PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic - As our plane taxied onto the runway at the Punta Cana airport, there were the rows of aircraft bearing the logos of tour operators from around the world -- Russia, Spain, Italy and Germany. This small airport in the Dominican Republic lives up to its international designation.
That marked the first surprise during our week's stay in Punta Cana.
Clearing customs quickly, we were on our way to our resort and another new destination experience. It was late afternoon, but we couldn't resist the temptation to walk down to the beach to catch the sunset. Before the sun receded, I walked into the next surprise.
I had heard the beaches were as beautiful as those anywhere. What I did not anticipate was sand so fine that it passed between my toes like water. And, as I discovered the next day, lying on a blanket beside the ocean was like resting on a soft bed. The sand moved with me as I turned to get sun-roasted on my other side.
So fine is the sand that each morning it drifted across the sidewalks on the beach. By the time the tanning throngs arrived, the workers had cleared the sidewalks.
The Punta Cana region is different than other holiday destinations. With no large shopping communities nearby, it truly is a place to rest and revel in the surroundings. Depending on your location, the nearest big shopping experience can be 80 to 250 kilometres away.
Many resorts offer four- and five-star quality. Premium beverages are served at most of the bars, the grounds are immaculate and the service on the beaches is friendly and speedy.
For the sun worshipper, there may be no better place to lie on the beach than Punta Cana. Long walks in the morning and late afternoon seem to be the most prominent activity, notwithstanding the fact that exercise and a variety of sport facilities are readily available.
For the golf enthusiast, Punta Cana has more than a dozen courses to challenge the pro and the hacker.
Most of the golf courses are connected to golf resorts, but are usually open to the public as well. Golf in Punta Cana is reasonably priced compared with resorts in the United States and even other sunspot locations.
Designed by P.B. Dye, the Punta Cana Resort and Club course draws visitors from most resorts. While I did golf with a Canadian group once, most of my games were with French, Italian and British partners.
The island green on the 12th hole of the Punta Cana Golf Course is the signature hole. In addition, 14 others offer ocean views, with some bordering the ocean from tee to green. Golf magazine has declared it the No. 1 course in the Caribbean, comparing it favourably with Pebble Beach.
The Cocotal Golf Course has been set up with five tee boxes at every hole to accommodate players of all levels.
Golf Digest rated it as a golf course with wide fairways and greens, all in beautiful shape on a flat terrain, helping to make it one of the most enjoyable vacations the reviewer ever had.
The Catalonia Caribe will suit the taste of golfers who want to spend an enjoyable time on an uncrowded course that does not play with a great deal of difficulty.
Some of the hilled fairways offer an excellent view. When I was there, we were able to easily complete the round in less than 31/2 hours.
New courses are under construction by some of the world's best-known designers. Punta Cana will start to promote itself as a golf haven.
Destination weddings are popular at Punta Cana resorts. Wedding size may vary from 10 to more than 100 guests. These weddings represent a growth industry throughout the world, but for resorts they are a vital and significant component in their marketing efforts.
Most offer wedding chapels and the wedding feast can take place on the beach or in banquet rooms, used more for weddings than business meetings.
We saw a number of ceremonies and receptions outdoors when we were there.
Punta Cana resorts offer multiple restaurants, often in exquisitely appointed rooms. And the international flavour goes beyond the menu as languages from Europe can be heard as you dine.
The Punta Cana experience proved to be most satisfying. It deserves a second trip.