Punta Cana or Puerto Plata – which one is the better holiday destination?

You can’t decide if you shall book your vacation to Punta Cana or Puerto Plata? It might indeed be a difficult decision as both are the top holiday destinations in the Dominican Republic. While Punta Cana is famous for its endless sandy beaches and elegant all-inclusive resorts, Puerto Plata can score with a more low-key atmosphere and incomparable natural attractions. As I have been to both holiday destinations several times (and am living in one of them 😉 ) I have made a comprehensive comparison between both and tell you at the end which is the better place to go: Punta Cana or Puerto Plata?

Flight Connections

Flights to Punta Cana

 Punta Cana is one of the biggest hubs in the Caribbean and features connections to over 20 countries. Just the United States have direct flights to Punta Cana from more than twenty cities, Canada serves Punta Cana non-stop from approximately 15 cities nation-wide. Furthermore, Europe is widely connected with Punta Cana, among them direct flights to Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Poland, Russia and the Scandinavian countries.

 If you can’t find the right flight to Punta Cana, you can also fly to La Romana (with limited connections to the United States and Italy) and Santo Domingo. The last one mentioned is the capital of the Dominican Republic, around 2 hours away from Punta Cana and does have several connections to Latin America, Europe, the Caribbean and North America, totaling up to around 20 different countries as well.

Flights to Puerto Plata

 Puerto Platas flight connections are considerably less than the ones to Punta Cana and sometimes it might be a struggle to reach Puerto Plata via their international Gregorio Luperón airport as it only features direct flights to 10 countries worldwide, among them the United States, Canada, Germany and some Scandinavian countries. While this might sound sufficient, also the frequencies are remarkably lower than to Punta Cana or Santo Domingo as a lot of the destinations are only served once weekly. Puerto Plata does have an alternative airport as well which is around an hour away – Cibao International Airport close to the second biggest city in the Dominican Republic, Santiago de los Caballeros. Santiago counts with excellent connections to New York with usually more than 10 non-stop services daily (!), but is lacking flights to other countries as it is just connected with Turks & Caicos, Panama and Tortola otherwise. 

Flight connections: Punta Cana or Puerto Plata?

 The discrepancy of Punta Cana and Puerto Plata can also be seen in the total number of passengers. While Punta Cana and Santo Domingo together received 11 million passengers in 2019, Puerto Plata and Santiago just counted around 2.5 million passengers combined.

 Preliminary score: Punta Cana vs. Puerto Plata 1-0

Transfer time from the airport to the hotel

Transfers from Punta Cana International Airport

 Punta Cana International Airport is located right at the ocean and the roads from the airport to the resorts are well maintained and developed. Depending on where you are staying, your transfer time – assuming you are booking a private transfer – can vary between 5 and 45 minutes. When choosing a resort directly in Punta Cana or Cap Cana you are there in 10 minutes, if you go all the way to Uvero Alto it will take you at least 35 minutes. However, most all-inclusive resorts in Punta Cana are a 20-30-minutes ride away from Punta Cana International Airport.

 In case you won’t like to book a private transfer from the airport in Punta Cana, you can also go by shared transfers, public transport or rent a car. Continue reading here about all options you have to get to and from Punta Cana International Airport.

Transfers from Puerto Plata International Airport

 Gregorio Luperón International Airport in Puerto Plata has a nice oceanfront location as well, counting (usually) for beautiful ocean view approaches when landing. It is located halfway between Puerto Plata and Sosua. Travel time to most all-inclusive resorts in Puerto Plata is a mere 20-minutes, if you have booked a hotel at Playa Cofresi (Senator, Playa Bachata) it is a 35-40 minutes ride.

 Same as in Punta Cana, transfers at Puerto Plata Airport can be arranged by private transfers, shared transfers, public transport or by renting a car.

Airport transfers: Punta Cana or Puerto Plata?

 Travel time and available options are similar at both airports, Punta Cana and Puerto Plata. Therefore, it is a tie. 

