Thinking of visiting the Caribbean anytime soon? Here is our Punta Cana travel tips you have to know before visiting Punta Cana in 2022! Explore Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic with fun things to do in Punta Cana, places to visit, hotel recommendations, and how to get there especially if you’re coming from Chicago.
Punta Cana is popular for its wonderful white sandy beaches, blue turquoise waters, and Balnearios which face both the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. We have provided a travel guide that will make your stay a very memorable one. It doesn’t matter if you are coming alone, with friends, a loved one or with the family. You are sure to have a great time!
Punta Cana is the second-most popular tourist destination in Latin America and the most popular in the Caribbean. The Punta Cana International Airport (PUJ) receives 64% of all the flights coming into the Dominican Republic, more than the country’s capital (Santo Domingo) airport, Las Américas International Airport. Most tourists – about 5 million a year actually – arrive in Punta Cana by air. However one can also arrive by land (arriving at one of the other international airports in the country) or even by sea.
In Punta Cana and also in the rest of the Dominican Republic the official language is Spanish. Most people who work in tourism, understand and speak English. In some places with more tourists from a particular region, the people also speak German, French or Portuguese. But the farther one travels outside of a tourist region, the less likely it is that people there talk or understand anything other than Spanish. It is not necessary to speak Spanish to visit Punta Cana, but learning a few words and phrases will sweeten your visit in any case.
Dominicans call their cuisine comida criolla and it’s a delicious – if often rather greasy – blend of Spanish, African and Taino elements, with interesting regional variants across the island. Dishes usually include rice and beans – referred to locally as la bandera dominicana (the Dominican flag) – using either habichuelas (red beans) or the tiny black peas known as morros. Most often the rice is supplemented with chicken either fried, grilled or served asopao (in a rich, soupy sauce). Invariably main courses come with plátanos (deep-fried green plantains), which locals often inundated with ketchup and a small coleslaw salad.
The best area to stay in Punta Cana is Playa Bávaro (Bávaro Beach). This upscale seaside resort area is home to Punta Cana’s most luxurious hotels and resorts, the hottest nightlife, and the best restaurants. See accommodation in Bávaro Beach. Other great options to consider when choosing the best location in Punta Cana include El Cortecito, Cap Cana, and Uvero Alto. With that in mind, let’s take a dive into hotel recommendations and possible things you can do in these areas.
Punta Cana Travel Tips: The Best Places to stay
If it’s your first time ever visiting Punta Cana, then Bavaro is the perfect place to start. Bávaro is home to different hotels and resorts of large international chains. Most of the resorts in this area have their own restaurants, spas, fitness centers, bars, and nightclubs. Several shopping centers such as Punta Blanca Mall, Plaza San Juan, or Palma Real make this area an excellent shopping destination. Bávaro is also recognized as a nightlife area; in addition to the nightclubs located on the resorts, the area hosts several nightlife venues, particularly on the centrally-located Avenida España and the areas near the beach.
With over 80% of Punta Cana’s hotel options being situated within it, Bavaro is an area with lots of options for all types of travellers and their budgets. Just a 15 minute drive from Punta Cana International Airport, Bavaro is where the Caribbean Sea converges with the Atlantic Ocean creating breathtaking sea views and jaw-dropping sunsets.
In Bávaro, you will be able to enjoy a plethora of beach resorts that offer their own set of activities to do and sights to see. You’ll also be overwhelmed with the abundance of restaurants and bars, and of course, resorts that even have a kids club – there is something for everyone from all-inclusive, to family friendly, and adult-only accommodations.
2. Cap Cana
Cap Cana is a top quality neighborhood, which is particularly famous for its upscale vibe and is a perfect place to stay in. It is a very safe neighborhood and one that is well connected to the airport as well as the rest of the area. You can visit the outstanding marina, where you can watch the 150 foot yachts go by as well as join a cruise, fishing or diving trip as well as sunbathing at one of the golden beaches including Caleton Beach, Fishermen’s Beach and Juanillo Beach.
