Guides

Beyond the Beaches - Nature Reserves, Desert Islands, and Pirate Hideaways near Punta Cana

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All Punta Cana resorts offer easy beach access and expert advice on excursions, so you can stay as active or as inactive as you like. Beneath the waves, there are reefs to snorkel and sunken wrecks to explore. A short drive from the coast takes you to vibrant cities, hidden coves, and traditional villages.

South of Punta Cana

 

If exploring rainforest by quad-bike and swimming in a freshwater lagoon sound like fun, visit Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park, 4 km south of the airport. Iguanas and exotic birds will keep you company on the well-marked trails that loop around the lakes, and you can even take an eco-tour on a Segway. Farther south, National Park of the East is one of the largest marine parks in the Caribbean. Around a third of the Dominican Republic’s 303 bird species can be spotted here, including the beautiful ashy-faced owl, found only in Hispaniola.

 

Saona Island

 

As seen in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean, this archetypal "desert island" makes for an easy and exotic day trip. Facing National Park of the East across a narrow strait, Saona can be reached by catamaran from Punta Cana in around 2 hours, including stops for snorkeling and sandbar walking. A white-sand beach dotted with sun loungers awaits, along with jerk chicken fresh off the BBQ and cocos locos - coconuts chopped in half and filled with rum. You can swim or snorkel in the clear waters, or simply unwind with a beach massage.

 

Boca de Yuma

 

An hour’s drive southwest from Punta Cana and a world away from its cosmopolitan glitz and glamour, Boca de Yuma is a traditional fishing village of 2,000 inhabitants. Perched on a clifftop, the village looks down on a twinkling bay where colorful skiffs bob on the calm waters. Two centuries ago, this was still a pirate hideout, where famed privateers like Roberto Cofresi could lie low when they weren’t pillaging British merchant vessels. Now it’s a great spot for a day trip - an authentic slice of Dominican life with quiet beaches on all sides.

 

Santo Domingo

 

It’s a 4-hour round trip to Santo Domingo, but if you’re interested in Caribbean history and culture, it’s time well spent. Founded in 1496, the Dominican capital is the oldest surviving European settlement in the New World. The Colonial Zone, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, radiates out from Parque Colón, the central square. Here you’ll find Basilica Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, whose limestone walls and Gothic arches date from 1512, making it the oldest cathedral in the Americas. Upscale avenues like Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy are lined with modern malls and buzzy nightspots.