As the sun rises in the Dominican Republic, Punta Cana awakens to the lapping ocean—clear, unspoiled blue brushing up against the pristine stretches of sugar-white sand, with swaying coco palms in the backdrop. A thriving tourism industry fuels the region, and with such plentiful ingredients as sun, sand, and sea, it’s no wonder.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Bávaro is centrally located along the eastern coast of the peninsula and is a hub of tourist activity. Many of the region’s all-inclusive resorts are on Playa Bávaro, and shopping plazas, restaurants, nightlife, and services have sprung up to accommodate the burgeoning number of visitors.
Meaning “place where the sun rises” in the language of the indigenous Taíno Indians, Higüey was one of the first areas to be settled by the Spanish conquistadors in 1502. Capital of Altagracia Province (which encompasses Punta Cana), the city is considered holy by Catholics because of a vision of the Virgin Mary that was seen there, as well as many reported miracles in the area. Higüey was the site of three visits by Pope John Paul II (in 1979, 1984, and 1992), and nowadays the cathedral near the central square is the main draw for tourists. An open-air market within walking distance reveals a not-so-pretty slice of life, and is a point of interest rather than a shopping destination. However, there is a large and fairly interesting artisan market, the Plaza Higüeyana, which is on many tourist itineraries. On the cluttered city streets, motorcycles are a heavy presence and zip around from every which way, so be alert whether driving or on foot. In fact, you really shouldn’t drive here.
If you want to make a pilgrimage to the church, take a tour (preferably) or a bus like the locals do. The Expreso Bávaro Bus Terminal, a hub of transit between the region, Santo Domingo, and elsewhere in the country, is here, as is the Altagracia Province post office, which services Punta Cana and the surrounding areas. Many people employed by the hotels along the East Coast beaches are residents of Higüey, with a commute of about an hour each way.
Juanillo was once a simple fishing village on one of the east coast’s most desirable stretches of powdery, white-sand beach before Cap Cana, a luxury resort and residential and golf complex, was developed. Just 10 minutes from the Punta Cana International Airport, it is considered one of the more upscale areas of the region that includes Punta Cana and Bávaro.
Macao is a pastoral village amid farms and ranches. Its striking beach, with dramatic headlands, inspired one of the most ambitious resort development projects on the East Coast. The giant Hard Rock Hotel & Casino (the company’s first all-inclusive property) dominates the area.
Ranches and rustic living characterize this beach village, which has coconut groves and a stunning beach where development continues to press north of Macao. It’s home to several high-end all-inclusive resorts.