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  • A Time to Discover the Dominican Republic
    Ecologically Diverse Punta Cana Beach Resort
    By Walt Stearns
    The Punta Cana reef system is a majestic expanse. At the easternmost end of the Dominican Republic, the second largest island in the Caribbean, it is the longest continuous reef tract in the region as well as the least explored. Starting just beyond the shore and extending as much as a mile out, its well developed spur and groove formations bottom out at 50 feet. Just beyond the end of this first main reef, beginning between 50 to 75 feet, the broad expanse of white sand bottom is dotted with numerous patch reefs adorned with large, colorful sponges and gorgonians. Still farther out, at 80 to 100 feet, the bottom begins to drop away to the deeper reaches of the Mona Passage, where, on occasion, divers will find cruising reef sharks.

    Occupying an area where the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean meet, Punta Cana's diving conditions are customarily favorable year-round. Underwater visibility averages between 50 and 100 feet, with temperatures seldom falling lower than the upper 70s (F) in winter. Accessing this faraway region of the Dominican Republic is the Punta Cana Beach Resort and Ecological Foundation.

    The resort covers a 105 acre slice of this immense, sprawling, undeveloped region and is divided into separate, luxuriant, modern complexes containing 400 rooms in all. Primary accommodations included Cocotal ocean view rooms, right on the beach, with two queen sized beds; the Superior, with two full sized beds (also with close access to the beach); and the Villas, two and three bedroom complexes in either the tennis or beach areas, sharing a centrally located living and dining room with kitchenette. The bedrooms in the Villas feature one double or two full sized beds. All rooms have with air-conditioning, direct dial telephone, security box, cable TV, hairdryer and either a balcony or terrace.

    Guests on the half-board meal plan can indulge in buffetstyle breakfasts and dinners (with a different theme each night). Dining a la carte, with a small, additional surcharge, is also an option at Mamma Venezia (specializing in Italian); La Cana, La Tortuga or La Choza (with menus offering both Caribbean and international choices); and Franco's Pizzeria.

    Among one of the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation's preservation programs is the 1,555 acre transitional forest (a type of forest that falls between tropical rain forest and dry forest), donated by the resort owners, Grupo Punta Cana. Named the Indian Eyes Park (centered between the resort grounds and newly completed Marina Punta Cana), it is not only beautiful, but also unique in that it is supplied by an underground river system emerging at 12 different natural spring basins.

    In addition to the park and 800 meter span of private beach, major facilities on the grounds include an immense swimming pool, a couple of tennis courts, large conference rooms (each will seat up to 200), as well as a children's playground, kiddie pool and Kids' Club daycare center.

    An all-inclusive resort, Punta Cana's activities include sailing, windsurfing, waterskiing, kayaking, snorkeling, tennis and aerobic classes. Nightly live performances by entertainers and musicians round out the list of fun things to do. Horseback riding excursions, scuba diving and nighttime use of the tennis courts are available for an additional charge.

    Punta Cana Dive

    Center Services

    The largest active member of the PADI International Resort Association in the Dominican Republic's eastern region, the beachside facility of Punta Cana Dive Center offers certification courses from open water to assistant instructor (along with several specialty courses), in addition to Discover Diving resort courses. Dive trips on the 25 foot outboard powered skiff leave twice daily (morning and afternoon) to the reef system along the Dominican Republic's eastern tip.

    Working in cooperation with the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation and the Dominican Republic's National Aquarium, Punta Cana Dive Center offers a unique marine education program, which includes a variety of interactive exercises, workshops and games designed to demonstrate not only how this fragile marine ecosystem works, but what we can do to preserve it. A couple of sites involve fish feeding sessions, along with complimentary reef fish and coral identification courses. Following each dive, fresh fruit and drinks are provided on board.

    In addition to visiting the reef systems close by, Punta Cana Dive Center also offers a special two tank, all day excursion to Saona Island and Catalina Island to the far west, which must be requested in advance. Taking approximately one hour by car, followed by a 20 minute boat ride, Catalina Island features the second shallowest wall dive in the Caribbean, with a starting depth of 18 feet. From there it drops straight down to 120 feet. For more advanced (beyond open water) divers Punta Cana Dive Center can also arrange a dive in one of the region's freshwater cave systems.

    For booking or more information, Punta Cana Beach Resort offices can be reached at (800) 972-2139 or (809) 541-2714, fax to (809) 541-2286, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

    GETTING THERE

    Air travel to the international airport at Punta Cana, on the island's easternmost coast, is as easy as a single hop from Miami (taking as little as two hours) or New York (taking only three and a half hours), via American, TWA, Air France, Lan Chile and Dominair, to name a few. Most provide direct, nonstop flights in and out of the island. A Dominican Republic tourist card ($10 U.S.) fee to accompany your ticket is paid at the counter during check-in for departure. The only other requirements for U.S. citizens are a valid passport or an original birth certificate accompanied with a valid photo ID.