In May of 2018, I was fortunate enough to travel to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. I travelled with my best friend to accompany her to a destination wedding, but we extended our trip to enjoy ourselves too! I won’t cover the private ceremony , but I want to share the experience!
Let’s break it down.
We decided, after months of stalking flight prices, to fly nonstop via Southwest airlines. Honestly, this was my first flight with Southwest, and now I’m not the biggest fan. I was appreciative of the non-stop flight, two free checked bags, and the fact that our luggage wasn’t lost in transit, but their seating policy left much to desire. There are no assigned seats, so 24 hours before booking, you have the option to check-in online to secure your boarding position (first come, first serve). Once you’ve secured your boarding position, you board on the plane with your group and try to hurry to a seat you want.
I was frustrated because there is a whole group (60+) of people who board before the 24-hour check in boarding group, BUT for a mere $30, $40, or $50 more (per flight), you can upgrade your boarding and skip the line. We checked in 24 hours to the exact minute before our flight and were still assigned 2nd boarding group, with about 40 people in front of us. So our two options were to: 1. keep our boarding positions and fight to the death for the privilege to sit together in decent seats, or 2. shell out another $60- $100 to skip people and still fight for slightly better seats.
The bride and groom of the wedding made accommodations for all guests to stay at the resort where the wedding was held, The Luxury Bahia Principe . Sounds fancy, right? Don’t worry- it gets fancier . We stayed in a section of the resort- Bahia Principe Punta Cana- which was just one small part of the huge mega-resort. Seriously- Bahia Punta Cana (as we nicknamed it) houses about 3 restaurants on its own, but the whole resort houses 6 smaller resorts, 19 restaurants , 3 pools, and 3 castles. Did i mention the resorts are all-inclusive? All food, all drinks, even room service, were all covered upon booking. To add to paradise, the resort hosts 3 huge pools, few small side pools and a jacuzzi.
Two of the pools had swim up bars, where you could order as many Bahama Mamas as your heart desired! You could also order a shot of Mama Juana , but we’ll get to that later. Additionally, there were plenty of bars on the resort where you could walk up, sit, and have a drink- or SEVEN. The Bahia Principe was built on the beachfront, so the ocean was a short walk down a flight of stairs and across the sand. Unfortunately, there was something going on with the seaweed in that area, so the water was kinda gross-looking. We stayed clear of it.
It was interesting to me that the only rooms that utilized air conditioning were the guest rooms. The common areas, hallways, restaurants, even the lobby- used open space and fresh air to keep cool. When we left the resort to attend our excursions, I realized that the local businesses and buildings also used the open design to beat the heat.
Overall, the stay at the resort was amazing. All the staff were energetic, helpful, and would truly do anything to better your experience. Every night, in each resort, there was some type of entertainment in the theater. One night there was a magician, one night a “Michael Jackson” concert, and one night “Disney” princesses made an appearance. The castles even lit up with a projected story/ video before bed each night.
While in Punta Cana, we decided to reserve spots for excursions. There were so many to choose from, depending on what kind of activities you wanted to do. They offered scuba diving, beach trips, surf trips, tours, snorkeling, and more! After careful consideration, and a little finesse , we chose two excursions: Adventure Boogies and The Country Day Safari . For each excursion, we were picked up from our resort lobby by a representative of the tour. (Side note: I highly recommend shuttles and transportation arrangements over trusting local transit to get you to your destination. Every face is not friendly, and tourists are targeted for scamming and violence.)
The Adventure Boogie excursion was 4 hours long, and we drove dune buggies through dust, mud, and shallow water to explore a cave, a local village, and Macao Beach. We got super dusty and a little muddy, but it was definitely worth it. The beach was absolutely amazing, to say the least. The water was beautiful, the weather was just right, and the sand was velvety beneath our feet. The cave was pretty cool too. I was expecting this weird, dark, smelly environment, but it was actually quite nice!
