When my sandals first touched the tarmac after stepping off the plane in Punta Cana I could already feel the warm sand between my recently pedicured toes. This was not my first trip to the Dominican Republic and so I had a good idea of what I was in for – sun, fun and plenty of rum – but I’d never been to Signature Vacation’s Riu Republica on Arena Gorda beach, a newly constructed, adults-only all-inclusive that opened last summer.
The resort sparkles with modernity from its luxe lobby and lush landscaping to its pools, spa and wellness centre, and handful of restaurants and bars. With 1,000 rooms it can’t be categorized as boutique, but there’s a relative intimacy about the place created in part by the low-rise main structure’s shape, a rectangular horseshoe facing the sea.
From my 4th-floor-balcony perch, in the centre of it all, I soaked up a view of the ocean as well as the common grounds below where guests, ranging from millennials to boomers, popped in and out of shops and eateries, hung out at the large open-air entertainment pavilion, and sauntered down the paved pathway with a drink in hand en route to the pools or the beach. Those in the mood to party would head to the pool on the right with is swim up bar and raucous club music, whereas folks who preferred private conversation or simply wanted to immerse themselves in a book, would veer to the left, a more subdued space.
Beach-goers headed straight to a sandy incline that cuts through the dunes ringing the pool areas. Here’s the thing: when you are on the grounds -- or staying on one of the lower floors -- the view of the sea is blocked by these dunes, a visual disruption that may be a cause of concern for some but personally, I liked its authenticity and the way the short uphill trek culminated in a sort of grand entrance marking your arrival at the beach. In any case, Mother Nature’s decision to create the dunes has been re-enforced by the DR powers that be; national laws prevent the barrier from being removed.
Culinary-wise, Riu Republic puts on lavish breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets with ethnically diverse live cooking-stations and wait-staff providing beverage service. Evening dining options include one Asian and one Italian-themed restaurant; the décor for the latter of which is stunning but it too is buffet-style. If a la carte table service is your thing, it’s only available at the resort’s steakhouse so book early, reservations are required.
Although it’d be easy to spend your entire vacation on the premises, exploring the island requires little effort beyond an early start to the day. NexusTours sees folks meet in the lobby before embarking on one of their many excursions to outlaying areas or onto the water. My favourite tour involved driving a dune buggy through muddy trails lined with tiny villages where local men and women offered a smile, and children waved grinning from ear to ear. Dominicans are renowned for their friendliness, but I suspect the spectacle of a caravan of mud-covered, helmet-wearing tourists added to our audience’s amusement.
The tour included pit stops where we could wash off the mud – El Hoyo cave which boasts a fresh underground river, and sprawling, flawless Macao Beach. A final pit stop at a local ranch gave us the chance to chat with local farmers and wash down any remaining grit in our teeth with Dominican coffee, and mamajuana, the nation’s love-it-or-hate-it drink comprised of red wine, rum, honey, bark and herbs. Of course, with the drive back to the resort ahead, we didn't down much of the latter, but you could purchase bottles of it, and the ranch’s other offerings, to take home as souvenirs.
Happily, in the DR your next shot of rum is never far away. Rooms at Riu Republic are stocked daily with a selection of liquors and the resort’s lively lobby bar serves up a slue of ingenious cocktails representing every colour in the rainbow, and every taste concoction under the sun.
If you go: Riu Republica is exclusive to Signature Vacations. Daily flights from Toronto to Punta Cana are available through Sunwing Airlines.
Girls Flight Out Beauty Tip: Consider eyelash extensions for your next island getaway. Whether you're swimming with dolphins, dancing at a disco, or in the throes of wild and passionate - well, you get the idea - you never have to worry about messed up mascara. And, says Vesna Rosales, co-owner at Toronto's Coco Beauty Bar, they last for up to three weeks!
Planning a girls' getaway? Check out Girls Flight Out: Go All Out on an All-in Vacation video for inspiration!