This past December was my second trip to the Dominican Republic however my first trip is hazy at best. After a quick stay in the country’s capital, I headed north to the now well known Puerto Plata along the coast. The trip was a bit of a blur because it was around the time of my divorce but what I do remember from that trip was a whole lot of reflection time on pristine beaches in the far northwest corner. I snorkeled, sunbathed, read novels, drank out of raw coconuts and ate a lot of fish. I barely remember a hotel since we had rented a little bungalow right on the beach – simple, authentic and about as close to sea salt and white sand as you can, with a simple hammock at the entrance. In fact, I slept on it a couple of nights and don’t remember coming home covered in mosquito bites. There are still simple and authentic beach stays in the country although tourism has grown substantially since I was last there as noted from our van drives, although after landing in historical Santo Domingo in the center of the country, I spent most of my time in the area they refer to as Punta Cana, which boasts plenty of luxury stays inland and on the ocean’s edge.
Above shot, taken on my Canon 7D at Punta Cana CHIC on my last night
Punta Cana lies in the easternmost tip of the Dominican Republic, abuts both the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. That means that sometimes the water is warm and sometimes a little nippy, but nothing like America’s East Coast and the water is so pure and the beaches so divine, that you’ll want to dive in regardless of your swimming preference. Think 32 kilometers of exquisite beaches and clear waters. Combine Bávaro with Punta Cana to form what locals refer to as La Costa del Coco, or the Coconut Coast, which is known for its all inclusive hotels, including Club Med, my first all inclusive experience when I was barely 20 on the island of Corfu. Some are larger than others and they all have their own perks and draws, whether you want romance, exquisite food or have kids in tow. A great choice for millennials or if you want an escape getaway with friends (there’s dancing in the main lounge nightly), let’s first visit Punta Cana CHIC.
Punta Cana CHIC Hotel
Since we arrived mid-afternoon, I retreated to the pool right away, largely because I needed a ‘water fix’ as quickly as possible and there wasn’t enough time for a long beach walk or body surfing in the ocean. It was late enough to order a cocktail (on the house of course) and so I went for a Pina Colada to move my mood into a Caribbean one instantaneously. Like many all-inclusives, they have late afternoon games at the pool with a DJ which is always a good distraction if you’re traveling with a group and want to take a breather. I was able to take in the sunset which was dreamy and soft before heading back to my room. Note that it’s a decent sized property although the main dining room area with a massive buffet is centrally located by the pool and just in front of the beach. Its location is perfect since it’s a great meeting point and there are other restaurants around it as well, all worth trying so your only foodie experience isn’t a buffet. After all, when faced with all you can eat, I don’t k now about you, but I find that I eat a lot more than I would have otherwise. Enuf said! The rooms closest to the ocean are also closest to the main lounge and lobby so can be a little noisy. The plus side of course is that the walk from dinner to bed is very close and they offer lounge chairs in the water immediately in front of your room – sweet right?
The pool has a variety of areas you can take it all in, from queen sized beds that are covered to shield you from the sun, to standard lounge chairs pool-side. There are also bubbly ‘warm’ tubs in front of some of these cabana areas. If you love a hot jacuzzi, they don’t have one on the premises, but they do offer warm more secluded jacuzzis and an incredible sauna inside the spa, which is incredibly relaxing and decadent.
Before I take you into the spa, have a look at the luscious white sandy beach. While it was a bit windy when we were there, the breeze was warm, the palm trees were swaying and it was a beautiful place to breathe in the ocean air any time of day.
Services and treatments they offer include facials, body treatments, spa rituals, a variety of massages, hand and feet services, and full packages, which may be in order if you’re there for a special occasion or a romantic week away. There’s also special seasonal spa packages as well as a fitness center with cardio and weight equipment.
The resort is only 17 kilometers from Punta Blanca Golf Club which is a huge plus for the golf fans among you. Below, a front view of the property.
The last thing worth mentioning is their Mansion, which is a luxury house you can rent out for your exclusive use. It’s a great option for a group or a family gathering. The 11,500 square-foot luxury mansion has six suite-style rooms, a living room with floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto a private pool, an exclusive dining room and premium extras like your own fully-stocked bar with top-shelf liquor. We had our final dinner inside the Mansion pool side, which included lobster, steaks, fish and decadent desserts of course. I went with red wine but they also had a myriad of cocktails to choose from. Staying in this Mansion comes with luxurious round-trip airport transfers, butler service, exclusive private Chef Experience, private pool cabana with attendant, a Day Pass to Royalton Punta Cana with transportation to enjoy the waterpark and a complimentary spa treatment for each person staying in the house. In addition to a private pool, they have a hot tub, patio, sound system as well as a games room with a pool table. Below, one of the many desserts we devoured on our last night dinner in the Mansion.
