Located on the east coast of the Dominican Republic in La Altagracia province, sunny Punta Cana keeps travellers returning year after year. From discovering the area’s Spanish colonial influences to exploring its natural wonders, there’s plenty to do here, no matter your taste.
If you like a dose of history and art while on vacation, you can indulge both interests with these excursions.
Start with a visit to the 500-year-old city of Higuey, capital of La Altagracia. Wander the narrow, shop-lined streets and check out the Basilica Catedral Nuestra Senora de la Altagracia, an all-cement, surprisingly modernist structure built in 1970 and dedicated to the patron saint of the nation.
Just outside San Rafael de Yuma, wander through Juan Ponce de Leon’s plantation home, which was built for the famous explorer by slaves in the early 1500s. Take in the medieval architecture and period pieces that include a suit of armour worn by Ponce de Leon himself.
Head underground 25 metres to La Cueva de las Maravillas (Cave of Wonders), located between the Soco and Cumayasa rivers in San Pedro de Macoris. Concrete pathways let visitors discover the nearly 500 red and black petroglyphs created by the Taino peoples.
To find out more about the Taino, go to nearby La Romana and explore the Museo Arqueologico Regional Altos de Chavon. With approximately 3,000 antiquities on display, the museum documents the history of the island’s various indigenous cultures.
Also in La Romana is Kandela, a nightly performance at the Altos de Chavon Amphitheater. Mixing Latin beats with African rhythms, this show will have even the most reserved audience members swaying their hips.
Looking for some eco adventures? Explore the many green (and blue) spaces along Punta Cana’s coast.
Located on the southeastern corner of the island, Parque Nacional del Este spans 310 square kilometres and includes extensive marine park and wetland areas, as well as semi-humid forest. Enter on foot or by boat at the town of Bayahibe to pay the park fee of DR$100 per person and then hike the trails to see some of the park’s 400 caves.
Also within Parque Nacional del Este is Isla Saona. Take a day trip (via speedboat) there to enjoy the island’s soft, white-sand beaches, well-placed hammocks and excellent snorkelling—you’ll spot a variety of fascinating sea life thanks to the calm waters of a nearby reef.
For a very different swim experience, head to Scape Park at Cap Cana, where you can take a refreshing dip in Hoyo Azul, a bright-blue freshwater cenote. The park also features a variety of hiking trails that offer stunning views of the rainforest.
Finally, rent a kayak to explore the wetlands of the Laguna Bavaro Wildlife Refuge in Punta Cana’s Cabeza de Toro. Covering three square kilometres, this spot also boasts a nature museum where you can learn about the four varieties of mangrove trees and different animal species.
Getting There: WestJet flies to Punta Cana 12 times a week from four Canadian cities.
Four Weekend Island Escapes
If you need an escape from the daily grind, but can’t take a week off, plan a long-weekend island getaway where you and your loved one can spoil yourselves silly. Go horseback riding in the Dominican Republic, eat your way through Manhattan, relax in Santa Catalina, Calif. or explore the streets of Montreal.