What: When you want a sun-and-sand escape, head to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic to stay at Tortuga Bay Hotel, a chic, stylish Caribbean hideaway. You’ll be tempted to spend all of your time planted on the boutique hotel’s three miles of tranquil private beach or swimming in the crystalline waters, but don’t miss relaxing in one of the 30 suites. Late haute fashion designer and hotel co-owner Oscar de la Renta did the interiors of the canary-yellow villas. (If you love de la Renta’s work, make it a point to visit his on-site 1,000-square-foot shop.) The designer left his elegant stamp all over the place: The white-filled suites come with one to four bedrooms and have a sunny, airy feel with dreamy canopy beds made of wicker, a wall of windows overlooking the water, and pillows, throws and patterned artwork with pops of coral, cream, black and yellow. The large bathrooms are outfitted in coral stone and have a sunken Jacuzzi and a separate glass-enclosed shower.
While this is a beach destination, it’s also one for golf. Take a swing at 45 holes, including a top-notch Tom Fazio-designed course with six oceanfront holes, coral reefs and rocky cliffs as well as a P.B. Dye course with 14 water-view holes, four of which bring you right to the edge of the coast.
Where: Most hotels in the area incorrectly claim to be located in Punta Cana, which is a gated community on the southeastern coast of the country. Tortuga Bay, however, actually resides in the exclusive area, which is also home to the hotel’s owners, entrepreneur Frank Rainieri and crooner Julio Iglesias (de la Renta also lived here). The hotel seems to be a world away from the noisy all-inclusives that are native to these parts, but it’s not remote—Tortuga Bay is only a six-minute drive from Punta Cana International Airport and the very small downtown (a house car will drop you off there if you want to check it out).
But you’d never know that you were so close to civilization, and there’s no real reason to stray from the property. Plan a private cruise, sailing trip or scuba session at the aquatic center or head to Six Senses Spa to pamper yourself with the Punta Cana Signature Massage, which preps your skin for the harsh DR sun with moisturizing fresh coconut oil and unfurls your muscles’ knots. Or explore the 1,500-acre Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park and Reserve (free for hotel guests). We loved the 45-minute hike through the jungle-like reserve that led us to various lagoons to swim in the aquamarine water alongside turtles and fish. The spread-out luxury hotel makes it easy to get around the grounds by furnishing you with your own golf cart; though if you prefer to pedal, bikes come free with your stay, too.
When: While the Dominican Republic’s tropical Caribbean location makes it an attractive year-round destination, temperatures dip to about 65 F in the winter. If you want your DR trip to be hot so you can spend it on the beach, come between June and September. But you’ll likely find it warm whenever you visit, since the average temperature is 82.4 F.
Why: We’ve told you about Tortuga Bay’s biggest draws—the golf, private beach, numerous activities and designer suites. But there are some not-so-obvious perks, too. The hotel stresses service from the moment you land at the airport. An escort will meet you at the gate and help you bypass lines for immigration and to pay the $10 cash-only entry fee, and then she’ll see you off into the house SUV that will transport you to the hotel. Upon arrival, you’ll meet your villa manager, essentially a butler, who is available 24 hours a day—simply use the provided cell phone pre-programmed with his number. And when you depart, another escort will be waiting at the airport to usher you through the requisite lines and leave you in the air-conditioned, Wi-Fi-equipped private VIP lounge.
All of the friendly staff around the property will make you feel at home, from the server who chats about U.S. baseball to the guide at the reserve who tells you why tilapia were placed in the lagoons (because they eat mosquitoes and make it more pleasant for hikers) and walks you over to peek at the protected sea turtle nests.
Another surprise is the great food and liquor. Head to Tortuga Bay Lounge to play pool and sample two Dominican specialties—rum and hand-rolled cigars. You’ll find Brugal and Ron Barceló among the offerings, but you may want to opt for Unhiq XO, a malt rum made specially for the hotel. Though, you also can smoke and sip from your suite (Unhiq XO and cigars are on the mini-bar menu; just be sure to request a smoking room).
When it comes time to eat, choose from four restaurants (plus two eateries at sister property The Westin Puntacana Resort & Club). The star is fine-dining Bamboo. The small restaurant offers a complimentary breakfast, but don’t fill up on the spread that includes charcuterie, cheese and desserts. Order the morning meal that’s typical in the country: two sunny-side up eggs, mangú (mashed green plantains) topped with sautéed onions, rounds of Dominican salami and thick triangles of white fried cheese. You’ll also find local delights on the afternoon menu, including fried yucca empanadas filled with pork, beef and chicken that comes with an addictive cheese dipping sauce, and fresh shrimp atop pigeon peas rice all drenched in coconut sauce. At night, Bamboo converts into a romantic candlelit spot (nab an alfresco table near the pool), and the menu widens to more Mediterranean-influenced fare. Try the whimsical apple salad. While it sounds like a jumble of ingredients, they work harmoniously together; the pear and apple chunks, mix of lettuce, bacon bits and caramel popcorn covered with a light maple dressing taste like a summertime fair. And if the risotto is a special that day, order it. The flavorful dish gets a deep richness from Manchego cheese, and freshly sliced Serrano ham lends a nice smokiness. The risotto alone warrants a trip to Tortuga Bay.