Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

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Dominican Republic beckons

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It's Week 4 of the Winnipeg Free Press Great Winter Escape and the response so far has been overwhelming.

The ballots are coming in fast and furious, both online and through the mail. The great response might have something to do with the weatherman's forecast for a longer and colder-than-usual winter and the need for Manitobans to get away for a week in the sun.

And there's no better way to go than by winning a free, all-inclusive trip at your choice of five exciting destinations, courtesy of the Winnipeg Free Press, Transat Holidays and Ixtapa Travel.

So far, we've seen Varadero, Cuba, with a week at the four-and-a-half star TRYP Penninsula Varadero; Panama, with a week at the five-star Westin Playa Bonita; and the Riviera Maya, Mexico, with seven days at the five-star Gran Bahia Principe Coba Royal Golden.

This week it's on to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, another favourite resort area for Manitobans. With direct flights every Thursday this winter, Punta Cana is easily accessible with Air Transat. And each year this popular paradise gains more attention due to a huge lineup of impressive modern hotels available at affordable prices.

Punta Cana is quickly becoming a rival to the Riviera Maya in Mexico, with pristine, white sand beaches, sparkling blue water and more and more mega-hotel complexes popping up each year.

This week's prize offering is among the finest on beautiful Playa Bavaro, rated one of the best beaches in the Caribbean. The four-and-a-half-star Melia Caribe offers 1,128 suites in two-storey bungalows. There are eight à la carte restaurants and a huge selection of watering holes, including a swim-up bar, a sports bar and a disco.

"The Melia Caribe is a food-lover's paradise and they continually get the highest marks for their restaurants," says Corwin Kostenchuk, general manager of Ixtapa Travel.

"The buffet restaurant has food stations where they cook everything in front of you from scratch, and then you have food choices from around the world in the à la carte restaurants: Asian, French, Mexican, Italian, and Dominican. If you want it, I am pretty sure Melia Caribe will have it."

Melia Caribe is part of the Melia Caribe Tropical complex in Punta Cana and is owned and operated by the Melia All-Inclusive group of hotels, offering luxury accommodation in Europe, Asia, North and South America, the Caribbean and Africa.

At the resort, you will enjoy swimming in one of 10 free-form swimming pools or lounging on the beach with ready access to all sorts of water activities, including snorkelling, pedal boats, windsurfing and kayaking. Away from the beach there are tennis courts, a climbing wall and pool tables, all included during your stay. For an additional price there is night tennis, a casino, two spas and a shopping area.

Our winner will be staying in a luxurious deluxe junior suite, with a king or two double beds, hairdryer, coffee-maker, mini-bar, living area plus a balcony or terrace.

You'll love this resort so much, you'll never want to leave -- which would be a big mistake as Punta Cana and the Dominican Republic have so much to offer.

Punta Cana is a golfer's paradise and, as an added bonus, guests at Melia Caribe receive four rounds of golf complimentary per week (cart is mandatory and not included) at the nearby Cocotal Golf and Country Club.

There are 12 golf courses in the Punta Cana area, ranging from the original Barcelo Bavaro course, which opened in 1991, to the ultra-exclusive Cap Cana area, where you can mingle with the rich and famous for only US$320 per round at Jack Nicklaus' Punta Espada course.

Known as the Coconut Coast, the Punta Cana area on the northeastern shore of the Dominican Republic was relatively unknown a decade ago. Named after the fringe of palm trees along the shore, the picture-perfect coastline boasts four popular beaches: Playa Macao, Playa Bavaro, Playa Punta Cana and the wild Playa Juanillo. You can walk for miles along the pristine shore and play in the waves, go horseback riding or swim with the fish.

Travelling inland is just as beautiful, and there's no better way to discover the Dominican countryside than by taking a safari adventure in an open-air jeep. You'll go through traditional villages, down mountain trails and pass by large sugar cane plantations. For the more adventurous, there's zip-lining over the tree tops in the eco tourist park or driving your own dune buggy across the sand and dirt trails.

Nothing exemplifies the beauty and proud culture of the Dominican people better than Santo Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic, located three hours south of Punta Cana. Discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492, this colonial city is the oldest in the Americas and is a place of contrasts and a melding of many cultures.

The architecture is breathtaking, with black wrought-iron cast against white and yellow stone buildings, and gleaming marble contrasting with rustic wooden structures.

Visitors can tour the first cathedral of the New World, the Alcazar of Columbus, the Pantheon and the ancient colonial city. Santo Domingo boasts the first road, the first university and the first hospital of the New World, and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1990.

The Dominican people are among the most beautiful in the world. They welcome you with bright smiles and are anxious to teach you merengue and bachata, two popular local dances that were the major impetus behind a new exercise phenomena, zumba. Zumba combines Latin dance moves with aerobic exercise and is sweeping the world as a fun way to get fit.

Another craze coming out of the Punta Cana area is swimming with the big fish -- not just dolphins, but also sharks and stingrays. One of Transat Holidays' most popular tours is to the Marinarium in Punta Cana, a unique marine park where you can get up close and personal with a variety of underwater creatures.

If your preference is catching fish or just having fun in the sun, there are deep-sea fishing expeditions and relaxing catamaran cruises to small islands off the Bavaro coast.

The choice is endless, but you can't win this exciting adventure to Punta Cana with seven nights at the Melia Caribe if you don't enter.

Simply fill out the Great Winter Escape ballot on this page and drop it off at the Free Press building, 1355 Mountain Ave., or at Ixtapa Travel, #105-3025 Portage Ave., or mail to Winnipeg Free Press, P.O. Box 1800, 1355 Mountain Ave., Winnipeg, MB. R3C 3R1.

You can also enter online at www.winnipegfreepress.com/contests (limit one email entry per unique email address per day). If you are a six-day home subscriber you will also win a $200 spa gift certificate for SpaLifestyle & Fashion Boutique at 2001 Henderson Highway. Go to their website at www.spalifestylefashionboutique.ca for a full list of services from manicures to seaweed wraps.

Remember, the more you enter, the greater your chance of winning a choice of five deluxe all-inclusive vacations. The contest closes December 14, and don't forget to answer the question on the ballot. Hint: The answer is in this article so don't worry about having to scour the Internet.

Next Week: RUNAWAY BAY, JAMAICA / The Gran Bahia Principe Jamaica Royal Golden

- Melia Caribe (Hotel info and resort logo)

* Junior Suite accommodation in large rooms with sitting area. Mini-bar with water and soft drinks.

* 8 a la carte restaurants with unlimited dinners each week (Asian fusion, French, Gourmet, Seafood, Mexican, Italian, Dominican and American Grill).

* 4 rounds of golf complimentary per week (mandatory golf cart extra).

* Snorkelling, pedal boats, windsurfing, kayaking, tennis, climbing wall are included.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 5, 2011 D1

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