Situated on the beautiful Caribbean island of the Dominican Republic, at the most eastern point where the Caribbean and Atlantic oceans meet – lays Punta Cana.
Admittedly a place synonymous in my own head with American ‘Spring Breakers’ who head to the sun-soaked island for partying, dancing, drinking and more partying.
I’m going to be totally honest with you here. If it wasn’t for the fact I saw a beautiful picture on Pinterest one evening, clicked through, pulled up the destination on some package holiday websites and found a deal – married with the fact I also had a glass of prosecco in one hand – I probably wouldn’t have booked it.
It was one of those just post-payday nights where you get a little too ahead of yourself, a little too merry and think it’s a fabulous idea to book your grandma self (I’m usually in bed by 10pm FYI) into a party resort, in the middle of spring break.
Anyway, to cut a long story short – I wondered whether I’d made a terrible mistake. Was Punta Cana going to be Magaluf for Americans? Was it really going to be as idyllic looking as the initial Pinterest image that had inspired my wanderlust search. Or was I going to come home exhausted?
Well luckily it turned out to be a fabulous trip – and so I thought I’d put together the ULTIMATE guide, just in case you’re planning a trip there of your very own.
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Where to stay
For us, the resort was VERY important to us – because we wanted somewhere we could chill out, unwind and enjoy the beauty of the island, but still let our hair down as and when we wanted to. The best of both worlds, if you will. Plus, I’d heard a couple of horror stories about the Dominican Republic (though isn’t there always one friend whose mother’s, sister’s, uncle’s dog had a scaremongering tale about everywhere?!) and wanted to make sure we felt safe, comfortable and well looked after.
I’d previously stayed at an AM Resort in Mexico (the beautiful Secrets Silversands Hotel in Cancun) which was so stunning, the food was excellent and they were so good at catering for me and my various dietary requirements and we simply couldn’t fault it. I figured since the company had resorts in Punta Cana too, we’d stick to what we knew and try something in the same chain. Because as much as they’re each luxury, adults only, exclusive resorts – they are also very boutique and individual – with each offering an array of individual benefits and features.
Eventually, we chose the Breathless Resort in Punta Cana – which happened to be one of the newest in the region and also really affordable, despite it’s five star rating. Renowned for being popular for party-goers (which I discovered on TripAdvisor), as I mentioned – I was initially a bit concerned we were going to be totally out of our depth, as I’m the world’s biggest grandma and teamed with the time difference, I worried I’d miss out on all the fun with my usual 10pm bedtime!
But as it happened, the hotel was much more inclusive than I thought – with guests of all ages, from all over the world. We met a wonderful couple from Ireland who we ended up spending a couple of nights with partying (who knew, I CAN stay up later than 10pm), a guy from LA and two girls from New York.
The premise behind the hotels is ‘all inclusive luxury’, completely blowing out the water what you’d normally expect from an all-inclusive hotel (cold, sad buffets and not enough sun loungers), instead presenting you with endless, relaxing luxuries (without the HUGE price tag). Breathless Punta Cana had over 7 restaurants, many of which were fine dining and a la carte (though you could order as many dishes as you liked, if you so wished) – there was even an incredible Teppanyaki restaurant you could book into! Nothing felt like it had been scrimped on and you almost felt like you were getting too much value for money, because at one point, I wondered how on earth the money we’d paid would cover everything we got!
“The premise behind the hotels is ‘all inclusive luxury’, completely blowing out the water what you’d normally expect from a full board hotel”
“Take a trip to Saona Island, have a private BBQ whipped up for you on the sand and stop off at Starfish beach!”
What to do
Other than sea, sand and unlimited cocktails, if you’re more of an adventurer, Punta Cana offers you an array of things to do outside of your resort.
It is worth booking with a tour operator to make sure you’re safe and looked after – however there is so much to do, you’d need at least two weeks there to try everything!
The adrenaline junkies among us can opt for a buggy excursion (which looked INCREDIBLE by the way – and our friends tried this one out), ATV tours (pretty much the same but smaller), zip lining through the tree-top canopies, a monster truck safari, dolphin spotting and deep sea fishing.
However, the excursion we chose was booked through a company called Olympus Tours – who I would highly recommend not only for their extensive selection but also the fabulous staff they have working there – who go out of their way to make your day an experience to remember!