The 2nd excursion we purchased was the 8 hour Country Day Safari, which was a series of mini trips. We were picked up from our resort lobby in the morning then went to our first stop: a local farm that produces cocoa, vanilla, coconut, chocolate, and cigars. Our tour guide opened up some of the cacao so that we could see the individual pods. ( If you’re wondering, the chocolate that we eat is made from the raw cacao beans inside the pods. )
As we ventured further into our tour, our tour guide showed us the way coconut oil is made, the traditional way, in Punta Cana. I LOVE coconut oil, so I was the one in the group squealing in delight as soon as he said “coconut”. He explained to us that the process takes 3 people, usually women, to complete. The first grates the coconut, husk and all, into coconut pulp. The second takes the coconut pulp and forms coconut spheres. The final lady, the strongest of them all, SQUEEEEEEZES all the liquid out of the coconut pulp balls into a collecting container. After some time, the collected liquid separates into layers, one of those being raw coconut oil. Here’s a picture of our tour guide grating coconut:
Before leaving the farm, we had the opportunity to buy some of the local goods from the gift shop. Of course I bought coconut oil (infused with cocoa), but there was also a guy hand-rolling cigars for sample and sale, if that’s your thing. The next stop was the Catholic Church, Basilica Catedral Nuestra Senora de la Altagracia . It is the biggest church in the country, and was rebuilt in 1954 to replace the original 1572 structure. Visitors must pay a $1 fee and women must wear a skirt if they wish to enter the church. They also offer smock-type skirts to wrap around your body (over your clothes) if you happen to need one. The church is really iconic because “Our Lady of Altagracia” is considered to be the mother protector for all in Dominican Republic.
After leaving the church, we rode about 45 minutes to a local primary school. Did I mention that each stop was about 45 minutes away from the next? It sounds kind of boring, but it was actually refreshing to ride through the countryside, marveling at mountains, pastures, towns, people and local wildlife. The trolley bus had open windows, and the driver drove fast on the highways, producing a nice breeze! (Side note: the traffic in Punta Cana is like nothing I’ve ever seen in the United States. Big trucks, small vehicles, buses, and motor bikes all move together seamlessly, like a beehive! There aren’t many traffic lights- people literally just take turns and yield to each other!) Ok, ok- back to the school. In Punta Cana, the kids only go to school for 4 hours per day- either in the morning or the afternoon. According to the tour guide, the extra free time is dedicated towards helping the parents maintain responsibilities such as younger siblings, stores or markets, farming, goods, or tending to animals. He further mentioned that in the next few years, laws may change that support longer school days for all students.
After visiting the primary school, we traveled 45 minutes to a ranch. On the ranch, we rode horses through the countryside, ate a traditional Dominican Lunch, and went zip-lining. The horseback ride was pretty relaxing. I’ve never rode a horse alone before, so I was a little nervous, but once I got the hang of the “controls”, I was fine. A traditional Dominican lunch was prepared for our group: fried chicken, rice, beans, and salad. It was absolutely delicious! After lunch, the group went up to the ziplines.
Let’s just pause right here. I’m not a fan of heights- in fact, I am perfectly at peace with the fact that I belong on the ground. So, here’s a short video of my best friend ziplining through the Punta Cana sky! Isn’t she lovely?
The Country Day Safari Excursion finished with a second trip to Macao Beach before returning us to the resort. Overall, it was an amazing experience!
I’ve got to be honest- I excelled through 3 years of Honors Spanish in high school, but my former Spanish teacher would have cringed if she witnessed the Spanglish mess I spoke in Punta Cana. Seriously, if you know any Spanish, continue to practice it- otherwise you’ll lose it. We survived, but I could’ve done better. To add insult to injury, a lot of the resort employees learned English (and many other languages) through interactions with tourists. I think the only thing I taught them was Cardi B.
One of my favorite souvenirs from Punta Cana was the Mama Juana, the national drink of the Dominican Republic. Traditionally, the bottle contains herbs that remind me of wood chips and, once saturated with rum, red wine & honey, the mixture sits (at least a week) for potency. The herbs in the bottle can be reused, according to the guide, for up to 5 years. When the bottle is empty, you refill it with your choice of rum, red wine, and honey. The ratio of the ingredients depends on taste: more honey for a sweeter taste, more rum for a stronger drink, and more red wine for color and taste.
So, Mama Juana was originally concocted a really long time ago as a herbal remedy for the flu and detox for the blood, liver, and kidney: It was basically a cure-all for ailments. Over time, it became known as an aphrodisiac, and earned the nickname “Liquid Viagra”. Mama Juana was offered for sample and sale on all the excursions, gift shops, and at the resort.