The palm-studded white sand beaches of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, are a vacationer’s dream. But there’s much more to this tropical playground.
Punta Cana is synonymous with the Dominican Republic, if not the Caribbean. Thirty miles of near-continuous white sand beaches, flanked by towering coconut trees and all-inclusive hotels, making it the quintessential island escape. I know that’s what we all want when it comes to vacations, but there’s a side of this resort region that you need to discover: nature reserves hiding Taíno caves and sinkholes, a lush countryside with cacao and horse farms, colorful local beaches, award-winning restaurants, and exhilarating nightlife. It’s the Dominican Republic you might otherwise miss.
The Dominican Republic offers every type of natural landscape for travelers who want to wander beyond the beaches. There are more protected parks and caves along the eastern coast of the Dominican Republic than in any other part of the country.
One incredible place to visit near Punta Cana is the Hoyo Azul. The Hoyo Azul is a natural pool with crystal clear waters, located off the base of a cliff. These caves were once used by the Taíno—Dominican Republic’s first inhabitants. To visit this amazing place you have to book an excursion, led by experienced guides. The excursion provides pickups from Punta Cana resorts which bring you to the southern Cap Cana.
This is an exciting way to explore Dominican nature by foot “It’s Hoyo Azul” through forests, cliffs, and caves. The tour begins with a 25-minute hike to the top of El Farallon Cliff. You will trek through a tropical forest, where a steep wooden staircase takes visitors into an underground, water-filled chamber once used for Taíno rituals… On this hike, you will learn about Dominican history and see petroglyphs (cave paintings made by Tainos).
Finally, visit the Hoyo Azul lagoon to swim and relax after your hike. Take a dip and appreciate the beauty around you!
The Countryside “El Campo”
Punta Cana parks and reserves are a breath of fresh air, but the Dominican “campo,” or countryside, is a rugged reflection of the island’s landscape. And it’s just a 30-minute drive out from the resort town. The Supreme Safari excursion offers a great glimpse, taking you on bumpy roads and muddy paths in safari style off-road trucks.
Past the small towns, the vistas turn into broad swaths of pastureland, dotted with grazing cows and horses. A unique exploration of the island’s largest sugar cane fields follows, and you can even pick a stem and taste its sweetness. The day ends at the Cigar Museum, where you’ll learn to roll a “Habano” for yourself.
The White Sandy Beaches
Let’s be honest, not all beaches are created equal, even in Punta Cana. Prepare to gasp as you turn the hill on approach to the public, northern Playa Macao. The initial view of an iridescent blue Atlantic Ocean, velvet sand and towering coconut trees is breathtaking. There are no resorts or concrete structures on the beach and that’s what makes it stunning. This is the perfect spot for a Dominican lunch of whole fried fish, “tostones”.
For you to get to Playa Macao you can ride a Dune Buggy around the Punta Cana unspoiled countryside, this excursion guarantees that you will be amazed once you head out into the rural areas and onto the lush tropical trails of an area near the Oriental Mountain System.
On the southern tip of Punta Cana, Playa Juanillo shimmers against a phosphorescent blue sea. It’s worth a stop for a cocktail or a fresh coconut.
Farther to the east side of Punta Cana, you have The Stunning Saona Island. Saona Island is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Dominican Republic. Famous for its unspoiled beaches, lush greenery, and turquoise water, the island has been used on many occasions by film-makers and advertisers looking for a “desert island” setting for their films or products.
Most tour operators take tourists to Bayahibe, where they will board catamarans or small motorboats on organized excursions every day.
Near the coast of Saona Island, is the famous “Natural Pools”, large areas where natural sandbars offshore bring the depth to just a few feet. These are a must-stop, an amazing breath-taking beauty.
The boats stay just a hundred meters from the beach. You can enjoy the waist-deep shallows crystals clear waters of the Caribbean, have a couple of drinks, or do some snorkeling and inspect the fields of starfish!