Beyond the Beach: Punta Cana Three Ways

by  Jessica Festa | Mar 9, 2015

Contrary to popular opinion, Punta Cana -- one of the hottest destinations in the Dominican Republic -- is not just about lounging on the beach and swimming at the resort pool. There’s much to enjoy for all types of travelers. To help you plan a trip that’s right for your tastes, here's where to stay and what to do for three distinct traveler types.

While it's not right on the beach, Four Points by Sheraton Puntacana Village is still within Puntacana Resort & Club -- the founding resort group that actually built up the area where most of Punta Cana's tourism happens today. (If that's confusing, here's the rule: Punta Cana, two words, refers to the destination; Puntacana, one word, refers to the hospitality group.) What this means for Four Points guests is that they'll enjoy Puntacana's free shuttle service, and they'll be able to walk to some of the resort’s best bars and restaurants in an area that has a more neighborhood feel. At the hotel, enjoy free water and WiFi, a pool, a local craft brew program, and an onsite bar with great happy hour specials like $2 beers. More to love: With an eco-conscious philosophy, the property offers a $5 voucher for every night that guests refuse housekeeping, and it's within walking distance to the airport. Rates range from $99 in low season and $179 in high season.

Of course, strolling along Punta Cana's soft sand beaches and swimming in its azure waters won't cost you a thing. But for Puntacana Resort & Club guests, entrance is also complimentary at The Puntacana Ecological Foundation, which is filled with nature trails showcasing its various conservation projects. Currently, these include nourishing beehives to produce local honey for nearby resorts and breeding programs for Rhinoceros Iguanas and Ridgway Hawks. (Day pass for non-resort guests is $25 otherwise.)

If you’re interested in local cacao culture, the Punta Cana ChocoMuseo offers free hotel transfers to their museum and chocolate factory, both complimentary to explore. Or, opt for a chocolate-making workshop, where you’ll make your own chocolate drinks and treats for less than $25. Sharing the location is the Don Lucas' Cigar Factory, which gives free tours for another budget-friendly cultural experience.

A night out on the town in Bávaro is also a great way to enjoy inexpensive food and drink with local culture. While still considered a tourist area, the nightlife section is heavily frequented by locals, and the prices reflect that more so than the resorts - drinks often cost less than $5. For dining, don’t miss delicious outdoor scene at Acentos Bistro.

Puntacana Club & Resort

What makes The Westin Puntacana Resort & Club such a great property for adventure seekers is its proximity to adventure sports and parks, where active and exciting activities abound. With 200 ocean view rooms located right on the Caribbean Sea, the property also includes free WiFi and water, a pool, a hot tub, a gym, and a daily schedule of outdoor fitness classes. (Think: Hatha yoga, Latin mix cardio, Pilates, and beach volleyball.) Rates range from $209 per night in low season and $399 per night in high season.

Playa Blanca, adjacent to the hotel, is a prime spot to get your fill of aquatic adventure. Here, you can rent equipment for paddle boarding, kite surfing, surfing, and snorkeling. If you love great views, a stand-up paddle excursion from the beach to the idyllic Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park is one of the island's most scenic workouts. For some eco-adventure, the onsite Blue Vision Adventures offers a snorkeling tour out to their coral gardens, where divers attach broken pieces of coral to underwater metal frames to be re-planted later, helping to keep the marine ecosystem healthy and thriving. The company also offers scuba diving excursions, with local dive sites ranging from 40 to 70 feet, where participants can see shipwrecks, vibrant corals, nurse sharks, and sea turtles, among other underwater sights. Small group dives with six or fewer people or less are the focus; two dives including gear, tanks, and weights cost $140.

Of course, there are plenty of land-based adventures close to the resort, too. While you won’t find the "big five" in Punta Cana, Outback Safari Adventure offers half and full day tours that give visitors the opportunity to see animals like turtles, crocodiles, and iguanas ($69 or $89). Local experiences like having coffee in a local home, strolling through a chocolate plantation, and savoring a lunch of traditional foods on a ranch are part of the fun, and safaris include rum, beer and non-alcoholic beverages throughout the day.

Finally, Bavaro Adventure Park is home to myriad aerial adventures and attractions. Soar like a bird over a tropical rainforest via a 400-foot-high zipline -- complete with wobbly drawbridges and a climbing wall -- or hurl yourself down a hill inside a giant slippery beach ball through zorbing. All-terrain Segwaying, a 32-foot bungee trampoline, and a climbing garden with 26 different challenges are just a few of the other active experiences to be had. Ticket prices vary depending on how many attractions you partake in, but range from $99 for three attractions to $169 for all.

Puntacana Club & Resort

Tortuga Bay is the epitome of romantic luxury, beginning with VIP escort service through airport customs so you can cut the line. Guests are setup with their own beachfront villa and enjoy butler service, free water and WiFi, chocolate turndown service, giant Jacuzzi tub, and expansive patio with lounge chairs and tables. In addition to the Puntacana shuttles, complimentary bikes, kayaks and golf carts are also options for getting around. Rates are the highest of the bunch here, varying from $620 in low season to $905 in high season -- but you can always check the site for special offers. Currently, there's a chance to get your third night free when you book with an American Express card by June 30, or you can shave 10 percent off suites and villas.

If you have only one romantic experience with your sweetheart in Punta Cana, make it cycling to the Indigenous Eyes Lagoons within the eponymous nature reserve -- again, this is free to enter for guests, or included in the $25 Puntacana Ecological Foundation day pass. Despite the area's popularity, the 12 crystal lagoons remain largely undiscovered, lined by tranquil dirt paths in the lush forest. Chances are, you'll be one of the few people admiring them. Fun fact: The lagoons get their name from the indigenous Taíno group, who thought that the almond-shaped bodies of water looked like eyes when the sun sparkled on them.

For romance back in civilization, head over to the Don Queco Cigar Bar at the Westin Puntacana. Here, couples can tour the onsite cigar room, learning about Dominican Republic cigar culture, and how to choose your perfect stogie. Enhance the activity by having the bartenders pair your cigar with a local rum for less than $20. Or if you're looking to splurge? A couple's spa treatment at the Six Senses Spa at Puntacana Resort & Club is another way to get close while unwinding, especially with their “Romance Journey” bundle, which includes a couples bath, massage and facial for both and refreshments (from $300 per person, not including taxes).

Finally, there's a boat trip to the neighboring Saona Island, with most tours including experiences like beach games, local meals in the sand, and merengue lessons to liven things up beyond beach bumming. They typically make a stop at the Natural Pool lagoon, too, which is known for being filled with colorful starfish.

Puntacana Club & Resort
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