Their cabanas were oh so lovely as well. One afternoon, I started out reading a book with clear blue skies, played in the water for an hour, ordered a Margarita and shrimp cocktail and then took a nap. The following two photos demonstrate the difference a few hours can make. The beach was empty when I woke up, the skies pink and I was blissfully happy and well-rested.
Palmera Villa’s Villa Blanca
Palmera Villa has a number of properties that range in size from 3 to nine bedrooms depending on where you want to be in the country and what amenities you’re after. We had cocktails at one of their Punta Cana villas they call Villa Blanca, which is a six bedroom house with its own private swimming pool.
The views of the nearby golf course and swimming pool from the upstairs level is incredibly serene and I’d note quiet and we were there for a few hours. Our visit was for cocktails, not to stay but we did get a fairly extensive tour of the villa, inside and out.
Sunsets were glorious as well.
Below, a fountain in the courtyard. They have a private chef, maid and butler as part of your rental but note that if you do have a dog traveling with you, then this property isn’t for you as pets are not allowed.
As we were getting ready to leave, a beautiful sky greeted us as we set off to tour another property and have dinner.
Inside, there’s a 50 inch television with cable in the TV-room, complimentary wifi and a sound system. This 10,000 square foot home is located inside the gated Puntacana Resort & Club, home to celebrities such as Julio Iglesias, Mikhail Baryshnikov and the late Oscar de la Renta. Villa Blanca sits on 1.5 acres of land with views of the La Cana golf course; a 27-hole championship golf course designed by P. B. Dye, with 4 oceanfront holes and 14 holes with ocean views. The private beach club with swimming pool, restaurant, bar and the renowned Six Senses Spa is roughly 400 yards from the villa. As a guest staying at Villa Blanca, you will have full privileges to the Puntacana Resort & Club.
Entering the property, you’ll take note of the lit entry columns after you drive over a quaint wooden bridge with ponds and manicured gardens on both sides. There are two guest houses as part of the villa and the main house has two levels with four bedrooms upstairs and there’s also a grand master bedroom (1,000 square feet) which has a King size bed and a large walk-in closet with make-up counter. The master suite also features a large in-suite bathroom. Outside, in addition to the pool, there’s a barbecue dining area, which has two stone dining tables and cast iron chairs. They also offer private airport transfers from/to Punta Cana International Airport (PUJ) which is only 1.5 miles away and wellness travel lovers can book services at the nearby Six Senses Spa.
Ave. Italia, Plaza Shopping Bavaro #225
Bavaro, Punta Cana
Hard Rock Hotel
Welcome to what Hard Rock Hotels do best — everything at your finger tips under a massive umbrella property that boasts restaurants, bars, cafes, live entertainment nightly, buffets, shopping and casinos. They apparently have the largest casino in the Caribbean, and for those who love late night, they have nightlife,state-of-the-art meeting facilities and rooms with fabulous views, all infused with that legendary rock and roll vibe they’re known for so well. Casinos do nothing for me quite frankly, so I could be found at the beach more often than not during my stay, when I wasn’t exploring the grounds with a book or my camera in hand. Oh yeah, and after an ocean swim, I most hung my hat in one of their beach hammocks more than once. There are plenty of beach lounging options to choose from, some with a bar or barbecue pit offering chicken, burgers and dogs throughout the day and others which are a bit more remote. There are VIP and Exclusive Member sections of the beach as well as hammocks (my favorite), beds under cabanas with draw curtains and a volleyball court.
The property is massive but there are plenty of mini buses whizzing by you can jump on to get to one of the 13 pools, restaurants or cafes. I walked everywhere for the experience, the exercise and to prove that I could eventually get over my lousy habit of getting lost, even when there’s no reason to, map in hand and all. Truth be told, I still get lost in my own home town at times, so no surprise I’d get lost at a property with 2,000+ rooms.
One of my favorite pools is shown below….known as the all adult pool, it had a great vibe to it, bar, plenty of cabanas (quiet, except for when they turned up the dance music end of day) and hammocks. You could also bathe topless if you wanted — a great way to get away from the running kids at some of the other pools. There’s so many pools to choose from however, you’d be hard pressed to get to them all during one visit and they all had their own personality.
