A 2021 Beach Escape: Just What the DR Ordered
All puns intended, the fact remains that after 2020, you could probably use a vacation. One that's relaxing, and easy, and affordable. Road trips are nice, but when it comes down to it, wouldn't you rather be at the beach?
Fortunately, the Dominican Republic is just a short flight away and checks all those boxes.
Relaxing: ✔️ It's home to pristine coastline, abundant culture, friendly people and world-class all-inclusive resorts, where you essentially just need to show up and your vacation is taken care of.
Easy: ✔️ The Caribbean country is located less than a four-hour flight from most Eastern U.S. cities and no PCR test is required ahead of your trip. Just verify you haven't had COVID-19 symptoms for 72 hours prior to arrival and follow mask and social distancing requirements in the country and you’ll be set.
On top of that, the Dominican Republic is offering a free health coverage plan for emergencies in the event of a COVID-19 infection or exposure while in-country. As of Jan. 26, this plan covers international travelers arriving via commercial air and staying at a hotel until March 31, 2021. It also includes free antigen testing to all international visitors staying at a hotel to meet the new CDC rules requiring travelers returning to the U.S. after Jan. 26 to present proof of a negative COVID-19 test prior to departure.
Affordable: ✔️ The Dominican Republic and its resorts have a well-earned reputation as an affordable vacation destination -- between the low cost of flights, the value of all-inclusive resorts and the strength of the U.S. dollar.
Now, about those beaches. With 1,000 miles of coastline in the DR, there's bound to be a stretch of sand with your name on it. Here are eight of our favorites...
Why we love it: The DR's most famous beach is iconic for a reason.
The nitty-gritty: Do you like long walks on the beach? Then Playa Bávaro and its 30 miles of expansive white sand will draw you to the Dominican Republic's eastern coast. Bávaro is the best-known of the beach bunch around Punta Cana, where the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea meet.
Travelers from around the world arrive here to stay in a who's-who list of resorts, and enjoy amenities aplenty -- dining, nightlife, boat tours, you name it -- but the main draw remains the beach, whether you're up early for a stunning sunrise, out for a lazy day of sunbathing or taking a break after snorkeling the reef that keeps the turquoise waters around Bávaro calm and inviting.
Best for: A worry-free, all-inclusive escape. Take a nonstop flight into Punta Cana airport, unpack at one of the beachfront resorts and walk out to your beach chair to relax. Repeat as often as needed.
Beyond the beach: As developed as Punta Cana is, just a short drive away from the resorts is the Ojos Indígenas Ecological Park & Reserve, a 1,500-acre protected nature reserve with hundreds of bird species, along with hiking trails and freshwater lagoons fed by an underwater river.
Why we love it: Welcome to the quieter side of Punta Cana.
The nitty-gritty: While there are luxury resorts north of Punta Cana, the Cap Cana development south of Punta Cana is where you'll find the island's only Relais & Châteaux property, Eden Roc, in addition to several other high-end resorts. (St. Regis Cap Cana is scheduled to open in 2023.) These resorts share Playa Juanillo, a beach that looks like it came from a postcard with white sand, swaying palm trees and gin-clear water.
Best for: An easy luxury escape where you post to Instagram to make your friends jealous.
Beyond the beach: Punta Cana is quickly becoming a hot spot for golf. The area's 10 golf courses including the seaside Punta Espada at Cap Cana, designed by Jack Nicklaus (and host to an annual PGA Tour event). Leave the beach for a day at Scape Park, a "natural theme park" that will have you ziplining into pools surrounded by waterfalls, swimming in caves and floating in the picturesque Hoyo Azul cenote.
Why we love it: The DR's original tourist hub still brings the heat.
The nitty-gritty: Puerto Plata retains much of its old-school charm, as resorts are limited to three stories high, meaning that as you relax on the golden sand of Playa Dorada, you'll be able to enjoy the scenic mountain backdrop, not to mention the clear reef-protected waters that earn a Blue Flag certification.
Best for: An affordable escape; many of the resorts here are less expensive than in Punta Cana.
Beyond the beach: Head for the hills or go deep beneath the surface. Take a day trip to the 27 Charcos de Damajagua waterfalls, where you'll hike to the hilltop, then jump or slide down a series of waterfalls until you reach the bottom. Advanced divers will want to head off the coast to Airport Wall, considered one of the best dive sites in the DR with coral and marine life at depths from 30 to 100 feet.
