Our first stop on our retirement nomadic journey was Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Why there? A few reasons:
- It is sunny and warm in the middle of January
- The Dominican Republic is a relatively low cost country
- We could use hotel reward points for the Sheraton Four Points hotel in Punta Cana and get a great value for our points.
(I will write another post in the future on this, but over the past couple of years I have become a “travel hacker” or “points hacker.” This is a term that is used to describe getting frequent flyer miles and hotel points in large quantities. At the time we left the USA we had a total of 1.6 million points between all of our loyalty programs, airline, hotels, credit cards, etc.)
We were able to get 7 nights at the Sheraton Four Points for 19,000 Starwood points versus getting one night at the Westin just down the street for 16,000 points.
Also, we didn’t really have all of our time in the Dominican Republic planned out at the start. We knew we were arriving in Punta Cana on January 21st and leaving from Santo Domingo on March 15th, but beyond that, really didn’t know what we were going to do or where we were going to stay in between. The week in Punta Cana gave us a week to research, figure out the lay of the land, etc.
The Sheraton Four Points was very nice. Walkable distance to the airport, they do have a free shuttle. It is part of Punta Cana Village, a fairly new planned community of shops, residences, businesses, hotels, etc. It is definitely on the higher end of things socio-economical wise. The restaurant in the Sheraton had prices in USD. Across the street is a Wendy’s and in the little market area are various restaurants – Italian, Mexican, a bagel shop, Baskin Robbins, etc. So besides the weather and the fact that people spoke Spanish, it was pretty much like a nice upscale neighborhood you would find in the States.
The Sheraton is part of the Punta Cana Village and has a shuttle bus that will take you to: Playa Blanca (beach area with a restaurant), Westin Hotel, La Cana Golf Course and an Ecological Reserve. The bus runs every hour and makes the loop, so it is not as convenient as a large all-inclusive where you can walk out of your room and straight to the beach, but is a fraction of the price.
We enjoyed leisurely breakfasts and espresso at the Brot Bagel Shop across from the hotel. Spent an afternoon walking up and down the beach at Playa Blanca. We also tried to take a walk around the neighborhood once a day.
Had a great time spending an afternoon at Ojos Indeginas Ecological Park. Lots of cool vegetation and some great freshwater lagoons. They looked very inviting and we wished we had brought our swim suits
Map of all the hotels along the beaches of Punta Cana/Bavaro
We quickly learned that where the vast majority of foreigners come to vacation is actually in an area called Bavaro (Bah’ va row) about 20 minutes north of the airport. Beautiful, high walled and protected all-inclusive resorts take up miles of beach. I would hazard a guess that most visitors take the bus from the airport as arranged by the resort and never leave the resort. And why would they? The resorts have all you need right there!
We rented a car for four days, mostly to explore where we wanted to stay next, but did spend a little time driving around Bavaro. You can’t get into the all-inclusive resorts unless you are staying there. And driving around, to be honest, it felt a lot like Orlando, Branson, Niagra Falls, Pigeon Forge, etc. You could eat at Denny’s, McDonalds, Subway, Wendy’s, etc. Instead of going to the Dixie Stampede or Cirque de Soleil, you could go to Coco Bongo for an acrobatic show with a Dominican twist. You could shop for souvenirs at a local mall, basically everything you could do at a typical American/Canadian vacation destination.
One of our best meals so far was in Bavaro at La Casita de Yeya. I had stewed goat and plantains and Susan had red snapper in a coconut sauce. Delicious!
What we saw of Punta Cana and Bavaro convinced us that it was a great place for a great vacation – lot’s to do, beautiful beaches, great weather! However, for us it didn’t really feel too much like we were experiencing Dominican culture. We weren’t meeting the local people except in their roles as a waiter, shop clerk, maid, hotel clerk, etc.
So, Punta Cana was great! The weather was great – especially considering that at the time we were there New York, Washington DC, Nashville, etc. were getting dumped on with snow. We enjoyed our time there. However, we were ready to move on and find a place to settle down for a month or so and begin to experience the real Dominican Republic as a short term resident.