There is a dusty old history book in the library of the Sanctuary Cap Cana, entitled The British Are Coming. It feels rather prophetic.
Ten years ago, the Dominican Republic, with its troubled political past, would have been quite low down the average Briton’s Caribbean wish-list. No longer. In fact, the country’s tourist industry has rallied so strongly post-pandemic that it is now the most popular tourist destination in the entire Caribbean.
British visitors are still heavily outnumbered by Americans, but with regular direct flights from the UK, there is no better time to visit a likeable destination with a real spring in its step.
All the main tourist developments are concentrated in Punta Cana, at the eastern tip of the island. The enclave feels light years from the hustle and bustle of Santo Domingo, the capital, but if you are in search of the holy trinity of sun, sea and sand, not to mention golf courses, theme parks, sunset cruises, etc., you will not feel short-changed.
The lavishly appointed Sanctuary Cap Cana, which opened at the start of 2023, epitomises the new mood of confidence in the Dominican Republic.
Max Davidson checks into Sanctuary Cap Cana (pictured), an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic
Moment of reflection: The resort, which opened at the start of 2023, is owned by Marriott International
It really is a beautiful property, blending Spanish colonial architecture in the main building with state-of-the-art accommodation and facilities. The lovingly landscaped gardens, interspersed with tropical flowers and shady streams, are delightful.
For Marriott International, the owners, the resort marks a significant first: a luxury resort which is also all-inclusive. i.e., you can eat and drink as much as you like, 24/7. The luxury and all-inclusive markets have traditionally been seen as distinct, targeted at different kinds of holidaymaker.
In the case of the Dominican Republic, the island used to be associated with all-inclusive resorts that were so cheap and cheerful that they were a magnet for drunken young Americans on a bender. Think Ibiza in the tropics.
Max says Sanctuary Cap Cana ‘epitomises the new mood of confidence in the Dominican Republic’. Above, a Junior Suite Ocean View
‘The resort really comes to life after dark, with live shows and cabarets,’ says Max. Above, entertainment at the resort
So Marriott is breaking the mould and I am curious how well the Sanctuary has been able to square the circle.
Very well indeed, is the answer. In fact, judging by the pervasive smiles on the faces of our fellow guests, Marriott has got a winner on its hands.
It is an adult-only resort and, at the poolside bars, the cocktails are flowing from early morning, as you would expect. But there is not much sign of raucousness and, at the resort’s various bars and eateries, there is an attractive mix of informality and stylishness.
People dress casually, chat to strangers, take photos, lark about in the pool, let their hair down. But there is nothing cheap and cheerful about the food. The breakfast buffet is as good as I have come across: a plethora of fresh fruit and fish and pastries and omelettes for the ages.
The traditional American steakhouse is another winner: prime cuts of beef, cooked to perfection, washed down with fine French wines. And if you just want a simple burger and fries, or sushi, you can have them.
From dawn to dusk, relaxation is the name of the game. Apart from a few people riding bicycles around the resort or doing aerobics classes, nobody ever seems to be in a hurry. There is just too much in the surroundings to savour.
Sanctuary Cap Cana’s main building features Spanish colonial architecture
‘From dawn to dusk, relaxation is the name of the game,’ writes Max (not pictured)
Best At Travel offers seven nights all-inclusive at Sanctuary Cap Cana, A Luxury Collection Adult All-Inclusive Resort in Junior Suite Ocean View with British Airways flights from £1,999 per person. Valid for select stays in May-June 2024 (bestattravel.co.uk).
From our balcony suite, with its outdoor Jacuzzi, we are able to admire the Caribbean at its incomparable best, with the sun catching the tiny waves and an endless succession of brown pelicans swooping to catch fish. Or trying to catch fish. One doughty bird, whom we nickname Percy, makes six attempts in as many minutes, hovering, swooping and emerging with diddly squat. Why does he do it? He must know he’s wasting precious energy. But his persistence is oddly touching.
For me, people-watching is an intrinsic part of any holiday, and there are rich pickings here, with more minor comic characters than Love Island. The tattoos on display in the pool are an education in themselves. I keep willing the woman with a baby penguin on her shoulder to stand next to the man with a large shark on his chest, so I can shout: “Look behind you!”
Apart from one couple from Berkshire, most of our fellow guests are American, with a median age of around 40, while the friendly Spanish-speaking staff give the resort a quite different feel to former British colonies such as Barbados or Antigua, where you are at risk of bumping into your neighbours from Hemel Hempstead.
If the days are relaxed and low-key, a chance to unwind and leave the cares of the world behind, the resort really comes to life after dark, with live shows and cabarets and cheesy crooners and as many opportunities for dad dancing as a seasoned ham like me could ask for.
It all adds up to a very attractive package: an oasis of calm and sophistication in a likeable country. If you are a sucker for the Caribbean, like me, and want to spread your wings, this could just be the answer.