As our plane taxied its way into the Punta Cana airport, what struck me immediately were the rows of aircraft that were logoed with tour operator brands from around the world. This small Dominican Republic airport was more than living up to its international designation.
The logos of Russian, Spanish, Italian, and German carriers transposed themselves before our eyes as we were guided in to our arrival slot.
That would be just the first surprise I encountered on our week's stay in the Punta Cana.
Clearing customs quickly, we were on our way to our resort and another new destination experience. It was late afternoon, but we couldn't resist the temptation to walk down to the beach to catch the sunset. Before the sun receded I walked into the next surprise that would help confirm why we chose this Dominican area.
I had heard about the beaches. I had been told they were as beautiful as those anywhere. What I did not anticipate was sand so fine that it passed between your toes like water. And, as I discovered the next day, that lying on a blanket beside the ocean was like resting on a soft bed. The sand moves with you as you turn to get sun-roasted on your other side.
So fine is the sand that each morning you find it has drifted across the sidewalks on the beach, with small dunes creating a new opportunity for fresh bedding.
By the time the tanning throngs arrived, the workers had cleared the sidewalks and staff was informing guests about the activities of the day.
The Punta Cana region is different than other holiday destinations. With no really large shopping communities nearby it truly is a place to rest and revel in the surroundings, which are always beautiful.
Depending upon your resort location you can be anywhere from 80 to 250 kilometres to cities that offer services that truly would satisfy most tourist expectations for a shopping experience.
Perhaps it is because of these distances that so many resorts have tended to move to the 4 and 5 star quality.
Premium beverages are served at most of the bars, the grounds are immaculate, and the service on the beaches is friendly and speedy.
For the sun worshipper, there may be no better place to lie on the beach than on those around Punta Cana. Its fine sands, as I have come to acknowledge, are legendary. Long walks in the morning and late afternoon seem to be the most prominent activity, notwithstanding the fact that exercise and a variety of sport facilities are usually readily available.
For the golf enthusiast, Punta Cana has over a dozen courses to challenge the best low handicapper, or the hacker who just wants to play a few rounds at a reasonable price.
Most of the golf courses are connected to golf resorts, but are usually open to the public as well. Golf in Punta Cana is reasonably priced compared to resort areas in the United States and even other sunspot locations.
Designed by P. B. Dye, the Punta Cana Resort and Club course draws visitors from most resorts.
I was able, once again, to encounter the wide-world popularity of Punta Cana as each game for me was like a trip to the United Nations. While I did golf with a Canadian group once, most of my games were with French, Italian and British partners.
The island green on the 12th hole of the Punta Cana Golf Course is the signature hole. In addition14 others offer ocean views with some bordering the ocean from tee to green. It is no wonder that this course is such a popular tourist attraction. Even Golf magazine has declared it the number one course in the Caribbean, comparing it favourably to Pebble Beach.
The Cocotal Golf Course has been set up with 5 tee boxes at every hole to accommodate players of all levels.
In a review published by Golf Digest, they rated it as a golf course with wide fairways and greens, all in beautiful shape on a flat terrain, helping make it one of the most enjoyable vacations the reviewer ever had. I can easily concur with that assessment.
The Catalonia Caribe will suit the taste of golfers who want to spend an enjoyable time on an un-crowded course that does not play with a great deal of difficulty.
Some of the hilled fairways offer an excellent view of the area, and it is moderately priced. When I was there, we were able to easily complete the round in less than 3 Â½ hours.
New courses are under construction by some of the world's best known designers. It is clear the coming years will see Punta Cana start to promote itself as a golf haven.
One of the most successful growth sectors at Punta Cana resorts are destination weddings. These weddings, which are defined as those that take place at a location which neither the bride nor groom are from, comprise up to 25% of all seats on flights going to sun destinations.
Wedding size may vary from ten people to over one hundred guests. These weddings represent a growth industry throughout the world, but for resorts they are a vital and significant component in their marketing efforts.
Most offer wedding chapels and the wedding feast can take place in a specially-created environment on the beach or in resort banquet rooms, used more for weddings than business meetings.
We observed a number of ceremonies and receptions taking place outdoors when we were there. Temperatures are warm and consistent, and most properties are geared to change the venue if rain should suddenly show up on the horizon.
Punta Cana area resorts have also recognized how important the dining experience is to vacationers. Multiple restaurants are the norm, often in exquisitely appointed rooms designed to be welcoming, while creating an ambiance conducive to the specialty international dishes you are frequently able to choose from.
And the international flavour goes beyond the menu as languages from Europe and around the world emanate from the tables nearby.
The Punta Cana experience proved to be most satisfying. Some places deserve a second trip and we will return.
If you Go:
What to Do:
Golf is the activity most pursue off the resort. For a listing and description of golf courses in the area go to www.godominicanrepublic.com then follow the links to golf and then East Coast region. Catamaran cruises are available as are dune buggy rides. A new Animal Adventure Park gives you a chance to see trained birds and sea lions perform. The Seaquarium offers underwater adventures. You can book these at your resort.
Where to Stay:
The major resort brands that satisfy guests in other sun destinations seem to be here. Four Barcelos, three Catalonias, and others like Sirenis, Majestic, and Grand Paradise offer a range of prices as well as star ratings.