 Preliminary score: Punta Cana vs. Puerto Plata 1.5-0.5

Hotel Quality and Selection 

Hotel Options in Punta Cana

 Hotel options in Punta Cana are endless – and this goes for the choice of accommodation types in general as well as for the selection of all-inclusive resorts. It doesn’t matter if you are looking for a luxury villa next to the golf course, for a small guesthouse in the town center, for a beachfront condominium or for one of the omnipresent all-inclusive resorts, Punta Cana has it all. And as most of the properties were just built in the last 5-15 years, the majority of accommodation is quite new. Quality is an important word in Punta Cana, I am always impressed with what you get for your money. Everything is super clean, high quality and the service usually impeccable (of course, depending on your final choice of accommodation), but there is hardly anything you will miss while enjoying your vacation in Punta Cana. If you are not sure how to find the best all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana, check out this article.

The pool area of Vista Sol Resort

Hotel Options in Puerto Plata

 Puerto Plata does have its own little all-inclusive area called Playa Dorada with several all-inclusive resorts as well as further hotels at Costa Dorada and Playa Cofresi. However, you can see and feel that the boom of Puerto Plata was in the 90s – and that most resorts were constructed back at that time. This is why most accommodation in Puerto Plata tend to be a bit older even they are renovated, of course. Furthermore, Puerto Plata is lacking true luxury options as most hotels here at in the budget and middle-class segment. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t get good deals in Puerto Plata, especially as the price level is significantly lower than in Punta Cana (see next point).

Hotel options: Punta Cana or Puerto Plata?

 Punta Cana does have significantly better hotel options – both in quantity and in quality. Just check the links above and you will be overwhelmed by the options (this is why I offer travel coaching by the way 😉 ). On the other hand, Puerto Platas choices are limited, but you can get good deals though.

 Preliminary score: Punta Cana vs. Puerto Plata 2.5-0.5

Prices

Prices for a holiday in Punta Cana

 Even the Dominican Republic is a developing country with a decent price level, Punta Cana is not a budget destination. This is due to heavy tourism which levels up the local prices. But also hotels in Punta Cana are more expensive than in other parts of the country – partly because of the high demand, partly because of the high quality mentioned before.

 It is very hard to put a general price tag on a Punta Cana vacation as it all depends on your needs and how you are traveling. But to give you a few examples, Punta Canas all-inclusive resorts are starting at around 70 USD per person per night in low season, while you can grab a deal in Puerto Plata starting from 55-60 USD. Transport prices in Punta Cana are nearly doubled (public transport and taxi) compared to the rest of the country due to the focus of solvent tourists. And while I can get my Cuba Libre on several beach bars in the country for 100 to 150 Pesos (approx. 1.70 USD – 2.60 USD), a common price for the same drink in Punta Cana is between 5 and 6 USD. These examples can be continued with restaurants, services, activities, etc., but I think you get the point.

For your Dominican Republic vacation

Travel resources

Punta Cana Airport Transfers: Info | Book It*
Santo Domingo Airport Transfers: Info | Book It*
All-Inclusive Resorts: Info | Book It*
Guesthouses & AirBnBs: Info | Book It*
Excursions: Info | Book It*
Rental Car: Info | Book It*
Road-Trips & Self-Drive Tours: Info | Plan It
Travel Insurance (incl. covid-19 coverage): Book it*

Prices for a holiday in Puerto Plata

 If comparing to Punta Cana, vacations in Puerto Plata usually come with a lower price tag. As mentioned above, hotel deals might be significantly cheaper in Puerto Plata and due to the lower impact of tourism to this area, general prices are lower as well, even not as low as in other parts of the country. The interesting thing about Puerto Plata is that you get prices like a local once you leave the resort and head toward the city center of Puerto Plata, a bustling town with all the chaos, charm and beauty the Dominican Republic has to offer.

Prices and Travel Budget: Punta Cana or Puerto Plata?

 A vacation in Puerto Plata is more probable to end up cheaper than in Punta Cana. The only problem might be higher flight prices due to the limited connections described in the first point, but once you score a good deal, Puerto Plata will please your travel budget more than Punta Cana do.

