First, a bit of clarification. There’s Punta Cana, and there’s Puntacana. The former is the coastal region on the Dominican Republic’s easternmost tip, while the latter is the name of the top-end resort that put the area on the map (see “The Dominican Republic’s Most Luxurious Resort”). Over the past decade, tourism in the region has grown considerably, though for travelers who don’t care for megaresorts or package tours, not always elegantly. An exception is Cap Cana (capcana.com), a 35,000-acre resort and residential development just to the south of Puntacana that benefits from the same easy access to the airport and is blessed with gorgeous beaches and some of the best golf in the Caribbean. Conceived by DR billionaire Ricardo Hazoury as a rival to Puntacana, Cap Cana hit a financial wall during the recession. Construction was slowed, but the overall vision has not been scaled back. Here’s a tip sheet on what’s current and coming.
Secrets Sanctuary Cap Cana
Now operated by the all-inclusive brand Secrets, Cap Cana’s 176-room flagship (opened in 2008) has stepped up service and maintenance and, with a careful choice of accommodation, can make for a fabulous getaway. The best options are suites 1001–1005, which sit on an unattended, idyllic beach. The adjoining sumptuous Royal Villas 1006 and 1007 both have two bedrooms, a private deck and a plunge pool cantilevered out over the surf. All are just far enough from the main building to offer privacy without inconvenience. The small beach right in front of the hotel and the miles-long nearby favorite Juanillo beach offer soft sand, gentle surf and full services. Food at the resort is decent—and plentiful. The Waterfront Blue Marlin and Capriccio, the Italian choice, are best for dinner, and the breakfast buffets at Casa Bello are excellent. The hotel’s new spa is exquisite. Rooms start at $340; villas, from $1,235; 866-467-3273; secretsresorts.com.
A short drive from the hotel, past the Jack Nicklaus–designed Punta Espada course, the Caletón Club and Villas has six waterfront bungalows as well as 16 three- and four-bedroom villas. The bungalows (recently taken over by Franck Messiah of Solaya Hotels) are absolutely stunning, and numbers 1, 2 and 3 have steps leading to small beaches. The rentable, privately owned villas are set back from the water, but each has a pool; half have ocean views over the golf course. There’s a pool at the clubhouse, and the fantastic beach is usually empty. Except around the Christmas holiday, the place is like a private resort for you and a few elegant strangers. The waterfront restaurant, La Palapa, is the most scenic in the region and serves great fresh fish, including the best ceviche this side of Peru. Perched over the ocean, the new teak deck seems lifted directly from the Côte d’Azur, and the Caribbean offers no more pleasant a prospect than sitting here, a cool cocktail in hand, on a sultry evening. Villas start at $1,195; 809-562-6725; bungalows, from $500; 809-469-7469; xeliter.com.
Golden Bear Lodge
Surrounded by Cap Cana’s uncompleted second Nicklaus golf course, this recently opened property isn’t yet a viable luxury destination but will be a great spot for golfers when finished. It offers units with fully equipped kitchenettes and great views, plus a beautiful pool and bar. But the slightly pedestrian-feeling accommodations and lackluster food need to move up a notch to equal the resort’s other options. Rooms start at $180; 809-469-7425.
Another project yet to be fully realized, the vast Marina was modeled after a Mediterranean port city. When completed it will likely work, but for now it feels pretty deserted. There are no hotels yet, and it’s hard to recommend the rental condos, but there are some cute little shops and quality restaurants, including Mitre, which offers smart, Spanish-influenced cuisine (dinner, $70), and the Italian Club Acqua Mare, which specializes in seafood (dinner, $60). Both are pleasant spots for dinner, when the construction sites disappear in the dark (call 809-469-7010 for reservations).
Cap Cana’s latest property promises to be a game-changer for luxury standards in the Punta Cana region. The aptly named Messiah also stepped in to take over this 37-suite, Mediterranean-style hotel, which is now slated for completion by the end of the year. Offering high-tech accoutrements and sumptuous decor, each of the one- to three-bedroom villas will come with a plunge pool and a spa-like bath area. Eden Roc will also have its own Nicklaus-designed course and four dining options, including a small gastronomic restaurant. edenroccapcana.com.