Punta Cana, on the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic, has become a fast favorite for vacationers young and old. While mostly known for luxurious resorts on pristine beaches, Punta Cana has more than meets the eye.

Local vendors line the beaches in this Caribbean gem.

Idyllic, sandy coastlines and palm tree breezes are the main reasons that tourists go to the Caribbean … but you can push yourself to experience even more. For instance, go outside the gates. Contrary to the popular American belief, you can safely explore outside the walls of your hotel in this Caribbean town by booking a tour through a reputable website or the concierge.

The Dominican Experience is exotic and agricultural. You travel in an eco-safari tram. In this open-air vehicle, you careen down highways into colorful towns, with a backdrop of Caribbean architecture, farms, butcher shops, banana trees and rice plantations. Hidden in the hills are villages revealing authentic native life.

The first stop of the excursion is a one-room schoolhouse filled with studious children. The next stop is a coffee farm, with its wafting, smoky scent of beans roasting in large kettles. Villagers, roosters, hens and dogs linger under fruit and coffee bean trees as men on horses trot by while transporting bananas. A Dominican woman serves a platter of papaya, guava and mango straight from her cottage kitchen.

Delicate linens drying on a clothesline and a dog napping underneath it reflect the area’s simplicity and tranquility. The tour group has a communal moment of sampling bulbs of cocoa cream straight out of the fruit.

Later, a cigar-rolling demonstration illustrates a revered craft. The art of tobacco leaves being pressed, filled, rolled and formed is showcased in one room before you enter the humidor of impressive cigar brands for sale.

A stroll through an artist’s gallery and a traditional lunch of barbecued chicken conclude the day’s activities, except for the return ride to the resort. The bouncy, exhilarating trip matches the buoyancy of Caribbean spirit and energy.

If you have the time and money, take a Caribbean cruise. You ride a bus about 30 minutes away before boarding a double-deck boat for snorkeling … and dancing. Albatrosses soar above as a fleet of boats decorates the ocean. While snorkeling, you can see sand dollars (also known as sea biscuits) and shallow ocean floors.

Later, you can drink Mama Juanas, the local cocktail, and mingle while instructors lead the group with dance steps. The Dominican flag flaps in the tropical wind as you cruise through aquamarine waters and disembark into a sunset, suffused in swaths of pink.

While some resorts are suited to large, youthful groups, many are perfect for a relaxing ambiance and close proximity to the main lobby. While the largest resorts may offer more features, keep in mind that usually entails lots of walking and long lines.

Regardless, all of them offer that enviable Dominican climate and beauty.

 

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