Other things to do include having a go at golf at one of the various world-class courses, bird watching at the Scape Park, which is also home to tropical flora or head to the Iguabonita Cave to see some stunning crystal and limestone formations.
There are numerous 5 star hotels to check out with a lot of them being positioned close to the marina, though just a few streets back you will see many other cheaper options like hostels and lower graded hotels. There are many restaurants, bars, clubs and shops that are found along the waterfront too, where you can eat foods from around the world, drink some of the most delicious rum at some of the finest bars before hitting one of the biggest and most famous clubs in the country.
3. Uvero Alto
Another place you should consider staying in Punta Cana is Uvero Alto, a secluded village located in the north of the famed Coconut Coast. Playa de Uvero Alto is one of Punta Cana’s best-kept secrets, and this unspoiled beach is everything you would expect from a Caribbean paradise. With something to offer for both beach-lovers and adventure seekers, holidaymakers can either find a spot on the long stretch of white sand beach to relax or spend the day surfing in turquoise blue waters.
If you’re new to surfing but would like to give it a try, rest easy because one of the best features of this beach is the consistent waves. The offshore reef creates perfect breaks for both beginners and intermediate surfers and wind surfers. There are many surf schools and equipment rentals along the shore, so everyone no matter what their ability can enjoy the waves. Snorkeling and scuba diving on the pristine reef are also popular activities here, or you could take a horse ride along the beach, which provides the most unforgettable sunset experience! After your long day in paradise, head back to one of the fabulous all-inclusive hotels that Uvero Alto has to offer.
4. El Cortecito
If you want to visit the Dominican Republic on a budget, El Cortecito caters to those who seek a wallet friendly area. This budget-oriented village doesn’t cheap out on the things to do and sights to see though! El Cortecito is just a 6 minute drive from the center of Bavaro so you are still close enough to access all its attractions, plus, it has its own beautiful beaches.
The atmosphere here isn’t that much different from Bavaro as it is also filled with colorful wooden buildings, turquoise waters, and people who just want to enjoy a relaxing summer-time at the beach. It’s the best area to get better value for your money if you are looking for a little bit of glam and glimmer without planning on spending too much.
Things to do in Punta Cana
Punta Cana is known for its 32 km stretch of beaches and clear waters. The Bávaro area and Punta Cana combine to form what’s known as La Costa del Coco, or the Coconut Coast, an area of lavish, all-inclusive resorts. It’s popular for zip-lining, windsurfing, kayaking and sailing. There are a number of things that you can do when visiting.
Here is a lowdown of some of the best things to do in this colourful city.
1. Visit to Bavaro Beach
Bávaro is an area in Punta Cana, located in La Altagracia province, Dominican Republic. Originally developed as a town for resort workers, the town of Bávaro has become a destination for tourists and locals alike for its 10 kilometres of unspoiled seashore.
While it can be crowded, Bávaro beach is definitely worth a visit due to the large variety of amenities located on or near the sands, and its close proximity to Punta Cana itself. (If you’re not staying in Bávaro itself, you likely won’t be too far away.) When you’re not frolicking in the waves or stretching out on the sand, head over to one of the nearby bars and enjoy a drink in the shade.
Have a view of the Bavaro beach in the video below
2. Tour the Isla Saona
Isla Saona is part of the Parque Nacional del Este and is located on the south coast of the Dominican Republic, more or less halfway between Santo Domingo and Punta Cana in the Bayahibe area. The island is located in the southern part of the national park and is separated from the mainland by a natural channel.
Located just off the coast of Punta Cana, Isla Saona is famous for its incredibly untouched beaches. If Bávaro is too touristy, this is the place to go. The entire island is a government-protected nature reserve, so there isn’t an imposing high-rise or kitschy gift shop on site, only pure white-sand beaches and swaying palm trees. Getting to Isla Saona for the day is not difficult. In fact, many resorts offer their guests tour packages that include a ferry and a meal to take along.