 Preliminary score: Punta Cana vs. Puerto Plata 2.5-1.5

The beaches in Punta Cana and Puerto Plata

The Punta Cana beach

 The beach might be the most important reason why people choose to book a vacation in the Caribbean. Looking at Punta Cana, it is no wonder why millions of people choose this holiday destination every year. More than 30 miles of beaches are awaiting you in the whole area of Punta Cana, all of them with the finest sand, ranging in color between white (especially in Cap Cana and Punta Cana) and lightly golden (in the Uvero Alto area). You can have endless beach walks, swim in the blue or turquoise ocean and enjoy thousands of swaying palm trees. Beach clubs, pristine stretches and colorful boats every now and then are counting for great photo opportunities. Is there anything else you can ask for from a Caribbean beach?
Interested in further information? Check out the 10 best beaches in Punta Cana here.

The public beach of El Cortecito in the area of Bavaro, Punta Cana

The Puerto Plata beach

 Puerto Plata has a decent beach as well. Calm waters, a long stretch of golden sand, a very calm atmosphere and if you leave Playa Dorada eastward, you enter a particularly pristine part of the beach without any people or buildings – nature at its best. Still, Puerto Plata cannot compete with Punta Canas beaches, there is hardly anyone arguing about that. The only advantage Puerto Plata might have beach-wise is that it is a lot less populated – the hundreds of people strolling up and down the beach in Punta Cana you won’t find in Puerto Plata.

The beach Playa Dorada in Puerto Plata

Which beach is the best: Punta Cana or Puerto Plata?

 Hardly any category is as easy to determine as the question of the beach. The long beaches in Punta Cana are clearly better than the ones in Puerto Plata.

Preliminary score: Punta Cana vs. Puerto Plata 3.5-1.5

Excursions and guided tours

Excursions and guided tours in Punta Cana

 Punta Cana has an endless choice of excursions for its visitors – especially for those, who are only staying in their all-inclusive resort and would like to see something different than just the hotel. Dune buggies, catamaran tours, Los Haitises National Park, Safari adventures, VIP tours, riverboat experiences, Isla Saona, Ziplining, a monkey jungle or a full-day excursion to Santo Domingo are just a few of the options you can experience when vacationing in Punta Cana. It does not matter what kind of guided tour you are looking for, probably one of the excursion operators will have it for you. If you feel like exploring, you definitely won’t get bored in Punta Cana.

Excursions and guided tours in Puerto Plata

 But the tour operators in Puerto Plata are getting creative as well to gain access to the wallet of the vacationer. Cayo Arena, 27 Charcos de Damajagua, the historic city of Puerto Plata, seeing manatees, visiting monkey jungle, an ocean view zipline, countryside safaris and the cable car up to Puerto Platas mountain Isabel de Torres are just one of the few experiences you can have when booking organized excursions. Contrary to the section above mentioning the price differences between both destinations, prices for guided tours hardly vary for Punta Cana and Puerto Plata.

View from Montana Isabel de Torres on Puerto Plata and the cable car

Where can you have the best excursions: Punta Cana or Puerto Plata?

 It is hard to choose a winner in this category as both holiday destinations have their highlights. Furthermore, both are offering a high diversity of excursions, hence it’s a draw.

 Preliminary score: Punta Cana vs. Puerto Plata 4-2

Sports and Adventures

How to be active in Punta Cana and where to find adventures?

 If staying in an all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana – especially in one of the better ones – you have plenty of activity options to choose from. Usually, this includes snorkeling, Hobie Cats, a gym, team activities, kayaking, tennis, pool, sometimes golf and much more. However, if you leave the resort and would like to be adventurous, options are limited in the surrounding of Punta Cana. Surfing at Playa Macao is one possibility, hiking to the highest waterfall of the Caribbean, Salto de la Jalda, another one. You can go parasailing or scuba diving and in case ziplining counts as an adventure, this is possible as well. But to explore Punta Cana on your own and be adventurous – you have to get creative to achieve this as the typical adventure playground (jungle, mountains, pristine beaches, waterfalls, lagoons, etc.) is missing. 

How to be active in Puerto Plata and where to find adventures?

 Concerning watersports, Puerto Plata can count with at least the same options then Punta Cana. Although the resorts – due to their limited size – might offer fewer activities, you find plenty of additional options outside. The best snorkeling reef in the Dominican Republic (Cayo Arena) can be reached from Puerto Plata, catamaran tours are sailing along the north coast and Cabarete, approx. 40 minutes away from Puerto Plata, is the kitesurfing capital of the Caribbean. Further water activities includes windsurfing, SUP yoga, SUP and diving.

