Scuba diving in the Dominican Republic? Bayahibe has undersea beauty. FREE American, FREE Starwood- thanks for making travel my rewarding duty.
Are beachfront resorts that serve unlimited amounts of food and alcoholic beverages your idea of vacation paradise? I unknowingly had thought that this was all there was to the D.R., and therefore had avoided it, but that was a mistake; there is so much more going on in this lovely half-island nation, than only that part of its complex identity.
After looking around for someplace somewhat off the beaten track to use up some AA miles and SPG hotel points, a little bit of cross-referencing research brought me to the idea of the Dominican Republic. When further investigating from respected sources about scuba-diving there yielded information about Bayahibe, I knew I had found our next free trip, and indeed, it was an excellent one! We saw so much beauty, and visited many interesting places, even though we only got to know a small part of the country.
Great swimming at the end of each day in the pool at Four Points Punta Cana Village
Lodging first: Unlike most people who come to Punta Cana for its brilliant beaches and all-inclusive resorts, we stayed at the Four Points Punta Cana Village (by Starwood) which might be perceived as a peculiar choice, given that it’s not on the beach, and it’s not all-inclusive. Nonetheless, this little gem of a hotel– that only set us back 19,000 points for a whole week– never let us down. Let me offer you a little bit of perspective on the value of points: had we stayed at the Westin Resort Punta Cana (another Starwood property), it would have cost us 16,000 points for one night.
Lucky for us, during this visit, we had no desire or need to stay at the Westin. That type of resort best suits the folks who don’t wish to venture out beyond the limit of the hotel grounds. But we do! And when we can, we like to go far and wide, seeking to experience as much as possible of the local culture, including cuisine, flora , fauna, geography, history, markets, and people. Here, that meant- in addition to our superb diving in Bayahibe (with a great outfit-Scubafun)(and very good food at the Saona Cafe), eating at cliff-side restaurants overlooking the beautiful bay at Boca de Yuma, fun amateur spelunking in the nearby Berna Caves (Cuevas de Berna), an illuminating visit to the charming and historic former residence-turned museum of Juan Ponce de León, and more.
Great night sleep every day in our nice room at the Four Points Punta Cana Village
This hotel was perfect for us. It’s new, modern, pretty, bright, clean, comfortable, and well-appointed, too. Plus, it offers free parking, which we appreciated because we did have a rental car (through Auto Europe for a little over $150 for the entire week), and is super-handy to the airport, the highways, and directly across the street from Punta Cana Village– where there are more than a dozen restaurants, cafés, bars and boutiques, and even a supermarket (with the best mangoes!). And for those guests who so desire, for a modest supplemental fee, there are (or at least were when we went in early 2016) exchange privileges with the Westin. For bonus points on Starwood Preferred Guest hotels, we got them through the co-branded card here: SPG American Express.
Our flights were on American Airlines. Because we traveled during high season, our economy class tickets cost 47,000 miles each for a round-trip ticket. Had we booked more in advance for the same dates, we could have gotten them for about 35,000 each. There were no direct flights, so we had to make a quick connection in Philadelphia. No problem- each flight, both ways, was smooth and easy, and went by very quickly, (perhaps because I became completely obsessed with one of their in-flight entertainment offerings, the game Anagramarama, called bookworm, now. Talk about good mental exercise combined with fun…I don’t dare download it at home though, no more posts would ever get written.)
By the way, like during most of our dive trips, we ended our travels to the Dominican Republic with a brief sojourn to an area of colonial history, too. We spent the last few days in the Zona Colonial of Santo Domingo, where we enjoyed strolling around the cobblestone streets, visiting places of interest, soaking up the more quiet culture, and reflecting deeply upon the massive changes, both good and bad, that the Spanish conquest yielded.
Here we stayed in a very nice B&B type of small inn, called Casa del Sol, which we highly recommend. It’s very well located, close to all you’d want to see in this neighborhood, on an important street (Isabel la Católica), but at its very quiet end.
My only regret about our trip is that we didn’t have more time to see other fascinating parts of the country. There is so much to do and see in the Dominican Republic. With luck, in time, we will each be able to apply again for a new miles and points- yielding credit card or two, (usually every two years or so with Citibank, you can be approved for, and receive the bonus from new promotion credit cards), and go back.
In case you’re ready to plan your trip, you could start with earning 50,000 bonus miles on American Airlines with this current card promotion (and with those miles you could practically go to the Caribbean and to California or Florida, for free!): AAdvantage Platinum World Select Mastercard
Free trips feel good. Plan your free flight and free hotel today. ¡Buen viaje!