Turquoise waters and powder-white sands await visitors to the Dominican Republic.
Punta Cana has 10 different beaches, many of them wide and all boasting clean white or golden yellow sands. Several beaches are ranked as among the world's best by the European Blue Flag organization, notorious for its stringent environmental and water-quality standards. The DR, overall, has more Blue Flag beaches than any other Caribbean island.
The following Punta Cana beaches' descriptions go from south to north. Although all are located on the Atlantic Ocean, some tend to have calmer waters when the beach slopes gradually into the water. Except where noted, beach snorkeling typically is limited due to heavy boat traffic. Good reefs tend to be offshore. Water temperatures reach a winter low in the upper 70s and go to a summer high in the upper 80s.
Playa Juanillo: My favorite beach in the world, this gorgeous palm-filled coastline usually is not crowded. Cleaned daily by Cap Cana resort staff, Playa Juanillo has a cafe/bar with an extensive menu, and kayak and small sailboats nearby for rental. To access it, you'll pass through a guarded gate at Cap Cana resort and swap your passport or driver's license for a day pass.
Punta Cana Beach: The name means "Point of the White Cane Palms" for the great stands of trees lining this most famous but private beach. Guests not staying at Punta Cana hotels can lunch at Playa Blanca's beach restaurant, open daily. For access to Playa Blanca, use the guarded gate to Punta Cana Resort and leave your passport or driver's license for a day pass.
Playa Cabo Engano: An isolated and scenic beach good for beachcombing that's unknown to most visitors. Located south of the community of Cabeza del Toro, it's accessed on a dirt road best for 4-wheel-drive (but considering the area's explosive growth, it may now be paved). No real reason for most to visit.
Cabeza de Toro: This popular beach offers decent beach snorkeling in shallows at the Catalonia Bavaro Resort and the boat-traffic free side of the Catalonia Royal Bavaro resort, which has public access. Two resorts here — NaturaPark and Be Live Grand Punta Cana — have Blue Flag beaches.
El Cortecito/Las Corales: These adjoining beaches have no access restrictions and offer everything for the day. Reminiscent of a small fishing village, the area has several beach restaurants, shops and water-sports vendors. Off the beaches are some of the area's main commercial centers containing supermarkets, shopping centers, gift shops and restaurants. The famous seafood restaurant Captain Cook's is at Cortecito.
Bavaro Beach: One of the most developed beach sections and often crowded, Bavaro remains a striking palm-lined stretch despite the hotels, restaurants and gift shops occupying it. Walk the beach to book activities from parasailing to speed boats. An offshore reef helps protect the beach. The adjoining Barcelo Bavaro Beach and Palace Deluxe Resorts share a Blue Flag status section.
Playa Arena Gorda: The name translates as "fat sand," meaning "wide" and the name is appropriate since this is one of the DR's widest beaches. Arena Gorda slopes gently into shallow, usually calm water, making it a good beach for swimming and relaxing. Get here early to claim the shade of a palm tree. Three resorts — Barceló Punta Cana, Grand Bahia Principe Bavaro, Iberostar Grand Hotel Bavaro — have Blue Flag beaches. Arena Gorda is an exceptional beach.
Macao Beach: Cited by UNESCO as one of the Caribbean's best for its fine sand and beautiful palm trees, Macao is the beach people often write home about. A surf camp offers lessons and rents boards; check locally for the days it's open. The middle of Macao Beach typically is best for swimming. Eat lunch at one of the small seaside eateries or dine at a restaurant atop the cliff at the southern end of the beach. Macao is a popular area for Dominicans on weekends.
Uvero Alto Beach: Currently the farthest north of Punta Cana beaches, its long fine bronze-colored sands and overall lack of development appeal to anyone wanting an uncrowded beach. Depending on the beach section, you'll find open areas with large waves or calm waters protected by reef. Note: there's nowhere to eat outside the resorts — three of which you can read about under Punta Cana Adults-only and Luxury Lodging. Uvero Alto seems to be becoming the new "in" beach.