Monday, June 11, 2018

Playing the tourist in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (2018)

Bávaro Beach in the Punta Cana tourism area

My wife and I had wanted to visit Punta Cana for years and finally had our opportunity in May 2018. We found a great deal at the all-inclusive Iberostar resort in the Bávaro Beach area, comprised of three hotels: Bávaro Suites, Iberostar Punta Cana and Iberostar Dominicana. We stayed at the Bávaro Suites area but could use the facilities at the other two hotels. As it turned out, we liked the Bávaro Suites just fine and had a nice-sized room close to the pool area.

This hotel complex is geared to serving huge crowds, and many of the guests hailed from Europe and South America as well as the US (Germans and Argentinians were especially there in good number), so Americans don't dominate there the way they sometimes do at other resorts. Food was plentiful and varied; not everything was a hit in my estimation but there was so much to choose from that it was inevitable to find plenty to one's liking. The service was very good overall. The Dominicans that we encountered on our trip struck me as friendly and exuberant, accommodating and easy to chat with.

I observed that items were pricey, and outside of the normal run of tourist activities, there was not much of interest close by unless you didn't mind being on a long guided tour to Isla Saona, Altos de Chavón or Santo Domingo which would have eaten up most of the day. Any impulses I might have had to stray from the resort or the shopping areas in Punta Cana were tempered by the distances, the cost of hiring a taxi, and the intense heat. Things for sale were mostly the souvenirs that everyone is accustomed to buying, save some local crafts. The best way to catch the local flavor was by buying food, no pun intended. A free shuttle can pick you up at the hotel at certain times of the day to be taken to a small shopping mall called the San Juan Plaza Shopping Center. We did find a few souvenirs there but we especially liked finding Dominican specialties in the supermarket.

Accurately or not, I generally gauge the pride or the knowledge that the local hospitality industry has in the regional culture by the amount of cultural items that are available at the airport. It was impossible to find so much as a guidebook there, and in that respect the area did not compare as well to Cancún, which was built in the middle of a number of culturally significant centers, such as the Mayan ruins at Tulum. My recollection was that the taxis to go into town were not as expensive in Cancún as they were in Punta Cana.

For me, the negatives were minor because the amenities and the friendliness of our hosts made the trip more than worthwhile. After noticing how difficult it would be to go off the beaten path in a way that I would have normally liked, I decided that for this trip, I would not engage in that pursuit and play the tourist on this trip - just this once.