The Coral Highway has cut down the travel time for visiting Santo Domingo. // © 2017 Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism
Feature image (above): Take a day trip to Saona Island. // © 2017 Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism
Punta Cana has become a beach resort powerhouse over the years. The all-inclusive properties in the region are packed with options for land activities, watersports, nightly entertainment, spas, nearby golf and dining.
But what these resorts lack is a true immersive experience in the Dominican Republic (D.R.). And for an increasing number of today’s travelers, meaningfully connecting with the destination is an essential component of their vacation.
Off-site tours and excursions are easy to plan when using a Punta Cana resort as a base. One way to organize a client’s schedule is to alternate on-resort days with days filled with off-resort experiences.
Your clients who either venture out on their own or as part of a tour can explore off-the-beaten-path streets, order meals in local restaurants, shop for island arts and crafts and — perhaps most memorably — meet local Dominicans.
Altos de Chavon
Clients who love shopping and dining in an atmospheric setting will enjoy Altos de Chavon, located in the city of La Romana. At the attraction — which has replicated a 16th-century Mediterranean village — they’ll stroll cobblestone streets lined with colorful boutiques, view a 5,000-seat Roman amphitheater and dine in cafes and restaurants, all while taking in picturesque views looking out onto the Chavon River.
Living Punta Cana Tours (LPC Tours) adds a boat ride with lunch on the Chavon River as part of its excursion. There are a number of other tour operators that combine a visit to Altos de Chavon with a boat trip to the D.R.’s Catalina Island for snorkeling and a picnic on the beach. If your clients choose one of these more extensive tours, they can expect to be away from their resort for the full day.
Dolphin Island is convenient to visit, as it’s located right in Punta Cana. Getting to the island is actually part of the fun since it is accessed via a short boat ride. The creme-de-la-creme experience at the venue is a dolphin adventure that allows your clients to swim in the water with these ever-popular sea mammals.
A visit to Dolphin Island also offers ample time to kick back on the beach. Included in the price is roundtrip transportation for your clients from their resort and back.
La Flor Dominicana
The Dominican Republic has a rich history of cigar-making, and the D.R. has been giving Cuba a run for its money for decades when it comes to quality cigars. For a comprehensive look at hand-rolled cigar production, travelers can head to La Flor Dominicana. Cigar devotees can also buy the company’s cigars on-site.
A tour of La Flor Dominicana can easily be combined with a visit to Altos de Chavon since both are in La Romana.
One of my favorite day trips in the D.R. is a boat trip to Saona Island, which many local operators offer. Being out on the water is a pleasure that only gets better when the boat will likely drop anchor at what is referred to as a natural swimming pool in the middle of the ocean (essentially a sandbar in waist-deep water).
After a dip, the boat will continue to Saona Island, which is the largest offshore island in the country and is situated off the southeast coast. Here, your clients can roam the beach; shop at palapa boutiques; grab an ice-cold Presidente beer at one of the beach bars; or sample local fare. All of this will take place against a backdrop of local fishermen hauling in the catch of the day.
For the longest time, it was a pain to take a day trip from Punta Cana to the D.R.’s capital city of Santo Domingo, since it involved an eight-hour roundtrip on dicey highways. With such an extensive amount of time on the road, the day trip was little more than an opportunity to say, “Well, I guess I saw Santo Domingo.”
However, the opening of the relatively new Coral Highway cuts the driving time to four hours roundtrip. This will give your clients ample time to tour the city’s 11-block Colonial Zone, which contains many finely maintained buildings dating back to the 15th century. Mixed in with the history are great options for souvenir shopping on Calle de Conde, which is also studded with alfresco restaurants.