Punta Cana is located on the east coast of the Dominican Republic in the heart of the Caribbean. It is known for luxury accommodations tastefully blended into its beautiful natural surroundings. It has become quite popular for a quick warm winter escape for people in Canada, Europe, and the United States. They come by the thousands to bask in the Punta Cana when it is wintery cold in their own countries.
If you are contemplating a vacation to Punta Cana, I want to pass along 7 travel tips that will make your stay more enjoyable:
Avoid Taking a Taxi If You can
There is nothing particularly wrong with the taxis in the Punta Cana area but the rates can be exorbitant. For a comparison, a faire that will only cost $4 -$5 in Santo Domingo (the capital city of the Dominican Republic) may cost you $20 – $40 in Punta Cana!
To avoid taxis, try to negotiate with your travel agent for an airport transfer, both coming and going, to be included in the package deal — many are and if you shop it, you should be able to find this. If you take an excursion to one of the parks or islands, be sure to ask the tour operator if the cost of the excursion includes picking you up at your resort or hotel and bringing you back — again, many do so you should be able to find this. You can also rent a car for a reasonable fee instead of a taxi. Many of the big name car rental places are there: Avis, Budget, Eurocar, National, and Prestige. If you are seriously budget minded, you can also take the bus called the guagua which covers the entire Punta Cana coast and beyond. Buses run every 15 – 30 minutes. If you need to travel to Santo Domingo, be sure to look for the Bavaro Express.
How To Find the Whitest Beach
The most coveted beaches in the Dominican Republic seem to be the powdery white beaches — the whiter the better in my people’s book. Tourists love the beauty of these beaches and also how the silky fine sand feels between their toes. However, not all “Punta Cana” beaches are white.
What tourists often don’t realize is that what has now become known as the “Punta Cana” coast of the Dominican Republic runs for about 38-39 miles. This is the entire east coast of the Dominican Republic. The color of the sand varies significantly along this stretch. In general, the further south you go, the whiter the sand. The Punta Cana coast is shaped like an arrowhead pointing to the east. Where the arrow comes to a point is called El Macao. To the north of this point, the white sands start to turn more golden in color. This can be very pretty as well but if you are a true aficionado of pure white sand, you’ll probably want to look for a resort south of El Macao or find a resort on the southeast coast.
How To Get Through Customs More Easily
First, let me tell you some good news. Getting through customs at the Punta Cana Airport is much easier than the Santo Domingo Airport or other Caribbean Airports such as Cancun. With that said, however, there are some simple things you can do to lessen the chance you’ll have any kind of hassle going through customs.
As soon as you arrive in Punta Cana, you’ll need to get a “tourist card” which costs only $10 and you can get them at the airport before you go through customs. However, there can be a line for these so if you want to speed things up, try to get this included in your package deal so you will have a tourist card handed to you before you get off the plane. The customs agents can be a little picky about anything that could be construed as a “sharp object.” Items such as knitting needles and umbrellas can be considered “sharp objects” and can hold you up and may even be confiscated. Be sure to put these types of items in your checked luggage to avoid issues. Also, make sure all your prescription medications are CLEARLY labeled. There is a strict no tolerance for drugs in the Dominican Republic so you don’t want to give the customs agents any reason for concern. Another big “no-no: both coming in and going out is ANYTHING derived from plant material or animal parts. This can include hats made out of coconut fibers, shells, fruit, wood carvings, etc… These items will be confiscated and can make going through customs more lengthy than it need be. There are exceptions such as amber jewelry containing insect parts. The real concern is the spreading of insects and microorganisms across the border.
Stand Your Ground On Public Beaches
Officially, all beaches in the Dominican Republic are public. However, many of the resorts like to put up signs and patrol the beaches in front of their resorts as if they had a private beach.
When you are walking the beach, just know that you allowed to walk any of the beach and you should politely hold your ground should someone approach you and indicate otherwise. Just let them know you only intend to pass through.
Tipping Expectations & Giving Gifts To the Locals
It is expected that you will tip waiters and waitresses. 5-10% is considered the norm. Bartenders are often tipped $1 per round, sometimes more if the drinks are more complicated to make. Hotel maids are often tipped $2 – $5 per day and airport porters $1 per bag. It is also expected that you will tip tour guides as well. Guides usually get $5 for half day excursions and $5 – $10 for full day excursions.
It is also becoming increasingly popular to leave gifts for the locals. Candy, toys, and school supplies for kids is very popular. Books, make-up, and costume jewelry are commonly left. It is best that you check with the tour guides you go out with and the hotel staff to determine what might be most appropriate and most needed items to bring along as gifts. Remember this is a country that is a “third world” country with an emerging economy and there are many needs.
Find a Resort That Matches Your Needs
Different resorts cater to different needs. Some resorts cater to families with children. Others are “adult only” and cater to those couples who are looking for a romantic getaway without children under foot. Many resorts in the Punta Cana area follow the European customs. Some Americans like this but some don’t. If you don’t, be sure to find a resort that caters more to the American customs.
You may want to get a complete list of all activities offered at the resorts you are considering as this will often help make your decision on which one to choose much easier. Some resorts offer better activities for the kids — some are supervised and some are not. Some offer sailing, surfing, wind-surfing, dancing, scuba, and other very desirable classes. Some have activities such as horse-back riding and dune buggies that others do not. Some resorts are better designed for the handicapped and others with special needs.
How To Take Punta Cana Excursions
Most resort vacation packages include some opportunities to take excursions away from the resort. Most are very simple such a boat ride out to a reef for snorkeling or to take a catamaran cruise to an island. However, the hotel tours are almost never the way to have the best adventure outside your resort. Local fishermen and other locals also often offer to take tourists out on their boats. These can really be hit or miss, more often miss unfortunately. You should also be aware that these locals are almost never licensed or bonded so if something were to happen, you’d be stuck.
You will have a much richer and memorable experience if you take Punta Cana excursions with an experience tour operators who specialize in providing excursions. Your excursion will also be much safer. The excursions that get the highest acclaim are those that offer eco-adventures where you really get to explore nature and culture in depth with people who truly care and have a deep knowledge and appreciation for the wildlife and people of the area. Take at least one of these types of excursions and compare them to what the resorts have to offer and the difference will become obvious to you.