Dominican Republic: Punta Cana vs. La Romana

by  Laura Motta | Apr 19, 2019
Beach at Dreams Dominicus La Romana
Beach at Dreams Dominicus La Romana / Laura Motta

The Dominican Republic tops many travelers' Caribbean bucket lists, and with good reason. With pristine beaches, an abundance of resorts offering excellent value, and dozens of flights from the U.S. each day, it makes for an easy, affordable warm-weather getaway. There are a few different resort areas to choose from in the DR, including Punta Cana, Samana, and Puerto Plata on the northeast coast, and La Romana on the southeast coast.

We recently visited the popular vacation destination courtesy of Caribbean travel agency CheapCaribbean. Here, we'll take a look at two of these areas — Punta Cana, which is among the best-known and most-visited areas of the country, and La Romana, which flies a bit more under the radar.

The Beaches:

Punta Cana: With 30 miles of soft-sand beaches, this striking stretch of coast has proven irresistible to sun worshippers. As the country’s most popular tourist area, it attracts nearly seven million visitors annually, and the majority of them come from the U.S. and Canada. Punta Cana’s flat, wide beaches are great for sunbathing and long shoreside walks that are mostly uninterrupted by rocks or other barriers. Surfers and boogie boarders will catch many perfect waves here, even in the shallows, on most days of the year. The downside? Tides and winds can be strong, constant, and even dangerous. If you’re staying at a Punta Cana resort, be sure to heed any posted warnings about strong surf.

La Romana: On the more sheltered southern coast of the Dominican Republic, the beaches of La Romana are steeper and shorter than you’ll find in Punta Cana, but many resorts here maintain private sections of level, manicured sand where you can lounge the day away. The real draw in this area is the water. Calm, warm, and clear, the gentle tides are perfect for swimming and snorkeling.

The Resorts:

Punta Cana: If you love all-inclusive resorts and appreciate great value, Punta Cana is your dream destination. With dozens of them to choose from — all of which sit right on the beach in a long line, one after the other — there are options for honeymooners, families with kids, party-hearty twenty-somethings, and older travelers who want to stay put in style. The trick is finding the right one for you amidst all that variety. We stayed at Breathless Punta Cana, which is as lively as its purple decor suggests and is tailor-made for young couples and groups of friends. Like most resorts in the area, its all-inclusive status means that all meals, drinks, activities, and service charges are included in the base price — a perk that saves both money and hassle.

La Romana: La Romana offers a slower pace and fewer resorts, which makes it the perfect place to go if you’re craving a quiet escape with fewer tourists and less nightlife. The resort area encompasses the beaches in the town of La Romana, but also the area to the east, sometimes called Dominicus, in the town of Bayahibe. Our resort, the upscale, all-inclusive Dreams Dominicus La Romana, was recently renovated and has some enormous, beautifully designed suites. It felt especially secluded thanks to its location near the East National Park, a nature preserve that’s popular for day trips. In general, you’ll find that resorts here are more spread out than the chock-a-block arrangement in Punta Cana, and slightly more expensive due to less competition. Like Punta Cana, though, you’ll find plenty of all-inclusive resorts that offer excellent value.

The Sightseeing: 

Punta Cana: Those who come to Punta Cana tend to seek a few very specific things — namely, sun, sand, and lots of unlimited food and alcohol. All of these things can usually be found without setting foot outside of the resort. Nearby independent sightseeing opportunities are limited, but if you’re looking to do a guided excursion, like a catamaran sail or a dune buggy adventure, you’ll probably be transported to other, less developed parts of the island.

La Romana: With fewer resorts and its adjacent national park, this area is where excursion companies bring visitors on day trips from Punta Cana. It’s also home to Saona Island, which has pristine beaches and lagoons, reefs for snorkeling and diving, and almost no development. It’s difficult to visit on your own, but a travel agency can connect you with local companies that organize trips that include meals.

Getting There and Getting Around:

Punta Cana: Punta Cana’s busy international airport, which receives more than 20,000 aircraft arrivals each year, is about a 30-40 minute drive from the central resort area, depending on the location of your property. Many tour operators and travel agencies (like CheapCaribbean) can bundle airport transfers conveniently into the price of your getaway at the cost of about $25 per person for a shared van and $70 per person for a private transfer, round-trip. Note that ride hailing services like Uber and Lyft aren’t yet available in this part of the Dominican Republic, and that taxis charge about $40 each way from the airport to the resorts.

La Romana: The airport in La Romana is significantly smaller than the Punta Cana airport, which means flights here from the U.S. are less frequent and more expensive. (At the time of publication, only Jetblue flies here nonstop from the U.S.) To reach La Romana, you can also fly into Santo Domingo (an 80- to 90-minute transfer) or Punta Cana (a 50-minute transfer), with transfers costing about $100 to $120 per person for either destination, round-trip. Most major U.S. carriers fly to Santo Domingo and Punta Cana, though Southwest only services Punta Cana at this time.

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