Playa Cabarete & Kite Beach
Why we love it: There's something in the air.
The nitty-gritty: Let's go fly a kite -- or a few hundred kites. Located east of Puerto Plata, Cabarete is considered the windsurfing capital of the world. Nearby, Kite Beach hosts the annual Master of the Ocean event, which is a world championship for kiteboarding, windsurfing, surfing and stand-up paddleboarding. But even if you're not a pro, there are instructors available in town to get newbies started. Due to the trade winds, the surf at Kite Beach can be rough for swimming; however, the shallow waters are calmer at Playa Cabarete.
Best for: An active escape, where you try your hand at any one of the many watersports options.
Beyond the beach: The area has a lot of European ex-pats, so combine that with the Dominican Republic's wonderful coffee and your morning pastry and espresso may have you thinking you're on the other side of the Atlantic.
Why we love it: Get away from it all, without really going very far.
The nitty-gritty: Located on the eastern tip of the Samaná Peninsula, Playa Rincón can reached by boat or 4x4 (out of Las Galeras). Your reward for making the trek all the way out there is three miles of pristine, soft white sand lined by palm trees, with the cliffs of Cabo Cabrón in the background and calm, turquoise water lapping the shores. You know, the kind of stuff that would lead Condé Nast Traveler to call it one of the world's 10 best beaches.
Best for: A secluded escape; plan on an unbothered beach day.
Beyond the beach: Samaná Bay on the south side of the peninsula is a popular spot for whale-watching between January and March, when humpback whales return to the tropical waters to mate, birth and splash around.
Why we love it: It's as pretty as the name suggests.
The nitty-gritty: This crescent-shaped beach west of Las Terrenas was one of the Samaná beaches featured in the 2020 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. Lined by boutique hotels, the eastern side of the beach is a great spot for surfing, while families tend to stay on the western side, where the water is calmer.
Best for: A boutique escape; while Las Terrenas is the most developed spot in Samaná, it's still a relatively low-key beach town.
Beyond the beach: Explore Las Terrenas, where you'll find shops and hotels, along with lively bars and beachfront restaurants along the Pueblo de los Pescadores. (Try the fresh seafood.) As the sun goes down, the vibe turns up -- you may end the night dancing barefoot on the beach.
Why we love it: Who doesn't love a little celeb-spotting with their beach vacay?
The nitty-gritty: Not far from La Romana is Casa de Campo, an exclusive resort that has long been a playground for the rich and famous. Playa Minitas is the resort's private beach, sitting on a protected cove that is excellent for snorkeling. Order a piña colada from the Beach Club and relax on your chaise lounge along one of the best beaches on the DR's southern coast.
Best for: A name-dropping escape; the resort has drawn the likes of Michael Jordan, native son Oscar de la Renta, J-Lo, Beyonce, the Kardashians and more.
Beyond the beach: If you're after even more beach, arrange a day trip to Isla Saona, 12 miles off the southern coast of the DR. Part of Cotubanamá National Park, Saona is the idyllic island escape with white sand beaches and water that's oh-so-blue. (In fact, it's starred as a deserted island for "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Blue Lagoon".) For an on-island experience, visit Altos de Chavón, a replica 16th-century Mediterranean village sculpted from stone with a massive Greek amphitheater, galleries and fine dining, not to mention panoramic views of the Chavón River 300 feet below.
Bahía de Las Águilas
Why we love it: This undiscovered gem is worth going the extra mile.
The nitty-gritty: Welcome to off-the-grid. Calm clear water, unspoiled white sand that stretches for more than three miles with nary a building (and very few other people) in sight. Part of Jaragua National Park, Bahía de Las Águilas is located near the town of Pedernales on DR's southwestern coast (not far from the Haitian border). To get to this version of paradise, you'll need to hire a boat. Bring your own food and water, there are no facilities on or around the beach.
Best for: A complete escape, it's just you and that view.
Beyond the Beach: There's not much nearby, that's kind of the point. But to stick with the remote theme, try glamping at Eco del Mar in Cabo Rojo before or after your beach escape.