Sparkling turquoise waters and miles of powdery, white-sand beaches make Punta Cana one of the most idyllic spots in the Caribbean. You can relax on the shore in the shade of a palm tree or snorkel among tropical fish in the calm waters off Playa Cabeza de Toro. If you’re up for adventure, whiz above the jungle canopy on zip lines or head out on a deep-sea fishing tour to catch huge wahoo and billfish.
Punta Cana is rich in culture and history too, with fascinating sights like the Casa Ponce de León, which displays period furniture and artifacts once owned by the 16th-century Spanish explorer of the same name. In the town of Higuey, the 1971 Basílica Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia surprises with a soaring concrete arch and a revered painting of the Virgin Mary from the 1500s.
When you’re ready to party, head to Cap Cana’s cluster of chic bars and eateries for cocktails and waterside dining. You can end the night in Bávaro, home to the area’s quirkiest nightclub, which is housed in an enormous, illuminated cave.
What should you pack for Punta Cana? Here are some ideas:
- Bathing suit: This one’s a no-brainer. Pleasantly balmy sea temperatures mean you can spend hours floating on your back off Punta Cana’s gorgeous beaches. For a hidden freshwater swimming spot, head inland to Hoyo Azul, a limestone cenote surrounded by thick jungle and beautiful wild orchids. Don your suit, and plunge into the impossibly cool, clear waters fed by a natural spring.
- Hiking shoes: Trade flip-flops for sturdy walking shoes if you want to see the area’s lush rainforest, dramatic caves, and mangrove-ringed lagoons up close. For one of the area’s more popular hikes, visit Cotubanamá National Park, located less than an hour’s drive from Punta Cana. Keep an eye peeled for spectacular clifftop views and incredible biodiversity, including more than 300 species of birds.
- Diving certification: Plan ahead for this item on your packing list; you’ll need it to scout for sea turtles and shoals of mackerel in wrecks like the Enriquillo RM-22, sunk off the coast in 2006. If you’re a beginner, skip the deep-sea excursions and look for eagle rays or parrotfish weaving among the coral at the shallow El Acuario diving site.
- Golf clubs: If you’re serious about your short game, skip the rentals and bring your own clubs to play Punta Cana’s world-class championship golf courses, designed by stars like Jack Nicklaus and Nick Price. You can tee off on immaculate greens right next to the Caribbean Sea, guide the ball down palm-lined fairways, and try to avoid out-of-bounds areas filled with dense tropical vegetation.
- Surfboard: For avid beginners, Punta Cana offers an excellent spot to break in a new board, with gentle, consistent waves and a wide stretch of rock-free, palm-dotted sand at Playa Macao. Lessons and rentals are available through Macao Surf Camp if you can’t pack your own board or need a few tips. When you’re ready to dry off, stroll over to one of several beach restaurants serving fresh fish and cold beer.
When to go
Punta Cana is warm throughout the year, with temperatures hovering in the 80s. The driest months are December to April, but there’s plenty of sunshine year-round. When it does rain, showers usually come in short, sharp bursts rather than extended soaks.
If you’re here in February, check out the Punta Cana Carnival, where the highlights include a lively parade with dance and musical troupes sporting elaborate costumes and flamboyant headdresses. Whatever you do, don’t miss the grand finale—a massive concert with rhythmic merengue and bachata tunes.
Ready to book your Punta Cana vacation? Take a look at these hotels and set your clock to island time.