If clients are after a bargain break in the Caribbean, chances are the Dominican Republic will spring to mind. Puerto Plata has long been a charter stronghold with some of the best all-inclusive deals in the West Indies.
But the Dom Rep also has a wealth of natural attractions and upmarket accommodation options for those seeking more than a cheap fly-and-flop escape.
“We are working towards changing people’s perception of our country,” says Sabrina Cambiaso, director of the Dominican Republic Tourist Board. “Because of our vast size and natural diversity we can cater to niche markets including golf, history and luxury.
“Many of our adverts are currently promoting the eco and adventure offering of the Dominican Republic and we will continue with these, while also promoting the growth of our all-inclusive side.”
There’s no shortage of airlift either. British Airways launched twice-weekly flights to Punta Cana at the end of 2009 and in October, KLM is following suit with two flights a week via Havana outbound, and non-stop to Amsterdam on the return flight, giving clients heading to the Dom Rep from regional airports the choice of connecting in Schiphol.
As a guest of the tourist board I flew Air France via Charles de Gaulle into Punta Cana airport. Walking into the arrivals hall, I got my first taste of how things are different here. The building has gable roofs thatched with palm fronds and is open-sided, allowing a cool breeze to caress you as you wait at baggage reclaim. Definitely a new experience.
Almost twice the size of Wales, the DR, as the locals refer to it, lies east of Jamaica and west of the British Virgin Islands. It is home to the largest lake, tallest mountain and highest waterfall in the Caribbean. Journeying around the island, the first thing that hits you is the ever-changing landscape. There are the banana, sugar cane and coconut plantations you would expect of the region, but these are equalled by vast citrus groves reminiscent of the Mediterranean.
At the centre of the island is the towering peak of Pico Duarte. At more than 3,000 metres, temperatures at the summit often dip below freezing and it is fringed by Alpine forests with wild flowers – a walkers’ paradise.
In contrast, you could take a hike through the more temperate rainforest, kayak the lakes, white-water raft on the rivers or cool off under the waterfalls. Animal lovers, meanwhile, will be wowed by the wildlife including whales, crocodiles, rhinoceros iguanas, flamingos and turtles.
Given the variety of offerings at their disposal, it’s worth suggesting clients pack more than just their beachwear. Attraction World sells 21 different excursions here. Options from Punta Cana include Country Adventure, which takes clients into the rural interior to see the changing landscape, visit villages and see agricultural communities at work (adults £55, children £27).
A trip to the capital on the Santo Domingo Tour (adults £54, children £27) is a must for history lovers. Santo Domingo is the oldest city in the Americas and the zona colonial, or old town, dates back to the 16th century and was Christopher Columbus’s New World stomping ground when the Dom Rep was a Spanish colony. Santo Domingo also makes a great twin-centre option for those looking for culture as well as coast.
The Dom Rep also has the most golf courses in the West Indies. There are 28 in all, some designed by the likes of Greg Norman and Nick Faldo.
Zoëtry Agua, Punta Cana
My base was Punta Cana on the Dom Rep’s east coast. It caters for all tastes and budgets along its 40-mile stretch of absolutely stunning, palm-fringed, white-sand beach.
The greatest concentration of all-inclusive hotels is in the Bavaro resort area, with alternate properties for families, active types, golfers and couples. What Punta Cana is perhaps less well known for is its premium all-inclusives and luxury properties, which are starting to attract upmarket operators such as Caribtours.
Katherine Hobbs, Caribtours product manager, says: “There are some stunning new resorts in the Punta Cana area that offer exceptional value for money.
“This, coupled with the direct service from British Airways, convinced us that the Dom Rep is now a viable luxury destination for our discerning clients.”
The 51-suite Zoëtry Agua, Punta Cana is one such swish retreat. It opened in November 2009 and lies on a private slice of pristine sand at the Uvero Alto stretch of Punta Cana’s coastline, far from the bustle of Bavaro. Rooms are spacious, decorated with cool colours, wicker furnishings and contemporary bathrooms. The all-inclusive offering, Endless Privileges, even includes champagne on ice delivered daily to your suite.
Neighbouring luxury boutique hotel the Sivory is equally indulgent. A member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, it has 55 units, 10 with plunge pools. The Indonesian-inspired interiors have dark-wood furnishings, bamboo screens and sumptuous loungers on their individual sun terraces.
A foodie paradise, the Sivory boasts the only AAA four-diamond rated restaurant in the Dom Rep, a wine cellar with more than 8,000 bottles and a cigar bar. All rooms have a complimentary wine cooler containing 12 bottles, which is replenished daily – the record for a day’s consumption stands at four – and continental breakfast is delivered to their room.
The Sivory is bookable through chiclocations.com with prices starting from £1,460 for seven nights’ bed and breakfast.
Both properties are perfect for honeymooners and those seeking a luxury escape for less than you might expect to pay in the Caribbean. Helicopter transfers from Punta Cana airport, a 75-minute drive away, can also be arranged.
Those looking to add a touch of Las Vegas-style glitz to their holiday could stay at the five-star Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, which opened in February this year. The first all-inclusive offering from the mega-brand, has 1,791 rooms, 11 outdoor pools, a Jack Nicklaus golf course and a 457-slot, 40-table casino.
With a 201-room, 12-villa Hyatt Regency is scheduled to open in 2014 the trend of high-end accommodation in Punta Cana looks set to continue and with it, the resort’s popularity is certain to grow across all markets.
Hayes & Jarvis has seven nights’ all-inclusive at the Occidental Grand Punta Cana from £995, for June 26 departures, including British Airways flights from Gatwick and transfers. This all-inclusive product includes merengue dance classes, windsurfing, archery and horse riding.
Book it: hayesandjarvis.com, 0871 200 2211
Caribtours offers five nights’ all-inclusive at the Zoëtry Agua, Punta Cana in a Junior Suite and two nights with breakfast in a Classic Room at the Hotel Nicolas de Ovando, Santo Domingo from £1,854, based on twin-share. Includes return flights, private transfers and use of a private lounge at Gatwick.
Book it: caribtours.co.uk, 020 7751 0660
Kuoni offers seven nights’ all-inclusive at the Grand Palladium Bavaro Resort & Spa, in a Standard Room, including British Airways flights from Gatwick and resort transfers. Honeymooners receive a bottle of rum, fruit basket and romantic dinner. Prices for June 2011 start from £1,276.
Book it: kuoni.co.uk, 01306 747008
Have a ball with the Dom Rep
To celebrate Caribbean month in September the Dominican Republic Tourist Board will hold a competition for agents to join them at the Travel Weekly Northern Ball in Bolton on September 15. Look out for details in future issues.
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