Tourists flock to Punta Cana for snow white beaches, aquamarine waters, and never-ending rum drinks, but outside the resorts, you can immerse yourself in Dominican culture or experience the country’s tropical wonders. Here are five day trips from Punta Cana that you won’t want to miss -- and that will get you back in time for some Latin dancing back at the resort.Isla Saona
Excursions to this government-protected nature reserve -- a tiny island on the southeast tip of the Dominican Republic -- begin with a morning drive to the small fishing town of Bayahibe, where you’ll board a speedboat that shuttles you to your catamaran. Rum and beer flow freely as you sail, stopping only at a sandbar to swim and pose for pictures with starfish. On Isla Saona, you’ll enjoy a lunch of chicken, pork, rice, beans, fresh fruit, and other tropical treats. Then, relax on the shores in a food-induced coma until the trip back. The trip averages $90-$120 per person and includes pick up and drop off at the resort. We recommend booking through Vacaciones Barceló ($99), especially if you are staying at the popular Barceló Bávaro Beach Resort .
Sugar cane plantation
Rum, chocolate, and cigars are major components in the Dominican economy, and several day trips give you the opportunity to experience all three. Punta Cana Mike’s Dominican Adventure specializes in tours that expose you to the real country -- and its people -- as you learn how to roll a quality cigar, see how cacao is turned into bars, and visit a sugar cane plantation. Of course, you’ll also get to sample the rum the sugar cane juice eventually becomes (6 hours, $89). Rather have some joe? Some companies replace one of the stops with a visit to a coffee plantation.
Christopher Columbus’ first permanent settlement in the Americas, Santo Domingo, lies three hours west of Punta Cana and is a popular excursion for history bugs. Here, you’ll walk the Calle Las Damas, the first paved street in the new world, as you follow the steps of conquistadors and pirates. You’ll see the first cathedral in the New World, the first university, the first hospital, the first tavern, and more. We suggest booking a trip that includes a stop at Alcazar de Colon, the palace built by Christopher Columbus’ son, for its historical value and impressive art collection. ($80 with Vacaciones Barceló.)
Swim with Dolphins
Swimming with dolphins remains one of the most popular activities in Punta Cana. Multiple parks offer the experience, but check out Dolphin Island first. The man-made, floating structure situated just off the coast allows you to swim for 30 minutes with the creatures in the open Dominican Sea, for $155 in the Dolphin Action program -- which includes a stingray and shark snorkel opportunity to boot. Dolphin Explorer offers a similar offshore dolphin experiences (from $109).
For a more active excursion, book a trip to Hoyo Azul, a turquoise pool at the base of a rugged cliff. During the short hike to the pool, you’ll hear about the herbs, barks, and plants used by natural healers. Following a decadent swim in its soothing waters, you’ll hike back out taking a different route and discovering more of the Dominican’s beautiful landscape. Add a dose of adrenaline to your excursion by signing up for a package that includes a trip to a cave with Taino Indian petroglyphs or a zipline adventure. We love Caribbean Dream’s zipline and Hoyo Azul excursion ($118), because the zipline course is attached to the El Farallon Cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea.