From an early Punta Cana trip way, way back in 2008.
Spanning the Dominican Republic's east coast from Uvero Alto 30 miles south to Cap Cana, Punta Cana is the country's fastest-developing resort area. A growth spurt that began four years ago now yields annual arrivals of almost 2 million visitors, most of whom flock to the all-inclusive resorts that dominate the region. Even greater numbers of visitors - and elevated levels of luxury - are expected in the next couple of years as the government pumps millions of dollars into the tourism infrastructure, and sprawling resort communities, anchored by swanky international hotel brands such as Aman, Ritz-Carlton and Westin Resorts, are poised to stake their claims.
Uvero Alto's secluded golden beaches are the serene setting for the newly opened Agua Resort & Spa, a thatch-roofed boutique hotel whose 51 rooms are connected by a serpentine pool. Elegantly understated and spacious accommoda-tions - some with private plunge pools - feature dark woods, whitewashed walls, local art, soaking tubs and terraces that overlook the ocean, pool or gardens. The resort's Areito Restaurant serves a fusion of Spanish and Dominican cuisine. 866- 757-AGUA; aguaresort.com
THE SUITE LIFE
Just south of Agua, the all-suite, adults-only, all-inclusive Excellence Punta Cana recently updated its 452 accommodations and added the Miilé Spa. Resort guests can eat their way around the globe at seven international restaurants, and then enjoy a stroll through Excellence's on-site park, home to free-roaming flamingos and parrots. 809-685-9880; excellence-resorts.com
The Edenh Real Arena debuted early this year in Punta Cana's main town, Bávaro. A palm-lined entrance leads to the five-star Spanish all-inclusive, which has six restaurants, eight bars and two pools. All 658 contemporary-style rooms have whirl-pool tubs, rain showers and private terraces or balconies; guests in Paradise Club accom-modations enjoy private check-in, concierge service and a complimentary massage. 888-726-0528; edenh-realarena.com
A WORLD APART
By far the biggest news in Punta Cana is Cap Cana, a resort community the size of Manhattan that will comprise luxury condos and villas, three Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses, a beach club, marina and casino, plus a shopping village, spa and polo grounds set on three miles of Atlantic and Caribbean beachfront. Several hotels, including a 220-room Ritz-Carlton and a Trump Organization property, are planned for the development, the completion of which will be staggered over the next 10 years. 800-785-2198; capcana.comThe first of Cap Cana's resorts to open, Sanctuary Cap Cana Golf & Spa, debuted last December on palm-fringed Juanillo Beach. The 176-suite, five-star resort, built in Spanish colonial style, offers guests eight themed restaurants, 11 bars, a Mandara Spa and access to the new Punta Espada Golf Course. Try the shrimp tempura, ceviche or whole snapper as you dine alfresco at the shoreside Blue Marlin Restaurant. 809-544-4343; altabellahotels.comAFTER HOURS
A new pair of nocturnal options awaits those willing to venture beyond the gates of their all-inclusive resort. Party hearty at the Hard Rock Cafe Punta Cana, which opened last summer at Palma Real Shopping Village in Bávaro (809-552-0594; hardrock.com), or groove to merengue and bachata rhythms at The Montecristo Café, at the opposite end of the upscale mall. 809-552-8999
Get a bird's-eye view of the canopy as you soar over lush forest suspended by steel cables on Bávaro Runners' zip-line tour, the Dominican Republic's first. Ten lines and 11 platforms span a mile-long stretch of a mountain range populated by Taino Indians hundreds of years ago. The five-hour adventure costs $89 for adults and children alike. 809-455-1135; bavarorunners.com
Rugged trails wind around coastal mangroves at the Punta Cana Ecological Park, a privately owned 1,500-acre reserve lo-cated just 10 minutes from Punta Cana International Air-port. The park's tropical forest teems with migratory birds and more than 500 species of exotic plants, and a dozen watering holes there are designated for swimming, fishing and turtle watching. Guests of the on-site Punta Cana Resort & Club and the exclusive Tortuga Bay (featuring villa décor by famed Dominican designer Oscar de la Renta) enjoy complimentary park access, but outside visitors are advised to call ahead. Guided tours cost $10. 809-959-9221; puntacana.org