3. HorsePlay Tours Punta Cana
The HorsePlay Punta Cana tour is one of the most amazing adventures in Punta Cana. They offer visitors to Punta Cana the content of several different tours all conveniently packaged into one. In one day, participants will receive a cultural tour of local villages and learn about Dominican customs, history and traditions, go zip lining, horseback riding, sample locally produced coffee and chocolate, and finally, sit down to an authentic Dominican meal. You can visit HorsePlay Tours to get more info or view the video below to have a tour.
4. Hoyo Azul
Perhaps the best way to experience the beauty of Punta Cana is to explore its natural landscapes. One of the most spectacular places to explore is the Hoyo Azul (Blue Hole), which is a natural sinkhole filled with crystal-clear water. Two different tours, each led by experienced guides, are the best ways to see it.
Hoyo Azul Cave Explorer take participants on a hike through the Dominican wilderness, which ends with a relaxing dip in the Hoyo Azul waters, while Hoyo Azul Zip Line sends participants on a series of adrenaline-fuelled flights over the Cap Cana forest before ending with a swim in Hoyo Azul.
5. Visit the Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park
For an opportunity to explore an untouched portion of the Dominican Republic, head over to Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park, a private protected nature reserve maintained by the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation. The park is open from dawn until dusk for guests staying at the nearby Punta Cana Resort and Club, as well as other members of the Punta Cana community.
Activities include cultural exhibits, a petting zoo, a sugarcane exhibit, five different swimming holes and an iguana habitat. Several ‘Ecological Excursions,’ such as a Segway Eco Tour and Horseback Trail Ride, are also available upon reservation.
6. Canopy Adventures Zipline Tours
For those who desire an adrenaline rush during their Caribbean vacation, look no further than Canopy Adventures ZipLine Tours. Taking place in the forest surrounding Punta Cana, the company’s half-day tours give participants an exhilarating thrill ride, while allowing them to take in the spectacular Dominican countryside from a completely unique angle.
The ‘Canopy Adventure Tour’ sends participants flying from tree-to-tree on a zip line course that extends 4,300 feet. Canopy Adventure’s ‘Extreme Swing Adventure’ offers more variety. The zip-lines are longer, so you can play through the air, pulling a Superman position at over 40 miles per hour!
7. Go surfing
Enjoying the full force of Hispanola’s windward Atlantic side, just across from the iconic surfing stretches on Puerto Rico, means that Punta Cana boasts some top-notch rollers, suited to a whole host of different surfing levels. Perhaps the most acclaimed surf school in the region is the Macao Surf Camp, which offers everything from beginner introduction lessons to straight-up board rental for the experts.
You can watch the video below to see other fun activities to do in Punta Cana
Getting around Punta Cana
The best way to get around Punta Cana is by foot if you’re staying at an all-inclusive resort and by car if you plan to explore. Buses run along the main strip of hotels, but their irregular schedules make them a poor choice for getting around. Hotel concierges can easily summon taxis; keep in mind that taxi fares from the Punta Cana International Airport (PUJ) vary widely, depending on where you’re staying, ranging from as little as $10 to as much as $80. Rentals cars are also available at the airport. If you plan to venture beyond your resort, you’ll find that most attractions offer shuttle service bundled in the entry fee.
- On Foot
If you’re staying at an all-inclusive resort and don’t plan on going too far, walking in Punta Cana is your best bet. Most of the resorts are right on the beach, or at least self-contained enough that you won’t need to go too far to plop down and relax.
- By Car
To explore surrounding towns, we recommend renting a car through your hotel or at the airport. We don’t, however, recommend driving within Punta Cana because traffic is at a constant gridlock. The Dominican driving style is different, to say the least – speed limits and stop signs are oftentimes ignored. Keep in mind that several resorts will charge you a parking fee, but you won’t need to purchase an additional license; your U.S. license is acceptable for those ages 25 or older.
