PACK UP FOR PARADISE IN PUNTA CANA, DOMINICAN REPUBLICA
I am up early, but the sun is already warm. I walk the seemingly endless silky white sand beach, past palms swaying in the morning breeze. The clear turquoise waters curl gently on the shore. The lounge chairs and grass shelters are empty now, but soon guests will start to wander down, to claim their place in the sun. If you believe that Caribbean cruises would be heaven if only there was more beach time and drinks were included, then here is the place for you: Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic.
Level's private beach
I must say, I have never been one for a luxurious resort vacation. Most of my vacations are more geared to action and adventure then to relaxation. I prefer trips where you visit cultural landmarks and learn the history of a place. That being said, in the throes of a Canadian winter, all I'm looking for here in the Dominican is blue sky, inviting ocean and a place where the sun is shining.
At Punta Cana, nearly 40 all-inclusive resorts are sprinkled along about 35 kilometres of wide beach fringed with palm and coconut trees. My choice for a few days is the newly launched "Level" at the Melia Caribe Tropical. Once you've arrived, you can stash your wallet in the safe and settle in. The only decisions you'll have to make are at the buffet or at the door of your room, where the stone walkway takes you through immaculate grounds and gardens either to the pool or to the private beach.
The Dominican Republic covers the eastern two-thirds of the Caribbean's second largest island, Hispaniola, and attracts more international visitors than any other Caribbean island. In addition to more than 1,400 km of sugar-colored sand beaches, the DR boasts tropical rain forests, cascading waterfalls, rushing rivers, giant sand dunes, and mangrove jungles. Dominican culture strongly reflects its history, first recorded when Christopher Columbus landed here in 1492 after visiting the Bahamas and Cuba. The landscape reminded him of Spain and so he named the island La Isla Espanola - later changed to Hispaniola.
Manfred Schoebel, General Manager for Meliá Caribe Tropical, tells me that the property is currently at 95% occupancy. This surprises me. During my stay there is never a feeling of it being busy or crowded. Unlike many all-inclusives, there are choices of where to sit on the private beach or around the pool. Even in mid-afternoon, there are many empty beach chairs, and plenty of choice - sun, or the shade provided by the ubiquitous palm and coconut trees, or the many thatched-roof shelters.
On the food side, the buffets are varied and there are also the Asian, Italian and Mediterranean restaurants of Cuatro. This new establishment is divided into four different dining experiences, including Uno, traditional steakhouse; Dos, a Gastro Pub; Tres, a fusion of Peruvian fare with Japanese and Cantonese cuisine; and Cuatro, a beachside buffet serving international cuisine. As a former Spanish Colony, many of the local dishes carry a familiar Latin American feel, with an unlikely mixture of influences; European, African, and native Taíno Indian cultures.
If you want to get a little active, the resort has a water sports centre with kayaks, windsurfers, paddle boards and sailboats. You can book a dive or snorkel excursion, para-sailing, or a catamaran tour. Guests are able to indulge in the resort's "Experiences Menu," featuring special workshops, dinners on the beach, romantic private breakfasts, and Energy for Life activities like Body Balance - a mix of yoga and Tai Chi. Personal concierges make priority reservations for à la carte restaurants, the YHI Wellness spa, golf courses, tennis courts and outside activities. If you are travelling with children, the "Kids' Zone" will occupy the little ones, while the adventure park and rock climbing wall entertain those a bit older. My ground level room features a Jacuzzi, spa shower, and something called a pillow and fragrance menu. The service is impressive, and the kindness of the Dominicans is wonderfully authentic.
Beer on Beach
Overall, the Melia CaribeTropical gives you the best of what Punta Cana has to offer: A holiday that can be romantic, family friendly or focused on well-needed rest and relaxation. Don't go expecting to soak up Dominican culture, the resorts of Punta Cana seem particularly isolated, but if what you want is a luxurious escape, the "Level" is built to carry you away from the cares of the world.
Dominican Republic Train Transport
IF YOU GO:
For more information: www.meliacaribetropical.com
PHOTOS: by James Ross
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