Nonstop From Washington: Punta Cana

Great golf and snorkeling with sharks

By: Erin Delmore

WHY NOW
November is the tail end of hurricane season in the Dominican Republic, but storms are far more likely in earlier fall months. Take advantage of low hotel prices and less crowded beaches before winter tourists start flocking south next month.

WHAT TO DO
Punta Cana, on the eastern shore of the Dominican Republic, is a Caribbean paradise, with ocean water in every shade of blue. You could happily spend time luxuriating at one of the all-inclusive resorts. Or you could venture out to sample some of the Caribbean’s best golf, snorkeling, and diving.

Even beginners can catch a wave on Macao Beach with lessons from Macao Surf Camp (Macao Beach; macaosurfcamp@gmail.com). A small-group setting at a secluded beach will get you on a board, and you can even buy a photo disk to prove it to your friends. Prices depend on the size of your group and your hotel’s location—a two-hour lesson for four is about $60.

For the best diving and snorkeling on the island, contact Dressel Divers, which offers dives from the Iberostar resort or provides bus transfers to the island’s southern coast. From there you can visit Saona, Catalina, and Catalinita islands, with secluded beaches and striking coral formations in natural reserves. You can also go on a night dive to the Saint Georges shipwreck and see an artificial reef formed around a sunken freighter. Each dive or snorkeling site is about ten minutes away by boat from the beach. If you prepay or pay in cash, you’ll get a discount; the price for a one-day excursion starts at $275.

Crave a slice of Dominican culture? You can spend the better part of a day with the experts at Punta Cana Mike’s Dominican Adventure. They’ll take you on a tour that includes a local school—where donations are encouraged—a cigar factory, a cathedral, and shops. The cost is $65 a person. Or opt for a visit to the fishing village of Boca de Yuma; the $100-a-person tour includes a boat ride and cave excursion.

Another idea: a cruise called the Caribbean Festival ($89 and up; click the link and search for “Caribbean festival”), with snorkeling opportunities along a coral reef and the chance to hold a stingray. You can also swim in the “shark pit,” where it’s possible to skim the water’s surface as a school of typically docile nurse sharks swims below in the shallow pool.

DON'T MISS
Punta Cana has some first-rate golf courses. Among the best are Punta Blanca Golf Course (Carretera Arena Gorda Punta Cana) and the Jack Nicklaus–designed Punta Espada (Cap Cana), where half of the holes are along the water; Golfweek calls it the best course in the Caribbean and Mexico.

WHERE TO EAT
Mitre, at the marina in Cap Cana, is a high-end restaurant featuring international cuisine. The risotto alla valenciana—a take on classic seafood paella—and the beef tenderloin stuffed with blue cheese, garlic, and mushrooms are among the most popular dishes.

You can head to Jellyfish (between Ifa Resorts and Melia Caribe Tropical, Bavaro), a beachfront bungalo of wood and canvas, for a seafood dinner under the stars.

La Yola Restaurant (Punta Cana Marina; click on Dining & Recreation) sits on stilts over the sea. Its marina view and open-air, thatched-roof design make for a romantic setting.

Akai Lounge & Sushi Bar (Palma Real Shopping Village) is the premier spot for artful sushi that tastes as good as it looks.

WHERE TO STAY
The Iberostar Grand Bávaro Hotel is an all-inclusive resort with three pools—the largest has a swim-up bar. You’ll get a free round of golf per person with a booking.

Tortuga Bay, a property that includes a 1,500-acre nature preserve and two golf courses, feels secluded and exclusive thanks to the Oscar de la Renta–designed villas.

Secrets Sanctuary in Cap Cana is an adults-only resort with suites and villas done in a Spanish Colonial style. Not a fan of the buffets at most all-inclusive resorts? At Secrets Sanctuary, the only regular buffet is at breakfast.

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This article first appeared in the November 2010 issue of The Washingtonian.