Island Time: Winter Getaway in the Dominican Republic

Escape the winter cold with a trip to this colorful Caribbean island

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One of the pools at the Occidental Punta Cana, an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic. Photo by Janna Graber
One of the pools at the Occidental Punta Cana, an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic. Photo by Janna Graber

Occidental Punta Cana

For many guests, the Occidental Punta Cana is a one-stop shop for vacation, providing everything from entertainment to dining to accommodations. Three huge pools wind through the resort, and there are 11 restaurants and snack bars to choose from. (The resort has two buffet restaurants, as well as ala carte restaurants specializing in Asian, Italian, Mexican, seafood or even steak.)

My room is large and comfortable, with a private Hydro massage tub on the deck. It’s one of 52 “Royal Level” rooms, which includes access to a private area on the beach, a private ala carte restaurant, and free internet service.

The Occidental Punta Cana draws families, couples and vacationers of all ages. Photo by Janna Graber
The Occidental Punta Cana draws families, couples and vacationers of all ages. Photo by Janna Graber

Relaxing at the pool one afternoon, I see a mix of families, couples and groups of friends of all ages. The Occidental Punta Cana has an entertainment program just for kids, with a supervised kids’ club for those aged 4 to 12.

Adults have entertainment options too, from dance classes and yoga to a “disco” and beach volleyball. A full schedule of shows and live music is offered in the evenings. The Occidental Punta Cana also includes non-motorized watersports at no cost, including kayaking, boogie boarding and even a free scuba lesson in the pool.

Kids club at the Occidental Punta Cana. Photo by Janna Graber
Kids club at the Occidental Punta Cana. Photo by Janna Graber

Saona Island

We want to see more of the Dominican Republic, though, so we book a day excursion to Saona Island, a small isle that lies off the southeastern tip of the Dominican Republic.

The tour, arranged through the Occidental Punta Cana, includes transportation to the boat terminal, a speed boat to the island, buffet lunch on the island, and a catamaran trip back.

Saona Island is a small isle that lies off the southeastern tip of the Dominican Republic. Photo by Janna Graber
Saona Island is a small isle that lies off the southeastern tip of the Dominican Republic. Photo by Janna Graber

“Today, you’re our guest in the Dominican Republic,” says our guide, Ray. “Please set your worries from home aside. Just enjoy our hospitality.”

Our lively excursion group, which includes Russians, Brazilians, Canadians and Americans, nods in agreement. We’re happy to be vacationing in the Caribbean far from the normal stresses of life.

We board a speedboat that zips us toward the island. Yet, about a half mile from shore, we stop.

Relaxing on a sand bank in the middle of the Caribbean sea on the way to Soana Island. Photo by Janna Graber
Relaxing on a sand bank in the middle of the Caribbean sea on the way to Soana Island. Photo by Janna Graber

“Get out,” our boat captain says with a smile.

Although we’re far from the shore, we hop overboard. Sure enough, the water comes up to my shoulders. We’re standing on a sand bank in the middle of the sea, and colorful starfish dot the soft sand beneath our feet.

The boat captain turns on some music as my friends join me in the water. We’re handed cups of Dominican rum and coke, which we sip, soaking in the warm water.

After 45 minutes on the sand bank, we continue to the island. There, we find dozens of beach chairs and palm trees that offer shade. The azure sea is clear and warm. For lunch, we have Dominican BBQ and enjoy more Dominican rum and coke.

Soana Island has beautiful white-sand beaches. Photo by Janna Graber
Soana Island in the Dominican Republic has beautiful white-sand beaches. Photo by Janna Graber

After a relaxing afternoon, it’s time to head back. This time, we board a catamaran. The crew raises the sails and we set out. Music plays onboard and the mood is light. The crew drums up a game of hot potato with some of the passengers. (Only instead of a potato, they use a broom.) I watch from the sidelines, hearing laughter and comments in English, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.

On this perfect day in the Dominican Republic, the stresses of life seem far away. The island has worked its magic on me, so I sit back and enjoy the view.

If You Visit Dominican Republic

Occidental Punta Cana

Scape Park

Janna Graber is a Colorado-based travel journalist. She is the editor of three travel anthologies, including “A Pink Suitcase: 22 Tales of Women’s Travel,” and is the managing editor of Go World Travel Magazine.

 

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