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Punta Cana Spotlight

With lots to do outside the resort, it's no longer all about the all-inclusive

By Genevieve Shaw Brown

March 16th, 2007

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when the first thing travelers thought of when they considered a trip to the Dominican Republic (often referred to simply as the DR) was "cheap all-inclusive." And a vacation in Punta Cana, the region of beautiful white sand beaches on the eastern tip of the island, was much like a vacation in any other Caribbean destination where the effects of unbridled development had taken a toll: think bad buffet food and sugary drink specials, poor service, and visitors who could care less where they were, so long as their neon-colored bracelets guaranteed them a continuous flow of booze and food.

Though the no-muss, no-fuss vacation still drives the DR's tourism industry, the country has recently begun trading in its reputation for the cheapo vacation and billing itself as a luxury destination. Nowhere is this new focus more prevalent than in Punta Cana, where a slew of properties have either recently opened or are in the works – including an Oscar de la Renta-designed resort – in the area known for boasting 30 miles of white sand beaches and an abundance of golf courses at the point where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean. Granted, you can still find the all-inclusive resorts here (ranging from budget to luxe), but boutique properties with a la carte options are also appearing in greater numbers, as are first-class restaurants. The result is a sophisticated beach scene you can get to by lunch – indeed, if there's one upshot to the DR's previous incarnation as an all-inclusive-package destination, it's that the island is well served by direct flights from the US.

Three days in Punta Cana is enough to relax and rejuvenate, but you'll need at least that much time to learn your way around your resort. Five days will give you enough time to soak up plenty of surf and sand before venturing out on a day trip – take your pick from swimming with dolphins at a marine park, taking a catamaran ride to Isla Sanoa to soak up more sun, or visiting the laid-back beach town of El Cortecito. A week will give you time to do all of the above, plus play "18" at one of the area's above-par golf courses, discover how the locals live, in Higuey, or watch a local baseball game in La Romana. Your resort will also likely host a "Dominican Night" during your stay, but why not venture outside the gates and see it for yourself? The Dominican people are warm, welcoming, and anxious to share their culture with you – all you have to do is ask.

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