While I’m a huge nature gal and would always prefer outdoor time over indoor time, Hard Rock Cafe did have a decent night life scene with a couple of bars open until around 2 am. The upscale EPIK Restaurant inside Hard Rock’s casino had a bartender who had me at hello with his delicious tequila concoction I couldn’t get enough of — it was oh so delish! Called the Corazon Espinado, it is made with tequila, Don Julio, cointreau, a dash of OJ though he made mine with pineapple instead, and smoked sea salt. (I think the pineapple made the difference). The decadent saffron garnish included dehydrated orange peels. There was a lot of wow to this scrumptious creation!
Below, the Moon Lounge – oh so chic and modern.
They also have shows on a regular basis. When there in December, they had a Michael Jackson show and I suddenly found myself up on stage in front of around 1,000 people performing a Michael Jackson dance (SOLO). Yes, really!! I was the only woman of five from the audience they chose, so needless t o say, they didn’t vote me as the dance winner despite the fact that I knew more Michael Jackson moves than the other yanks and Canadians on stage. It was fun and unexpected, nevertheless! Below, inside the guts of the hotel between the casino, the restaurants, the lounges and the main stage.
Below is a standard luxury room – mine had a beautiful quiet pool view. All of our rooms came with a bottle of champagne and the below styled hot tub in the room — a massive 2 (I’d argue 4 person) shower was housed in the main bathroom, which was also incredibly spacious with beautiful marble tiles.
Below, the Rock Star Suite
The Rock Spa is a must try when you stay there. They have a cutting edge innovative ice room (which I didn’t test out….on purpose) and apparently the most complete hydrotherapy circuit in the Caribbean. They also have an elaborate fitness center. Below was my favorite part of the spa — a few pools, ranging from cool and warm to hot and relaxing and you could pop into one and then into another for hours of relaxation. The environment was very serene and quiet, perfectly lit and perfectly calm. There’s plenty to experience at their 60,000 square foot oasis spa area, from 46 cabins amd six palapas to lagoons, two whirlpools, a steam room, sauna, food creek pathway, hydro-reflexology, and sensory expertise pool. Oh yeah, and that ice room I mentioned above. Brrrr!
There’s also an indoor pool area as well. They have an unusual Rhythm and Motion experience at their spa, which is the world’s first fully immersive music-centric spa menu that utilizes amplified vibrations, pressures and patterns, as the foundation of its treatments. And yes I tried it out of course. The massage therapist synchronizes movements together with a curated playlist. Utilizing Hard Rock’s differentiator –music– each treatment connects the healing power of music with the artistry of message therapy. The treatment taps into memories to create an experiential journey, in sync with a performance of techniques, pressure and rhythm. The massage is infused with a choice of natural organic essential oils to reduce stress, ease muscle tension, and detoxify. Bravo — I loved it!
Note: inside room shots, Moon Lounge and car shot courtesy of Hard Rock Hotel. All other shots taken on my iPhone and Canon 7D.
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana
Boulevard Turístico del Este Km.28No.74
Macao, Dominican Republic
Caso de Campo Resort & Villas
Truth be told, I’m not a huge all inclusive property fan, but if you are, then Punta Cana has much nicer options than a lot of Caribbean choices I’ve experienced over the last few years, so it’s a great spot to head to if you don’t want to think about a thing. I have to admit, I loved the unlimited access to fresh juices and the insanely massive choices of cheese and yogurt options on the buffets in the two all-inclusives we did stay at however, so there are plenty of upsides even for us boutique property lovers. Bring it on I thought on more than one occasion, and yes, the beaches were divine. If you do love smaller and more custom accommodations, you may prefer this gem of a find called Caso de Campo. Incredibly convenient, historical luxury property is is only six kilometers from La Romana International Airport. I really loved this place!! There are a number of things that make this property unique, starting with its private beach, high end marina and on-site Altos de Chavón, which is a replica of a 16th-century European village.
It’s great to be able to access such a Euro-style old world village close to your villa or hotel room and they have some lovely jewelry, fashion and bag shopping options on the premises. The views are breathtaking, breakfast and golf carts are complimentary and the outdoor lounge areas are chic with a great outdoor bar. Other amenities include seven upscale restaurants, six bars and 3 renowned golf courses, as well as a spa, gym and an outdoor pool.
Wellness & Mindfulness: there’s a beautiful labyrinth nearby you can access; it added to the already fabulous energy of this place. At Casa de Campo, they have holistic health professionals who can work with you to make mindful changes by engaging your mind, body, and emotions. You have options to consult with their naturopathic doctor to design an inspiring lifestyle program that you can take home with you. For guests looking for a more immersive experience, Casa de Campo’s holistic living farm offers botanical walks, bonfires on the beach, guided excursions to explore and forage in the herb and vegetable gardens, cooking classes, and advice on the art of wholesome eating and being more in tune with your body.
