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Occupying the eastern two thirds of the island of Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic (DR) has shrugged off a colonial past to emerge as one of the most modern and tourism-friendly destinations in the Caribbean. The quintessential island paradise, the coast is full of golden beaches lined with swaying palms and edged by verdant tropical forests. Out on the turquoise ocean waters, visitors can explore secluded bays by kayak, skim over the waves on windsurfing kites, jet skis and parasails, or swim through diverse coral reefs brimming with colorful fish and other sea life. But the DR offers much more than just an idyllic beach holiday. The capital Santo Domingo is the oldest city in the Caribbean, with rich history and colonial architecture making the old city center a UENSCO world heritage site. In the interior of the island lush jungle forests and lofty mountain ranges offer adventure activities such as hiking, mountain biking and white-water rafting. More relaxed days can be spent exploring tranquil plantation estates and local villages for authentic and insightful cultural and historical experiences.
Best Overall: The Reserve at Paradisus Palma Real
Situated on the sandy beaches of the popular north-east coastline, the Reserve is an upscale, boutique enclave within the Paradisus Palma Real where a traditional tropical island atmosphere melds seamlessly with modern architecture and amenities. Guest rooms and suites feature a blend of contemporary and classic styles, with modern furniture and a graceful grey color scheme softened with polished wood and marble accents. Rooms come with well-appointed bathrooms and furnished private terraces. Additional features in some suites include swim-up access, hydromassage tubs and ocean views. Children are catered to with a playful kids’ pool with colorful animal slides, a large outdoor playground and facilities including a rock climbing wall and a trampoline. Other activities and sports include tennis, yoga classes and beach volleyball. On the spacious beach, guests will find plenty of beach chairs and shade palapas, as well as water sports such as kayaking, windsurfing and snorkeling. Guests also enjoy unlimited complimentary access to the nearby Cocotal Golf and Country Club. At Passion by Martín Berasategui, the Michelin-starred chef delivers a refined fine-dining experience, while the Gabi Club serves international cuisine throughout the day in an elegant yet relaxed poolside setting. Other dining options include an Italian pizza trattoria, the Mediterranean flavors of Aqua and the Japanese Teppanyaki grill experience of Mizu.
Best Budget: Iberostar Hacienda Dominicus
Located on the quiet south coast, the Iberostar Hacienda Dominicus stretches from the pristine forests of the Cotubanama National Park down to the soft sands of Playa Dominicus. The resort is less intensely developed that many neighboring properties, with large open gardens of immaculate green lawns, shady mature trees and ornamental fountains. The wide expanse of beach faces towards a calm and sheltered bay, perfect for enjoying the snorkelling, parasailing, catamaran sailing and other water sports activities. Other sports include mini-golf, beach soccer and volleyball and archery, while activities include yoga sessions, Spanish classes and light-hearted dance contests. Six restaurants provide themed dining experiences, with stand-out options including the classically opulent décor of El Colonial to the traditional dishes and authentic décor of the family-friendly Japanese La Geisha and Mexican La Hacienda. Located next to the beach, the spa contains a Jacuzzi, sauna and Turkish bath, and offers services including mud body wraps, and beachfront massages in open-air treatment huts. Three bars keep the drinks flowing all day and into the early hours. While not part of the resort, the lighthouse-shaped Faro de Bayahibe bar, located right on the water’s edge, makes an ideal place to enjoy stunning ocean sunset views over an evening cocktail.
