Attractions around Punta Cana
From the tourist area of Bavaro, its stunning, sandy coastline extends westwards past a series of inviting beaches, all along lined with palm trees facing the amazing turquoise waters of the Atlantic Ocean, until some twenty kilometres away it reaches Macao beach. It is a secluded part of the coast with a cliff at one end. It is considered one of the most beautiful in the country, still unaffected by recent hotel developments in the area, that thankfully have not started to encroach on this peaceful, unspoiled setting, protected from the tourist crowds trapped in their all-inclusive resorts and shopping sprees.
The smooth waves are perfect for beginners wanting to surf. Equipment and tuition is at hand from a local renting shop. You can enjoy delicious fresh fish or lobster, at simple beach huts. Lounge in the sun, take the amazing view, sip the rum cocktails…, enter the warm bathing waters and bask in this ideal spot for a pleasant day out - or even your next holiday destination.
Not too far off the mainland, to the south east of the tip of Punta Cana, lays Saona Island, roughly half-way down the coast to La Romana. It is a small, beautiful island, 15 miles by 3 miles, surrounded by pristine white sandy beaches, and otherwise covered by palm trees and other tropical vegetation. Originally, the island was named Savona by Christopher Columbus who discovered it, and gave it the name of the town in Italy where he lived for a while. The passage of time and the accent of the local population account for the distortion.
Very close offshore, the crystal clear sea is a paradise for snorkelling among the turtles and starfish, and large areas are sufficiently shallow for children to swim. Lagoons and natural pools add to the attraction of the island. A little further out, dolphins, whales and manatees share this habitat, while on land the island is home to exotic, colourful birds.
The Dominican government made it a protected area, part of the Parque Nacional del Este, opposite on the mainland. The island has a small population of around 300 souls. They live in a small, close community called Mano Juan, which is highly picturesque with their houses painted in vibrant colours.
Canto de la Playa Beach must not be missed. Considered one of the most beautiful in the world it is sought by film directors and advertising agencies to shoot their commercials - the advertisements of Bounty chocolate bars being one of the better known examples.
Spend some time relaxing on the beach, sunbathing, sipping coconut juice... Local fishermen stroll along the beach, selling their catch of the day, and opening your appetite. Choose one or two and have them grilled nearby.
This is one excursion that must not be missed, but bear in mind that if you sail in a tourist boat there might be some overcrowding when you get to the island due to its popularity. Renting a private speed boat that will take you to the best spots at different times of the mass tourist boats is an option that should be considered.
Catalina Island lays 1 ½ miles offshore opposite La Romana from where it is clearly visible. The boat should take some 30 unhurried minutes, if it sailed directly to the island. The usual itinerary, however, takes in a stop at Alto de Chavon, and includes views of the upmarket area of the rich and famous around Casa del Campo Marina.
Altos de Chavon, built in the early 1980s is a successful attempt at recreating a 16th century, medieval Mediterranean village, and making it a cultural and artistic centre for Dominicans and visiting foreigners. Its cobbled streets, amphitheatre, faithful copies of the architecture of the era, as well as the spectacular setting overlooking the Chavon River produce a charming and educational atmosphere. It has its own church, St Stanislaus, which holds ashes from the revered patron saint of Poland, a gift from Pope John Paul II. This active Catholic church, where weekly masses take place, is a favourite venue for weddings of locals and couples from many foreign countries.
The cruise does not allow time to sample the fine restaurants, or spend much time in the museums and boutiques, but it arouses the desire for a more leisurely return.
Before heading for the island, the boat passes Casa del Campo Marina to allow a peek towards the multi-million luxury villas and the magnificent yachts of their owners.
The island is surrounded by coral reefs, making it a natural attraction for divers and snorkelers. Those holidaying on the Atlantic coast, along Bavaro beach, will notice the cooler and saltier Caribbean Sea water in this area.
Once on this uninhabited island, a protected area, officially designated a National Monument, it is time for snorkelling, and having lunch and a few drinks. If you prefer to pass over the aquatic activities, just lay back and enjoy the breathtaking view provided by the turquoise water and the white sands.