Taking a local bus, or guagua, is one of the cheapest ways to get around, but it’s not recommended. Not only are schedules are irregular (buses have been known to be more than an hour late), but stops aren’t clearly marked, and buses are usually packed. Though you’ll likely meet plenty of locals this way, it’s not the most efficient means of getting around. If you decide to get around via bus, make sure to have small bills handy as there are no tickets to ride.
Taxis are plentiful, and fares are negotiable, so always agree to a price before getting in the vehicle. But they can get expensive: If you have the concierge call a taxi, expect to pay around $40 for a 20-minute ride. Try walking off your resort to one of the taxi stands down the street for a cheaper rate. Ride-hailing apps like Uber are not yet operating in Punta Cana.
These taxi motorcycles have cheap fares, starting around $2 or $4. Look for drivers wearing orange vests, as these indicate that they’re part of the local driving union and have met some qualifications. But even still, with the high accident rate and lack of helmets for passengers, we recommend taking a taxicab instead.
Packing Tips for Punta Cana
- Casual clothes in lightweight natural fabrics (cotton, silk and linen) will work best – it is warm and sunny but not unbearably hot all year round. However, the nights tend to be a little cooler so a sweater or wrap is worth popping in your case.
- Daytime essentials include t-shirts or camisoles, sarong and shorts as most people spend their time on the beach or by the pool.
- And remember your sun hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen
- Mosquitoes can be a problem, so take insect/mosquito repellent and cover up with long sleeves and pants when you can, particularly in the evenings if you are outdoors. Avoid wearing any scent or perfume.
- Tissues or baby wipes
- Bar of soap (better than a bottle because it’s not a liquid)
- Shampoo and conditioner
- Toothpaste and toothbrush
- Shaving supplies
- Contact lens supplies if necessary
- Sanitary products
- Hair products and accessories
- Travel towel
- Insect repellent
- Baby powder for sand removal when leaving the beach
- Deodorant or antiperspirant.
- Prescription medications (and copies of the prescriptions)
- EpiPen if necessary
- Basic travel medication: Imodium, ibuprofen, Tums/antacid tablets, Benadryl
- Allergy medication or inhalers
- Hand sanitizer (wipes or lotion)
- Electrolyte tablets or oral rehydration sachets
- Aloe vera
- Anti-itch cream for bug bites
Traveling from Chicago to Punta Cana
As of April 23, 2022, all passengers and crew members do not need to present a COVID-19 Vaccination Card, PCR, or antigen test to enter the Dominican Republic or to enter tourist centres, any establishments or to receive services such as excursions. Random COVID-19 testing for passengers and crew upon arrival in the Dominican Republic are no longer performed. However, when required, random testing operations may be performed. Passengers who present their Vaccination Card will be exempted from random testing.
Visit Caribbean latest travel requirements covid-19 update to get more information on the covid-19 guidelines.
All foreign citizens who enter the Dominican Republic, exclusively for tourism purposes, must have a valid passport during their stay and departure from the country. This exceptional measure is valid until December 31, 2022.
All foreign passengers entering or leaving the Dominican Republic on commercial flights must complete the free electronic entry and exit form, which combines the Traveler’s Health Affidavit, Customs Declaration and International Embarkation/Disembarkation forms. The form is available in English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Portuguese and Russian and can be accessed on https://eticket.migracion.gob.do/
Flying from Chicago to Punta Cana
The flight time between Chicago O’Hare (ORD) and Punta Cana (PUJ) is around 7h 13m and covers a distance of around 3192 km. This includes an average layover time of around 1h 39m. Services are operated by American Airlines, United Airlines, Frontier Airlines and others. Typically 115 flights run weekly, although weekend and holiday schedules can vary so check in advance.
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Enjoy your vacation and stay safe!