Best Boutique: Luxury Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado
The Luxury Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado sits alone in a private island paradise, the only one of its kind in the DR, offering guests an unmatched unique and exclusive experience. The hotel is built in the fashion of a classical colonial villa, with scenic marbles terraces edged with ornate balustrades and hand-carved columns adorning the front entrance. Spectacular rooms offer palatial comforts, with soft linens on delicate four-poster canopy beds and indulgent amenities such as pillow and scent menus and marbled bathrooms with Jacuzzi tubs and walk-in showers. An evening turn down, butler and 24-hour room service complete the luxury experience. The Bahia Spa is particularly beautiful, containing a Turkish bath, Finnish sauna and bubble beds and offering hot stone, oil and signature massages, caramel bath body wraps and coconut oil lotions. Guests can choose to laze on the beach lounges of the large main beach or find a secluded stretch of sand in hidden coves. Activities include tennis, basketball or pool around the hotel, or taking the kayaks, paddleboards and catamarans out onto the water. A selection of elegant, formal dress restaurants takes guests on a culinary journey around the world, with speciality Italian, Mediterranean and Brazilian restaurants complementing the international buffet of Orquieda and the gourmet fine-dining of Don Pablo.
Best for Families: Dreams Punta Cana Resort & Spa
When it comes to a fun-filled family holiday in the sun, the Dreams Punta Cana Resort & Spa is unmatched for its vibrant, interactive environment and huge number of kid-friendly facilities. Guest apartments look out over lush gardens of flowers and flamingo ponds and are surrounded by pristine natural jungle extending to the edge of the palm-covered beach. One of the standout resort features is the massive free-form pool, dotted with islands and which winds and cascades in a stream-like manner through the length of the resort to culminate in a beachfront infinity edge lagoon. At the Explorer’s Club for children, there is a paddling pool containing a model pirate ship and water slide, a giant sand-filled playground and fun supervised activities, while video and table games are available in the teen-focused Core Zone. The huge range of water and land activities include all the usual island offerings as well as less-common options such horseback riding, archery and pistol ranges and inflatable climbing water structures. Rooms contain flat screen TVs and iPod docks, and are clad in a homey, traditional décor. Family dining options range from Italian and Asian cuisine in stylish indoor restaurants, wood-fired pizza around firepits on the terrace and casual beachside dining at open-air gill shacks.
Best for Couples: Zoetry Agua Punta Cana
Couples looking for an impeccable romance and luxury experience should indulge in the Endless Privileges program at Zoetry Agua Punta Cana. Participants will enjoy lavish rooms in a rustic-chic island style, with hardwood floors and soaring thatch ceilings matched by plush bedding and modern amenities. Bathrooms come with soaking tubs, rainfall showers and double vanities, as well as soft shower robes and artisanal bath products. Some rooms offer private plunge pools on ocean view patios. Guests can take advantage of the well-stocked minibars, 24-hour room service and a personal butler to arrange private dinners, rose-petal baths and romantic activities such as horseback rides along the beach. Within different rooms types, guests can also find features such as private terraces with cabanas, patios with private plunge pool, ocean views and swim-up access. The program also allows access to four gourmet restaurants offering European-fusion cuisine, Italian dishes, Caribbean cuisine and light international fare in intimate candle-lit restaurants and scenic alfresco terraces. Guests are kept refreshed by unlimited cocktails and top-shelf spirits from the poolside swim-up bar, the tropical open-air lobby cocktail lounge and the oceanfront Indigo Bar. The hotel spa is one of the finest in the DR, with facilities such as Jacuzzis, Finnish saunas, steam rooms and sensation showers set amid lush gardens. Specialist couple’s massages are available, with an indulgent strawberries and chocolate service, in sensual private suites or in open-air beach huts.
Best for Luxury: Sanctuary Cap Cana
A collection of grandiose colonial Spanish buildings of rough-cut limestone walls, smoothed with stucco plastering in warm pastel colors and topped with ornate balustrades and towers, the Sanctuary Cap Cana overlooks the Caribbean waters from its cliff-top perch like an old castle. Guest rooms come in a variety of styles all built around the theme of opulent, old-fashioned fittings, while missing none of the modern comforts expected at a hotel of this standard. Guests lazing in lounges and cabanas on the powdery, pure white beach sands can avail themselves of the food and drink wait service from the beach bar, as can guests at the pool. The main pool offers infinity ocean views and a pool bar and is edged by rough-cut limestone boulders that give it a pleasant natural tone. The spa is a highlight, a stunning marbled edifice built around a serene courtyard interior. The buildings contain Jacuzzis, saunas and steam rooms, as well as treatment rooms offering a full service of massages, body scrubs and facial cleanses, as well as health and vitality rituals and salon services. Superb dining options include the seafood specialities of Blue Marlin, perched on stilts above the water in a rustic alfresco terrace, and the casual elegance of a marble-lined courtyard where Casabella serves an international buffet for breakfast and lunch. Other options include an authentic sushi restaurant and an Argentine-style grill.