Cap Cana lays at the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic, close to Punta Cana. It has some of the most beautiful beaches of the Dominican Republic, which developers turned it into one of the most exclusive destination of the Caribbean. The highly sophisticated and well-off community who live there enjoy a gated complex with first-class marina, gourmet restaurants, award-winning golf courses, all surrounded by an ecological paradise.
Tourist excursions to this area include the Scape Park, where you can zip-line over the rain forest, visit the Hoya Azul and the Iguabonita caves, or enjoy an off-road thrilling adventure at the wheel of a buggy. The first, is for the young (and not so young) and adventurous. It sends thrill enthusiasts gliding from various heights (the tops of hills and trees) suspended by pulleys attached to long cables, allowing breathtaking views of the rain forest, below. The eight double-cable lines vary in length with the last being the longest: 420 meters. Expect some moderate climbing to get to the start platforms. Helmet and safety harnesses are obligatory and the course is supervised by trained personnel. It’s an exhilarating experience for the brave.
The 2-hour tour to the Iguabonita cave entails a walk through the jungle and up a cliff to reach the extensive network of underground tunnels and wider chambers. Petroglyphs credited to the original Taino population (soon extinct after the arrival of the Europeans) are clearly visible in the cave walls, while impressive stalactites fill the roof shared by bats and owls.
Hoyo Azul is literally a blue hole; a not too deep cave into the wall of a high cliff filled by an adjacent natural waterfall that turns it into a lagoon. The setting is beautiful and the water can be of an amazing deep blue. The tours stop here to allow participants to swim in this idyllic spot.
A good way to explore the full potential of Cap Cana’s tropical forests and beautiful palm fronded beaches, including the spectacular Juanillo beach that gave rise to the exclusive Cap Cana complex, is to join a buggy tour.
Many of these excursions are combined, allowing visitors to take in more than one activity in the same day. A pleasant way to spend a day away from the all-inclusive resort.
Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park
The Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park and Reserve is a 1500 acres private park belonging to the Punta Cana Resort and Club, owners of several hotels (Tortuga Bay, Westin, and Sheraton Four Points) and of the Punta Cana International Airport. Guests of these hotels have free access to the park, that otherwise has an entrance charge of $25 (higher, if transport or guide is required).
A network of trails along the tropical forest allows visitors to come into close contact with a variety of flora and fauna, some of which, like the rare Ridgway’s Hawk with a world population of around 300 specimen, is specific to Hispaniola, the island, which the Dominican Republic shares with Haiti. The same can be said of one third of plant life present in the island (and in the park), which is not found anywhere else in the world.
A leisurely walk around the park should take from 30 to 60 minutes depending on the pace. Along the way, twelve crystal-clear, freshwater lagoons invite visitors for a swim in a tranquil and refreshing atmosphere, which they often share with turtles, fish, and occasional birds. These ponds became known locally as the “Indigenous Eyes” of the park. The trails lead to a pristine beach (the Playa Serena).
There are a number of tours organized by the Park itself, and by outside operators, These vary in content and price and offer guided tours, with transport that include Segways (the electric two-wheeled, personal transporter that balances itself), golf carts for the less adventurous, self-drive battery-powered 4x4 buggies, and still horse-back riding. They cover a more extensive area that may include a petting zoo, an iguana habitat, and pass through sugar-cane and fruit tree gardens.
The extensive reefs surrounding most of the Punta Cana shores provide for an abundant variety of marine life, which the Marinarium made more accessible with their cruises to the permanent marine park. It is only ten minutes away from Bavaro, in Cabeza del Toro. A short sail by catamarans with glass bottoms allows passengers to observe the amazing and colourful variety of fish that inhabit the waters surrounding the tropical reefs.
The park is not only a conservation area, but also a tourist destination, and an educational opportunity. A specially designed floating island gives access to the large area around the reef where you can swim with stingrays and inoffensive nurse sharks.
There are plenty of activities: snorkelling, kayaking, floating mats for sunbathing, or even a hand-held power unit that glides through the water, and lets you be secret agent 007 for a day.
Afterwards, these cruises take you to a waist-deep, sand bottom, natural pool, where you can swim or simply relax standing-up while sipping a cocktail (or two…).
Back on the boats, snacks and drinks mix with dancing to the local sounds of bachata and merengue. It is an exciting tour that should not be missed and provides an escape from the all-inclusive environment of the hotels.