Dominican Republic Hotels
Tel: 809 468 0000
This romantic all-suite beachfront retreat north of the sprawling all-inclusives of Punta Cana is a diamond literally in the rough—the last two miles of the approach road are so bone rattling that it may be worth ponying up $200 for the ten-minute helicopter transfer from the airport in Punta Cana. But behind the resort's unmarked security gate, Agua is breathtaking. The open-air lobby has a soaring peaked thatch roof, and the 53 rooms, divided between two-story thatched buildings and freestanding villas, are arranged around two snaking pools and are no more than a one-minute walk from the beach. With classic clean lines, they are dramatic by virtue of their size (the smallest is 700 square feet) and simple comforts—wicker ceilings, dark hardwood floors and furniture, white-on-white beds, immense bathrooms with black slate showers and deep soaking tubs. Alas, the food at Areito, prepared by the kitchen staff formerly at Casa Colonial, could and should be better: Crêpes come stuffed with rubbery cheese; vegetables taste as though they were fresh out of a packet.
Tel: 809 320 3232
As the hyperdiscerning crowd that frequents this place already knows, Casa Colonial has raised the bar for luxury lodgings on the island. (Donatella Versace has stayed here—need we say more?) The hotel's 50 suites occupy two white Mediterranean-style villas with Spanish tile roofs (one with a palatial sun deck, an infinity pool, and Jacuzzis). The interiors are grand but quietly so, with gleaming marble floors and columns, high arched doorways, and rich fabrics in creamy colors. The expansive suites have private balconies, beds with Frette linens and upholstered headboards (some have gauzy canopies, too), potted orchids, and a mix of woven rattan and wooden furnishings. All have flat-screen TVs and high-speed Internet, and the spacious bathrooms feature double basins, walk-in showers, and enormous Roman-style tubs. The hotel's common spaces are just as opulent and include a superb Caribbean/Asian fusion restaurant, Lucia (one of the island's best), and the Bagua Spa, where the treatments use ingredients like honey, royal jelly, and crushed amber gemstones. The only part of the property that's not particularly impressive is the small beach; although it's golden and dotted with white chaises, it's bordered on both sides by crowds from neighboring all-inclusive resorts. Many guests forgo it altogether and opt for the rooftop infinity pool instead.
Tel: 800 877 3643 (toll-free)
Tel: 305 856 5405
Comparing this all-inclusive resort with its newer, more stylish competitors might lead you to the initial conclusion that it needs a face-lift. The sprawling collection of stucco Med-style buildings can inspire Brady Bunch flashbacks, and the outdated decor inside the 280 rooms and suites—mahogany wood furniture, watercolor-patterned fabrics, and lamps that resemble Grandma's—isn't much better. Still, there are real reasons why this old-school property has a following among celebs like Bill Clinton and hometown hero Sammy Sosa. First, there are the property's newer and much swankier Excel villas—150 private, waterfront houses that come with all-day butler and maid service and your own touring cart for getting around the property. The expansive grounds are the other draw: Between the three Pete Dye–designed golf courses, stables full of horses for pleasure rides and polo games, bicycles, tennis courts, shooting excursions, water sports, and spa treatments, the property can feel like a summer camp for adults. There's a boatload of kids' programs, too, including Kidz 'n Casa, a toddler-friendly option that keeps the little ones busy with arts and crafts, playground games, music, and puppet shows. Of the resort's eight restaurants, La Piazzetta has the most peaceful, romantic ambience—which you'll want after your day of running around. Or try the latest addition, a beachy outpost of New York City's Le Cirque.
