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Friday, July 29, 2016

Punta Cana: a Mrs. Lo Travel Blog

have traveled to dozens of countries and the Dominican Republic is one of my absolute favorites.  Our most recent trip was to Punta Cana, currently one of the hottest spots in the Caribbean.  Forty years ago, this part of the DR was all jungle.  The development began in 1970 and got going when Club Med put in a hotel.  In 1984, a real commercial airport was built in Punta Cana and development began in earnest.  There are now 162 resorts in Punta Cana, with an average of 5,000 travelers per day coming through the airport.  

    We stayed at the beautiful Ocean Blue and Sands Resort, an all inclusive resort located right on the beach (this is a key thing to look for in a resort -- some resorts, like the Hard Rock, are a pretty good distance from the beach), with 8 restaurants, 10 bars, 2 pools, a theatre, casino, and lots of water activities.  We were able to use our Disney Vacation Club membership to stay here, meaning we did not pay for the lodging, just the food and the airfare.  (We have a lot of Disney Vacation Club points, which is how we are able to take 5 - 6 family vacations a year).

    I would highly recommend a family, couples or even solo trip to Punta Cana.  If you book a trip, here are a few things to know before you go:

 1. PACK LIGHT - I know I say this all the time, but you really don’t need anything more than a carry-on.  It makes traveling so much easier.  For a trip to the DR generally, you will need swimwear and coverups, some shorts and shirts, and some resort wear for dinner.  Check the dress code before you go.  For instance, the restaurant on the beach, which we favored, required a shirt and pants/ or dress (full coverage)  for breakfast.  However, you were free to stroll into the lunch buffet at the same place in your swimsuit.  Go figure.

2. BRING A PEN AND TEN’S - this blog assumes everyone has their US Passport and knows the rules of international travel.  Here are a few extra tips.  Bring a pen in your personal bag.  You need to fill out the customs forms (“no, I’m not bringing livestock into the country”) on the plane and they don’t provide you with a pen.  Having these forms all filled out on the plane saves a lot of time.  There is also a $10 per person fee to enter the country and they don’t take credit cards.

3. ABOUT PESOS - the Dollar is very strong right now, and if you exchange dollars for pesos you will get a lot more bang for your buck.  I exchange at the ATM in the airport.  You will pay a $5 fee but you will get the best rate.  There is a huge transaction fee everywhere else.  Of course, since the dollar is so strong, everyone wants you to pay in dollars.  But since you can get 45 pesos for One Dollar, I like to do the exchange.  If you are staying at an all inclusive, you will only need money for taxis, tips, souvenirs, and excursions.  A good tip would be 250 pesos ($5.55 ).  

4. THE LANGUAGE - I always speak Spanish when I am in the DR or any other Spanish speaking country, because I love the language and I am like to speak with the people and get all the nuances.  However, you need not speak any Spanish at all, everyone at the resorts speaks enough English to do their job, and the concierges are very fluent in English -- and often several other languages. 

5. OUTSIDE THE RESORTS - unless this is your native land, don’t be wandering outside the resorts without a guide.  There is a lot of poverty and poverty makes people do things to survive.  You are perfectly safe at your resort and on an expedition but you want to stay in your lane.

6. ALL INCLUSIVES - depending on your resort, your all inclusive will generally include unlimited food and beverages (which alcohol is included is resort specific), unlimited room service, towel service, use of the beach cabanas, transportation by golf cart or trolley around the resort, the nightly shows, and certain water sports.  Kayaking and snorkeling were included at our resort.  The catamaran was an extra fee as was the banana boat, surfing and parasailing but it was all on property and very reasonably priced.

7. EXCURSIONS - the off property excursions are an extra charge.  Sometimes we like to go all over the country with excursions, this particular trip we wanted to relax.  We did however, visit Hoyo Azul and the kids went on a Snuba dive (cross between scuba and snorkeling).  You can also visit Sanoa Island, go in dunebuggies, go ziplining and visit dolphins and aquariums.

8. FOOD AND DRINK - the food at our resort was outstanding.  We tried almost all of the restaurants.  Our hands down favorite was the Villa Marina as it was located right on the beach.  There is a sitdown breakfast, breakfast buffet, lunch buffet and sitdown Dominican dinner.  We also enjoyed the Hibachi Japanese restaurant, Italian restaurant, the Steakhouse and the Mexican restaurant.  Mike’s Coffee Bar was a coffee lover’s dream and is said to have the best coffee in Punta Cana, along with desserts.  All of this is part of your all inclusive fee.  The theater shows were akin to shows on a cruise ship, some are better than others.  The Dominican show was fabulous, with some of the best costumes and bachata dancing I have ever seen.

9. HAVE FUN!!  Punta Cana is not like Santo Domingo or even Puerta Plata, where there are lots of historic sights from the 16th century, and beautiful cathedrals and architecture to see.  Punta Cana is not a town.  This was pure jungle 40 years ago, and it was called Punta Borracha (Drunken Point).  The developers changed the name and eventually it became a Beach and Resort mecca.  Trust me, you’re not missing anything if you were to sit on the beach, read and occasionally swim or snorkel.  The entire economy is built on you, the valued guest, having a good time, relaxing, and coming back.  So Relax and Enjoy one of the most beautiful spots on earth!

Have a great day, everyone and, as always, remember to count your blessings!  Mrs. Lo (photo from the beach in Punta Cana).  If you click on the blog, there are more photos from our trip!