They have a beautiful spa on the property that integrates nature into its core. You can get obvious treatments such as massages, facials and more and they also offer restorative yoga classes right on nearby Minitas Beach. Classes are open to everyone—including beginners and first-timers—and include a combination of pranayama (breath work), asana (posture), and yogic thought. They have several classes each week that incorporate the elements of vinyasa, hatha, yin, ashtanga, and kundalini yoga styles. In addition to classes on Minitas Beach, they also hold them in the spa’s labyrinth garden. This place is so up my alley!
Also available is physical therapy and detox packages you can choose from depending on the length of your stay. Spa Massages include a signature Ayurvedic massage, a Classic Sport Hot Stone option, a Pre-natal and more. Body treatments include a Four Hands Exfoliation treatment with Coco, Coffee, Cacao Cane Sugar as well as a Caribbean Sea Salt Scrub Back Exfoliation, an Indian head neck and shoulder massage and more. They have Water Sanctuary Steam, Sauna, Hot and Cold Pools and a number of healthy body wraps, from Tropical Fruit, Organic Cacao, Green Mud Detox, Green Calming After Sun treatments, and others. You can also sign up for Reflexology and Shirodhara Holistic Weight Loss programs and get consultations that are tailored to Ayurvedic, Naturopathic and Nutritional methods depending on your interest and needs.
Posh, contemporary rooms and suites are available in the main building or you can opt for a restored golf lodge, which feature free wifi and flat-screen TVs, minibars and coffee makers, with attached verandas or balconies. Sleek villas also are available if you plan to travel in a group — they make a great choice if you’re heading to the Caribbean with your family. The indoor decor is tastefully designed and is a mix of Mediterranean, old world and chic luxe.
Tortuga Bay Hotel
Tortuga Bay Hotel is a member of Leading Hotels of the World and the only AAA Five Diamond awarded hotel in the Dominican Republic. This chic property is all about elegance, privacy and personal service, with every convenience at arm’s length. Located in a private enclave within the resort, Tortuga Bay is small and only has 13 luxurious beachfront villas with one, two, three and four-bedroom suites all of which were designed by Oscar de la Renta. You’re picked up VIP style at the airport and whether you go for one of the villas or opt to rent one of their homes, it’s all about luxury. Renting a home in one of their residential communities is a more private alternative to hotel accommodations. Private residences offer views of the nearby beaches and golf courses which were designed by Tom Fazio and P.B. Dye. They offer two to five bedrooms options with private pools, full kitchens, staff and other luxe amenities.
Golf lovers will appreciate the vicinity to their 45 hole championship golf course. The P.B. Dye designed La Cana Golf Course, consisting of 27 holes across Tortuga, Arrecife and Hacienda, was apparently declared the number one course in the Caribbean by Golf Magazine. Designed by Tom Fazio and set between rocky cliffs, coral reefs and the Caribbean Sea, the Corales Golf Course features six oceanfront holes, multiple lines of approach and picturesque canyons. Foodies will love that you can access many restaurants in the nearby Punta Cana Resort & Club, although located right inside Tortuga Bay,the AAA Four Diamond awarded Bamboo Restaurant blends modern cuisine with Mediterranean influences, in a luxury setting also designed by Oscar de la Renta. There’s also the Mediterranean and seafood restaurant La Yola which is located at the Marina and modeled on a fisherman’s boat, perched right on the sea. Located at La Cana Golf & Beach Club is The Grill, which is a great lunch spot.
More notes for food lovers. Also on-site is AnanÍ Restaurant for contemporary breakfast, lunch and dinner, the Brassa Grill which touts USDA Prime steaks, Playa Blanca, a beachfront tropical restaurant and bar that serves fresh local seafood, grilled cuts and superb cocktails. In addition to golf, there’s kite surfing, kite boarding, paddle boarding, a tennis center, a PADI scuba diving center, snorkeling, waterskiing, deep sea fishing, catamaran excursions, a petting zoo, horseback riding and horseback riding lessons, For more serious adventure seekers, they have segway tours, a fitness center, bicycles, kayaks, numerous water and land, and a stunning ecological reserve with walking trails. Nature lovers will love the fact that they have 12 natural springs nearby. You can sign up for spa treatments at Six Senses which offer signature treatments and Asian therapies. For those who really want very upscale service, attention to detail, pristine beaches and intimate accommodations that are quiet without the noise and crowds, this is your spot. Two thumbs up!
Above photo credits from Tortuga Bay Resort.
Note: I was hosted by a couple of these properties and a guest of the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism but all opinions expressed are entirely my own.