One of our Island Runaways followers on Facebook asked recently, "What's Punta Cana like?" That's an excellent question about the Dominican Republic, and I thought today we'd focus on (a) the beaches and (b) the difference between Punta Cana and Bavaro. We all look forward to taking those special tropical vacations, and let's face it, we save up our hard-earned dinero so we can have a fabulous experience. Keeping that in mind, I'm going to craft this blog post so that it also answers this question: Is Punta Cana the right tropical destination for you?
(Bavaro beach near Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Photo by Island Runaways.)
1. What's Punta Cana?
Punta Cana is a town on the east coast of the Dominican Republic, a country that shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. There is an international airport in Punta Cana, just minutes from many hotels; you can get direct flights here from Miami and other cities. (You don't need to flight to the capital, Santo Domingo, although if you enjoy historic sight-seeing you could always fly into Punta Cana and then fly out of the capital.)
Punta Cana is justifiably famous for its beaches. The sand is nice, and the ocean is simply gorgeous. There are coconut palms lining the beach. In terms of an ideal tropical paradise, Punta Cana fits the bill perfectly.
(One of the first places we covered for our island travel blog.)
What's the difference between Punta Cana and Bavaro?
Not a lot. Bavaro is a section of beach just to the north of Punta Cana. They look more or less the same. The main difference (that I know of) is that Punta Cana is a more sizeable town, and contains the airport. It's not far from the Punta Cana airport to Bavaro, however, and in terms of beach, you're getting the same beautiful sea and sand. Some visitors call Bavaro "Punta Cana," and think of them as essentially the same place. The bottom line: if you're deciding on a hotel and one is in Bavaro and one is in Punta Cana, just remember you're getting the same coastline and the two areas are just adjacent to one another.
(One of the beautiful Dominican Republic beaches. Photo by Island Runaways.)
3. What's the vibe in Bavaro and/or Punta Cana? What can I expect as a tourist experience?
Both Punta Cana and Bavaro contain many all-inclusive resorts. All-inclusive resorts are king! Some resorts cater to Russian travelers, others to Americans and Canadians. Each resort has its own flavor and style. Just keep in mind that in Punta Cana and Bavaro you will be surrounded by fellow travelers. Yes, there are Dominicans, too, but there are a lot of foreigners. Depending on your tastes, this can be great or not ideal. What kind of tourist are you? If you love international cuisine, the Hard Rock Cafe franchise, shopping, watersports, and miles of gorgeous beach, Punta Cana and Bavaro may be perfect. If you're seeking a quiet, rustic spot in the Caribbean, with loads of authenticity...then keep in mind that Punta Cana and Bavaro are bustling, touristy places.
(Ready with camera. Photo by Island Runaways.)
4. What if I've never stayed in an all-inclusive resort? Should I take a chance on my first trip to Punta Cana/ Bavaro?
Some folks love all-inclusives, others can't stand them. Here are a few factors to help make your decision: Do you like crowds or do you like tranquillity and solitude? While some all-inclusives do offer private villas or apartments with private pools, on the whole, the all-inclusive experience is the opposite of a small boutique hotel. Expect plenty of fellow guests at the pool, the beach, the bars, and the restaurants. If you don't thrive on that kind of energy, consider whether this is your best bet. (There are exceptions to every rule, including one boutique all-inclusive resort I know of in in Jamaica!)
Do you like eating the local cuisine, or do you want to try sushi, French, Italian, Peruvian, Mexican, etc. on your island runaway? Many all-inclusives have various restaurants featuring all kinds of foreign cuisine. If the idea of staying on a compound and trying a new restaurant every night appeals, the all-inclusive route is great! However, if you love immersing yourself in local culture, whether that's Jamaican jerk chicken and escovetich fish in Jamaica, or fried snapper with yucca in the Dominican Republic, you may prefer trying out local spots where locals like to eat. In that case, the all-inclusive won't turn out to be a good deal. Better to stay at a regular (not all-inclusive) hotel if you love that independence.
One last word of warning: Before reserving, be sure to read traveler reviews, especially on sites like Trip Advisor. Pay attention to the negative ones. Some reviewers aren't happy with anything and love to complain, but others are experienced world travelers who can communicate the pros and cons well. Unfortunately, our Bavaro resort served what I consider (in my own personal opinion), terrible, overcooked, tasteless food at the breakfast and lunch buffets. A few of the reviews online had alluded to this, but not many. I should have paid closer attention to the negative reviews and not just the glowing 5 star ones. So, we ended up going off site to restaurants like Langosta Roja and Jellyfish, which served absolutely delicious Dominican dishes. Wow! What a difference! Even the drinks at our all-inclusive were pretty bad. On the other hand, at the Poseidon beach bar on Bavaro, I had an amazing, fresh piña colada, with gorgeous pineapple. So, even though it takes time, do your research so you don't have unhappy surprises and wind up spending extra money on meals when you planned on eating at your all-inclusive resort!
(A simple piña colada on the beach. Photo by Island Runaways.)
5. Our final take on Bavaro and Punta Cana? It's beautiful. It's truly a stunning tropical destination. There are some good quality all-inclusive resorts here, and if you investigate, you can find them. With direct flights to Punta Cana from major hubs, this is an easy beach desination to get to. Although of course Spanish is the language here, people at hotels often speak English and outside of hotels, we found people who spoke English fluently and others willing to try to communicate with us. Dominican culture is infectious: the energetic music, the cold Presidente beers, the seafood, the people! Many people fall in love with Punta Cana and return year after year. I can completely understand why Dominicans are so proud of their island nation. It was a terrific place to visit, and a change of pace for Zickie and me, after our more "off-the-beaten path" tropical advenutures.
I hope this post has helped with some practical considerations for your next island getaway. Do you have a favorite all-inclusive, restaurant, beach bar, or other spot in the Dominican Republic? If so, please a comment below or send us a note on our Guest Island Experts page.