Our Search for Simplicity in Punta Cana

Macaw square

Our search for simplicity in Punta Cana began with investigating the two free public beaches, Playa Blanca and Play El Macao. If you haven’t yet discovered that there’s more to Punta Cana than All-In resorts, be sure to visit what we believe is the finest stretch of beach on all of the Dominican Republic east coast. Then, for a change of pace from beach bumming, we visited Manati Park near Bavaro.

Pleasures of Manati Park

The parking lot was so empty at 9:20 in the morning that we wondered if it was open. Tour buses from the various resorts arrived a little later, which bumped the number of guests considerably, but it wasn’t ever crowded and there was no such thing as standing in line.

The site consists of exhibits supporting four local specialty areas: Taino culture, sea lion and dolphin performances, tropical birds, and equestrian exhibitions. Each is timed to allow the patron to move to the next area, with a larger break for lunch in the middle.

On the level of an amusement park, what is there to say about the aboriginal Taino culture that isn’t guesswork? I suppose the tourist’s job is to simply relax and enjoy the nonsense.

We found the Dolphin and Sea Lion Show a genuine pleasure. I didn’t want a kiss from either animal, but I still loved watching their grace and beauty. I’m awed by the fact that they are so trainable. It seemed marvellous to see the dolphins arc so high above the confines of the pool, which meant there had to be tremendous thrust behind those leaps.

Watching the sea lions perform in Manati Park expanded my understanding of the animal. My initial acquaintance with them had been through zoos and natural habitats such as the Sea Lion Caves north of Florence, Oregon, USA. From those experiences, my main association with the animal was their stink and noise. One part of this performance I found particularly charming was the latin dance. No spoilers here! Go see it for yourself!

I’m not sure why the stage for the Tropical Bird Show wasn’t lit, but it made both seeing the birds and taking photos difficult. The birds primarily walked along the green counter in front while pushing objects with their beaks or appearing to ride miniature vehicles of one sort or another.

I’m a push-over for anything involving a horse. I’ve included this video for all my friends who love water-skiing behind a power boat. It’s a new take on the old skill.

Our 3-star B&B

We were very deliberate in choosing a 3-star B&B over any of the All-Inclusive resorts we’ve visited before. Sort of hopeful that the “less is more” dictum might hold true. On first view, the exterior lines of Hotel Art Villa Dominicana bed and breakfast are uncompromisingly straight, and the structure is completely white, inside and out. The rooms are graced with approximations of famous artists’ work. We stayed in the Kandinsky room. Here is our wall art, the breakfast room, and the car jail (for overnight safety).

Note: Smaller establishments like Art Villa Dominicana often prefer cash payment. In this case we saved 23% by paying in Dominican pesos over using a credit card.

I like a paired-down, minimalist environment from time to time. The breakfast, however, was far too spare. In order to limit consumption, we were served a set amount on a tray–two pieces of white sandwich loaf toasted, with a teaspoon each of two kinds of jam, 4 oz. of juice, and ¼ cup of cubed Lechosa, plus coffee or water. Now that’s lean fare for a senior. It would probably fuel an active person for about half an hour. Sunday morning as soon as the breakfast room was scheduled to be open for service, the staff brought that breakfast to our room and acted like we should be delighted. We hadn’t ordered breakfast in our room, we weren’t ready to eat yet, and besides, there were no table or chairs in our room.

To establish repeat customers, a small establishment needs to include some specific comforts.

  1. Give your patrons a water source in a main area. Don’t leave water in a plastic jug in the ‘fridge – gross.
  2. Avoid mopping the floor during peak traffic hours.
  3. Ged rid of the floppy bath mat across the front entry, which is a trip and fall hazard.
  4. Make breakfast a generous, pleasurable experience where chatting with other guests would be likely.

Lunch going and coming

Hwy 3 gas station restaurant

Hwy 3 gas station restaurant

We timed lunch going and coming to be at the gas station island located between the lanes of freeway traffic just east of La Romana. I know that sounds too déclassé to admit, but the service was excellent, the food was surprisingly good, and we didn’t have to navigate town traffic. We met Tostada Abuelas for the first time — so delicious. It’s an Italian roll sliced in half and toasted with a creamy Dawe cheese spread on top and a pot of hot tomato sauce on the side for dipping. So yummy we stopped at the same place on our way home to have another round.

Our search for simplicity

There’s something to the old saying, “you get what you pay for.” But I’d add that you have to look carefully to be sure you know what it is you got. I’d say we got simplicity. Lovely, calm simplicity. When the luxury of the All-Ins begins to feel cloying, try a simple B&B and visit public beaches such as Playa Blanca and Playa El Macao.

More JMBryceTravel blogs about visiting the southeast coastal area:

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