CHECK OUT MY FULL TRAVEL GUIDE TO PUNTA CANA HERE
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic has everything you want in a relaxing vacation - sun, crystal clear water, white sands, swaying palm trees and floofy umbrella drinks. BUT before you take off, there's some important Type A details that you need to know to ensure the perfect getaway...
1. AIRPORT VISITOR FEE
Each visitor going through the Punta Cana International Airport is required to pay $10 as a visitor fee prior to hitting immigration. Cash only, so be sure to stop at an ATM before you fly (US dollars are accepted).
2. PRE-BOOK AIRPORT TRANSPORTATION
Similar to many Mexican travel destinations, the airport experience can be stressful if you're not prepared. Once you've grabbed your bags, you are immediately bombarded by men trying to offer you transportation services and working to sign you up for timeshare tours. If you already have transportation set up - go straight out, don't listen to anyone who asks where you're going and find the person with your name on a card. Everyone will try and "help" you, but they are ultimately trying to get you to go with them instead. Taxi's are safe, but you have to swim through shark infested water to find one on the outside (definitely doable). Instead, I suggest booking ahead of time either through your hotel or through a reputable company so that you don't have to deal with the stress of it all. Caribbean Dream is a well known transportation company with great reviews that we booked for a roundtrip transport prior to leaving and here's why I loved it:
- I was given the exact cost online prior to booking (the same price as taking a taxi!), $70 roundtrip for 2, but varies depending on your destination.
- I was able to pay ahead of time through Paypal so didn't have to exchange money
- I received a confirmation email with all of the info
- The driver waited for us outside with my name on a sign so I didn't have to deal with anyone else (and were there even though our flight came in 1.5 hours late).
- We were helped with our bags, put into a small passenger van with air conditioning and taken directly to our hotel with no issues.
- Since I booked a roundtrip package, they picked us up at our hotel at the time I requested and took us to the airport with no problems.
**One final note regarding the airport, don't let anyone random help you with your bags as they will be requiring a tip! Just say no thank you and move on.
3. US DOLLARS WORK
Unless you are planning on venturing into a non-touristy area, there is no need to pay the fees to convert your dollars into pesos. Most everyone accepts dollars as payment, including tips and excursions. I just suggest bringing small bills so you don't have to break a $20, which could be harder to do.
4. IGNORE THE CLOUDS ON YOUR WEATHER APP
Because this is a tropical place, occasional rain and clouds do appear for short periods of time, just don't be scared away by your phone's weather report. If there is even a slight chance of clouds or rain, the weather report will look like it's cloudy all day, which is never the case unless there's a rare major storm rolling through. So set your mind at ease and know you will enjoy temps in the high 80s with sunshine throughout.
5. KEEP YOUR TOP ON
It's important to respect the customs of any location you visit... Including when it comes to acceptable beach attire. The DR is an island with strong Catholic roots and beach nudity is not ok. So all you middle aged European ladies who like to "hang out" at the beach (pun intended), please keep it locked up when in Punta Cana.
6. THE TOWN IS FAR
For anyone who watched The Bachelorette 2014 season finale, they were in Punta Cana and whisked over to a beautiful town for the day to enjoy the Dominican culture, colors and music. Well unless you plan on helicoptering it over there, think again. It's a 2.5 hour drive from Punta Cana to the capital city, Santo Domingo, and there aren't any small towns worth visiting in the tourist areas. Damn reality television.
7. TOURIST DESTINATION
Keep in mind that Punta Cana is largely a tourist destination, developed specifically for tourism. This means that while there are beautiful jungles and other interesting sites, most are far from the hotel areas. It's very similar to Cancun where it's just hotel after hotel, with very few secluded beaches or areas. There are beach vendors selling everything from bracelets to braids, but are relatively respectful and a simple 'no thank you' will move them along.
As in many third world countries, wages are low so tips go a long way. Consider tipping 10-20% unless service is really bad, even when at all inclusive resorts. This is a great way to show your appreciation and will ensure that you are well taken care of during your visit.
9. YOU CAN DRINK THE WATER
The majority of hotels and resorts only serve filtered water and ice, which is perfectly safe to drink. Be sure to ask first, but it's rarely a problem for tourists.
Consider forgoing the typical palm tree magnets and seashell necklace and bring home one of these Dominican specialties - coffee, rum or mamajuana (an alcoholic beverage mixture of rum, wine and honey soaked in tree bark). You can pack up to 5 liters of alcohol in your check in luggage, so stock up!