Allison and I closed off 2016 with a meet-the-parents tour in Pennsylvania over Christmas. Her parents are warm and loving, but the weather was cold and biting, and after meeting so many new faces, we felt a warm getaway was much needed for us to thaw and unwind. The Dominican Republic served that purpose nicely.

United sells affordable nonstop fares between Newark and Punta Cana. Not having much paid time off to work with, we wanted to maximize our time spent relaxing and settled at the closest beach area: Bàvaro Beach, only a 30-minute drive from the airport.

Staying in one place the entire time meant we only got a tiny sampling of this Caribbean nation, but from what we saw, we weren't sure we wanted to sample more. The streets are loud and polluted. One half-hour walk to the supermarket on the main street was enough to make us rule out any excursions beyond the milder chaos of the beach.

While most resort guests would not get the opportunity to witness city garbage collection services in action, on our supermarket walk, we did. The above contraption, which has the appearance of a hodgepodge of spare parts salvaged from a junk yard and cobbled together with duct tape, is in full service. Leaking unidentifiable liquids and spewing an ever expanding cloud of dark fumes the longer it remained in one place, the garbage truck concerned us. We only lingered long enough to snap a pic before escaping in search of breathable air.

Bàvaro Beach

Bàvaro is part of a 5+ mile long stretch of white sands, neatly compacted and ideal for long, romantic walks and beach runs. The romantic part really only applies in the early morning or late afternoon when the boat traffic and cacophony of water activities dies down. During the day, the boat traffic is incessant. It is also common to be harassed by pesky, entrepreneuring locals asking:

“Amigo! Parasailing?”

Or, “Hola! Where are you from?”

At one point I lost my patience and responded to the latter with:

“That's private.” The young businessman chuckled and, without missing a beat, replied:

“Well, I am from Haiti. That's not private! Want to come look at my shop? I have everything. Want gift?”


We found really fine dining just a short walk from our Airbnb. Our favorite spot was an Italian restaurant called Tronco Beach that we found ourselves returning to at least once a day. The food was exquisite and the service excellent. Much of the staff did not speak English, but that turned out not to be the barrier one might expect to ordering good food.

The Joy Popsicle Stand was our go-to breakfast spot, serving excellent coffee, smoothie bowls, and mouthwatering popsicles, ideal for an afternoon cooldown. In the image below, I was able to capture a wasp attracted to the nectary residue on my bare popsicle stick. I was rather pleased with the iPhone's macrophotography abilities here. Since the purpose of this trip was pure relaxation, I left my DSLR at home and did not miss it.

While the vast majority of visitors entering the Dominican Republic are Americans, there is a sizeable contingent of Russian tourists. We encountered several beachfront stores (Русский магазин) catering exclusively to the Russians, and many restaurants had menus in both Russian and English. Surprisingly, no Asian nation makes the top-ten tourism list, perhaps due to visa conditions.

Our last day in the country was New Year's Eve. After dinner and a walk on the beach, we felt exhausted and went to bed before midnight, feeling old. We had the first flight out at 5 a.m. and were glad to get a bit more sleep than otherwise would have been possible had we partied all night.

Although we enjoyed our stay overall, I would not recommend Punta Cana as a tropical getaway. There are far more scenic and pleasant spots in the Caribbean. As if to emphasize this conclusion, just before departure our United pilot gave the gate staff a reprimand for failing to get the aircraft catered and ready to go on time.

“This happens every time I am down here,” he said to the gate agent presumed to be in charge. “Who's in charge? Are you in charge? This is unacceptable. Every passenger and crew member has somewhere to be and depends on you. I know we are going to have this conversation again next time.”

In all my frequent flying, I have never witnessed such a harsh rebuke from the captain, and although I still don't understand exactly what went wrong, I have a feeling the captain would probably not be returning either if he had his druthers.

If you choose to visit, however, make sure not to drink the tap water. Even if you are able to get past its repulsive, sulfuric smell, remember: it's non-potable.