HONEYMOON DESTINATION: Punta Cana
Beach connoisseurs, this one’s for you. Sure, Punta Cana is home to several luxe resorts willing to cater to a guest’s every whim, but nothing man-made can rival what this spot was God-given: postcard-perfect Caribbean-fantasy beaches with flour-soft white sand, turquoise water, year round sun and a warm ocean breeze. Europeans have long known the beaches here are tops and the resorts more reasonably priced than elsewhere (and have been coming in droves since the airport was built in 1984), but Americans have caught on in recent years. According to a 2012 report from Expedia, Punta Cana is now one of the top five most frequented international destinations for U.S. travelers—lots of them honeymooners looking for the no-hassle frills of the area’s many upscale all-inclusives. Among the best stretches of sand here is Bávaro Beach, a mile-long expanse that sits behind an offshore reef, leaving waters calm, warm and pool-like. The latest upgrade to the Bávaro scene is the Barceló Bávaro Beach Resort, a premium, quiet, adults-only corner of the larger Barceló Bávaro Palace Deluxe.
BY DAY: There’s no need to leave the resort, and plenty of visitors here do stay put, enjoying the continuous lazy, boozy circuit of an all-inclusive: beach, pool, bar, buffet. But if you manage to get sick of that, just about every amenity and excursion you can imagine is in Punta Cana. The resort itself has a lovely spa, an 18-hole designer golf course (Punta Cana is known for golf), mini-golf, tennis, trapeze, water sports, and all sorts of group exercise— volleyball, Zumba, ocean aerobics, yoga… Outside the resort, there’s swimming with dolphins, two-person speed-boat rentals, booze cruises, snorkeling, zip-lining, scuba, go-kart tours, Jeep safaris, helicopter rides, spelunking—you name it. For some culture, book a full-day tour with Higüey Adventure Tours that takes you to a ranch (for horseback riding and a tutorial on cigar rolling), the fruit market, a local art gallery, and a typical Dominican coffee-and-cocoa plantation, where you’ll get to sample the goods. The day also includes visits in the town of Higüey to the 500-year-old San Dionisio Church and the massive, avant-garde Basílica Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia, built in 1971 and complete with a breathtaking 250-foot arch and huge stained-glass windows. (Bring your camera!) The tour is a long day with two respites: one at the Rancho La Duena, where you’ll have an authentic, delicious Dominican lunch of fried chicken, fried plantains, rice, beans, avocado and more. The other break is at the tour’s final stop: resort-free Macao Beach, where you can swim or just stroll on the sand.
BY NIGHT: You won’t want for nightlife here. When it gets dark, the main area of the resort becomes the hub of activity, with nightly entertainment, several bars, a 24-hour casino, and a disco that’s open from 11 p.m. till the wee hours. Crowds gather just outside, lounging on couches on an open-air patio—a group of American men trying in their best broken Spanish to hit on Argentinean ladies over here, couples befriending other couples over there, and folks from across the globe speaking the international language— dance. It’s all prime for people-watching or being social, if that’s what you’re looking for. If you’d prefer to be alone with your sweetie, grab a bottle and head back to the beach, where you’ll find quiet and see more stars than you ever knew existed.
WHERE TO STAY: The Barceló Bávaro Beach Resort (barcelo.com) is the all-new adults-only section of the Barceló Bávaro Palace Deluxe, where guests have the option of choosing the “Club Premium” upgrade for full VIP treatment. Just opened in December 2011, the area features a huge pool with aqua massage, restaurants, and a quiet space in which to relax post- massage before rejoining reality. Club Premium guests have an exclusive lounge for check-in and checkout, plus concierge service, priority dinner reservations, free wi-fi, late checkout and other VIP touches.
WHAT TO EAT: There are eight à la carte restaurants plus two buffets and a sports bar, so pick your favorite cuisine and make reservations early. Options include several French restaurants, Mexican, seafood, a steakhouse, Japanese, and international fare at the buffets. Consider the popular tacos al pastor at the Mexican spot—a succulent pork leg is marinated in chili sauce, roasted and carved table-side, and served in a taco. As for drinks, the Dominican beer, Presidente, goes down like water. And be sure to try the local libation mamajuana, a brew of red wine, rum, honey, tree bark and herbs.
WHAT TO PACK: The very basics: sunscreen, passport, camera, a hat, and resort-casual wear. Men must have pants and closed-toe shoes for dinner in any of the à la carte restaurants. No need to exchange currency; the dollar is accepted most everywhere.
BEST TIMES TO GO: Anytime, truly. The weather is almost always nice here, with temps in the high 80s, though rain is more common (but still sparse) from September to November. Punta Cana’s driest season runs from April to August, and beaches are less crowded in the fall.
NEWLYWED NEWS: The resort is happy to set up a romantic private dinner, either on the beach or out on a long pier over the ocean. Also, don’t miss out on four different couples’ treatments at Barceló’s U-Spa, including “Romantic Scape,” a 75-minute candlelit massage with aromatherapy and complimentary robes.
GETTING THERE: There are a few direct flights on US Airways, or make one stop flying with United, Delta, Airtran or American Airlines. — Jessica Remo
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