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Punta Cana: The New Caribbean and Next Cancun

(June 2002)

After he first arrived in 1492, Christopher Columbus declared the Dominican Republic to be "The fairest land that human eyes have ever seen." In 2002, tourists are declaring it the "new Caribbean." Like Columbus, tourists can appreciate this land full of exotic landscapes; however, being discovered by too many can overwhelm a place, something I discovered on my recent family vacation to Punta Cana.

Punta Cana

The Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, draws more than two million tourists each year. Punta Cana sits on the eastern most point of the country, and is a relatively new vacation destination. In fact, its oldest hotel was built only in 1985, with the majority of its other hotels built after 1995. The area continues to build resorts at a record pace, positioning itself to become the next Cancun. However, unlike Cancun, there aren't any massive high-rise hotels, as local regulations only permit hotels to be built as high as the highest palm tree.

Sunscape Resort

Threaded along one of Punta Cana's best palm-shaded beaches lies the striking Sunscape Resort. It boasts privacy and natural surroundings, atypical of all-inclusive resorts that the Caribbean does so well. There are 346 rooms, eight suites, four restaurants, and six bars (one that you can swim up to from the main pool).

There are tennis courts, game areas, Jacuzzis, a fitness center, and a full-service spa. For kids, there's a terrific organized club for ages four to 12, where counselors organize activities and outings. For adults, there are tons of activities including water polo, volleyball, aerobics, and a disco to name a few.

However, the big temptation with this resort is to amble down to the beach and climb into a beach chair—paradise for shameful sun seekers like me. For those not content to simply soak up the rays, a few yards offshore lie richly stocked reefs, which are easily accessible for snorklers and divers. The usual choice of watersports includes windsurfing, sailing, banana boat rides, parasailing, and deep-sea fishing. At night, the resort offers excellent professional entertainment that often extends into the wee hours of the morning.

Real Traveler Thoughts

Lying in the warm turquoise sea you could easily think that you had died and gone straight to heaven—except for one thing—the noise. This was by far the noisiest resort I've been to since my 1986 college spring break in Ft. Lauderdale. The thump of music from pool activities radiated down to the beach and could be literally felt in your room. Food was either very good or very bad; DeMario's offered the best, the Beach Café the worst. Service was a mixed bag. Many employees were nice while others were just indifferent. In fact, I found many Dominicans not as amiable as other Caribbean destinations I've visited. Perhaps, being the end of the tourist season they are just sick of us—at least that's the impression I came away with.

Reader Don Banks of Atlanta wonders if the Dominican Republic is safe. I found the area very safe. However, if you venture out on the roads beware: Dominican's drive a little fast and furious. In the end, for those who want an efficiently organized vacation with few decisions to make, nonstop entertainment, certain sun, beautiful beaches, mountains of food, and safety, for the price, the Sunscape is tough to beat.

If You Go:

You can book a seven-day vacation package (including air) with Apple Vacations through a professional travel agent. High season prices range from $999 to $1199 per adult; low season $799 to $899. Children's prices vary; often kids stay free, as was the case for my children. Airfare for kids ranges from $299 to $499. Hotel only packages are available.

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