 However, the true difference between Puerto Plata and Punta Cana is the number of activities you can do on land. Thanks to the mountain chain right in the back of Puerto Plata, the Cordillera Septentrional, you have the right setting to go hiking, mountain biking, river chasing, caving, canyoning or river-tubing. Nothing is impossible in this area. As the mountains are particularly famous for their blue river, some of my favorite waterfalls are located here. If you want to go adventurous, then Puerto Plata and the surrounding area will be your paradise.

One of the amazing La Rejolla waterfalls

Where can you have the best adventures: Punta Cana or Puerto Plata?

 While the water-based activities are similar in both destinations, Puerto Plata has unquestionable advantages when it comes to onshore activities and adventures. If you love pristine nature and lush mountains, Puerto Plata is your place to go.

 Preliminary score: Punta Cana vs. Puerto Plata 4-3

Where can you get the best food?

Food options in Punta Cana

 If you love international food at different levels, Punta Cana is the right place for you. Due to the number of tourists visiting Punta Cana, you can find all kinds of international cuisine when spending your vacation in Punta Cana – either directly in your resort or in one of the several restaurants. Also if you are into fine dining, Punta Cana has you covered as most of the best restaurants in the Dominican Republic are located in Punta Cana, among them Bamboo, Passion, Montserrat Manor or La Palapa. On the other hand, if you are into street food or local “hole in the walls”, Punta Cana might be difficult to explore, especially when traveling on a budget.

Typical Dominican breakfast in Punta Cana - Mangu, Cheese and Egg

Food options in Puerto Plata

 If you are looking for the fine dining experiences just mentioned for Punta Cana, forget about it. In those terms, Puerto Platas food options are limited. However, if you want to eat out as the locals do, Puerto Plata has plenty of opportunities for you, especially within the city limits. It doesn’t matter if you are looking for an air-conditioned restaurant with trendy Dominicans or a casual snack bar at the oceanfront promenade in town – both options offer the most authentic Dominican food including the opportunity to be just among locals.

Where can you have the best food: Punta Cana or Puerto Plata?

 If it comes to fine dining, Punta Cana is without a question the No. 1 choice in the entire Dominican Republic. However, if you prefer Dominican food options in authentic settings, Puerto Plata represents the local flavors stronger. As food preferences vary from person to person, I’ll count it as a tie.

 Preliminary score: Punta Cana vs. Puerto Plata 4.5-3.5

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Authenticity: where can you explore the real Dominican Republic?

Is Punta Cana authentic?

 One reason why I started Punta Cana Travel Blog is to show you the real and authentic Dominican Republic because many people just stay in their all-inclusive resort and are raving about how amazing the Dominican Republic is. Well, that is as if you are just visiting Las Vegas and are being stunned about the national parks of the United States. 

 Of course, you can do great excursions and visit Isla Saona, Los Haitises National Park, Salto de la Jalda, Montaña Redonda or other unique and gorgeous natural sights – it will be mind-blowing and gives you a perfect start into the diversity the Dominican Republic has to offer.

 However, if you would like to dig into real Dominican life – music, little villages, ramshackle beach bars, colmados, dancing on every corner, deep-fried empanadas and much more – it gets difficult in Punta Cana as you have to leave the comfort zone of the tourist area and start your journey to Higuey, Miches or other towns which are away from the tourist radar.

TRAVEL COACHING

Safe money and time!

Do you need help planning a customized vacation in Punta Cana and the Dominican Republic? Is it difficult for you to decide what and where to book? Would you like to take advantage of someone with years of experience in the tourism industry (knowing all the travel hacks 😉 ) and living right in the place where you would like to spend your holiday?
That’s what my personal travel coaching is for. I will design your tailor-made itinerary, tell you how to save money on your trip and send you the best insider tips and recommendations. All the information I send you are crafted with love and passion – and are coming with a money-back guarantee. Let me know how I can help you (check my packages here) and send me a request here!

The author Chris in the Dominican Republic

Is Puerto Plata authentic?

