put your newfound dancing skills to the test.
Take a cultural tour in Punta Cana
Many tour companies in Punta Cana offer a variety of full day cultural immersion tours, taking you to explore rural roads and towns off the beaten path. Some visit schools while others teach visitors about the history of tobacco in the Dominican Republic and the tradition of making cigars.
A typical full-day Jeep Safari tour begins in the fields of Central Romana Corporation, the largest sugar cane plantation in the country. Learn about sugar production and taste the sweet juice of fresh-cut sugar cane.
As you travel along the eastern mountains, marvel at the majestic landscape full of greenery and several types of palms. You can even saddle up on a horse and ride along the paths at the base of the mountains. The pace is easy enough – even if you’re new to horseback riding.
Visit a typical country home and sample fresh exotic Caribbean fruits, roasted coffee and cacao. You’ll discover how the locals live from the land and have a chance to mingle with them. The lunch stop on your tour might be at a ranch where you can try a typical Dominican meal of salad greens, cassava, plantain, rice and beans and chicken stew.
Before you head back, stop at a Taíno cave and step back thousands of years to a place where the early natives once lived.
Board a catamaran to Cap Cana and Juanillo Beach
Cap Cana is just a short drive south of Punta Cana and is the setting for the largest residential tourism project in the Caribbean. It’s set to be the crown jewel of the region and is still growing, but there’s already plenty to do.
Cruise down to paradise on a spacious catamaran, drinking in the stunning coastline views of Cap Cana along the way. Once there, swim in the crystal-blue waters off Juanillo Beach. The white sand and palm tree-dotted public beach here is a well-kept secret.
Play on the Cap Cana sandbar and snorkel on the reef. You can walk out nearly 900 metres and the water is only chest high!
For lunch, visit the exclusive Cap Cana Marina where a grilled seafood lunch is prepared for you at El Cappuccino del Mar.
Go birdwatching and horseback riding in Playa Limón, Miches
If you like to see nature at its purest, take the trip to the wilderness in Playa Limón (Lemon Beach) in Miches, about 80 km north of Punta Cana. The pristine beaches and panoramic views will take your breath away.
The freshwater lagoons of Laguna Limón and Laguna Redonda are thick with mangroves and birds. The two lagoons are about 5 km apart and lie at either end of the golden sands of Playa Limón. The nearby Hotel Rancho La Cueva also offers a chance to saddle up and see the area by horseback.
Bird watchers will love seeing the roseate spoonbills, black-crowned night herons, northern pintails and dozens of other waterfowl and wading species found here. If you’re lucky, you might spot manatees munching on the vegetation, or even catch a glimpse of marine turtles during the spring-summer nesting season.
Spend a day on the beaches of Playa Macao and Uvero Alto
Playa Macao, about 13 km north of Bávaro, is a popular destination for ATV, Jeep and horseback excursions. The tiny fishing village of Macao is nearby and you can see the fishermen’s colourful boats hauled up on the beach. Seafood lovers will also enjoy the simple fresh catch of the day prepared by local vendors.
The beach here extends to the mouth of Río Anamuya and the golden sands of Uvero Alto are just beyond this spot. You can also get day passes to a number of the swank luxury resorts in the area, such as Dreams, Excellence and the flashy new Hard Rock. The passes give you comfortable access to these more remote beaches, but be sure to check in advance for availability.
Explore the capital city of Higüey
Spend a day roaming the city of Higüey, the capital of La Altagracia province and the gateway to Punta Cana. As you approach Higüey, you’ll see more and more scooters and motorcycles weaving about, often with two or three people on them. You might even see a person on a scooter balancing huge sacks, propane tanks, scaffolding and just about every other item imaginable.
Higüey was founded in 1502 by conquistador Juan Ponce de León and is a major site all Dominicans visit at least once. The massive, imposing cathedral here is made entirely of poured concrete and is the nation’s main pilgrimage centre.
Basílica Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia is a showcase of modern religious architecture. It’s best known for its stunning altar and framed painting of the Holy Mother. Artwork by Spanish muralist José Vela Zanetti flanks either side of the altar and enormous arches grace the exterior.
The Basilica was inaugurated in 1971 and on January 21 each year, pilgrims flock here to pay homage to the Virgin of Altagracia – the patron saint of the Dominican Republic.
After you’ve seen the Basilica and the religious monuments nearby, stroll through the small streets of the town, exploring the local businesses. Stop in the supermarket Iberia to buy Santo Domingo, the best local coffee and stock up on Brugal, Bermudez or Barcelo rum (the three major local brands). There’s a great variety of merchandise here available at affordable prices. Treat yourself to a Bon Ice Cream before you go – it has been the country’s favourite brand for more than 40 years.
Look at architecture in La Otra Banda
Before heading back to Punta Cana, travel north a few kilometres from Higüey to the town of La Otra Banda, known for maintaining its gingerbread architecture. The founding fathers of the town brought this architecture here from their homeland, the Canary Islands. La Otra Banda is also known for its butchers, so don’t be surprised if you see cuts of meat and strings of sausages hanging in open market windows.
Discover the fishing village of Boca de Yuma
The fishing village of Boca de Yuma is about 36 km south of Higüey, at the mouth of the Yuma River. The sheltered harbour was of great importance during the Colonial days and today, is a a small, relaxing spot, characterized by hard-working and humble locals.
Look for the house, fort and museum of Don Ponce de León. Ponce de León founded Higüey and had an impressive stone mansion built for his family at the beginning of the 1500s. The building was restored in an early 16th century style, complete with period furniture and a suit of armour that supposedly belonged to the man himself. He lived here with his three children and wife here until he set sail in 1508 for Puerto Rico. From there, he went on to discover the route to Florida.
Calendar of events
Our Lady of Altagracia Day (January)
January 21 is an important religious holiday commemorating the protector saint of the Dominican Republic at Higüey’s Basilica. Come and see the large number of people who make the pilgrimage here every year.
Winter Kitefest (January)
For a weekend in January, kiteboarding pros from around the world come to Playa Blanca Puntacana Resort & Club. Watch the kitesurfing action, including the freestyle and big air competitions. A beach barbecue, DJs, a Bob Marley tribute band, kids’ activities and a kiteboarding exhibition make it fun for non-competitors too. Entry is free for all spectators and riders.
Barcelo Rum’s Desalia (February)
International DJs come from Spain for this annual mega-beach party held in February. The venue changes each year, but this event has previously been held on the southern side of Cabeza de Toro beach (to the right of Animal Adventure Park).
Punta Cana Carnival (March)
The Punta Cana Carnival showcases more than 1,000 carnival characters from 15 of the island’s provinces. Thousands of spectators gather eagerly at the sides of the boulevard, ready to join in with the festivities. Caribbean rhythms blare from the speakers and vendors line the street selling cooling refreshments, food, masks and souvenirs.
Fusion Music Festival at the Hard Rock Hotel (May)
The Memorial Day weekend in May in Punta Cana offers four days of music, dancing and beach parties. World-renowned DJs from the hottest clubs in Ibiza, Miami, New York and Las Vegas participate in this festival.
The International Cap Cana Billfish Shootout (May/June)
This three-day catch-and-release event at Cap Cana Marina attracts top sport fishermen from around the globe.
The Bavaro Brugal Merengue Festival (October)
Bachata artists as well as merengue artists make guest appearances at this music and dance festival. Entrance is free.