No matter how much cash they have to splash, customers can get their money’s worth when visiting this Caribbean nation, writes Jo Cooke
With its history of budget breaks, the Dominican Republic might not be the first island that springs to mind when it comes to high-end trips, but this is definitely a destination that can offer great value for money at all levels of luxury.
Here, quality is about quantity. Hotels with high room counts keep costs down thanks to economies of scale. However, don’t let the idea of sharing paradise with a crowd put your clients off. Most properties have large enough grounds that they never feel busy.
Another plus with the Dominican Republic is that facilities at the hotels are usually top-notch, even when you go for the budget options. Outside the hotels the beaches, infrastructure and attractions are also impressive – as more UK travellers are about to discover.
British Airways launched its first non-stop service to Punta Cana on October 26, flying twice- weekly from Gatwick. And Punta Cana airport isn’t just a gateway to the major seaside resort of the same name, but also the less touristy Samana Peninsula.
In addition to hidden beaches and stunning waterfalls, including El Limon, whale-watching opportunities between January and March are said to be some of the best in the world.
Save: No poor relations
With lead-in prices of less than £1,000 for a week’s all-inclusive commonplace, you can make clients’ Caribbean aspirations come true in the Dominican Republic. They’ll start to think you’re a real magician when you also tell them that they needn’t psyche themselves up for something cheap and cheerful either. The 852-room Occidental Grand Punta Cana, for example, is a shining star in the budget sector.
Sold through Hayes & Jarvis from £755 for September and October departures next year, rooms are spacious, neatly furnished and nod at the Iberian style of the attractive white-washed low-rise room blocks they are housed in. Everyone also gets a balcony or terrace bedecked with a flourishing window box.
The mature floral gardens are a delight too, and just like the rest of the hotel’s grounds, these are meticulously kept. Add a palm-fringed beach, and a ream of facilities, including three pools, tennis courts, nightly entertainment and a pizzeria that serves until 6am, and you’re bound to satisfy all but the impossible-to-please.
If they can shell out just a little more, you can add a touch of chic to their seaside base. The 500-room Dreams Palm Beach Punta Cana is sold by Kuoni from £912 for a week on an all-inclusive basis. It has contemporary furnishings with splashes of bold colours, funky light fittings and an eye-catching free-form pool at its centre. All this, plus a breath-taking, palm-dotted swathe of sand butting the ocean.
Heading north to the Samana Peninsula, Thomson offers the all-inclusive, 295-room, Grand Bahia Principe Cayacoa (pictured below). The key selling point here is location, location, location.
Set on a clifftop bluff just beyond the bustling and inviting town of Santa Bárbara de Samaná, the views are mesmerising no matter which way you turn; to the open ocean, the thickly forested headland or the town harbour. The resort has two idyllic, sheltered coves met by shallow waters, reached by steps or a lift. Golf buggies are also on offer to ferry guests between the public areas, accommodation blocks and pool terrace. Prices start from £910 for a week.
On the other side of the Samana Peninsula is the low-key seaside town of Las Terrenas. It has a fisherman’s village of restaurants in clapboard cottages and beach cafes lit by lanterns at night. Thomson sells the 462-room Grand Bahia Principe El Portillo here from £899 all-inclusive. The beachfront property is functional, and well-maintained with two pools, a water park, and kids’ club among its facilities.
Spend: Bag a bargain
The Dominican Republic is also likely to put a smile of the faces of the squeezed middle, as luxury can be found for less.Secrets Royal Beach, Punta Cana (pictured below), is a stylish, adult-only property that has a boutique-hotel feel despite its 465 rooms. The reception area is like a lobby of a modern-art gallery, the resort’s pool has a lazy river and there’s a swish spa. A week with Western & Oriental leads in at £995.
Another great choice is the 464-room Excellence Punta Cana. Again adult-only, it’s sold by Funway Holidays from £1,399 all-inclusive including flights departing February 6. Its public areas are laid out to give a village feel, with the chance to enjoy coffee and conversation on the piazza, or mingle at the bars. There are also enticing shops, an intimate spa, first-rate gym and good selection of themed restaurants within the lush, landscaped grounds. Both properties edge up to white sand and turquoise waters.
The seriously sizeable, 1,791-room Hard Rock Casino & Hotel is also to be recommended. The rooms and facilities very much live up to its five-star rating. Funway Holidays offers a week all-inclusive in February from £1,499.
The mid-range option on the Samana Peninsula is the Luxury Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado. Reached by shuttle boat from the mainland, this island resort is thick with tropical foliage, and boasts a collection of exceptional beaches, one with great snorkelling. There are just 256 rooms and a relaxed, get-away-from-it-all feel pervades. Thomson leads in at £1,105 on an all-inclusive basis with flights departing Gatwick on May 3.
Splurge: Hip hideaways
For privacy and exclusivity in the Dominican Republic, one has to head a little off the beaten track. In the northern reaches of Punta Cana, two high-end properties sit side-by-side on Uvero Alto beach. The first, Zoetry Agua Punta Cana, has just 96 rooms. Some have direct pool access, and the two-bedroom villas are ideal for families.
The resort has a Zen meets beach-chic feel, and added extras include free international calls and laundry service plus butlers. Seven nights’ all-inclusive with ITC Classics starts from £1,899 including flights and private transfers, for travel between May and October.While the ocean is generally calm as it meets the Zoetry’s beach, at the neighbouring Sivory, Punta Cana, it is a little wilder.
At this 55-room hotel, in-room furnishings marry minimalism with something a little cosier, and pampering touches include 12 bottles of carefully-selected wines in your fridge, breakfast in bed daily, and an AAA four-diamond restaurant on property. Kuoni leads-in at £1,066, room-only departing in April.
Eden Roc at Cap Cana, in the southern reaches of Punta Cana, meanwhile, is another top-end treat. A compact village of 34 suites, set in candy-coloured villas with private pools, edges a winding, paved road that hugs a lagoon.
Interiors have a European-cum-colonial Caribbean feel with luxury Italian furnishings. A beach club with a restaurant and pool is a four-minute golf buggy ride away. Caribtours’ low-season rate starts at £2,199 for seven nights with breakfast.
On the Samana Peninsula you’ll find two members of Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH). The Bannister Hotel (pictured below) is set within a gated community close to Santa Bárbara de Samaná. Nestling between headlands of palms, it overlooks a 107-slip marina, and has a Café del Mar restaurant set on a peninsula at the entrance to the harbour.
The 48 one and two-bedroom suites nearly all enjoy views of Samana Bay. Interiors feature a living area with high-spec kitchen, sumptuous beds, marble bathrooms and generous terraces. The nearest beach is on Cayo Levantado Island, a 15-minute boat ride away. Seven nights with breakfast through SLH starts from £999.
Back on the peninsula’s other coast, and close to Las Terrenas, is the Ibiza-esque Sublime Samana Hotel & Residences. Surrounded by a forest of palm trees, the establishment has 18 one to three-bedroom contemporary-style units, set around lawns and a reflection pool-style water feature.
The property benefits from direct beach access and a wide range of restaurants in neighbouring resorts are within a half-hour drive. A seven-night Splurge on the House package booked through SLH costs from £1,656, and gives a daily credit equal to the room rate, which client may use towards spa, restaurant or telephone costs.
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