Cayo Levantado island (off the Samaná peninsula)
Tel: 866 282 2442
The opening of an international airport and a soon-to-be-completed highway is transforming the Samaná peninsula from a ragtag whale-watching region to the Dominican Republic's latest hotspot. Leading the charge is Cayo Levantado, the crown jewel of Bahía Príncipe Resorts' nine all-inclusives. A modern take on a Victorian seaside manse, the sprawling 195-room resort feels more like a town than a hotel, so much so that you won't even know the rest of the island is there. A boat speeds you from the mainland to the island, where guests can choose between rooms with four-poster king beds, and modern rattan and wicker furniture or larger suites—many with terraces and both indoor and outdoor Jacuzzis—housed in villas throughout the property. The resort's private beach is not as huge as the island's public beach (popular with day trippers), but it is plenty serene with stretches of sand tucked into coves of placid waters. Especially impressive are the resort's two creatively landscaped pools, part forest, part open-bar party spot, surrounded by palapa umbrellas to shade you from the sun. Best of all, service has that rare balance of professionalism and fun. There's just one big letdown: the sit-down restaurants—one seafood, one Mediterranean, and one “gourmet,” which they take to mean French—seem to be having teething problems with both service and quality. Luckily, the main buffet in the central building is first rate, shifting daily from Italian to Spanish to Asian to local “Creole” cuisine.
Calle Las Damas
Tel: 800 763 4835 (toll-free)
Tel: 809 685 9955
Located on one of Santo Domingo's oldest streets, this hotel's stately, fortress-like main building is an important piece of the island's history. Built in 1502, it was the home of Nicolás de Ovando, the Spanish explorer who made landfall here on Hispaniola (the island that encompasses the DR and Haiti) and subsequently became its first governor. The original building has been expanded and modernized, but it still has a gracious elegance. The 104 rooms, with their soaring wood-beamed ceilings, Spanish terra-cotta floors, and mahogany poster beds, seem to call for candlelight rather than electricity. Happily, though, this place isn't a museum, and has all the modern conveniences a 21st-century bigwig could want—including Wi-Fi, dry-cleaning service, marble showers (in slightly too small bathrooms), and luxury bedding. Expect to see D.R.'s movers and shakers congregating in the excellent on-site restaurant, La Residence; around the pool; and in the clubby, wood-paneled Cibao Bar.
19 Vicente Celestino Duarte
Tel: 809 688 3693
You couldn't wish for a better Santo Domingo location. Sitting on a quiet street just off the Alcàzar de Colón, the architecture of this historic pink building blends into that of the surrounding Colonial Zone. And the pleasant rooftop terrace allows you to admire local landmarks like the Casa de Colón without leaving your lounger. The six rooms of this tiny boutique hotel are decorated sparingly, stylishly, and maybe just a little bit shabbily with simple platform beds, a tiny TV, and a serviceable closet. So don't be surprised if the bathroom fixtures or towel racks (or even the handrail on the staircase) are loose. But there are also nice touches: brightly colored bedspreads and curtains, sunny yellow bathrooms, and a computer in the common area ready for your Internet needs. The vibe could not be more easygoing. With discreet but friendly service by the European staff, you'll feel as if the house were yours and they were just around to smooth out the bumps. Improvements are on the way: the storefront space is being transformed into a café with art exhibitions, and plans are in the works to properly furnish the roof as a sun deck. If so, you won't ever have to leave, but with everything so close by, you'll want to anyway.
