On the easternmost tip of the island, 211 km east of Santo Domingo, is Punta Cana, known for its 30 km of white-sand beaches and clear waters, Punta Cana and Bávaro are an escapist’s retreat. Set against a backdrop of swaying palm trees, these beaches are unrivaled in the Caribbean. Within some of the most arid landscapes in the Caribbean, it rarely rains during daylight hours, Punta Cana and Bávaro have been recognized throughout Europe, especially Spain, and the Americas for their climate. Both Punta Cana and Bávaro, two resort areas at either end of a long curve of beach lined with coconut palms, are virtually towns within themselves. The beach is so mammoth there is rarely overcrowding, even with masses of visitors every month of the year. Bávaro and Punta Cana combine to form what is nicknamed La Costa del Coco, or the Coconut Coast. Don’t expect a town or city, from Punta Cana in the south all the way to Playa del Macao in the north, there’s only one small community, El Cortecito.
El Cortecito originated as a pre-planned community intended to house the workers who built the first of the region’s hotels. Today, having adopted some aspects of an independent community in its own right, it’s the site of several eateries and bars. And don’t expect a coherent set of roads with names, because most of them are unnamed. Look instead for signs with arrows that point the way to the individual hotels, each of which was designed like cities unto themselves.
The largest development in the Caribbean is being carried out at Punta Cana on the East Coast, with more than 6.5 billion of dollars being invested in mega-resorts, covering a combined 13.355 hectares. The coast is also becoming the Caribbean’s quintessential golf destination, with new championship golf courses being developed, along with marinas and luxury condos. Every large resort maintains at least one beachfront kiosk loaded with staff and watersports equipment. They tend to be operated by the same central organization, charge all the same prices, and even move their staff from one kiosk to another, regardless of whose beachfront they’re sitting on. And it’s entirely likely that the scuba or snorkeling trip you sign up for at the kiosk of your hotel might combine your outing with clients of several other hotels along the same beachfront.
The Manati Park, opening in 1997, is the most controversial in the Caribbean. It features an array of sea lions, parrots, and even a dancing horse show, inspired by the traditional equestrian performances in the Spanish city of Jerez de la Frontera. There’s even a crocodile cage, a parade of elegant pink flamingos, and a collection of caged snakes and iguanas. There’s also a fenced-in area where brave animal lovers can get close to a colony of iguanas. The park is controversial because of its policy of allowing people to swim with dolphins. Marine biologists have claimed that the tank holding the dolphins is too small and that the animals are forced into regular contact with humans. This, it is believed, upsets their natural bacteria levels. That, in turn, can lead to a breakdown in their immune systems. Already, four dolphins have died since the park opened. Many countries, including Canada, have requested that the Dominican Republic close this exhibit, calling the park’s policy inhumane.
If you look beyond your hotel, you’ll find an upmarket shopping complex, Plaza Bávaro, lying between the Allegro Flamenco Bávaro Resort and Fiesta Palace Beach Resort. There’s another shopping complex, mainly for crafts, on the beach along the northern tier of this shopping complex, reached along a dirt road labeled mercado, meaning market.
Bávaro Disco has emerged as the hottest and sexiest dance club in Punta Cana, thanks to a superb sound system. The venue is more European than North American, thanks to a heavy concentration of clients from Italy, Spain, and Holland. If you’ve been tempted to dress provocatively but never had the courage, the permissive and sexually charged ambience at this enormous club will give you the confidence to try.
If you choose to vacation in Punta Cana, you won’t be alone, as increasing numbers of Latino celebrities are already making inroads there, usually renting private villas within private compounds. Julio Iglesias has been a fixture here for a while. And one of the most widely publicized feuds in the Dominican Republic swirled a few years ago around the owners of Casa de Campo and celebrity designer Oscar de la Renta, who abandoned his familiar haunts there for palm-studded new digs at Punta Cana.