 If you are just staying in your all-inclusive resort in Puerto Plata, it feels similar to what I just explained about Punta Cana. You are living in your comfort bubble of 24-hour food, organized excursions and personal service – which is not bad at all, do not get me wrong. If you would like to experience the authentic Dominican Republic, you have to leave this comfort zone as well, but it is a lot easier in Puerto Plata than in Punta Cana. You have frequent public buses running right in front of the Playa Dorada or Playa Cofresi resort area, the city of Puerto Plata is easily reachable and features some amazing visit-on-your-own attractions and the mountain chain right next to the city awaits you with some amazing adventures you can easily explore on your own if you are experienced in the field – even though a guide is highly recommendable. And last but not least, if you head to the Malecon of Puerto Plata, buy yourself a Presidente beer and relax at the oceanfront promenade you can have one of the most authentic local experiences one can imagine in the Dominican Republic.

The historic center in Puerto Plata with La Puntilla and Fortaleza San Felipe

Which tourist area is more authentic: Punta Cana or Puerto Plata?

 Thanks to its connection to the local life and the city of Puerto Plata, experiences in Puerto Plata are more authentic once you leave the resort. In Punta Cana, this is possible as well, but it is a bit harder to leave the comfort zone of the tourist area due to logistical and infrastructural reasons.

FINAL score: Punta Cana vs. Puerto Plata 4.5-4.5

Summary: should you visit Punta Cana or Puerto Plata?

 It’s a tie between Punta Cana and Puerto Plata – a little bit surprising at first glance. But upon a differentiated view, the result makes more sense.

 Both destinations have their advantages and disadvantages. Punta Cana cannot be beaten in terms of beaches, hotels and flight connections, while Puerto Plata is the perfect playground for vacationers who want to combine a beach holiday with some adventurous outdoor activities. It depends on you, which is the right place for you. 

 For the same reason you can also justify this result – even the tourism figures are speaking another language. While Punta Cana has more than 50 resorts with presumably 2-3 million visitors every year (I do not have the detailed numbers), Puerto Plata can count with around 10 resorts and maybe a 20-30% share of the amount of Punta Cana tourists. But why is everyone heading to Punta Cana if both holiday destinations offer an equal value? 

 The solution is simple: for most vacationers, flight connections, hotel choices, the quality of the beach and the price are the most crucial key decision points when booking a vacation. In 3 of those 4 categories, Punta Cana is clearly outperforming Puerto Plata. In other words, if we would award double points in those most important categories, Punta Cana would be the sole winner of this competition.

 Therefore it is also important for you to determine what you want when traveling to the Dominican Republic? If beaches, superb hotel quality, relaxation and a smooth holiday experience are your key decision points, Punta Cana is the right choice for you. Continue browsing through this Punta Cana Travel Blog to find more inspiration for your holiday.

 If you are an adventurer, love to hike mountains and would like to see the authentic Dominican Republic, you should consider Puerto Plata or other regions in the country – or plan a road-trip in the Dominican Republic so that you get the full experience. I can help you with that!

And if you are still not decided if you shall book your vacation in the Dominican Republic to Punta Cana or Puerto Plata, just contact me here and I’ll help you out.

What’s your favorite – Punta Cana or Puerto Plata? Have you been to one of these destinations or maybe even to both? Or are you just planning your trip to the Dominican Republic and can’t decide? Let me know in the comments!

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The face behind Punta Cana Travel Blog: Chris

CHRIS

Author, Travel Coach & Punta Cana based digital nomad

Hey, I am Chris, a born and raised German, travel-addictive and Caribbean Soul. Since 2011 I have been living in the Caribbean, among them 5 years in the Dominican Republic. Punta Cana is my home-base here in the country and I’d love to tell you more about how to experience Punta Cana off-the-beaten-track and give you all the advice you want to know for your vacation in Punta Cana.

2 thoughts on “Punta Cana or Puerto Plata – which one is the better holiday destination?”

  1. You live in a seriously lovely location. Lucky guy! Nice article. I would love that cable car. That’s an insane climb. If I ever get an opportunity to ride a cable car, I always take it. Love them.

    1. Hey Martin,
      indeed, I can’t complain about living in the Dominican Republic, especially during these times of Covid-19.
      The cable car is a great attraction in Puerto Plata and the view from the top is amazing – it is absolutely worth it.
      Chris

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