Calle del Cementario
Tel: 809 571 0868
Upscale hotels in Cabarete are still few and far between, especially if you shy away from gaudy all-inclusives. In the meantime, Hotel El Magnifico is your best bet for accessing the town's slew of outdoor and social activities—without sacrificing comfort. The hotel sits on a manicured sprawl of tropical gardens bordering the Atlantic and secluded from the main town by a rocky point. Its 26 studios, suites, and penthouses range in style from Caribbean (bold colors and rattan loungers) to sometimes-bland modern; all have private verandas, kitchens stocked with Presidente beer, and enough space to fit an assembled windsurfer or two. There's no on-site restaurant, but the immensely popular Otra Cosa is next door, and a string of options lie just a short walk down the beach. Be sure to ask for a third-story room; though nearly all rooms face the ocean, the foliage (albeit lovely) blocks the view from lower floors.—Aaron Barker
5 Paseo del Sol
Tel: 809 571 1507
Cabarete is full of windsurfers and resortgoers, but you'll never know they're there if you stay at Natura's beachfront bungalows. Removed from the town's bustle by a few miles of shoreline, the compound features 11 eco-friendly cabanas, each unique and constructed from natural and local materials such as caoba, coral, and eucalyptus (a natural insect repellent). Even the furniture is handcrafted from the bamboo and coconut palms that were cut down to make the winding paths among the palapas. But it's not all rustic: How often do thatched-roof accommodations come with walk-in closets? Creature comforts and idyllic beach setting aside, Natura's middle-of-the-woods vibe couldn't be more different from the typical Cancun-like resorts that dot the island. Instead of body shots and buffet lines, expect a yoga temple for hatha classes and spa treatments like "after sun" wraps that use fresh aloe from the resort's garden. The Swiss chef whips up a small, wholesome menu that draws people from around the coast, served in the open air (under yet another thatched roof). Breakfast (included) has you slicing and toasting your own homemade bread, supplemented with fresh mango, papaya, and strong Dominican coffee. The only hint of disillusionment here is that Natura is buried in the back of a gated community. This is the kind of place that feels like it should be at the end of a woodsy rutted road instead.
Las Terrenas , Samaná Peninsula
Tel: 809 307 1827
The family-owned, top property in the Americas re-creates an eighteenth-century plantation house, earning it a perfect design score. The estate's "very scenic location" is 15 hillside acres looking onto the Atlantic. Done in earth tones, the perfect-scoring "delectable rooms are beautifully appointed" with four-poster beds, antiques, private terraces, and mahogany soaking tubs. The seafood menu at the Beach Restaurant changes weekly, showcasing dishes like shrimp with passion fruit reduction. Since "service is wondrous all the time," it also scores perfectly.
Tel: 809 552 0500
Opened in winter 2005, this resort prides itself on being ex clusive rather than all-inclusive. The emphasis here is on the finer things: pick-up from Punta Cana's airport via private helicopter, an 8,000-bottle wine cellar, two of the island's finest restaurants, and spa packages for couples that might tempt you to leave the kids at home. The 55 suites here are housed in 12 villas, all centered around a huge swimming pool on a breezy stretch of beach. They range in size from Junior (650 square feet) to the almost obscenely spacious Grand Suite (2,250 square feet). All have stone-tiled floors, Indonesian-inspired teak canopy beds, woven rattan couches and tables, and plasma-screen TVs with cable and satellite (so you won't have to miss Top Chef—this is paradise, after all). Some suites have double showers; others have Jacuzzi tubs built for two (and the bottles of Etro bath products are big enough to share with your, uh, roommate).
Tel: 888 442 2262 (toll-free)
Tel: 809 959 2262
Fifteen gorgeous, cheery yellow villas—decorated by none other than D.R. native son Oscar de la Renta—are spread along the beachfront of this posh gated community. De la Renta, Julio Iglesias, and Mikhail Baryshnikov are among the somebodies who own homes here, and when you're ushered through the Punta Cana airport to a waiting car, whisked to your villa, and handed the keys to your own golf cart, you'll start to feel like a big deal, too. Together, the villas comprise 30 one- to four-bedroom suites, each decorated in fresh, Caribbean-meets-Hamptons style, with cream upholstery, dark wood furniture, coralline stone baths, and French doors that open to a private patio or balcony. Although the friendly staff tries hard, the service isn't always as polished as you'd expect when paying upward of $800 per night in high season. But if there's anything you need, you can use your hotel-provided mobile phone to ring up your villa manager. The poolside Bamboo restaurant and bar is Tortuga Bay's congenial hub, but you'll also have access to the surrounding parent property, Puntacana Resort & Club (easily reached by golf cart). Though a little more gimmicky-feeling, Puntacana nevertheless has a lot to offer: two golf courses (one designed by Pete Dye, the other by Tom Fazio), six clay tennis courts, a Six Senses spa, water sports facilities, and several restaurants (including the beachfront La Yola). The resort also has its own 600-acre forest preserve, where you can bathe in spring-fed pools and take guided nature walks.