Value-for-money vacation – and then you splurge! Just last week I just received Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2013 - Top 10 countries list and I was pleased as punch when I got to No. 9: Dominican Republic: The Caribbean's 'Next Big Thing.' I'm certainly not surprised to see the Dominican Republic in the Top 10. Tourists to that country leapt by 8.4% in the first quarter of 2012 alone, and it's a huge draw for Canadians. I was in "the DR" two months ago on a food-filled, activity-packed trip that included three nights at the upscale Casa De Campo resort on the southeast coast, and then another three nights at the Ocean Blue Sand Resort in Punta Cana, which has the dual attraction of facing both the Caribbean and Atlantic oceans. Yup, that's what I said. Two oceans for the price of one resort stay. Bonus! [caption id="attachment_14244" align="aligncenter" width="326"] White-sandy beaches of Punta Canada (Courtesy: Go Dominican Republic)[/caption]
•••And that's not the only duality to boast about. The Dominican Republic is one of those destinations which offers both high-end and budget-conscious holidays. In fact, it's the ideal destination if you want to "Splurge and Save" – book into an all-inclusive for one week and then treat yourself to something a little more extravagant for a couple days at the end of your trip. So let's start with wallet-friendly holidays in the Dominican Republic and next time I'll tell you how to splurge at the glam and fab Casa De Campo. Holiday highlights at Ocean Blue Sand Resort: 1. Stress-free holiday planning: All-inclusive package vacations at resorts like Ocean Blue Sand are tops when it comes to stress-free vacation planning. You have little (if any) legwork to do. Everything you need is on one large sprawling property and most resorts save you the hassle of arranging transport. They'll even pick you up at the airport and get you back in time to catch your flight home after a week or so in the sun. Plus, most meals, drinks, some activities and nightly entertainment are all included. [caption id="attachment_14251" align="aligncenter" width="330"] Grab a spot on the beach and soak up the Punta Cana sun. That's the perfect day No. 1 of any tropical holiday[/caption]
•••2. Lots of activities to choose from – for the entire family: On or about day 2 or 3 of a holiday, after you've caught up on shut-eye, hoisted a few margaritas and dipped into every pool on the property, chances are you'll want some other more energetic diversions. Folks, it's time to get off that beach towel. At Ocean Blue Sands, for instance, some of the more popular activities include: • snorkeling • windsurfing and kayaking • bowling (yes, the place is big enough to accommodate its own bowling alley!) • climbing wall on the beach • an introductory scuba demonstration (it's safe; it's in the pool) • disco nights (boogey away any extra calories on the dancefloor. Remember, what happens in Punta Cana stays in Punta Cana.) 4. Dining on the resort property: You don't feel like Googling to find your dinner? Not to worry. Most resorts offer a variety of eateries. Neither you - nor the kids - will get bored at meal time. Ocean Sands Beach Golf & Resort offers a variety of onsite restaurants including La Casa de mi Abuela (translation: The House of My Grandmother, so you can expect authentic Dominican cuisine), Margarita (great Mexican), I Mascherati Di Venezia (Italian), Route 66 (typical American grub), La Brasa (Caribbean grill eatery), Bucanero (seafood - it's a must), and El Bodegon (good ole steak). 5. You can also eat local: I highly recommend that you tear yourself away from the comfort of the resort and try local hot spots whenever you travel. A popular (meaning, reservations suggested) eatery in Punta Cana is the TripAdvisor-approved Jelly Fish restaurant. Resort staff will be glad to arrange your taxi there and back. Don't drive. You'll need to navigate myriad back lanes and small roads in the dark (and it's a definite no-no if you intend to drink alcohol.) My tip: order a taxi - and then order the lobster. Come to think of it, any of the seafood options at Jelly Fish will satisfy. 6. Options for day trips: On my second morning at Ocean Blue Sand, I enjoyed a fascinating guided hike through the Indigenous Eyes Ecological Reserve, a short drive from the centre of Punta Cana. The 1,500-acre reserve, maintained by the Ecological Foundation, is devoted to scientific research and the conservation of native and endangered species. You can choose from a variety of easy-walking trails that meander through the forest to a series of 12 freshwater lagoons. Take your time and you'll spot all manner of birds and reptiles. (It's definitely kid-friendly.)
•••Hopping on a local bus and heading to a nearby city is an excellent way to meet locals and get a front seat view of the country you're visiting. A day trip to Santo Domingo could be the perfect non-beach, non-resort cultural adventure. [caption id="attachment_14253" align="aligncenter" width="320"] Day-trippers to Santo Domingo love getting a taste of Dominican art and culture[/caption]
•••Then again, perhaps a little island-hopping will entice you. I ran out of time on my recent trip to the Dominican Republic but if I ever return to Punta Cana, I'll definitely sign up for a day-long catamaran excursion from Punta Cana to Isla Saona. It comes highly recommended by the Lonely Planet.
•••You can find scores of other budget-friendly getaways in the Dominican Republic at Go Dominican Republic. And stay tuned for the scoop on dream holidays at Casa De Campo. Over to you: Would the Dominican Republic find its way onto your personal Travel Top 10? What other destinations would be on your list?