Best for Singles: Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana
The Hard Rock chain has built a well-deserved reputation for providing a rocking good time and the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana lives up the name, offering a glamourous rock star experience with a stylish setting and electrifying atmosphere. Stunning suites feature quirky yet plush retro décor and contain amenities such as marbled bathrooms and in-room whirlpool tubs. An incredible thirteen pools offer distinctly different atmospheres, from quiet oasis-like enclaves to lively scenes where music plays over guests socializing at swim up bars and activities hosts keep the energy levels pumped. While the beachfront pools see plenty of action, with in-pool lounges, waterslides, swim-up bars and ocean views, the spectacular guitar-shaped pool is the centerpiece of the resort. Drinking options range from the sophisticated Eclipse Terrace to the moodily lit enclave of the Moon Lounge. The cavernous Oro nightclub is one of the best-quality nightclubs in the DR, where top DJ’s play over award-winning sound systems and dazzling light displays illuminate bars and dancefloors filled with partying guests. There is also a casino with blackjack, craps, roulette and other table games, as well as poker games and slot machines.
Best Adults-Only: Iberostar Grand Bavaro Hotel
Built in the style of a Greco-Roman villa with pillared arcades and dome-topped roofs, the Iberostar Grand Bavaro Hotel is an exclusive adults-only resort that appeals to guests looking for a refined and relaxed experience. The hotel is built around meticulously landscaped grounds containing hidden artworks, vibrant flowerbeds and a three-masted sailing ship in its own personal pool. Down on the beachfront, three free-form pools are surrounded by lounge chairs, shade palapas and private cabanas, where guests are served snacks and drinks from the discreet wait staff. Golfers will enjoy playing a round on the 18-hole course, and spa aficionados will appreciate the Jacuzzis, saunas and hamman in the full-service spa. The La Tentazione serves classic Italian cuisine in a stunning room with marble floors, carved pillars and mosaic Greco-Roman frescos adorning the walls. The Hashira provides delectable Asian dishes in a stylish room of reds, blacks and golds, and El Galeon provides surf and turf fare in a casual maritime-themed atmosphere. There is also gourmet dining at Le Tourbillion, Mediterranean flavors at the seafront Casa de la Playa and international buffets at Bella Vista and La Perla. Top-shelf spirits, premium wines and craft beers are available from the lobby bar, the swim-up Aqua bar, the sophisticated cigar lounge and in the characterful Cala Esmerelda, housed in the sailing ship.
Best Beachfront: Excellence Punta Cana
Overlooking an enormous stretch of golden sand, the Excellence Punta Cana is the most northerly resort along the north-east coast, which offers guest an unmatched opportunity to explore an untouched and secluded coastline. Guests can easily find privacy and solitude among the sheltered sand dunes and amid the groves of palm trees, while virgin tropical forest lines the beach for up to a half-mile in either direction. In front of the hotel, staff make use of the expansive beach by spacing shade palapas and cabanas at wide intervals, avoiding the crowded beachfronts seen at some resorts. Smart, contemporary suites come with jetted whirlpool tubs in the marble-lined bathroom and scenic soaking tub in the living room. Different suites offer features such as private plunge pools, ocean views and swim-up access. The spa, designed in a modern, angular style, offers a full service of treatments that utilize botanical and marine elements in signature products, as well as offering hydrotherapy tubs, Swedish saunas and yoga classes. A wide range of restaurants provide dining options, from gourmet French dining in a classy and romantic restaurant to authentic Mexican fare in a colonial courtyard and casual alfresco terraces serving grilled bites and seafood specialities accompanied by pool, garden or beach views.