We opted for their ‘Saona Deluxe’ trip, which promises to show you where ‘Paradise’ lays. And boy, they definitely delivered.
We made our way by bus from one side of the island to the other, as our hotel faced the Atlantic Sea – but Saona is located in the Caribbean (which FYI, offers the turquoise water we all think about when paradise springs to mind), the journey took around an hour as it makes stops at various different hotels and resorts to pick up passengers along the way.
From there, you take the speedboat out to Saona – stopping off on the way at a beach completely covered in Starfish! It was pretty incredible to see – and almost didn’t feel real!
Then, you take the final leg of the journey to the island, where a delicious private BBQ is whipped up for you on the beach.
Then you have time to enjoy the stunning surroundings and try some of the locals favourite mamajuana (a dangerous rum and sugar concoction) before sitting on the sand to enjoy an amazing dance and music show.
Then, just as the sun sets – it’s time for you to climb back on board (only this time, onto a catamaran) and take a slow 2-hour ride back to the bus.
Rum, coke and refreshments are served on board – and everyone is encouraged to get up and dance. It was lots of fun – and again, a rather surreal experience to be dancing the Merengue in the middle of the ocean with loads of strangers.
But it’s an opportunity not to be missed and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat!
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What to eat
We stayed on the resort for the duration of our trip, so I won’t lie and say that we tried an abundance of local delicacies.
However our hotel were very good at bringing the local culture to our doorstep – throwing themed parties with fresh coconuts in the afternoon, bringing traditional dancers to our beach and whipping up a HUGE fresh bowl of guacamole every lunchtime.
However, in the time we DID leave the resort, we did manage to taste a little of the local cuisine, or should I say – drink it.
Mamajuana is the drink of choice among residents – a drink from the Dominican Republic that is concocted by allowing rum, red wine, and honey to soak in a bottle with tree bark.
Sounds interesting, right?
Well it’s actually very tasty (although admittedly, I did go for the most tame variety) and apparently, it’s an aphrodisiac.
It tastes like VERY strong, sweet port.
And if you top it up with lemonade, it’s very drinkable.
Otherwise, we spotted a few local dishes at the beach BBQ that we had a little taste of – including Mangú (made from boiled, green plantains that are mashed and topped with sauteed red onions) and Tres Leches – sponge cake that’s soaked in three kinds of milk and topped with whipped cream.
I guess you can probably tell which one I had to miss out on!
The food at the resort is exceptional and with Japanese, Mexican, French, European and Italian offerings, you certainly won’t go hungry!
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“Guacamole, Coconuts & Rum!”
How to get there
Many different airline providers fly to Punta Cana, however I found that the cheapest and most cost-effective way to do it was to book the entire trip through a holiday provider – as this gave you the best overall package price. I normally hate doing this – as I quite like to search around for the best deals and book individually, but it turned out to be super cheap – especially considering we were flying halfway across the world for only 7 days!
How much did it cost?
So as always, I like to be honest with you about how much everything cost, because I think it’s interesting to see how much I spend on travel and what the total spend was. We booked via Thomson and the entire trip cost us £1911 for two people, which I think is pretty good considering it’s a Caribbean island and that covered flights, accommodation AND all of our food. We booked in February (for an April arrival) and received £189 discount on the booking for paying online and in full. I whole-heartedly think this price was well worth the trip which received, in fact – as I mentioned above, I did worry that it was too cheap because the service, quality and room we received was out of this world incredible – and I would have expected to pay almost double that usually!
Anything else to know?
Well yes actually, one thing I do wish Thomson had warned us about was the Punta Cana airport tax – that we simply weren’t prepared for and it put a bit of a sour taste in our mouths upon arrival. Basically, the deal is that it costs $10 per person to enter the airport and $20 per person to leave the airport, so for two people, it’s an extra $60 just to catch your flights! Make sure you have the cash in hand and ready to pay – or else they will (rather humiliatingly) have to escort you through security to take money out of a currency exchange, a process which over there – took about an hour, meaning we almost missed our transfer. Have the money set aside, and it will take the stress out of having to do what we did.
Have you visited Dominican Republic before – or have you been to Punta Cana? I’d love to hear your tips too!